WHEN DAVID CAMERON’S TORY ELECTION FUN BUS CAME TO BRIGHTON TOWN
NOTE TO READERS – this post can also be viewed as a photo story in its own right (if you would prefer not to read my ramblings that accompany it). Click on an image to load it up as a slide show. Either way, I would recommend viewing the images as a slide show so you can see them as a bigger size.
DAVID CAMERON COMES TO A BRIGHTON COLLEGE
First up, I must admit to loving this election. It’s my favourite election ever – probably more exciting than when Labour whitewashed the Conservatives 13 years ago. Granted, I am interested in politics as it is and regularly follow the insane ramblings of politicians – but this election has got me worked up into a proper political frenzy. As someone said to me in the pub the other day…
“It’s a bit like the World Cup!”
Well yes it is – but a bit more significant, a bit more thought provoking but a lot less suited to getting drunk whilst watching. Perhaps the major thing they have in common is the high levels of shouting at the television! Rest assured I love a good General Election and this one is not proving to disappoint and will hopefully be one never to be forgot.
Whilst I would love to remain impartial in my comments below, I can’t. Actually, I wouldn’t love to remain impartial – save that for the BBC, I would very much like to bad mouth David Cameron and the Conservatives – yet at the same time, give an inside view into the political circus that is the election machine at work.
So, imagine my surprise, when, on returning from the Easter break to the Brighton college where I work, I was greeted by David Cameron’s Tory Election Fun Bus. It glistened at the school gates, all freshly washed and adorned in brightly coloured ‘vote for change’ propaganda. It even came complete with lovely impressions of clouds – to inspire the mind and evoke the sense of the picturesque British landscape that the Conservatives would no doubt concrete over given half a chance.
“Strange” thought I – why would the Tories send a coach to a college? Not a great place to hand out fliers surely, given most of the recipients would be under the voting age. Naturally, I assumed the fun bus was present to give the local Tory MP a chance to be seen doing their bit in the local community.
However, soon the teachers grapevine was in full swing and word spread that we were to be humbled by a visit by none other than David “Change” Cameron himself. That’s right, the odds on favourite next PM was heading to Brighton to woo the students. Apparently Gorden Brown had been to visit BHASVIC the preceding Friday and coaxed students away from the last day of their holidays by wheeling in the big guns of Eddie Izzard as a support act. Sadly, I was unaware of that gathering and so didn’t get to witness it.
Still – more luck for us, as Cameron’s gang called the college the same day to request a short notice soiree with the students. Naturally, the college obliged.
I have to admit, this got me rather excited. Not because I would get to see the smug face of Cameron in the flesh, but because never in my voting career have I had the chance to witness a party leader speak in person. Sure I have chatted to the odd Minister for Pensions in my previous incarnations, sure I have written to David Lepper MP (Brighton Pavilion’s current MP) numerous times on various issues – but never have I witnessed a political heavy weight first hand.
Anyway, with Cameron due to arrive at midday and speak at half 12 – I grabbed my camera under the guise of taking some shots for the college and set about seeing what I could see.
As with all these things that are meticulously planned – things didn’t run to schedule. I positioned myself outside the college doors, in the media pen with the ‘proper’ journalists and waited patiently for the fun bus to arrive in its blaze of glory. Nearly an hour later than scheduled it was all systems go. The secret police looked sharp and the press got wind Cameron was round the corner. The sky clouded over.
Before kick off, the students had been briefed and arranged on the proper conduct on his arrival. As you would expect, the meet and great at the doors is a well conceived and planned media opportunity. However, it was pleasant to see a few rogue groups getting to the front and shouting questions at Cameron as soon as his foot hit the concrete. Namely, campaigners for the NUS Vote for Students campaign. To be fair to Cameron, he went straight up to them and gave them a minute to vent, before taking a leaflet and scurrying over to the congregation to shake some hands.
It was interesting to see how the students reacted to this opportunity, and most appeared quite taken aback at being confronted by someone they had seen on the television.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION WITH THE STUDENTS
Cameron made his way to the hall where several hundred students and staff were gathered, as well as a score of different film crews, photographers and journalists. I had witnessed the hall being prepared for his talk and it was incredible how quickly things happened. Earlier that morning, several vans had arrived with an army of staff, who set about unloading an endless stream of staging, seats, PA equipment, branding and alike and within a few hours had the hall fully set up in their chosen manner. Fair play, it must have been intimidating and it was well conceived – they arranged the seating in a circle around the centre, where Cameron would perform. Giving him and the viewers a 360 degree front to defend. A brave approach but no doubt a well calculated one. Presenting oneself in this way suggests an openness, willing to speak to all and a certain vulnerability which was no doubt decided on by a panel of PR experts. All part of the creation of Cameron’s public persona – a man of the people, ready and willing to roll his sleeves up.
In fact – roll his sleeves up he did. One of his favourite buzz phrases to create an image of him getting stuck into the dirty work required, true to form he came with top button undone and sleeves receded. Did he look more approachable, friendly and ready to get stuck in? Did he bollocks.
Cameron’s whole body language comes over as being a highly rehearsed, calculated and analysed routine. Gesturing to the crowd to illustrate his ‘dramatic’ points, hand on chin whilst each question was asked, as if trying to look like Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’
Yet the body language of the students assembled to ask and listen was often different. After a while, I got bored of photographing Cameron’s set stances and was more interested by the expressions of those around him. Most were genuinely interested in what he had to say, but there was a definite air of scepticism at some of what he was saying.
