Surfing with Harry Enfield

Written by Jo Coburn on 25 May 2011 in Opinion
Daily Politics presenter Jo Coburn on covering the AV referendum and the prime minister's encounter with Harry Enfield on a beach in Spain

It’s been a story of high passion and recriminations – well, around the cabinet table at least. The rest of the country has been less, shall we say, engaged by the first UK-wide referendum for over 30 years. Some have just been overcome by the prospect of this year’s elections – a senior Liberal Democrat in Leicester (there were four elections there) accosted my colleague Gary O’Donoghue on the campaign trail and pronounced: “If you write your name across my chest, I’ll never wash it off.” Despite the flattery, he didn’t reach for the Bic.


Campaign coverage was interrupted for the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Politicians got themselves into a right royal mess over their sartorial choices for the big day.

An initial briefing suggested the prime minister would forego tails for the less formal lounge suit – but in the end, tails won out.

Nick Clegg’s fashion adviser rather wittily sparkled that the deputy prime minister’s outfit would be a surprise, rather like Kate Middleton’s.

But it was the response from the press team representing Ed Miliband that demonstrated that politics hadn’t entirely disappeared from the Royal Wedding. Never mind Alexander McQueen.  

A highly-placed Labour source told me that “Ed Miliband will wear what’s expected” at the Royal Wedding. “All eyes will be on William and Kate and he does not want to draw attention to himself.”

The generosity of this observation was tempered with the diplomatically-astute decision that, as it “looks as if it’s going the way of tails” then that’s what Ed Miliband would be wearing. “He does not want to make a political statement.”

Tails he wore.


To escape the exertions of the campaign, David and Sam Cam avoided the Ryanair check-in desks (and any grim-faced snaps in the departure lounge) and trekked off to Cornwall for a seaside Easter break.  

But what’s this? The prime minister – away from the public eye, or at least so he thought – decided to do a spot of surfing.

As he was about to enter the water, a familiar face greeted him at the shoreline. Step forward the man who coined a phrase which captured the zeitgeist of another Conservative era… ‘Loadsamoney’ Harry Enfield.

Quite who was more surprised of the two gentleman, history does not record.

Suffice it to say that a passer-by, casually asking if he could take a picture of the PM, suddenly thought someone was playing a practical joke on him. Clocking the pair of 40-somethings in surf shorts, his jaw dropped. Definitely a curiosity for the family album.


I arrived unfashionably early at the Excel Centre for the results ‘as they happened’ from around the UK on the referendum on how to elect MPs to Parliament.  

I was almost the only person in the declaration room at 12.30 on Friday. All the action and decent furniture was downstairs at the Grand Designs exhibition. It was an agonising wait for the turnout figures, and although more people voted than anyone expected, the vast majority of them said No. Even in London where there were no other elections apart from the AV referendum, over a third of voters managed to get out of bed and make it to the polling booths.

There was a slight feel of the Eurovision song contest to the results that appeared on a big screen in front of us. Sadly, the little No and Yes badges didn’t quite match those fabulous Eurotrash costumes.

The other problem was that back in the studio they were receiving the voting figures before us at the official count. Nothing like being ahead of the game.

There were some big beasts prowling the hall as the results rolled in – namely Labour’s Scottish terrier John (now Lord) Reid who campaigned vociferously for a No vote but was still convinced that the Liberal Democrats would try to sneak electoral reform through the back door when no one was looking at some future date.

Chris Huhne – the Liberal Democrat’s own terrier – almost denied such a thing. He had already conceded defeat on AV before the count had even begun.

Just to demonstrate how emphatically the No votes outweighed the Yes, in the constituency of Eastleigh (Chris Huhne’s backyard), they were using bricks to separate bundles of 1,000 votes.

By about 5pm they were running out of bricks for the No vote and were poaching them from the Yes vote tables. Well, needs must!

Jo Coburn is a presenter for BBC Daily Politics

Tags: AV referendum, Chris Huhne, David Cameron, Harry Enfield

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