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Chris Bryant

Chris Bryant: The naked and the dead – just a couple of the things you meet while canvassing

A Political Life

Canvassing is one of the strangest things in the world. We knock on strangers' doors, or ring them on the phone and ask them whether and how they vote. We note it down, put it into the computer and on polling day we go round and remind our "promises" to vote.

Some voters are phenomenally rude. Ruder than you can possibly imagine. Ruder than they would ever expect anyone else to be to them. Ruder even than the Twittersphere, which often feels like listening to someone's innards as they digest a particularly aggressive prawn jalfrezi. Many cheekily whisper in your ear that they will be voting Labour as if they're engaging in a major insurrection. You get some laughs. For some reason, I regularly get men answering the door stark naked. Indeed, once in High Wycombe, the well-toned young man even invited me in. I didn't know where to look. And I had two people tell me this week point blank that they could not vote Labour because we were running the country so badly. Could I persuade them that David Cameron is a Tory, not a Labour prime minister? Not a bit of it. If anything, they seemed all the more convinced that politicians just lie. Meanwhile, my mind goes back to the Kincardine and Deeside by-election in November 1991, when I was on permanent telephone canvassing duty as it was raining in horizontally from the North Sea. I had adopted a sort of Dr Finlay's Casebook Scottish lilt. "Hello, is Mrs McLeod there?" I asked. "Aye." "Might I speak with her?" "No." "Is there a reason I might not speak with her?" "I'm the undertaker and I'm laying her out."

Toxic Tories look after their own

You might have missed it, but on Thursday night Labour's Rob Evans took a seat off the Tories in Chipping Norton, that bastion of Cameroon Murdocracy. He was not alone. Duncan Enright, one of the nicest men in Labour politics, won Labour's first ever seat in Witney, slap bang in the middle of David Cameron's backyard (if such a man as he has anything so infra dig as a yard). Few things are inevitable in politics, but one thing is certain: the day after crushing local election defeats, political leaders do their level best to pooh-pooh them. And so it came to pass with a gaggle of Tory cabinet members suggesting this is just normal or finding some specious reason why we should have done even better. Now I admit that one sparkling set of election results does not a crate of vintage champagne make, but losing council seats hurts local parties. It undermines morale. And it makes it that little bit harder to build a general election victory.

So is there anything we can really read from all this? I suspect that Gerald Howarth and his ilk are way off beam with their charge that the Tory collapse is all to do with "gay marriage" (his term, not mine) and Lords reform. Undoubtedly, the weeks of government pratfalls on top of the real economic pain many people are feeling are largely to blame.

But I think Cameron should look to a deeper malaise. For in the Jeremy Hunt kerfuffle of the past fortnight, the Prime Minister made one particularly strange comment that nobody else seems to have commented on. In describing his own attempt to cosy up to the Murdochs, he said that "unlike the Labour Party, we were not trying to convince a centre-right proprietor of a set of newspapers with solidly centre-right views to change the position of a lifetime". Fair point, in one sense. Murdoch never felt like a natural Labour bedfellow, and even when The Sun was supposedly supporting Labour, it always felt as if he was still kicking us hard under the covers. But clearly Cameron thinks that he and Rupert, George and James, Jeremy and Rebekah are all peas in a Chipping Norton pod, which is why Tory MPs on the Culture Committee were happy to vote en masse to defend Rupert Murdoch. If he were "unfit" to run a major international company, then maybe people would surmise that Cameron was also "unfit" to run the country.

In one sense, this matters not a whit. Nobody voted on Thursday on the question of Murdoch. But the sense of a government looking after its own chums, whether they be trustafarians, or 50p raters, or City bonus grifters or old-school-tie compadres, has retoxified the Tory brand so fast that even the horses of Chipping Norton have reared up.

Lost in the talk of dark matter

Thanks to my gorgeous scientifically literate friend Kath, I attended the Science Museum's Director's Dinner on Wednesday. I hadn't quite realised that this was really an event for scientists – and my suggestion that theology was the queen of sciences did not pass muster – so I felt like an interloper as I listened to the director general of Cern, the German particle physicist Rolf Heuer, talk about the Large Hadron Collider, the magnet quench incident and the predominance of dark matter. Apparently, he has made a bet with Stephen Hawking, who was there, about whether the Higgs boson exists – but neither of them can remember which of them bet which way.

Put firmly in my scientific place

It is not the first time I have felt scientifically challenged. Fifteen years ago, I was asked to preach at a Cambridge college and had prepared a sermon on the nature of time, arguing that far from being circular it was linear as we were not bound to act out some imaginary preordained script but free agents. I confess it was a rather overcomplicated message, so you can see why I never really made the grade as a vicar, but I was creased with embarrassment as I took my seat in the chapel stall to see Professor Hawking, the magisterial author of A Brief History of Time opposite me. So ashamed was I of my paltry offering that I didn't dare meet him afterwards and scuttled away.

Twitter: @ChrisBryantMP

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