Falling for the PM: A hand-holder's guide to voting


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The Independent Online

Picture the scene: you are on your way to work, walking down a busy London high street. It's hot, and the noise of the traffic seems closer and louder than normal. You feel a bit woozy, reach out for a wall that's not quite in reach. The next thing you know, you're lying on the pavement looking up at the sky, and there's the Prime Minister, holding your hand and telling you reassuringly that the ambulance is on its way.

This must have been something like the experience of a pedestrian who collapsed on a street in Harrow last week. As she fell, the car carrying David Cameron and his rival Boris Johnson glided past. I can only take a wild guess, but I imagine the two men were rowing about the London Mayor's evasiveness over his political ambitions at the time. "Cripes, Dave, we need to rescue that woman!" Boris probably said, grateful of the opportunity for further evasion, and instructed the driver to pull over. An ambulance was called and, while waiting for paramedics, the PM held the stricken woman's hand.

When I heard this last detail, my instinctive, gut reaction was that if I had to choose between Cameron and Johnson, I'd rather the PM held my hand (although if I could choose anyone it would be my mum). But is it that I think Cameron would be more serious, while Boris would make light of my predicament? Is the Prime Minister perceived as more reassuring and compassionate than his fellow rumbustious former Bullingdon Clubber? And does this say anything about what voters want at a general election?

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and a keen observer of politics, says there is an aspect to Cameron – given how movingly he spoke about caring for his disabled son, Ivan – that will have registered, even only subconsciously, with voters. The personal tragedy he and his wife suffered with the death of Ivan, aged six, stirs memories in the electorate.

Does this view of a compassionate Conservative translate into votes? Professor Cooper says it can. Excluding those people who make up the core vote for each party, the parties are, as ever, hunting for the floating voters next May. There will be a rump of undecided voters who will make their choice on the economy – whether they are swept along by the feel-good factor, or they feel the cost of living is still too high.

With the 2015 election looking as close as it is, it could come down to an even smaller but all powerful section of voters who will pencil a cross based on their guts – what Prof Cooper calls the "tipping-point factor".

Even though in a parliamentary democracy we vote for a local MP, it is the prospective inhabitant of No 10 we have in our minds as we stand in the voting booth. It will be the seemingly insignificant but very human things, like whether we would be reassured by Cameron holding our hand or Ed Miliband rushing to our rescue if we fell off our bike, as he once did with a woman in Camden, that could decide next year's race.

Not so nice Nigel

Nigel Farage would possibly not be the ideal person for hand-holding, but voters often pick him as the party leader they would most like to go to the pub with. This matey, pint-at-lunchtime image has served the Ukip leader well. But has Farage reached his own tipping point?

The Sun says his assertion that there's a difference between German and Romanian immigrants is racist, and I agree. If the newspaper with the toughest line on immigration is against Farage, it's difficult to see where he goes from here. Even his clarification yesterday didn't help matters when he claimed "any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door" because of the "high level of criminality" among this community.

For weeks we have watched a series of Ukip councillors, candidates and activists exposed for having seriously dodgy sexist, racist and homophobic views. Farage has suggested they are on the periphery of his party. But his LBC interview shows it is the leader himself who has dubious opinions.

Muslims to put faith in

Despite this, the Defence minister Anna Soubry insisted last week that Britain is a moderate and tolerant country. This weekend marks the first anniversary of the horrific murder of soldier Lee Rigby by men claiming their actions were in the name of Islam. Those who truly represent the Muslim faith found their actions abhorrent.

It is individuals such as former British Army Captain Afzal Amin, who is standing as a Conservative candidate for Parliament, and Amir Cheema, the Scout leader who has received an award from the Prime Minister for bringing children from different backgrounds together, who really represent Muslims in this country.

There's no fur like fake fur

In the staid House of Commons, where you need a letter from English Heritage to put up a pin board on the office wall, there was much taking-in of breath at photographs of Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi's £4.5m house which has just come on the market with estate agent Winkworth in Putney, south-west London.

Zahawi's flamboyance in interior design would make Liberace give up and go to Ikea: the purple pool table is the least colourful thing there. On the walls are Warhol-esque paintings of Martin Luther King, Liza Minnelli and the MP for Stratford-upon-Avon himself. In the master suite, hanging over the black leather bed, is a bedspread made of what looks like the fur of 14 raccoon dogs. Peta, the animal-rights group, says it hopes that the cover is a fake. It says that given Zahawi is a co-founder of the polling firm YouGov, he should know that the British public are opposed to fur for "frivolous fashions and disgusting decorations".

"If the fur is real, Zahawi should donate it to Peta so it can be used in an educational display about violence in the fur industry or else bury it," says a spokesman. In fact, when I asked the MP for a response, he says his wife, Lana, was responsible for the interior design and that he's "almost certain it's fake". Thank goodness for that.