On the campaign trail: David Cameron does the 'UK-in-a-day'
“Mine has definitely sagged… Darling, yours looks much better.” David Cameron was in the kitchen of a Cardiff brewery, comparing himself to wife Samantha. As they each made a steak and ale pie for the scrum of TV and press cameras, the Prime Minister confronted the stark reality that his other half is the one with the creative flair.
“It’s going to look more…rustic,” Cameron said of his lumpy pastry work, alongside his wife’s neatly scored and crimped creation. When it comes to an upper crust, Mrs C clearly has the upper hand. Keenly aware of his capacity to put on weight, he seemed relieved that their handiwork would soon disappear into the oven. “Then you can do ‘who ate all the pies?’” he joked to the cameramen.
When a trainee chef gave them his own finished product, Mrs Cameron, ever helpful, put on her best TV presenter voice to declare: “And here’s one we both made earlier.” The couple murmured their pleasure at the mix of beef, stilton and Brains Brewery stout. “Mmm. I feel like Mary Berry!” said Samantha.
Part Bake-Off, part-Blue Peter, part Generation Game, the visit generated coverage nationally and (just as important) locally, while allowing Cameron to push his messages on new jobs and apprenticeships.
With just over a month until the general election, the Camerons feel like they’re studying for a Masters in the art – and artifice – of the political photo opportunity. And as the Prime Minister toured all the nations of the United Kingdom in one swoop, symbolism was more important than ever.
The 12-hour whistle-stop trip covered 750 miles, four nations and enough food and drink items to make a galloping gourmet wince. Haggis in Scotland, lunch in Northern Ireland, Welsh cakes in Cardiff, fish and chips and a pint of Doom Bar in Cornwall – this was David Cameron as a one-man, Union-Jacked tasting menu.
The day started early in an overcast Edinburgh, with a breakfast at Scottish Widows HQ.
One big picture that the Prime Minister has strived to avoid lately is a ‘bacon sandwich moment’ akin to Ed Miliband’s infamous snap.
At the Scottish Widows canteen he opted for haggis, square sausage and fried egg, with fried bread on the side. But when wife Sam entered the dangerous culinary territory of a bacon roll, the PM made sure she didn’t forget to arm herself with cutlery. “Darling, you’ll be wanting a knife and fork,” he said, as she left them on her tray. “Unless you’re just going to shove it in.” “Oh, yes,” she laughed.
After breakfast, it was off to the main transport for this UK-in-a-day tour: a Brazilian-built 48-seater Embraer 145 jet waiting on the tarmac at Edinburgh airport. The Tory mood on board was cheered by the fact that Nigel Farage had been stuck in fog in the West Midlands. There were jokes about Tony Blair “coming onshore” for the day to make a speech attacking the PM’s EU referendum pledge. Another favoured gagline was that Jim Murphy and Sturgeon were “two cheeks of the same arse”.
Within 45 minutes, the Camerons had landed in a positively balmy Belfast, basking in spring sunshine. The convoy headed past the iconic yellow Harland and Wolff shipyard cranes, currently building an oil rig. But it was the new creative industries of Northern Ireland the PM was here to praise, and he didn’t even pretend to hide his excitement as he visited Titanic Studios, home to TV smash hit Game of Thrones.
A study in fantasy warfare, bloodlust and power, the Thrones franchise has brought £20m a year – as well as skills and tourism – to a region once plagued by a violence that was all too real. With the ongoing threat from the mysterious land in the north and a rival former leader, Tony Blair, popping up over the narrow sea to warn of treachery in his former kingdom, the metaphorical lure of the series was hard to resist.
Perhaps wary of photo captions claiming he was aiming fire at his critics, Cameron – who later uploaded a Facebook post professing he was an avid ‘Throney’ – resisted the temptation to hold aloft any of the many weapons on show in the Thrones ‘armoury’. Instead he restricted himself to a caress of a huge crossbow: “I recognise that, that’s [evil king] Joffrey’s crossbow.”
He and Samantha held hands amid all the fearsome daggers, double-swords and shields. Mrs C, who has not watched the programme, preferred to admire the artistic detailing – ‘Is that fibreglass?’ – and tried her best to show an interest in her husband’s hobby. The PM was like a schoolboy in a sweetshop. “Where’s the Valyrian steel?” he asked one craftsman of the show’s fabled metal. “Ah, that’s a secret,” he was told.
