No reporter expects a warm welcome from politicians on the prowl for votes.
Especially not during this election, when the polls are so close that the phrase “squeaky bum time” doesn’t come close to describing the anxiety gnawing away at the heart of most candidates.
That said, the control exerted over the regional press during this time has been alarming.
The North East isn’t exactly the eye of the storm. It is home to some of Labour’s safest seats and that isn’t likely to change after tomorrow’s election.
The party machines calculate, perhaps understandably, it is only worth sending their high-profile folk to marginal constituencies, like Berwick Upon Tweed and Stockton South, where showing a well-known face could make a difference.
It is a state of affairs which has seen not one party leader venture into Tyne and Wear or County Durham since the dissolution of Parliament, bar Ed Miliband reportedly jumping off a train for a quick coffee in Newcastle Central Station.
But here’s an example of what it is like to cover the visit of a big hitter when they do grace us with their presence. On Tuesday, Baileys Cafe, in Alnwick, hosted one George Osborne for tea and cake as the senior Tory sought to drum up support for Berwick candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
A press officer asked me what questions I want to ask. I said I didn’t know (a white lie, told after an experience with the Prime Minister’s PR, which I’ll come to later).
Mr Osborne arrived to the sound of cameras furiously clicking, ordered food and spent 20 minutes dining with a select group of local businessmen, all of whom appeared to be Conservative supporters. I don’t know this for certain, mind, but deduced as much from snippets of the conversation, which included “hopefully with Anne-Marie in Parliament” and lots of warm smiles.
Journalists were invited take pictures of Mr Osborne’s supposedly impromptu encountering of the public, after which he would take our questions.
The Chancellor disappeared for a huddle with his press team while myself and two other local journalists were told to wait at a table – a bit like being sat outside the headmaster’s office when you are caught chewing gum.
When Mr Osborne re-emerged, his press officer barked: “One question each.”
I was last in the go-round so pushed my luck by asking a second question, as did one other reporter, much to the annoyance of his press officer.
Note that these are questions without a follow-up, so in reality you are afforded nothing but the stock party line and little opportunity to get under the skin of what information you get. If I wanted to read a manifesto, I would have stayed in the office and used Google.
Disappointing, to say the least. The press officer said she understood, jotted down her email and told me to send her additional questions, a phone interview having been ruled out, for some reason. This email was not acknowledged until 11.35pm, almost 12 hours after the interview and well past our newspapers’ deadlines.
Another example, in April, David Cameron visited the Icon Plastics factory, in Eaglescliffe, to support Stockton South Tory James Wharton. I was asked to email six questions the night before, then on the day was put in a pool of six reporters and given just two questions. No follow-ups.
I was, again, told to email additional questions. Press officers assured me a week later they were “still trying” to get answers. I gave up.
All parties are guilty of this kind of behaviour, though it has to be said Labour’s Ed Balls and the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron found time to give us a phone interview when they visited.
This treatment of the press isn’t unfair on journalists. We’re used to no-one liking us all that much.
It is unfair on the people who read and watch our content; the same people, incidentally, whose vote decides whether or not these rather evasive politicians have this kind of power.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 May 2015
People tempted to vote Labour or Green in Berwick should switch to the Lib Dems in order to keep out the Conservative candidate, a senior politician has said.
Tim Farron, former Lib Dem president and tipped to be the next leader of the party, made the call with less than a week to go before the General Election.
It comes as the polls show Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Lib Dem Julie Porksen locked in a dead heat for electoral victory in the Northumberland constituency.
Mr Farron said:
“We need everybody who is not a Conservative to get behind Julie Porksen.
“If you vote Labour or Green next Thursday, you might wake up and feel good about yourself, but in five years’ time if we have a Conservative Government, they may bitterly regret it.”
> Fuck me ! The arrogance of the man.
The voters of of Berwick voted Lib Dem last time… and in five years time they had a Conservative government, aided and abetted by those very same Lib Dems !
So did the rest of us, and yes, we do bitterly regret it.
He said Lib Dems candidates were winning the ground campaign in their heartlands and are poised to clinch victory in Berwick.
“Lib Dems are made of hardy stuff and there is a reason why people in Berwick and Westmorland have been so kind to us,” he said.
“We have a ruggedness and an industrialism that is reflected in those constituencies.
“We live and breathe community politics. We believe that national politics comes from what happens on the ground, not from focus groups or national opinion-testing.
“We find out what is happening by speaking to people all year round and that is why we will win Berwick.”
But Anne-Marie Trevelyan accused the Lib Dems of negative campaigning. She said:
“Voters should be able to vote for the party they support.
“It’s great to have a Green Party candidate here, especially one as capable and committed to Alnwick as Rachel Roberts.
“If the Lib Dems are worried about their vote share, perhaps they should try offering positive messages rather than running aggressive negative campaining against their rivals.”
Mr Farron, who visited Berwick this week, also criticised the Conservatives’ commitment to offering a referendum on leaving the European Union.
“There are two enormous risks to us leaving the EU,” he said.
“The agricultural policy brings in billions of pounds to the livestock and dairy farming industry, which are mostly in the North of the country.
“People don’t realise that direct and single farming payments from the EU are all that stand between the industry and ruin.”
Mr Farron said while this was a tough campaign for the Liberal Democrats after five years of coalition with the Conservatives, the future had a bright future.
“If we didn’t have a Liberal party, you would have to invent one that would stand up for rural communities; for traditional British civil liberties; for environmental issues; for affordable housing,” he said.
“Historically, there has been no other party that stands for that combination of things. I think the future will be strong for us.”
Mr Farron added the SNP and UKIP were a divisive and dangerous force in British politics, but that politicians of all parties had to respect the choices of the electorate.
“If you are a politician that plays on nationalism and on wrapping your politics in a flag, like Farage does, then you are a dangerous person.
“Nationalism is about excluding other people. Patriots love their country and nationalists hate their neighbours.
“I think it should be worrying to everyone in Scotland but we have to be big enough to accept whatever our neighbours choose on May 7.”
> The message that comes through, I think, is really the same as from Con and Lab… things may be starting to change, and it scares us. Therefore we must try to smear the newcomers, because we feel that political control is somehow our right… we don’t feel we should have to earn it.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 May 2015