The Boss Arrives in Town
No election campaign would be complete without at least one visit from the Big Man himself; and our number came up today.
Due to the fact that Cameron is now a security risk the arrangements for a visit are normally left to the last minute and made in secret. This reached new heights of challenge this time when yesterday lunch-time while out canvassing in Preston I got an out-of-the blue phonecall from a senior bod at CCHQ - which went like this:
"David is in Devon, would you like him to drop by".
"Lovely, er, when?"
"No plans, no idea. We have got a team on their way, can you help? Find a location for a big set-piece policy speech to 100 or so people, plus at least another 100 reporters and cameramen, plus our own film crew (another 50), lighting and sound and of course we need room for a stage, and a PA system, power, and parking for three coaches, and about 20 cars. It must be open, but must be secure, must have disabled facilities, must be accessible, must look good on TV, must not be controversial and we must have owners permission to film; oh yes and we need you to find a location, obtain all the permissions and sort it all out in time to invite everyone, so say in about an hour or two?"
"Can you also choose somewhere that is iconic for your constituency?"
After a day of racing round the Bay with their location people we eventually ended up selecting the Palace Hotel up in Babbacombe from a very long list of possible locations. In fact the sheer scale of choices became an issue when trying to make a final decision late last night; and the final location was not agreed until long after dark.
It was a miracle to then behold the entire circus roll into town late last night and by early morning the stage was up, lights and cameras ready, sound tested, banners out, invitations sent and everything ready.
Unlike when Michael Howard came at the last election (when every detail had been thrashed out weeks in advance) Cameron people are far more relaxed and informal, to the point of being almost casual and decisions to ch ange things were made as the situation demanded.
It had been intended that Cameron would do his speech and then we would roll into Babbacombe, or Wellswood for a walkabout.
The media are housed on one coach and David's team occupy another. The plan was David would switch coach as the cortège arrived in Torquay at about 2pm, requiring a pull-over in Avenue Road. But the driver got confused and led the group out onto the seafront by Abbey Meadows, where there was no room for the coach to pull over.
Given the event was already running late, and fearing that we may not get our prized walkabout, I suggested that we take David off the coach by the Harbour in Torquay, meet some people there and then put him in the right vehicle to make his entrance at the hotel. It immediately transpired that David Cameron was very keen to have an ice cream while at the seaside (he knows Devon well!) so we d ecided to stop his bus, get off, buy an ice cream, talk to a few folk and then go. How difficult can it be? we thought.
Well immediately the press decided this would make a great 'photo-op' so instead of a simple few moments wander across to the sweet shop it became a media frenzy. The photographers ended up rowing with the TV crews for hogging all the good shots and the journalists scurried round asking perplexed passers by what they thought about David Cameron.
Interestingly though, DC really does stop the traffic. Within seconds the Strand was at a standstill and people were calling and waving from cars, upper storey windows and rushing out of shops and cafe's to see him; not out of idle curiosity, either; people wanted to shake our hands, wish us luck and cheer us on.
So after he bought me an ice cream (complete with choccy flake) we eventually went on our way up to the hotel where we met up with my neighbouring PPC Sara Woollaston, who led us onto the outdoor stage where David delivered an impressive 20 minute speech, mostly from memory (I could see his basic notes and he had a few bullet points, that was all).
He unveiled our seven point plan to clean up politics, which included adopting the kind of open primary selection of candidates we used in Totnes, then giving electors the power of recall for corrupt MP's, abolishing quango's and making ministers responsible for decisions again, opening up Ministerial decisions to public scrutiny.
Great stirring stuff and all great fun into the bargain. Although serious, elections are also theatre and no show is bigger - or more dramatic- than one which changes history.