Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Never mind the ballots.

I have enjoyed an illustrious political career in my two score and five years.

Not really. Though watching the newest crop of televised idiots on the baby-kissing trail, I am reminded of several personal brushes with party politics: some funny, some like sharing a bath with Hitler.

I had the misfortune of meeting John Hannam, the since-disgraced philanderer and Conservative MP for Exeter, when I was 14. To my discredit, I was standing in my school's mock election as a Tory candidate. To my further discredit, I bloody won the thing. This might have had more to do with the stickers and rosettes that I was palming off to my circle of mates (schoolboys LOVE stickers) than my considered electioneering speeches. I had blagged these freebies from the monster-like Hannam when I went to his campaign office to ask for help with my project. His lackeys gave me a bumper bag of balloons, badges et al and pushed me into the hallowed central office to meet JH himself.

"So you want to be an MP just like me, do you?" he'd boomed with a twisted grin on his face. "Well, good for you! There's loads of money in it, my boy." He laughed sickly. I disliked this man a lot. I was not his boy. I vowed to somehow make up for my election-winning disgrace and a few years later I became a card-carrying member of the Labour Party. For a year.

By that time, I'd become a news journalist - a job which brought me face to face with some of the biggest politicians du jour. I remember interviewing a grossly unpleasant William Hague on his appointment to the Welsh Office - a job he clearly had absolutely zero interest in. Similar story: John Redwood. But I loved meeting and interviewing the fantastic Michael Foot and his dog, and I even had a bit of a laugh with Neil Kinnock. Kind of. When I was introduced to him as 'the gentleman from the Western Mail' he retorted 'there are NO gentlemen on the Western Mail'. Charmed, I'm sure. The work experience wannabe hack who accompanied me to the interview did a cracking job of knocking him down a peg or three. When Kinnock admitted that he sometimes found it hard to argue against Margaret Thatcher in Commons because she's 'a woman', the cub reporter wasted no time in telling him: "that's bollocks, Mr Kinnock." I suspect she went on to become a fine journalist.

Other meets? I followed Robin Cook around a hospital and found him a bit 'meh'. Mo Mowlem gave the most arse-crushingly dull speech I have ever had to sit through, and Geoffrey Howe was surprisingly decent. Jeffrey Archer, unsurprisingly, was a massive wanker.

While working on a Sunday paper in Plymouth, I would also have regular contact with Lord David Owen aka Dr Death, who at that time was a regular face on 'Spitting Image'. It was fantastic to be able to interview a real-life muppet.

I covered a few elections and by-elections. I fondly remember a regional BBC producer sleep-muttering directions at a portable TV in the corner of some count or other as the national round-up showed Michael Portillo unexpectedly losing his seat. "That's it," he suggested to an imaginary camera crew, squaring up to the tiny screen. "Nice... nice... stay on the face. Stay on the loser's face. Hold that frame... fill the screen with his disappointment..."

But my favourite political encounter, of all time, has to be the time Harold Wilson came to my 'hood. My dad walked me to the Labour Party HQ on the corner of our road, where the pipe-smoking PM was to make an appearance. It was my fifth birthday and, while I clearly remember the crowds and the BBC outside broadcast TV cameras on the street corner, I also remember the bollock naked hippy on the roof across the street who pelted the PM with flour bombs. He was led away by the bobbies for a clipped ear and tanned backside, and I was led home for banana sandwiches.

These were great times. Much greater than 2010, sadly, when living, breathing Nazis are allowed to share an election platform with slightly lesser evils like Tories. My local BNP candidate, Steve Tyler, seems a particularly seedy character. Worse, even, than Hannam and Hague. But not Archer, of course. Tyler's ready for any questions you might have, by the way. His number: 07804 149103.

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