Had a very nice evening at the Grassington Festival. Lovely little place, home of the legendary Calendar Girls, and surrounded by some of the most fabulous scenery on earth.
For a small place, they put on a terrific festival of arts and music. Good crowd last night, market forces failed in that the organisers sold out of Prelude to Power (good sign I guess) and after my opening spiel we had a very enjoyable Q and A mixing heavy and light.
Now I think for people to shell out hard-earned cash to hear me speak, they are likely to be interested in politics and current affairs. And they were. As is often the case at these festivals, the audience was predominantly white, middle class, middle aged, though with a few younger types scattered around.
But it is always good to get a feel for what they know and don’t know, and how differently things can feel outside the Westminster and media bubble.
Someone asked me whether I was secretly flattered by the idea that Malcolm Tucker was based on me. I asked the audience if they all knew who Malcolm Tucker was. A gentle ‘no’ murmur could be heard. I asked for those who had never heard of the fictional star of The Thick of It to raise their hands. I reckon between a fifth and a quarter went up. If you add in a few for people who don’t like to admit ignorance to anything, or don’t like being asked to raise their hands by some bloke on the stage, that means a fair proportion of educated, informed, middle class opinion had no idea who he was.
It allowed me to explain in the context of my favourite examples of swearing – for another day.
Then someone asked what I had said to wind up Adam Boulton (a subject I have been asked about by someone every day since he lost it live on air). Yet although there was quite a loud chuckle throughout the hall, I also sensed a fair few people not getting the joke. So I asked if they knew what the question referred to. Again, quite a few ‘Nos’. I asked for a hands up if people had heard of Adam Boulton. Well over half. Then hands up if they had heard of him before our spat. A lot fewer. Yet in Westminsterland it is hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know who he is.
I was told to let the Q and A run as long as I liked and it was well past ten by the time we were done. The questions ranged far and wide – bigotgate, TV debates, what will GB do next, Labour leadership election, TB and charisma, spin, truth, not doing God, mental illness, religion, Iraq, Ireland, how to sell cuts, BP, Burnley, Murdoch, Peter Mandelson, Scots in politics, bonus culture, we must have got through a few dozen, including who was the best PM we never had from the last 30 years. I put that to the audience too and from a choice of Healey, Ken Clarke, Heseltine and John Smith, John won by a landslide.
The ‘hands up’ exercise did confirm that we can now safely say that Nick Clegg is a household name – no hands went up when I asked if anyone had not heard of him.
I also sensed he is quite close to being a potential figure of fun. Are the satirists on the case?
The media is still doing the honeymoon bit, but the feeling is out there that the Lib Dems are being used pretty ruthlessly by the Tories and that a lot of what Lib Dem voters (there were plenty of them) voted for is not what the MPs they sought to elect are now promoting.
At these kind of events I give out prizes for the best questions as a way of encouraging people to ask questions I am unlikely to have been asked before.
In third place – have you ever accidentally left on a microphone and what did you say?
In second place – what will you say about Grassington in your diary tonight? (I can definitely say I have never been asked that before)
But the winner of a signed Prelude to Power came from a lady named Lindz who asked ‘which was the greatest act of betrayal – Owen Coyle’s or Nick Clegg’s?’
By then I was well into the ‘hands up if you have never heard of’ routine. Given we were not that far from Burnley, Owen Coyle may be a little hurt to know that more hands went up than for Malcolm Tucker. Still, I guess for people to come out to hear me on a night Brazil are entering the World Cup suggests they were not massive football fans.
As for the answer, I went for Coyle in that his leaving Burnley was in some ways a bigger shock and affected me more personally at the time. But the mood of the audience, if I read it right, seemed to think Clegg won the betrayal game by a mile. And once the cuts really bite, and his MPs are voting for legislation they used to campaign against, and people tire of the ‘everything’s Labour’s fault’ line of defence, I think things could get sticky for Nicky.
Anyway, thanks to all who organised and all who came, and good luck for the rest of the Festival.
*** Buy Prelude to Power here at Amazon.
*** Buy The Blair Years and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.