Election diary: No escaping the patter of polished politicians

Written by Amber de Botton on 6 April 2015 in Culture
General election season is upon us at Sky News – and that means sitting down with the parties to eke out their plans.
It’s not giving away state secrets to say that journalists, in general, find politicians more polished than they used to be. Increasingly the young, promising MP for Wiggington South performs with practised blandness. “Let me be clear”, “I’m glad you asked me that”, “let’s get back to the real issue here”.  Slick like an oil spill.
One wannabe MP who prides himself on the provocative statement, not the superficial soundbite, is Nigel Farage. This election he’s got competition in the unlikely form of a Pub Landlord.  Al Murray is jostling with the UKIP leader to become the unlikely parliamentary representative for Thanet South. And he’s got the patter down. The first time the comedian went campaigning, he answered every journalist’s question with “I’m glad you asked me that question” before promptly walking off.
Unfortunately, the red-blazered funny man experienced a less jovial welcome the next time he went to woo voters in the seaside town. It looked great on paper. He was going to skydive (almost literally into the arms of the waiting media) and then give a speech in a pub. ‘Ho, ho,’ we all agreed in our morning editorial meeting.
Later, I received a rather excited call from a Sky News reporter. “He’s too fat!” they shouted down the phone. “What?” I asked. “Al Murray’s too heavy to skydive and now everyone’s asking him how many pies he’s eaten.” Then a couple of hours later, our reporter calls again. “He’s just been heckled.” The pictures come in – and the Pub Landlord looks like he could do with a pint. Comedy gold – but less stand-up, more The Thick of It.
Election season is upon us – and that means sitting down with the parties to eke out their plans. Everything is mapped out – from manifesto launches to campaign buses. Rather than compete to make the best speech on housing, it’s the pimped-out buses that gets the rivalry going between the parties (all except UKIP who don’t have one). More than one ‘party bus’ will have cold beers to keep journalists lubricated on long journeys. There was talk of a Prosecco tap on another. Unfortunately, this never came to pass. Just think of the headlines.   
Talking of headlines, Sky News’ and Channel 4’s Battle for Number 10 grabbed a few. It was a mammoth undertaking. Audiences to be vetted and herded, drones to fly overhead, movie-premiere-style lighting. The works. On the night, I was squirrelling away behind the scenes with the leaders and their entourages. Sad to report there were no outrageous backstage demands to match the slick frontage– unless you count fruit kebabs and sparkling water in the PM’s Green Room.
Over at the Sky News’ Ask the Chancellors event, held at Facebook, the freebies were much more enticing. A sweetie shop, cakes, panini galore. The production crew tucked in. I stuffed my pockets with fizzy cola bottles to placate a poor neglected husband. But – for the svelte George Osborne – just a coffee to fuel him through interrogations from business folk. No wonder he was happy to pose for selfies afterwards with that kind of diet.
Let you in on a secret. Sometimes in Millbank, we like to play a game called ‘count the entourage’. There’s the expected beefy security detail when ambassadors or foreign ministers come a’visiting. But sometimes it’s the most unlikely figures that arrive with quite the pack. Back when he was a secretary of state, I remember Owen Paterson once brought what looked like half his press office with him.
And I can’t help but notice that Nigel Farage is upping his numbers. At a last count, it was five. He may shy away from Prosecco taps, and not quite merit a proper campaign bus – but there’s no doubt he’s now a professional force.
Amber de Botton is deputy head of politics at Sky News.

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