The Sketch: It didn't matter what they said – no one was listening

  • @SimonSketch

The blue and yellow livery of your tractors," Nick Clegg said, pausing for comic timing, "is tailor-made for the political, er, situation." It was a joke. It relied for its effect on the company colour scheme. This consists of a Conservative blue background on which lettering is rendered in yellow, a colour favoured by the Liberal Democrats. The DPM was making a link with his audience. He was getting in touch with them by comparing their mutual colour schemes.

There was no laughter from the rows of drivers. There was no anything. It was reactionless. Perhaps one man's expression deepened from casual to active indifference – but I may be over-interpreting.

What were they doing here, the Prime Minister and his deputy, talking to a circle of heavily muscled working men in T-shirts? Men in black, the politicians were from different worlds, there's no denying it.

Our heroes had come to Basildon because it isn't Sunningdale, or Ascot, or the Rose Garden at Downing Street. East Essex is an in-touch sort of place. They had come to this factory to be in touch with working people. Not just to say, "We get it, OK?" But to say, "Actually, we really, really get the elusive 'it' that people talk about, yes, and with a cherry on top!"

So, they talked about the things they were "hugely proud of", and about life chances, and focus, and delivery, and monetary policy, and governing for the whole country and, as they did, they sometimes got a drum roll. That is, a drum was rolled across the factory floor. Chains clattered. Metal clashed. How in touch was that? It wasn't just the optics of the venue, the audio was authentically anchored in the sweat-based community.

The occasion had all the attributes of the modern politician's fightback. A clever location, well-dressed set, authentic casting using non-actors, and a complete failure from beginning to end.

As in dud films, the script was the problem. "The Olympics, we haven't woken up to it – it's unbelievably exciting!" In that audience they might as well have been clapping their hands and skipping round the hall in blue-checked dresses.

Everything we'd heard before we really didn't want to hear again. And the things we hadn't heard before should never have been said at all. Asked about the price of diesel, one of them said: "The world diversifying its fuel supplies will have a good effect for people using tractors."

It's a class problem. A failure of manners. No one who had any regard for the people around them would talk to them like this. Ed Miliband had said earlier in the day that politics was in crisis because people no longer believed politicians. That may be true. But judging from Basildon yesterday I'd be very surprised if anyone's even listening.