The Third Leader: Poets' corner

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Goodness me, this election campaign is beginning to turn really nasty: the candidates have started trading poetry. And worse than that, some of it's their own. Yesterday, the BBC's Today programme, relentless as ever in its quest to raise spirits over breakfast, featured Peter Ains-worth with an offering of surprising quality from a former Tory arts spokesman; and David Blunkett, making a bid to become the Milton of our day with a bit about a wall.

Goodness me, this election campaign is beginning to turn really nasty: the candidates have started trading poetry. And worse than that, some of it's their own. Yesterday, the BBC's Today programme, relentless as ever in its quest to raise spirits over breakfast, featured Peter Ains-worth with an offering of surprising quality from a former Tory arts spokesman; and David Blunkett, making a bid to become the Milton of our day with a bit about a wall.

Personally, I have considered walls a no-go area for politicians ever since the unimproveable comment of Richard Nixon after visiting the Great Wall of China: "It's a great wall." And if this wasn't the Third Leader Department, I might also offer some pithy thoughts on the differing approaches to liberty of the former Commonwealth secretary and the former home secretary; as it is, I shall leave that sort of thing to those above me.

Here, we will concentrate on an ominous emerging pattern: first, what George Bush has on his iPod; now, poetry. We are talking the importance of the hinterland, or in George's case, apt reference approaching, wasteland: how could any sort of Texan not have Peter Kay and Tony Christie doing "(Is This The Way To) Amarillo", or, indeed, that country classic, "I Still Miss You, Baby (But My Aim's Getting Better)"?

Let me outline the nightmare scenario: Tony Blair at Agincourt, C Kennedy growling about wee timorous beasties, and Michael Howard Under Milk Wood. And that's before they shyly produce a small notebook.

Oh, yes: as many a mournful publican has muttered of many a coach party: they'll be singing next. Ladies, gentlemen, on behalf of the electorate, can I just ask you, please, to stick to the issues? I've always wanted to say that.

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