This was the day, late in the election of 2010, that Gordon Brown, in Rochdale, having just met a “real person” named Gillian Duffy, got back into the car and, not realising his lapel mike was still active, called her a bigot and blamed everything on his hapless aide Sue Nye. I was with Boris Johnson, in Ealing in West London, the man who wrote the book on how to work a crowd
From The Times
29 April 2010
How not to make an ass of yourself, by Boris
Boris Johnson really could teach Gordon Brown a thing or two (or 300) about “real” people on the campaign trail. Yesterday Gordon Brown proved he can’t cope with meeting one woman with some very ordinary worries about immigration. God knows what the Prime Minister would have made of Ealing, in deepest West London, where Boris went walkabout amid scenes of unscripted chaos and never, once, blamed anyone else for anything, even when he was photographed with a candidate named Bray in front of a horse’s ass.
Yes, truly. The rump in question belonged to a statue (Small Work Horse, by Judith Bluck, 1985) in the pedestrianised shopping precinct. “Group photo!” shouted someone from Angie Bray’s team, stopping with uncanny precision right next to the upturned tail.
“Boris! Is this a three-horse race?” shouted someone as everyone gurned and raised their DIY poster boards.
“It’s a one-horse race!” shouted Boris.
What, asked someone, was the caption for this photo? “Braaaay!” brayed Boris, quickly moving away from the rump. Angie (or Ange, as Boris called her) scrambled after him, insisting: “No, that would be if it was a donkey!” Hee-haw, as donkeys (and asses) would say.
I’m not sure Gordon could have coped with even one part of that scene. First he’d have to blame someone (Sue, mostly likely). Then he would have to return to the scene to beg the horse’s forgiveness.
But the truth about walkabouts and “real” people is that they are (actually) real and so, by definition, random. Yesterday people told Boris about autistic children, illnesses, parking, travel, unemployment and, yes, their anger at immigration. So here are some tips from the Book of BoJo:
- When someone from Poland talks to you, answer back in Polish. “Dzien dobry!” cried Boris at the Pole, who was thrilled.
- When someone hands you a mobile phone, do not throw it (habits of a lifetime, etc) but talk into it. Yesterday the owner of the Chitter Chatter phone shop tried to give Boris a new phone. Of course, Boris rejected it (well, he had to, the BBC was filming) but only after securing a vote for Ange. (This is an ultra-tight three-way marginal).
- When someone disagrees with you, have a bit of a good-humoured debate, then say: “Well I’m sorry we disagree!” And walk away.
- Have fun. When asked about the Lib Dems, Boris began to splutter: “How can you conceivably trust the Lib Dems! Spineless protoplasmic invertebrate amoebic fibbers — Janus-faced!” (Isn’t that so much better than “bigoted”?)
- Finally, pretend you don’t know where you are going. As Boris left yesterday, he walked away from his own car. “Boris!” cried everyone as the blond-haired one looked abashed. Personally I think he did it on purpose. Gordon needs a masterclass — now.