Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

No job quite prepares you for life as a parliamentary candidate. But I suspect that a period as a monk would equip you pretty well. We are not actually obliged to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but observance of the last two is certainly advisable. And life on the hustings does require a certain asceticism. Of all the little pleasures which I miss, now that the election campaign is in earnest, the greatest deprivation is being parted from my new mistress. She's a delightful little thing, and I'd long yearned to get my hands on her, but my clumsy fumblings had ended in repeated failure, until last November. Which was when I finally passed my driving test, at the seventh attempt. And since then I and my Skoda Fabia have been inseparable companions. But now the election has been called we've been parted. The constituency agent in Surrey Heath has decreed that for the duration of this campaign the candidate must be driven from appointment to appointment. At first I thought this was a typically considerate move on my agent's part to enable me to compose speeches, field calls and get through paperwork. Then my wife gently explained that she and my agent had been inspecting my brand new car after a mere five months on the road. They had both looked at each other after admiring the collection of bumps and scratches I had acquired, which have turned the matt black paintwork into a grey lunar-like landscape. 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?' she asked. His reply was definitive - 'I think we should have someone driving Michael who knows how to go forward and back.'

While I've had to give up driving, Liberal Democrat candidates have had to give up drinking. It's not just their leader who has had to forswear a refreshing glass for the duration of the election. The party's crop of hopefuls have been instructed not to allow alcohol on their breath while out campaigning. This respectful nod to the party's Puritan roots sits somewhat at odds with the Lib Dem spokesman on Culture, Media and Sport Don Foster's commitment to lower the drinking age to 16. Oddly, I haven't seen that pledge on any Liberal Democrat campaign literature. Nor have I yet seen a Lib Dem leaflet advertising the party's plans to give criminals in prison the vote, or to abolish mandatory life sentences for murder. Let me make a firm election promise. Any reader who sends in Lib Dem election literature making the positive case for these policies, and avoiding any negative references to opposition candidates, will win a bottle of something amber and Scottish - in honour of Mr Kennedy - from me.

The business of walking up a stranger's garden path, knocking on their door while they're putting their children to bed, and then asking them if they'd be kind enough, amid the many pressures they face, to consider voting Conservative on 5 May may not seem enticing. But like swimming in the Serpentine on a winter's morning, it can have a wonderfully invigorating effect. I should add, in the spirit of honest politics, that I am not a regular at the Hyde Park lake, but my fellow Conservative candidate in New Forest West, Desmond Swayne, who does brave the waters, is a proud advertisement for its beneficial effects.

What makes canvassing worthwhile, what justifies the trepidation as you stand in the rain listening to the ominous barking of an approaching Alsatian, is the feeling when the person you're asking to support you affirms that yes, they are a Conservative and, yes, they will vote for you. …

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