Thursday, 15 April 2010

On the campaign trail with William Hague

Marching down Babbacombe’s main shopping street, the entourage demanded “turn to the right”.
Under William Hague’s ill-fated leadership this would have been interpreted as a demand for a harder line on immigration or Europe. In fact, they wanted him to visit a clock shop.
“This is obviously the place to buy a clock,” he told the owners. He didn’t get where he is today without that eye for detail.
A local newspaper billboard highlighted the case of a TV comic caught speeding. Who was it? Jim Davidson, I told him.
“Oh… I know him,” Mr Hague admitted, uneasily. Mr Davidson was once considered a celebrity Tory, though less so these days.
In fact, Mr Hague is something of a celebrity himself. Certainly one of the best known Tories, he retains the image of someone to share a pint with while morphing into an elder statesman figure. “Younger elder statesman, please.”
One woman was so distracted by the melee she was nearly knocked down by a mobility scooter. Ruth Martin from Torquay had trouble taking a picture on her mobile phone – a bright green, floral handset dubbed a “bobby dazzler” by the visiting Yorkshireman.
“It’s made my day that has,” Mrs Martin said. “The sooner the Tories get back in the better.” This was a recurring theme.
A flying visit was made to the Conservative club, with local candidate Marcus Wood leading the charge. The regulars were a straight-talking bunch. One woman, tucking into lunch, told Mr Hague: “We have got to get rid of that idiot in Number 10.”
Maybe it could be another billboard slogan. “Seeing Gordon Brown’s face does tend to frighten people,” Mr Hague said, passing another Conservative attack billboard. Tory HQ is pouring money into Torbay, hoping to reverse Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders’ 2,727 majority. Like all senior Conservatives to visit the Westcountry in the last week, he insists the region is “very important”.
While those who approached Mr Hague were enthusiastic Tories, others suddenly cornered by blue rosettes were less sure. One woman coming out of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary shop told him: “We are shopping in a charity shop. I don’t really think it’s something Conservatives do.” She was quickly won over by his easy charm.
All this handshaking, posing for pictures and inane conversation must be one of the most mind-numbing aspects of being a politician during an election campaign.
But Mr Hague is considered political box office, and yesterday packed in five constituencies. It is not clear who is winning the war, but the Tories have got the most generals on the ground.

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