Written by Jeremy Vine on 16 April 2010 in Opinion
There's nothing like an expenses scandal to get the public interested in politicsThis, surely, is the moment.

There's nothing like an expenses scandal to get the public interested in politics

This, surely, is the moment. Those among us who are political anoraks can finally stand up and be proud of our unfashionable rainwear. Suddenly everyone - the cab driver, the Starbucks barista, the physiotherapist - is into politics and, more precisely, elections. In fact, to be even more precise, this election.

It has become glamorous to have views on whether boundary changes have gained the Conservatives 12 seats, or only 10. Several times I have been asked: "Is it going to be a hung Parliament?" as if the result is stuck in a drawer somewhere at BBC headquarters and only a few people have peeked at it.

When I was a political correspondent in the mid-90s the corporation held many seminars on how better to get audiences to engage with politics. If we had known the answer was an expenses scandal and the prospect of a coalition government, I am not sure what we would have done to arrange that. But at least we now have the answer to those fretful questions of 15 years ago - audiences will engage in their own good time. And they are engaged now.

Happily, boundary changes do not come up when I cook for my mother's birthday at the weekend. She is turning 71 and simultaneously celebrating the anniversary of her wedding to my dad. They are still in love. I cook a Jamie Oliver recipe - sweet and sour chicken with chillies - and the best that can be said is that it comes out of the oven looking a bit like the photo.

In a moment's vacancy while serving the food, I ask my mum: "Is it 45 years or 46 that you and dad have been married?" She replies: "Well, this year you turn 45, Jeremy - so it must be 46 years, or we would have done things in the wrong order." Beautiful.

Meeting a friend, we find ourselves spooling through those critical by-elections of the post-Thatcher, pre-Blair period. Newbury in 1993, where David Rendel won. What caused that? Death of Major's friend, Judith Chaplin. Then Christchurch, where Robert Adley had died. The guy Kinnock once called "a jerk" on the floor of the House. In came Diana Maddock, Lib Dem.

Next Eastleigh. Stephen Milligan. Awful death, played out in the tabloid glare. The winner there was David Chidgey. Personally I can't forget Littleborough and Saddleworth, because I spent the full five weeks of the campaign in that Yorkshire seat as - in the first significant by-election under Blair - Peter Mandelson attempted to personally mastermind a Labour shock win, and came close. In the end, the late Geoffrey Dickens was replaced by Chris Davis, the Lib Dem who now campaigns on expenses in the European parliament. Eventually my friend looks at me despairingly: "Why do we know this stuff?"

The joy of Radio 2 is, and will always be, the listener interaction. When we did an item on the DNA database, Ken from Sunderland emailed: "I don't even know how you spell DNA, but I feel very strongly about this."

I hope at some point to be recognised for my speedreading achievement - the 500-plus pages of End of the Party read in three days flat in preparation for hosting Andrew Rawnsley's public launch. The event was a sell-out. Among the book's gazillion anecdotes worth a small yellow Post-It was Gordon Brown's reaction when advised by Sarah that he should spend his summer in the kind of holiday location which would be chosen by voters in middle England: "But I don't even know where Southwold is."

Andrew is the Vermeer of political portraitists; his brushwork is so detailed it makes the picture look like a photograph. And his success stirs the terror felt by all daily journalists - that, tyrannised by one deadline after another, our work appears on cue but never endures.

Still, longform publications do have one downside. They can't be quickly updated. As Party rolled off the presses, its allegations of bullying at No 10 triggered a whole series of events: Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline emerged to support the claims and was turned into Pedigree Chum in the space of a single news cycle; Alistair Darling disclosed that the "forces of hell" had been unleashed on him by his neighbour; and Peter Mandelson said, marvellously, when asked if the prime minister had ever hit him: "History records that we had our moments, but I would like to think I took my medicine like a man."

All of which the daily journalists seized on and punted around until the air went out of the ball. So - host a daily programme, or write a book that is still being read in 50 years? No, don't answer that. I think I might be upset.

Jeremy Vine's show is on Radio 2, weekdays, 12.00-2.00pm

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