Posted by: Ciaran | April 12, 2010

Oiling the wheels

I’m on a week-long attachment at the Northampton Chronicle & Echo this week, and I was lucky to have an eventful first day. The moment I sat down I got a phone call from a man living in a nearby block of flats saying the lifts had been out of action for nearly a fortnight, and at least one person had been forced to move out of the 11-storey building as she was pregnant and couldn’t manage the stairs.

I was chasing that story (link to follow in next day or two) during the morning and early afternoon, and then just before 1pm I was off to see Nick Clegg make a public appearance at a nearby Sure Start centre to talk to parents (and children) about Lib Dem plans to cut taxes.

But it was all a bit of a comedy of errors. At 1pm, the message came through that they were running behind schedule. The reason? The journalists who were supposed to be on his battle bus had missed the bus and were on the train, so the bus was waiting for them at the railway station.

Except, Mr Clegg wasn’t on the bus himself. He was in a car, we were told, which was also waiting at the train station. The jokes started to fly around among the assembled journalists – and there were plenty of us – and the heavily contrived line-up of party candidates and councillors waiting for a fleeting handshake began to falter.

The stage management didn’t stop there. The bus arrived (moments after an angry nurse had tried to drive headlong in to the assembled crowd, bellowing that she would instead have to park across the street), and about 20 more journalists and cameramen arrived.

Yet still there was no Lib Dem leader. Once everyone was in place, his Jaguar pulled up 100 yards or so further up the road and he walked in to the clamour of press and party officials alike.

Eventually he made his way through the throng and addressed a group of children and some parents before coming outside to speak to the media.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg speaking to the BBC

He described the seats in Northampton as “a real two-horse race between [the Lib Dems] and the Conservatives.” He said: “No one round here wants to see Gordon Brown back in Number 10 – who do you trust?”

It was interesting to see a high-profile politician up close and personal, being put under scrutiny by the media. As he wasn’t making any dramatic announcements, most of the questions focused on his tax proposals and the police probe into David Murray, who withdrew his candidacy at the weekend over what Mr Clegg repeatedly called “very serious” allegations.
Overall, though, it was a masterclass in media management from the Liberal Democrat campaign. There wasn’t a great deal of ‘new’ news to be had, yet their main man was live on BBC, ITV, Sky news and local radio in the time he was in Northampton. Keeping those wheels oiled is a sure way of getting more votes on polling day. In the mean time, the planes, trains and automobiles will continue to transport politicians around the country to do the same thing.

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