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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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A very special power for we ordinary voters

Chocolate chip cookies, a cup of strong tea and a bit of laugh-out-loud chat about windfarms, parking problems, General Election blues and April’s unseasonal humidity.

Just an ordinary afternoon gathering, really. Ordinary people in an ordinary Carlisle Salvation Army Hall, engaging in ordinary conversation about things that matter. At least that’s how some would describe it.

“The days are so changeable,” Dorothy said, extending her hand in warm welcome. “You don’t know whether to wear your thong or your double gusset.”

There’s not much ordinary about Dorothy – who looks as though she could get away with a thong very neatly, whatever the weather. Nor about her friends, meeting that day for their pensioners’ club. A less ordinary lot you couldn’t wish to meet.

Me neither, come to that. Ordinary was never really what I wanted from my life. So why high-minded political types keep calling us all that – in their particularly patronising way – remains an exasperating mystery to me.

It was ever thus. Self-elevated, carefully image-spun politicos just keep on repeating the affront.

We’re the “ordinary people” they try to woo – then fail by calling us bigots. Or we’re the “general public” – which is almost worse. Nobody wants to be only a member of the “general public” – a tiny, insignificant number in a grander scheme.

Much more fun’s to be had donning a double gussetted thong and joining a salsa-dancing or mile-high club than subscribing to membership of a general public.

Just who do they think they’re calling ordinary? What makes them think they’re so special, so set apart?

Busy avoiding questions that matter, while begging us to give them a job, when did they suddenly rise above the natural human state to promote a new feudal society of Westminster masters and the merely ordinary?

We were having none of it. Not me. Not Dorothy, nor her friends sharing tea and cookies and making plans for away-days to the country.

The next time a Prime Minister promises to get out and meet more “ordinary people”, he can swing a wide berth from us – with or without his microphone. We’re anything but. And we refuse to be general. They all need to know that.

My rite of passage to the less ordinary was relatively simple.

“What do you think of windfarms?” I was asked.

“Hate them.”

“You’ll do.”

Can’t think why election campaigns get so complicated.

So we chuckled in the Sally Army hall and chatted about speeding tickets and secretaries of state; airlines and aches and pains; shopping centres, pensions and of course, quirky old Carlisle, where everybody talks excitedly about making changes – but where nothing ever happens.

Well, not much anyway. Not in the day-by-day run of things. But we won’t see that again for a week or so.

Carlisle’s routine is suddenly reeling – cart-wheeling with rosettes pinned to her skirts.

There’s been a sudden rush of out-of-the-ordinary visitors to the city. Ministers and shadow ministers, worthies and actors. On trains, in cars and coaches they call battle buses – an extraordinarily aggressive name to give to a bus.

So attractive has Carlisle been to visiting VIPs eager to relate to ordinary people, heads have been turned. William Hague dropped by – starting rumours he’d made the trip to claim Conservative candidate John Stevenson as his long lost twin.

And there was the vicar from Emmerdale. Ashley, the dithering Rector who can’t quite decide whether he’s been unfaithful to his missus or not.

He popped in – looking very jaunty and loyally committed to the greater good – to lend support to Carlisle’s Labour man Michael Boaden and have his picture taken with “ordinary” people.

As did Ed Miliband who, it should be said here and now, has none of the Rev Ashley’s issues with half-remembered infidelity.

“I’ll be glad when it’s all over,” said one of Dorothy’s Salvation Army Hall crowd, munching his chocolate chip cookie. Maybe a tad grumpy – but entirely my fault. I should know better than to interrupt a man when he’s eating.

“They won’t tell us what we need to know until it’s over. I’m sick of waiting for the bad news.”

That makes two of us.

The good news is it won’t be long now. One more week before polling day. Just a few days before X will mark the spot of renewal for special individuals everywhere – Dorothy, the cookie-muncher, you, me.

Finally – resumption of lives less ordinary than any career politician could imagine.

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