The Sketch: Milburn takes inclusive politics to an exclusive few in Watford

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The Independent Online

So, here we are in Watford after all. Earlier in the morning, looking through the activity schedules, I saw Alan Milburn was said to be "in Watford". Splendid! Let's go and watch him on the doorstep as he engages people in the political process. "I hear Alan Milburn is going to Watford this afternoon?"

His assistant was amiability itself: "Who told you that?"

I told him. He weighed the credibility of the source, its friendliness to the Project, to the government and to Alan Milburn. The forcefields interfered with each other and crackled quite audibly in his brain. Then I told him that the visit was in the press schedules as well. At that point he agreed, that broadly speaking Alan Milburn would be in Watford that afternoon. It's a big place, as we know, could that be narrowed down a bit? With a time and place? That was more difficult. The information wasn't to hand. It was a bit early to tell. It was a local matter. It would vary. It's flexible. In short, no. I was to ring the local people. So I rang the local people. Yes, it was true that Alan Milburn was coming to Watford, but no, it was not possible to say where he would be exactly. It was a quiet time for Alan Milburn in Watford. So he may have been visiting a couple of residential homes and they would rather journalists weren't there. Oh really? The care homes themselves have said they don't want journalists, have they? "Ah ... we just feel it's a bit intrusive." What? For the residents? I understood the delicacies of the situation and suggested wandering around behind the "street blitz". He would be street blitzing afterwards, wouldn't he? Oh ... only if there's time. And not for long. Ten minutes. Who knows where? It would be here and there, if anywhere.

Eventually I rang up one of the local media and asked their newsdesk. "Meriden Primary School, 3 pm," they said.

Our political class has gone into a completely new space, individually and collectively. They want to engage people in the political process, they say, but only in their own narrow terms. If you are registered, stamped, approved, licensed and equipped with a special pass you have the right to request access to the political process. Which they have the right to refuse. If you're a member of the public you better wait behind your door on the off-chance of having a passing minister ring your bell.

Tony Blair had a meeting in front of 1,000 people in Liverpool last week. Every person invited was a party worker and each had to stand by their phones at lunchtime on the day to be told where the venue was.

"Is this election more controlled, more regulated, than before?" I asked Alan Milburn (in Watford).

He paused, to indicate thoughtfulness and said: "Not really, no." I didn't know what to say to that. Perhaps you do.