A confession … I sometimes find speaking at Labour Party fundraisers a real chore. There, I’ve said it. Most are fine, some are terrific, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood, there is no energy and organisation when you get there and despite doing your best, you sometimes leave a bit deflated. The people at the many events I have done will just have to decide for themselves whether their event was one of those that made me feel like that.
But last night I did one which I left with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. It was at the Thameside theatre in Grays, Essex (‘give us a mention love,’ one of the lovely women working there said as I left, so there you go.)
The spring in the step was because of the mood among the party supporters who had turned out, and the song because I had shared the bill with something every campaign needs – a Labour-supporting Elvis Presley impersonator.
‘The King of Rock meet the King of Spin’ had evolved as an idea born on Facebook where Elvis (aka Mark Wright, regular commenter on this blog), Val Morris (wife of the Labour candidate in Thurrock Carl Morris) and I are friends. Elvis not only had the songs and the moves, but he had four wonderful Vegas showgirls too. I felt like a World Title heavyweight boxer being marched into the ring as they escorted me on stage to thumping music. I hope someone took some pictures.
But it was more than the showgirls’ high kicks or Mark’s superb impersonations of one of the greatest singers of all time that made for a happy night. People who are out campaigning really do feel something is shifting out there. At one point in the q and a, when at times I felt the questions were more rooted in ‘when’ we win than ‘if,’ I had to say … hold on, this is going to be the fight of all fights, and let’s not kid ourselves that a few narrowing polls means people can sit back and relax. Far from it.
But it was good to feel that energy and excitement coming back into Labour politics. Someone asked why I thought it was happening. I said I felt there were two reasons, one about us, one about the Tories. The economy was beginning to pick up a little and I think there was a kind of grudging respect for Gordon and Alistair Darling’s handling of what was a quite extraordinary crisis. But I felt the other reason, as I have been saying here for ages, was that the public were ahead of the media in asking tough questions of the Tories, who were found wanting.
David Cameron is not going down as well as he did earlier in his leadership. George Osborne has never gone down terribly well with people outside of his own elitist circles. William Hague goes down better than he did when leader, but I suspect he is going to be severely disabled by his connections to the Ashcroft saga. Ken Clarke is quite popular but pretty much invisible. And the rest are largely unknown, as are their plans and policies for the country.
There was also a feeling, expressed to me by a Labour member at the book-signing I did afterwards (we raised several hundred pounds for the party by selling The Blair Years as at http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php ) that people feel GB has been tested, and a lot of the coverage about him way over the top, whereas DC has not really been tested at all. That testing is now under way.
There was a lot of interest in the leaders’ TV debates, for which the ground rules have finally been agreed. I said the media expectation seems to be that Cameron will ‘win’. That is because he is considered to be a good media performer. But these debates will require substance in greater abundance than style, which is why they may in fact suit GB. They are also a huge bonus for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. But the debates are another reason to be excited about the weeks ahead.
Perhaps it was the magic of Elvis that got me going, but I made a prediction that turnout will be considerably up on last time … partly because people think it will be close, partly because of the debates hopefully engaging more people.
Four per cent of people think Elvis is alive. Last night, via Mark Wright, he was. And close to 100 per cent left the theatre thinking Labour was back in with a chance.