Election '97: Farmyard visit brings out the beast in Ashdown

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The Independent Online
It must have seemed to Paddy Ashdown as if Parliament had reassembled. He spent yesterday walking through faeces, enveloped in a pungent miasma, to the accompaniment of animal noises.

In fact, Mr Ashdown did a spot of bleating himself, writes Barrie Clement. The Lib Dem leader was persuaded by a farmer, Nigel Miller, that the only way to make lambs feel at ease was by imitating the noise of their mothers. So the party leader found himself squatting (above) in a Scottish sheep-pen dutifully making "baa" sounds. Labour and Conservative spin- doctors would never have allowed it. Representatives of the media looked on, contributed to the zoological atmosphere and made pointed remarks about the "woolly" nature of liberal policies and how Mr Ashdown was accusing the Government of fleecing the electorate. Mr Ashdown also encountered a bull at Stagehall Farm, near Galashiels, in the Borders. This was "Pride Lover of Haymount", which looked distinctly miffed, having been separated from his harem. The beast, to introduce a naval metaphor, didn't seem to like the cut of Mr Ashdown's jib. The ruminant's droppings may also have reminded the Lib Dem leader of the House of Commons.

Some politicians will do anything to get their faces on television. Margaret Thatcher was not one to pass up such an opportunity. One of the more memorable images of the 1987 election showed her clutching a calf. There was no record of her making mooing noises.

Photograph: John Voos