Some students just looked plain frustrated at the whole parade.
THE MEDIA FRENZY THAT IS A GENERAL ELECTION
The media frenzy did not let up for a second. Life as a political journalist must be an aggravating life of traveling, waiting followed by an intense snap of constant documenting. The digital click of cameras was endless for the hour he spoke and the roaming camera men were involved in a constant search for that 5 seconds of footage that could put an interesting spin on their broadcasters coverage.
It was a surreal experience being amongst that element of the event, as I was as keen as the rest to get a shot that perhaps illustrated something unique about the day and dreaming of the chance to get a truly satirical image. I was concentrating so much on watching for something in the background and scrutinising Cameron’s every move for the decisive moment, that I had to remind myself frequently to actually listen to what he was saying.
DAVID CAMERON’S SPEAKING STYLE
So – what of his chat? The event was conducted as Cameron asking for questions and choosing who asked them. Hats off to the students for barraging him with a huge variety of intelligent and topical questions. Ranging from Gay Rights to tax breaks for marriage. Fox hunting to student loans. Political reform to economic problems – most key issues were addressed. As for David Cameron’s responses, well, he always had one! As you would hope from a potential Prime Minister, he had a well delivered and on manifesto response as soon as a question was asked. I would love to know about the preparations for an election campaign and how the politicians rehearse the questions they might be asked and how best to answer them.
He was slick and animated in his answers, but , it was all too easy to see through that glossy exterior. Contradictions leapt in between different questions and rarely was there any genuine policy or plans provided. It seemed to me that his answers were all media friendly soundbites. Take any one on its own, in a 20 second news clip, and he would sound passionate, full of ideas and believable. Watch him for more than a few minutes and the black interior of the Tory soul starts to show through the gloss. Cameron is much like when you are looking for new home. The Estate Agent tells you that the lack of a window in the bathroom is a good thing because it provides more privacy. He says the fresh painted rooms are illustrative of how the owner looks after the property when in reality there are layers of damp underlying them. And he tells you how the neighbourhood is a friendly one where everyone looks out for each other – where as once you move in, nobody will give you the time of day. And so the Conservatives equally represent this model of good curb appeal but when you get the surveyors in – all the cracks are revealed.
I was very underwhelmed and slightly surprised that he was exactly as he is on television. That is the public face of the Conservative party – one big media friendly soundbite. For me he didn’t come across as someone with authority or depth and certainly not as a potential leader & representative of 60 million people and shit, he didn’t half say CHANGE a lot!
The best question came right at the end when a student asked:
“Mr Cameron – the Conservatives state it’s time for change, however, since you are unwilling to address the issue of political reform – how can you seriously call yourselves the party of change?”
A rapturous applause filled the room and a grin filled my face.
For the several hours the fun bus was there, the college was a constant excited buzz of action as we were the centre of the political machine for an insignificant snap shot in time. It almost seemed important and poignant, but any illusions of grandeur would soon be shot down on watching the news, when the hours of planning and setting up, the scores of staff and media and the few hours out of Cameron’s relentless schedule were condensed into a couple of seconds of news coverage, which focused entirely on the style rather than the substance of what occurred.
Things concluded as they had begun, with a crowd of spectators and media gathered outside ready to see him off. However, rather than the atmosphere of that morning, where most were excited and slightly overwhelmed by what was taking place, this time, a more significant mood filled the air. Campaigners and supporters of other parties gathered with quickly made signs. Students prepared rude notes in readiness to wave in front of the cameras, and one group told me they were planning on humming the Star Wars Death March theme as he left the building.
However, Big Brother is always watching and Mr Cameron snuck out of a back door into a Jaguar and was removed from the scene without having to face embarrassment, or present the media with the opportunity to film a negative slant to the day. Within minutes, the staging was being removed, the students had dispersed and most people seemed left empty. Much like the feeling at the end of Christmas Day, when you realise the build up is much more significant than the day itself.
CONCLUSIONS AND THOUGHTS ON THE CONSERVATIVE FUN BUS
So my brush with the election circus was dead and buried. And what a circus it was, the whole thing precisely planned, designed and executed – with one specific aim in mind – to present the media with a positive story to recount about the Conservatives. The number of staff involved was slightly disturbing and for anyone who is a fan of The Thick Of It could not look on without a constant rye grin at the many comparisons. Spin was quite literally unraveling in front of my own eyes. What a lot of time and huge expense for very little political gain.
No doubt the same is true for each of the parties at these events. I fully admit I went into the experience as a very anti-Conservative individual and most certainly a sceptic of David Cameron and what he represented. I was very keen to get to see Cameron talk and give him the chance to turn my opinion first hand, however, I came away with no different an opinion as when I went in. If anything, having witnessed the insanity of the whole process, I came away with even less respect for the Tory manifesto. I do not believe Cameron and I cannot buy into the Conservatives.
We do need a change, but I sincerely hope that change is not Blue – a Liberal or if required LabLib situation would, for me, always be 100% preferable.
Perhaps the most challenging part of the day for me was resisting the urge to heckle!
Bring on the final debate this Thursday!