My friend Jenny was lucky enough to get to go to Nick Clegg's Town Hall meeting in beautiful Boat of Garten in the Highlands last night. This is her account, written on her train journey home. A word about "party hacks" - they're ordinary people, just like the rest of us, only with not as much free time and even less sleep.
Hi to all Caron’s readers and to those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jenny – hello! I’ll come clean straight away, I’m a party hack, but I'm not speaking as a press officer, just an observer. Albeit one who
had to sit on the floor at the back of the hall.
After First Minister’s Questions, I hightailed it to Edinburgh Waverley to catch the train north for Nick Clegg’s first town hall meeting in Scotland since becoming Deputy Prime Minister. He’d already been to Aberdeen to meet business representatives and then on to Keith for a visit to the distillery. So far, all government visits and all ably handled by civil service officials. But this evening he did one of his town hall events in Boat of Garten (about 10 minutes drive from Aviemore).
I’ve been to a handful of these events before the General Election – Nick’s very comfortable in these situations and I always find it refreshing to see a politician talking to real people. But given the
determination of the national press to write us off and some fairly intimidating polls, I was interested to see what the reaction would be.
It was a relaxed atmosphere and the audience were forgiving of a late start (local media demands!). Nick gave his intro and away we went. The questions were varied, but residents didn’t disappoint and put the
big topical issues straight to our Deputy Prime Minister. As expected, fuel, spending cuts, the coalition, bankers’ bonuses and the rising cost of living all came up. But people also took the chance to
ask about VAT exemptions for mountain rescue, support for teachers, the overseas aid budget, health and safety laws, outdoor education and our press operation (ahem). It wasn’t just heavy political rhetoric – we had good humoured ribbing about the level of security (“We’ve not had an assassination in the
Spey valley yet”), a spirited debate between a former Labour spin doctor’s partner and Nick and a photographer dropping a heavy lens that sounded like a bomb going off (gave the security team a bit of a
As somebody who has to work in soundbites, breaking down our principles, ideas and policies into chunks for media it was refreshing to hear Nick given the time and platform to explain some of the
government’s more controversial decisions and the good things that he and his team are delivering at Westminster. And I shan’t take the gentleman’s criticism of how we sometimes explain these decisions too
So it wasn’t the bloodbath predicted by the commentariat at Holyrood, nor was it a rigidly controlled PR exercise. It was a gathering of people from the Highlands listening to a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime
Minister (now that’s pretty exciting!). I hope they went away with a better understanding of what Lib Dems stand for and why UK Ministers are making these decisions.
And there you have it. A long way to go for an hour of question and answer, but I can hear the trolley man approaching and the train is certainly warmer than the platform at Aviemore!