4 APRIL 1992, Page 6



havehave some sympathy for Chris Patten. My abiding memory of the 1987 general election (apart from the result) is the acute tiredness that set in very quickly. I gather that Mr Patten is experiencing a similar problem in this election, his mind raving after only a fitful three hours' sleep every night. This may explain a lot about the Conservative Party campaign. I suggest camomile tea and a sleeping pill before bed. My own responsibilities this time are somewhat lighter (I was, as Private Eye put it, 'the architect of Labour's brilliant elec- tion defeat' in 1987). But being a candidate brings its own small stresses. For example, ensuring the nomination papers are in on time and that a photographer from the Hartlepool Mail (the only paper that mat- ters) is present to record the event. And that my election address has 'Please display in window' printed properly on the right side of the three-fold brochure. The bonuses outweigh the pressures, however. For example, I have never been kissed so much as in the last fortnight. I know it is usual for candidates to seek out babies. But I am constantly being clutched tightly by pensioners and given wild pecks. I rather like it.

Since the beginning of the year, when the campaign began, I have tried to observe a strict, self-denying ordinance: don't com- ment on the campaign; get on with being a candidate. This has not been easy because of the peculiar fascination of those who work in the media with the way in which they are supposedly being manipulated by 'spin-doctors'. These are the apparatchiks who attempt to control the way in which the media report stories. Television and radio programmes like nothing more than to interview present and former party press chiefs like myself about whether the parties are succeeding in 'controlling the media agenda'. Truly professional spin-doctors, of course, never talk about their trade. That's why we have seen an awful lot of the famous-for-five-minutes ex-Tory communi- cations director, Brendan Bruce, and his even more short-lived Labour counterpart, John Underwood. But I have received a lot of private enjoyment from some of the par- ties' press conferences. Neil Kinnock's press secretary, Julie Hall, dramatically turning on her leader's detractors and exposing the rat pack for their humbug and inattention to detail, was a marvellous spectacle. And I roared with laughter at the sight of the head of the Tories' sharp suit- and-braces brigade, Shaun Woodward, hav- ing to clear up the mess after yet another embarrassing William Waldegrave foray P ETER


into public relations. But these people should not lose any sleep over their mishaps. It all seems very important to them, but far away, in the real world, peo- ple are more worried about keeping their jobs, and the price of beer.

Athe opinion polls have continued to suggest a 'hung parliament', I have come to dread the prospect. It is not only that I would prefer to see a Labour administra- tion with a good working majority. I have also realised that contact with many Liber- als brings me out in a rash. Take the most pious of them all, the Liberals' leader, Paddy Ashdown. It would be churlish not to acknowledge his achievement in resusci- tating the third party. But why should we take seriously a man who says with a straight face that 'the Liberal Democrats are not running in this election to win votes but to stand up for what's best for this country'? And in the event of a Labour 'Now he's talking about their economic record.'

minority government, it would be Saint Paddy who would be muscling in. I suppose it could be worse. If he was a Member of Parliament, we would still have Des Wilson to put up with on our television screens after 9 April.

Iwas asked the other day how I would compare this election with 1987. The change that has come over Neil Kinnock is the most obvious dissimilarity. Those who do not hang on the Labour leader's every word might not have spotted the differ- ence. But I was struck by his interview by Brian Walden last Sunday. In 1987, Mr Kinnock tended to be defensive and tetchy in his interviews. His body language was often unrelaxed, his brow furrowed and his eyes sad. This is quite changed now. The reason is that he is happier than he has ever been, more confident and in control of events. It is not just that he believes he is going to win the election, although that helps. He knows that he has policies that will not give way under scrutiny and a party that no longer wants to second-guess him and carp all the time. The old Neil Kinnock was verbose when he was obliged to explain the impracticable and defend the unaccept- able. The more he had to pick his way through Labour's policy thicket, the more complicated he sounded. Admittedly I am likely to be the last person to admit a fault in him. I am a Kinnock true believer because I have seen him and been with him while he has taken on his own party over every conceivable issue and won. But it's the outward appearance which is different in this campaign. More people are seeing him as the next Prime Minister and, cru- cially for his performance, those people include Mr Kinnock himself.

My mother has joined me on the cam- paign trail in Hartlepool. She is not an enthusiastic canvasser but has the right manner and is full of political nous. She acquired this from her father, Herbert Morrison. However, Grandpa was not one of those politicians who wore his daughter like a badge, drilling her for the photogra- phers and then keeping her out of sight when it suited: the only election in which she chose to accompany her father was 1945. She has a memory of intense interest among voters, packed public meetings and excitement in the air. It would be wonder- ful if some of that excitement were to enthuse this election but, judging by the campaign so far, there will be more cheer- ing in front of television sets than on street corners.