After some local and national media interviews, the entourage got back on the plane for the next leg of the epic journey: Wales.
Each country appeared more electorally friendly than the last, and the temperature rose accordingly. After that grey start in Scotland and the bright sunshine of Ulster (where those DUP seats could prove crucial), Cardiff’s warmth saw the PM take off his jacket and tie and roll up his sleeves.
He managed to squeeze in three separate visits, stopping for Welsh cakes and tea at the Dyffryn Gardens in the marginal seat of Vale of Glamorgan, then moving on to Brains Brewery in Cardiff, before finally taking a detour to Barry Island (and a quick vanilla ice cream and selfies with holidaying families).
Rejoining the campaign jet at Cardiff airport, the ‘four nations’ tour then moved on to its final leg: Cornwall.
On the gentle descent into Newquay airport, over the Eden Project and mining earthwork patterns on the hills above, the PM’s jet landed in late afternoon sunshine with the sea looking an inviting turquoise.
Sitting at the back of his battle bus with Sam at his side, Cameron is disarmingly relaxed – yet focused on the task ahead – as he talks to The House magazine. With the polls continuing to show a steady increase in the Tory vote, and a squeeze on Ukip, does he think his campaign is finally getting some momentum?
“I do feel the arguments about the economy are hitting home,” he says. “You can’t put too much on your own canvassing, but I was in Abingdon at the weekend and just knocking on doors, people coming out and saying: ‘Not sure, I don’t normally vote but you’ve done a good job on the economy, I’ve got a job.’ I just feel the central argument in the campaign, about the economy, is getting some traction.”
Some in the City are worried about a possible second general election this year. Does he share the view that that would be a disaster for the country?
“I think we want a stable outcome, and the most stable outcome is a majority Conservative government,” he replies. “I think there’s increasing evidence that people want the stability and the accountability, frankly, of a majority government, because then what you put in your manifesto is what gets put into place in Government. So I think that’s another argument that will grow with this election. I think there will be a growing force of argument about the economy and I think there will be a growing force of argument [around] how we need strong, clear, accountable, decisive leadership.”
The UK-in-a-day tour was all about helping win those 23 seats, while holding on to those the Tories already hold. But it was clear he’d had fun with the photo ops too. Apart, that is, from that one hiccup over a glass of Brains’ stout, where the rumour of another Cameron pregnancy briefly restarted. So, can he completely kill off the speculation?
“Definitely, we are not having another baby,” he says. Samantha immediately chips in: “We are definitely not. The doctors have said ‘no way, Jose’.” The Prime Minister looks at his wife, and says swiftly: “That’s another story, darling… But anyway. No, we are not having any more. The last one was born not 10 miles from where we are now.”
And with that, he was ready for the final event of the day, a speech to local Tories in a huge agricultural hangar at the Royal Cornwall Showground in Wadebridge. Can we really call it a rally? “Anything with more than 10 people,” the PM smiled.
Pumped up and passionate, the PM delivered a succinct summary of how the economic recovery was changing the life chances of individual families. Gone were the dry statistics, and in their place was a pitch that “elections are all about the future”. There were jokes about Samantha fancying Poldark’s six-pack, rather than his own ‘one-pack’, as his children called his physique. Pantomime references to Ed Balls (he got a loud boo) and Nicola Sturgeon (who got an even louder boo) came before a final plea to beat the Lib Dems locally. “Let’s go out and win for Britain!” The crowd loved it.
In a typically Cameroonian finale, the PM then recorded a Facebook video with the Cornish hills (and wind turbines) in the background. “Under this government we are one United Kingdom, and each of our four nations is growing, each of our four nations is succeeding.”
Back on the battle bus, its Union Flag looking just a little ragged at the edges, the 6.30pm ITV News had a bit of a reality check. Its lead story was not about Blair or even Cameron, but concerned the day’s new figures showing A&E waiting times at their highest for years. Up in Scotland – which seemed days, not hours ago – the preparations continued for another TV debate.
It had been a long day in a long campaign. But for David Cameron, there was still some way to go.
Top picture by Press Assocation. Other pictures by Paul Waugh.