The Third Leader: Pipe dreams

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister, speaking at his question-and-answer session in Bournemouth yesterday, once again stressed his desire to bring all manner of people into his big tent. It seems, then, only polite to respond.

To secure our entry through the big flap, though, Mr Brown needs to address our particular concerns and interests. Dogged readers will know that these major around trying very hard to produce a smile, if only a bleak, wintry one, no matter how unpromising the material or situation.

Which brings us back to the question-and-answer session in Bournemouth. Would Mr Brown reach out to us, the shallow and the flighty? Well, to show us he was on our wavelength, he brought along Mariella Frostrup. And he gave it a go. He smiled. He even produced a noise not heard since the (early) days of Jim Callaghan: the uncle's chuckle.

Did it work? Up to a point, Lord Tebbit. Mariella, as chair and interviewer, tried hard, too, but male female double-acts have always been a tough gig, with the encouraging and pertinent exception of The Krankies.

Still, he mixed it up. There was the serious, inspiring stuff (some of which, of course, might turn out to be a joke). There were at least two funny stories, both of which were around 100 years old (no, really, they were), some awkward banter about drink, and a ponderous closing quip about the election.

It was rather endearing: he is both a much worse and a much better performer than his predecessor. My one suggestion would be a pipe, but I imagine the big tent is non-smoking.