Election '97: Mobile man of the Nineties gives Tories Short shrift

And the New Labour machine sets its sights on "Switchers" and "Squeezers"

James Goldsmith is sitting on a bench outside the Gravesend branch of Marks and Spencer, chatting cheerily to Clare Short. He is very confident, he says, that Labour will win the election.

Does that mean that the local candidate can count on his support, then? He looks down at his feet. "Er, well I've got a bit of a problem with my address at the moment."

It transpires that Mr Goldsmith - this is James Goldsmith the homeless man from Gravesend, of course - hasn't got one, but he can be contacted via his mobile phone.

Labour's overseas aid spokeswoman hoots with laughter. "You're of no fixed abode and you've got a mobile phone? You are nineties man!"

With or without his vote, Mr Goldsmith is sure the Conservatives' internal battles will finish them off.

"Absolutely," Ms Short agrees. "And we are completely united." There is no obvious irony in her words. She may have been unhappy about the way New Labour was run in the past, but there is not a hint of it today.

Out "on the stump" with Chris Pond, director of the Low Pay Unit and Labour candidate for Gravesham, she is loyal to a 't.'

Gordon Brown's plans for more privatisation? She is all for them.

"We have always believed in a mixed economy. People like me have never said extending the public sector was Socialism," she says, stoutly.

The mood is convivial as the small carnival weaves through the thin Monday morning crowds, here offering handshakes, there accepting a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

One very plummy lady rushes up to tell Ms Short she thinks she is "absolutely super."

"I've seen you lots of times on the television," she gushes. "I hope you get an absolutely wonderful job in the government."

Such enthusiasm has to be admired. Already a healthy handful of Labour front-benchers and an equivalent number of Conservatives have glad-handed their way through here, along with a quite staggering number of soap opera characters.

EastEnders stars go down especially well, for Gravesend was the fictional destination of Dot Cotton when she took leave of Albert Square. Michael Cashman caused quite a stir, as did Leonard Fenton, who plays Dr Legg in the series. And the local police were thrilled to be introduced to Simon Rouse, DCI Meadows in The Bill.

There must be Tories in the town - its Conservative MP had a majority of 4,500 at the last election - but few can be found this morning.

Perhaps the New Labour machine is so efficient that it has managed to sweep the opposition off the streets. Even the three "nurses" who began the day wrapped in red tape for a photo-call turn out to be a Labour Party researcher, a full-time party volunteer and someone who works for the Low Pay Unit.

Down at the campaign headquarters, they are busy stuffing envelopes: personalised letters with different messages for Tory faithfuls, waverers and long-term Labour supporters. The talk appears to be in code.

Squeezers, explains Maureen Pilcher, the office manager, are Liberal Democrats who might be persuaded to vote Labour. Switchers are former Tories.

"And," she adds solemnly, "I believe the twitchers I keep talking about are some kind of bird-watchers."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing