Red Wirrals triumph as the greys become extinct

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Indy Politics
I missed Brian Mawhinney, Michael Forsyth and William Hague's momentary visit to the Wirral yesterday. I'm not fond of jokes involving an Irishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman and anyway, judging by the posters (a very poor guide, let it be said) the supporters of New Labour up here are winning out over those who favour Mr Major's cause. By polling day the Red Wirrals are likely to be triumphant, and the Grey Wirrals all but extinct.

No, I was off to see Tone campaigning - for precisely one-and-three-quarter hours. First in a factory making fridges that I have never heard of, and that do not appear in any of my Which? magazine surveys - so no wonder the company is keen on the publicity. Mr Blair went round in a brisk rectangle, then gave a five-minute collective in-depth interview to the local media - then got back in the car and whizzed off to campaign headquarters. This is not the front-room of Councillor Sidebotham's terraced house. It is (or was) a supermarket. Indeed, at first I mistook it for Kwik Save, with its big plate-glass windows and special offers in bright red ("vote for Ben Chapman, and get two votes at the next council elections").

Then he moved on to a windy pedestrian precinct, and into a few shops and cafes. The first cafe seemed a little unusual in that - 10 minutes before our Tone turned up - the manageress was wearing large red rosette, and half the customers were brandishing flags. But perhaps the New Ferry Diner is always like that. And perhaps Brian Mawhinney is going to invite me to his house for the weekend. Nothing, however, prepares you for the weird folly of a leader's walkabout. In Mr Blair's wake (and all around him. And in front of him) gambolled representatives of the local press, newspapers, radio stations, national reporters, BBC News, Newsnight, and foreign television stations.

It reminded me of the chase scenes from 101 Dalmatians. Except instead of sweet, furry, incontinent puppies there was the gaberdined and boom- waving human ribbon of struggling, pressing, whinging, joking, moaning, humorous, corpulent media folk. The television camera operators are particularly lethal, carrying many pounds of very expensive kit, which they stick right in front of their eyes while walking. Thus they cannot see minor obstructions, such as sketch writers, children and pensioners. "Why are they all here?" moaned one Blair aide with unintended irony. "It's only a matter of time before someone's killed," complained another. This would, of course, be very bad news - "Japanese film crew smothers war veteran on Blair trip - I am desperately sorry says Tony".

And what of the man himself? He's good-looking, and - like polar north - the needle always points to him. But he does not really love pressing the flesh as Bill Clinton does - or even as Neil Kinnock did. He will not launch in, scoop up babies, rearrange families, cheerily invade the space of others with unsought kisses and cuddles. Instead he shakes hands firmly, smiles slightly apologetically, says "all the best", "nice to see you" and gives a thumbs-up to distant well-wishers (I got three).

Such minor diffidence reminds me of Prince Charles on one of his better days - all good manners, polite interest, and reserve. Mr Blair would make an excellent Scandinavian Queen.

That was not the view of the pensioners in New Ferry, however. "Ooooh, he's got a nice, firm 'and shake, 'asn't he," one lady said to her friend. "Can you imagine John Major being so friendly and down to earth?" Can I? Oh yes.