The Sketch: Thundering into the night, the leaders search for a new dawn

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The Independent Online

With only 36 hours to save whatever it is we're saving, speed was of the essence. So it was that while the nation slept, the Sketch was hurtling north at 3am looking for David Cameron's buses which were hurtling south. Would we meet? Would we miss each other? Would we be in time? The economy, the pound, the NHS, civil society, the Great Ignored and the Conservative Party were all in need of urgent salvation.

But maybe it was the wrong bus? For it is Gordon Brown who has moved into the salvation business. He's swapped prosaic for Mosaic. "He's back, and this time it's biblical!" Yesterday, he called the Tory inheritance tax proposal "the feeding of the 3,000". His use of scripture isn't exactly disinterested, but it seems to have connected him to a childhood admiration of his pulpit-bashing father. He has got a voice again, to warn us against Baal-worshipping idolatrous false-goddery.

Oh yes, David Cameron. He had arrived at Morrisons' distribution centre in Wakefield at 3.30am. The darkest hour. The young, energetically dressed leader hopped peppily on to two pallets to say: "I've been up all night you know. There are others who are too old, too tired, too done-in by the cares of office to do this. But see how young, fresh and full of drive I am. Look at these young, expressive fingers!" Or such was the subtext to his text.

And it wasn't a bad turnout for the middle of the night shift – say 30 workers. They move three million cases a week out of that warehouse. That's work.

He spoke perfectly well about bringing down the price of petrol, freezing council tax, and not imposing the whole of Labour's "jobs tax". He used his high-energy gestures, fixing on people with his eyes and talking to them. Answering their questions energetically and zippily and urgently and quickly. He called them "sir" and as far as it's possible to observe these things, they liked him well enough. He's a decent fellow and it's premature to believe anything else.

Off we went again, ever onwards, thundering into the night. To Grimsby! To help save that which needed saving in Lincolnshire. To the fish market, then! It was dawn. A new, smudgy, dull sort of dawn, no doubt a sign of the times. The Tory leader put on a hard hat, in case a flying fish fell on his head, and walked through the market surrounded by men who get up at 4.30 every day.

The hacks followed at a 50-foot distance, from behind a low wall of fish buckets. Suddenly a crackle of camera shutters. Something had happened! What? Dave had held up a fish! Was it a skate? I thought it was a skate. But no, someone said, it was a halibut! Save the halibut! Free that halibut! (The caffeine was really kicking in now.) But it was too late, the halibut was beyond salvation.

Then to a school. They were babes and sucklings. One opened his mouth and made a definitive contribution to Election 2010: "You all smell of fish."