Don's Diary

June 8, 2001

Wednesday

OK, I know I am not normal. That is what my wife says anyway, just because I happen to enjoy election campaigns. I have been waiting for four years.

I get to Hove station at 6.45am to meet the BBC Breakfast News team, which needs a "local political expert" (do not have the heart to tell them I have lived in Sussex for only six months) to anticipate the nature of the campaign in marginal constituencies.

A paralysing gale is blowing in from the channel, but I utter my pearls of wisdom like a real trouper. A passer-by (bloke) tells me I "look gorgeous on TV". I dive for the taxi.

Friday

Spend the morning trudging around Brighton hotels in an attempt to find appropriate accommodation for a conference on the election later this summer. Most are a bit pricey for humble academics.

Back to the office to write begging letters to potential sponsors. Do my weekly reflection on the election campaign for Southern Counties Radio. Then an interview for Austrian TV against a backdrop of sunbathing students. The Austrians are keen to know about the prominence of issues such as Europe and asylum seekers. They ask me if the Tories have anti-immigration policies akin to those of Jorg Haider's blatantly xenophobic Freedom Party. I explain that racial conflicts tend to be comparatively low-key in the United Kingdom these days. That night, race riots break out in Oldham.

Tuesday

Campus looks glorious for a team from BBC's One O'Clock News, which is vox-popping students about predictions of heavier than usual abstention among female voters. I give them my take on this, which they ignore in favour of a passing observation to the effect that female politicians have not been very prominent in the campaign. Oh well.

An afternoon of marking dissertations in a stuffy office is interrupted by someone from the LA Times who wants to interview me about Labour's record in office. This becomes more drawn-out than expected (four times she says "and one final question").

I get a call from Southern Counties Radio to ask if I would be its studio pundit on election night. I do not like to ask if they seriously think anybody will be listening to SCR in the early hours of June 8 and anyhow I am too vain to say no. It could be fun, so long as I can stay awake until 4am.

Friday

Another day, another dissertation. And another interview, this time for the Hokkaido Shimbun (decidedly more exotic than SCR) on the challenges facing a second Blair government. On SCR later that day, I argue that the UK Independence Party might fatally weaken the Tories in a number of seats across the South, an impression reinforced by a visit to a hustings in Arundel that evening; there is no chance of anyone other than the incumbent Tory winning here, but UKIP's candidate elicits the most fevered applause, albeit from a minority. I am hoping for a night of surprises to keep me awake.

Paul Webb is professor of politics, University of Sussex and a keen election pundit.

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