Published on 16 Apr 2015

Election 2015: not exactly the golden age of campaigning

Two or three hundred people had gathered in the square outside Hornsey town hall, many of them armed with red and yellow Labour placards, balloons and the party’s distinctive round stick-on badges.  All waiting in the sun for their leader to arrive.

There was an optimistic, carnival atmosphere.  And a great sense of anticipation.

This was clearly a Labour rent-a-crowd – party members and activists from the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency and beyond.

How had they got here? Emails had gone out; calls had been made; and it was word of mouth.

But it wasn’t entirely a rent-a-crowd.  On the fringes various people had drifted along, curious as to what was happening and what Mr Miliband might say.

As he arrived I tried to ask him about David Axelrod, Labour’s American adviser, who, it is reported, is being paid £300,000 for his words of wisdom but has not paid UK tax on that. Many critics think this is hypocritical given Labour’s stance on non-doms.


I had no success with my questions as Labour officials grabbed me and my cameraman and stopped us getting near Mr Miliband.

He then delivered one of the shortest stump speeches on record.  I thought it was about five minutes; colleagues said it was more like three.  Perhaps he might take questions.  But there were no questions.

No more soapbox

Instead he went round the corner to an ice-cream cafe called Riley’s and spent almost an hour inside chatting to people.  As we weren’t allowed in it wasn’t entirely clear what kind of people.

They seemed to be pretty sympathetic to Labour already.

A woman on the doorstep kept telling Labour officials that she was disabled and wanted to ask Mr Miliband whether  he’d abolish Atos disability tests.  Eventually the party let her in – perhaps because it was better than letting her do media interviews outside about how she wasn’t being let in.

Afterwards Mr Miliband walked a few yards along the street and shook hands with a few members of the public, though such was the media scrum there wasn’t much time to talk.

Eventually, after a lot more pushing a shoving by Labour officials, I got my questions in.  The Labour leader didn’t answer.

That’s odd really, because there’s a perfectly good answer.  David Axelrod lives and works in the US, and Americans have to pay US tax on their worldwide earnings.  In any case, he’s not been seen in Britain for months.  It’s not even clear whether he is still advising Labour.

What happened this morning is far from the open campaigning of years gone by, when Harold Wilson or Ted Heath would do genuine walkabouts.  Nor is there the spontaneity of John Major’s soapbox elections of 1992 and 1997.

There are much bigger security concerns these days, of course, and a lot more TV channels trying to grab a bit of the action.  And journalists are a lot less respectful and deferential.

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5 reader comments

  1. H Statton says:

    Apparently we’ve had seven major Crusades punctuated by some minor scuffles. A five minute strut doesn’t count. It certainly isn’t an eighth crusade which you might expect, it being an in-the-balance general election with all still to play for.

    Entertaining one’s own troops is not marching on the campaign trail, it’s cheating. To campaign, the idea is to speak to Everyman. I think I’ve seen more folks at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park.

    I would have stayed in the Cadillac and extended my trip around the Isles, Michael; fear and loathing plus scenery.

    Crickedness: a feeling of extreme discomfiture and gawkiness when confronted with a question one does not wish to answer. See also: ignorance.

  2. Peter Talbot says:

    What a lot of twaddle. I attended a Ted Heath walkabout in 1974 and of course most of the people there were Tory activists. And John Major on his soapbox was about as spontaneous as a dead sheep.

    1. Philip says:

      I agree. It was purely a gimmick. But you do dead sheep a disservice!
      Unfortunately they’re all now terrified of a Gordon Brown “bigot” moment. Which is a pity – not least because GB was perfectly right. But it appears that there’s a right wing version of political correctness that prevents politicians from telling some of the electorate what they think of their views….even when repellent.

  3. Alan says:

    Such contemptuous behaviour is borne of knowing the electorate has little to do with government. Irrespective of voter turnout the same political structure will assume power. All parties are accountable to the crown not the electorate.

  4. jo sook says:

    A very poor show by Labour n Millinad, NO talking with ‘real’ local people. Lynne Faetherstone the Lib Dem candidate seems very open to meeting local people ,,,, and she lives in the constituency and done loads of good local campaigns.

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