Simon Carr: Unhappy few get a little touch of Tory in the night

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The Independent Online

People say it's easy to criticise. They have no idea. A small crowd of supporters gathered in Abingdon town square to witness one of the last moments of the Conservative campaign. "Moments" may be too large a word for it.

The town claims to be the oldest in England. Maybe it is. There is an imposing Corn Exchange-sort of building in the square. Stone arches support a high-windowed hall, a magnificent civic monument. How proud we British were in those days; what a lot we thought of ourselves. It must be very old.

To welcome the Conservative leader, 100 or so supporters had come to stand in the ring; a circle of townspeople, attracted by the vast, bus-borne satellite dishes, watched from the outer pavement. "Are you a supporter or a bystander?" I asked a man.

"Mind your own business," he growled. I think it was clear what he meant.

In his speech, Mr Hague mentioned a Conservative candidate from a neighbouring constituency who'd come to support the rally. But the fellow wasn't there. He had a more pressing engagement, picking up two visiting Middle European politicians from the station. Politics is all about priorities. Bold decisions. Tough choices. This Conservative candidate had chosen station duty over a public rally for his leader.

The Liberal Democrats stayed away as well. They always fight for the underdog, which may account for such support as the Tories now command.

Mr Hague set out the reasons for voting Conservative. It was the pitch of a sales manager giving his sales force a motivational talk. He needed something bigger. He needed something better. He might have taken inspiration from Henry V attacking his supporters (the best form of defence). "He which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart!" And pick up foreign politicians from the station!

Yes, there's much of Shakespeare's play that would have been useful to Mr Hague in this, the last ditch of the campaign, an indomitable leader facing insuperable odds: "We few, we happy few!" That would at least have been half right. "We band of brothers," the speech goes on. "For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother be he ne'er so vile!" That isn't quite how we talk to voters these days, but it has a solid Tory ring to it.

No. We heard teachers should be freed from excessive bureaucratic burdens of form-filling. Public servants allowed to get on with the job. The NHS given back to doctors. Police able to do their jobs.

"He that outlives this day and comes safe home Will stand a-tip-toe when this day is named, And rouse him at the name of Crispin!" Were you aware, as a matter of interest, of the deficiencies in our food hygiene and animal welfare regimes? We in the square were alerted to it.

"And gentlemen of England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks, That fought with us today upon St Crispin's Day!"

"I want to pay more tax!" a woman from the Labour Party shouted, as if someone were stopping her.

"Get off, you've got your own placard," a Labour protester protested. "Excuse me! You'll put someone's eye out with that!"

"Vote Conservative on Thursday," Mr Hague told his few, unhappy few. After Hal's great speech, Montjoy told him: "Thou art so near the gulf thou needs must be englutted." It didn't turn out like that in the play. But then, they had a muse of fire to ascend the brightest heaven of invention. You need one of those in situations like these. You need a muse of fire if you don't want to be englutted.

That morning, the radio announcer told us William Hague would be on after the news. "He's the Leader of the Opposition, and hopes that he won't be doing that job for the next five years," he said.

That is probably the one thing that William Hague does hope.