Long day’s journey into Newsnight

Seven go mad in Bunhill! Despite foul weather, seven of us were out delivering in Bunhill this morning; there must be an election in the air….

We covered four or five estates in record time, and grabbed a comforting hot drink at Coffee@Goswell Road. Then bus up to the Angel for lunch with Mr Brown (Daniel not Gordon). Daniel’s a Lib Dem councillor in Brent and works for Royal Bank of Scotland. He’s worked for them for two decades but has only recently returned to the Angel office where he was first based years ago – which enabled him to point out that he campaigned in Islington (for George Cunningham) long before I did. We braved the rain to eat at wonderful Alpino in Chapel Market where the penne & pesto console us for wet feet.

Back from Bunhill & lunch, my hair is like rats’ tails, my nose is red, and my feet – when I finally remove my sodden shoes – have been stained black. Candidates aren’t supposed to look like this. At this point the phone goes: can I appear on Newsnight tonight?  

The producer wants to know if I think Gordon’s ‘big tent’ approach has changed the tone of politics and marginalised the other parties. No: all Prime Ministers try to prolong the honeymoon and neuter opposition by calling for a new spirit of harmony and co-operation when they take over. Blair did. Major did. Even Thatcher did – quoting St Francis of Assisi. 

A few hours later, cleaned and fed, I’m heading to White City via the opening of my friend Emma’s new school tonight. The new building – a conversion of an old industrial unit – looks fantastic. It has Emma’s characteristic emphasis on using recycled materials, it is light, bright, inviting and fabulously well-equipped. Unsurprisingly, the school is already over-subscribed.

As a state school girl myself, I’m not an instinctive fan of private education; but in a free society it will always be an option. What I want to see is the quality of education in the state sector which means that private schools are a choice people make for personal reasons rather than from a sense that there is no alternative. The new buildings at Islington schools such as New North Community School, Hungerford, Prior Weston and St Jude & St Paul, show that the state sector too can provide bright and inspiring surroundings. Now we need to invest to reduce the pupil/teacher ratios so that all children get the best attention in the primary years.

The tube is running fine and I arrive at White City in good time. A very drunk man is trying to crawl under the ticket barrier.

Arriving at the BBC I am whisked into makeup – I can exclusively reveal that Newsnight contributors are brought to you by Bourgeois cosmetics – and then into the minute green room where I sip tea with Nick Boles & Derek Draper as we await our moment.

The lead story is the doctoring of the photo at a Manchester hospital to include Labour Minister James Purnell MP, who arrived late for the official photo shoot. The coverage is focusing on whether the Minister knew this was happening, with contradictory statements from various apparatchniks. The BBC is particularly gleeful about this as Culture Minister Purnell has been lecturing the media on truth and trust. Whatever the outcome, it shows that spin is alive and well, if rather clumsy, under Gordon Brown.

Our discussions on election timing come next; have the Lib Dems lost the votes we gained over Iraq, Emily Maitlis asks? No, because the reasons people came to hate Labour over Iraq are still here; it’s still an illegal, immoral and unpopular war; Gordon Brown has been in Downing Street throughout; he signed the cheques for the war and David Cameron voted it through.

Nick Boles focuses on the spin issue and predicts a good conference for the Tories. Derek Draper says people don’t blame Gordon Brown for Blair’s failings. We end up agreeing that the election is likely to be on 1 or 8 November.

After the event, Nick Boles apologies, charmingly, for having gone on a bit. He’s in mid-selection battle for the candidacy for Grantham, and fired-up as a result. The men take off their makeup. Derek Draper wants his fee. Then he & I share a car home to Islington. We discuss ‘photogate’ Purnell, the high turnover in urban electorates, and whether a May election would be better or worse for our respective parties than a November one. Neither of us mention’s Derek’s roof extension.

We still don’t know for sure when the election will be. But it’s clear that while Labour will do their utmost to distance Brown from the Blair legacy of Iraq and spin, neither the Tories nor ourselves will let them.


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