Thursday, 29 April 2010


Yesterday, election campaigning began normally for Gordon Brown. But then, in the northern town of Rochdale, he encountered old age pensioner Gillian Duffy.

Mrs Duffy challenged Chuckles on immigration and crime, and finished by insisting too many people from Eastern Europe now live in Britain, particularly Rochdale. Chuckles seemed to take the diatribe well; at the end of their conversation he told Mrs Duffy he'd been glad to meet her and wished her family well.

But once he'd returned to his limousine it was a different story. Thinking himself safe, Chuckles gave the woman a good blast - forgetting he was still wearing a TV radio-microphone.

Chuckles' mutterings went like this:

"That was a disaster - they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous..."

Asked what Mrs Duffy had said, he replied: "Ugh, everything! She's just a sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour. I mean it's just ridiculous."

Minutes later the story broke. Questioned by the media, Mrs Duffy eagerly complained, "I am very disappointed. I am very upset. Why was I called a bigot? He is an educated person, why has he come out with words like that? He should find out what's going on in our lives."

At once a ridiculous circus assembled: reporters, camera-men, photographers in their hundreds, hanging around outside Mrs Duffy's lowly terraced house for her slightest utterance, her further thoughts. Incredibly, Chuckles later visited Mrs Duffy to say how sorry he was, and was forced to send a grovelling email to Labour workers apologising for the damage done to the party's campaign.

Last night, the episode turned surreal. The BBC reported Mrs Duffy is now being represented by a public relations agent; no more free insights or perceptions.

The media has duly pilloried Chuckles. But elderly people moan all the time; it goes with Battenburg, talking about the weather, and thoughtless prejudice. We kept demanding Gordon Brown show his human side, and now he has. Am I the only one who likes him a little bit more for calling the silly old woman a bigot?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Meerkat Mania And The Power Of Advertising

The meerkat is a small mammal, a member of the mongoose family. Meerkats live in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and in South Africa. They also hang out at Marwell Wildlife Park in Hampshire; I was there last weekend, strolling in the sunshine and admiring the animals. Big cats, a scowling white rhino, antelopes of all sorts, fish, reptiles. Marwell is so spacious, generally a peaceful place despite its visitors.

But at the meerkat enclosure, a small, low-walled sandy domain with plenty of roots to burrow between, things are different. As we approached, I tried a little bet with my companion - she didn't take me up on it - about the comments we'd overhear from the people clustering round. And sure enough, amid laughter, it was all "compare the meerkat dot com"; "simples" (then squeaking sound); and, scarily verbatim, "if you're looking for deals on cheap car insurance, comparethemarket dot com ha ha ha."

Exposed to this, over and over again, was the attendant assigned to the meerkats' little realm. What had she done to have her duties transformed into the worst job in the world? Did she even hear the crowds after the first few hours? In fact she was remarkably cheerful, because she loved the animals; she confessed the passing people were something of a blur.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Leader's Wives

The wives of Britain's political leaders, who once shunned publicity, are being thrust into the spotlight as their husbands' parties try new ways to win over voters.

In the past, I've always known which party to vote for, but this time I have no idea what to do.

Sarah Brown is pleasant, committed to her husband, and does a lot of good work for charity. She's credited with showing Chuckles' human side when she introduced him at last year's Labour Party conference as "my husband, my hero." Sarah now has more than one million followers on Twitter, which is around six times the membership of the Labour Party.

But then I saw Samantha Cameron interviewed, being normal in a glamorous, I'm-on-camera kind of way. Appealing, positively fragrant, well worth voting for. I have also seen a photo of her in a swimsuit, licking an ice-cream.

On the other hand, Miriam Clegg is foxy. Like most people she has no interest in her husband's politics, but pursues her own career as a top lawyer. Of course, she can't actually vote for Nick; not supportive, but foreign and exciting.

So I have no idea who to vote for. I think I might go Lib Dem this time, but perhaps I need to check out the UKIP leader's wife.

Monday, 19 April 2010

I Agree With Nick

The historic live televised debate last Wednesday between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg had a predictable outcome but for all that, an amusing one: Clegg emerged as the big winner. Less expected was just how far the men with whom he was debating would go to make sure they didn't offend him or his supporters.

The most memorable element of the broadcast wasn't the ridiculous rule-enforced silence from the audience or the MC's irksome yapping, but the innumerable times Brown and Cameron tried to align their parties with Clegg's.

No matter what the issue, no matter if Clegg had just taken a swipe at them, both Chuckles and Pillsbury were loath to lay into the Lib Dem leader. Pillsbury, uncomfortable in his role as front-runner, even set Clegg up by demanding information on the Lib Dems' spending proposals, giving their leader a perfect opportunity to recite his party's manifesto.

At times, Chuckles attempted to recruit Clegg into a Tory-bashing tag-team, but the Lib Dem leader was content to let Labour and Tory bicker between themselves. He grew into his role quite neatly, shoving a thumb at "you two" and tarring them with the same brush. But neither Chuckles or Pillsbury took the bait; the Lib Dems may yet decide the outcome of the election, or hold sway in a hung Parliament.

In the end it got a bit much for Clegg, who failed to mask a laugh, accidentally, or on purpose, or accidentally-on-purpose, when Chuckles said he "agreed with Nick" on the subject of parliamentary reform. There are two more debates to go, likely to be characterised by Clegg gains and overtures toward him by Brown and Cameron.

What a turn-around. But isn't it a bit early in the campaign for such obsequiousness? What does this tell us about confidence levels in the Labour and Tory camps? Or is it more about expectation engineering? Which of Chuckles or Pillsbury will be first to kick Clegg in the slats if his guard drops?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Cider Duty Dropped: Cornwall Celebrates

The proposed 10% rise in duty on a pint of cider has been dropped by the government, after fierce opposition from makers and drinkers alike. The duty increase was squeezed out as the government pushes through legislation before Parliament is dissolved on 12 April, ahead of the election. However, Labour said the increase will be reinstated if it gets back into power. Open perhaps, but not very bright.

All over Cornwall, in every town, village and hamlet, alcoholic yokels and tramps are vowing not to vote for Labour. It's widely felt the party most likely to beneft from the huge backlash will be the region's raffish Liberal Democrats.
Charles Kennedy is taking a personal interest.

The cider tax was one of the few points of note in Chancellor Alistair Darling’s recent budget and sparked an immediate furore. Darling said the duty was raised because historically cider had been treated more leniently than other types of alcoholic drinks. And not because, like taxes on beer, cigarettes and fuel, it's an easy revenue stream for his profligate government to increase.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Oh Dear: Further Disarray For BLP

It's been reported the British Lunatic Party has sacked its publicity chief, after he was arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill leader Nick 'Camel-Toe' Griffin.

Party bosses also accused Mark Collett, who as a student appeared in a documentary called 'Young, Nazi and Proud', of conspiring to launch what they described as a 'palace coup' against Camel-Toe. And what palace might that be? The BLP operates out of a Rochdale pub skittle-alley.

Collet's sacking is regrettable in the sense that his replacement, whoever it turns out to be, simply couldn't make a worse mess of the BLP's publicity 'literature'. The material doesn't merely reflect their mad policies, but is littered with truly appalling illiteracy which makes the 'party' look even more ridiculous. An ape could do a better job.

There are also rumours of grave financial irregularities within the BLP, while Camel-Toe is said to have made a statement to the police after 'serious allegations' affecting his 'personal safety' came to light. One more threat to add to the enormous heap, presumably. How unfortunate that all this should occur just before the General Election.

And where will 'Mr Griffin' be seeking election? Barking. You couldn't write it.