The question asked by my private polling company went – Does the Sketch, A) travel to Birmingham and watch the PM launch his party manifesto in front of a paid-up group of activists in order to observe how loudly they laugh at his jokes, and how warmly they applaud the two-minute video? Or B) stay in London and watch the thing on the TV with retiring MP Bob Marshall-Andrews?
In the end, 108 per cent of readers voted for B. What pros they are, my pollsters, they'll go far.
Bob Marshall-Andrews – born working-class, clever, assisted place in a public school, barrister, QC, Recorder – has been an MP for 13 years and never held government office. He doesn't really have the qualities that suit (such as wanting it). He is not so much old Labour as classic Labour, with all the sense of disappointment that implies. His face has a melancholy quality under the cheerfulness. It looks lived-in. By squatters. With very loud music systems.
His attitude to his leaders, in the space available = Brown: neurotic. Blair: psychotic. He knows which side he's on.
He looked at the new hospital in which Brown's manifesto launch was taking place. "It's paid for on a Private Finance Initiative so it's probably owned by a bank and we probably own the bank. It can't help but fall in on itself."
He took it bravely but he must have suffered as Brown said he was personally ready to answer the call of the future, and that he was "in the future business", and that he was "encouraging a thousand acts of compassion".
As far as I could tell he was content with the this-and-that of paternity leave, the rates holiday and the 70,000 apprentices. He's always been in favour of tax credits. But it was the New Idea that made his noble old face discernibly slide down the front of his head. This was the Old Idea of New Labour. It was the reform idea. Schools, hospitals and even police forces will now take over their less successful counterparts.
It combines the best and worst of Blair and Brown together. It's the sort of combination that could kick off Armageddon.
But back to Bob. "On the plus side, you've got a man with essential gravitas. You're listening to a big man, bigger than any of his opponents. But he's breaking all the rules of advocacy. You can't put your client up as a blameless individual. He talks about recovery, revival, renewal without taking any responsibility for what we're recovering from. Not a word of contrition, not a hint of the failure of regulation that helped lead to the crash.
"It's all how well the government's done. And if the government's done so well but things aren't right, then who's to blame? It's the public sector workers. They've let us down. They are to jump through higher and higher hoops with targets and directives and this... idea of police forces taking over other police forces (words fail him momentarily)... "This is going to alienate enormous numbers of doctors, social workers, teachers, police, because when it's analysed, the blame is implicitly laid at their door. And they will feel bruised by a manifesto that says public service professionals are not cutting the mustard."
That's what he left with. That and the Government cutting out the Commons reform at the last minute of the wash-up. That and the fact our political system is in crisis because the system has been destroyed. It's a presidential democracy suddenly, not a parliamentary one. That was something Gordon had promised to reverse, but hadn't and hadn't mentioned. "There is no cabinet government any more."
And what did he manage to do in the best 13 years of his life, his prime? "We got in the way." That's a modest report of it. Maybe it was a modest achievement. But he and his confreres they more or less saved jury trial by "getting in the way". It may not be the world-class ambition that our leaders talk about but it has a very British – or at least, a very English – feel to it.