Along the dank corridors of the House of Commons and in the airy cafés of Portcullis House, new Members of Parliament still swap tall tales from the campaign. Part of the problem these days is not just convincing the electorate of the virtues of your candidacy, but getting them to vote at all. I encountered one recalcitrant citizen on the eve of polling day.
Me: ‘Will you be voting tomorrow, Madam?’
Voter: ‘Nah, can’t be bothered.’
Me: ‘That’s a shame. Are you disillusioned with politics? Do you feel voting doesn’t make a difference?’
Voter: ‘No. My mother-in-law’s sister runs the polling station and I can’t bear the sight of her.’
Me: ‘Fair enough.’
This year marks the 25th birthday of Emma Bridgewater’s pottery works in Stoke-on-Trent. For a quarter of a century, her business has been hand-producing the signature ‘spotted’ designs, mixing a quirky Englishness with John Lewis-style commercial precision. Profits are up, employment is growing, and the company is turning Hanley town centre around. Last Thursday, the ‘cerameratti’ — the Dudsons, the Churchills and the Johnsons — joined Adam Nicolson, Matthew Rice and other North Staffs creatives at the Potteries Museum for an evening of champagne, brass bands and a new exhibition of her back catalogue. And the encouraging talk these days is of ‘on-shoring’: bringing back ceramics jobs to Stoke-on-Trent as currency fluctuations, energy rates and labour costs make East Asia less competitive. For as Josiah Wedgwood knew, and Emma Bridgewater continues to prove, it all comes down to design.
Tales from the Campaign No. 2. In a particularly hard-fought battle in the north-west, a certain Labour candidate had the advantage of beauty. Recount followed recount as the votes were tallied. Then they came to the spoilt ballots. The usual nutty invective was scrawled across most of the papers. Until they came to one voting slip which bore the legend, ‘Get your baps out!’, closely written next to said candidate’s name. Quick as a flash, her election agent argued this was clearly a vote in favour and should be added to the tally. The returning officer ungallantly demurred.
Staring across the Chamber at the Liberal Democrat quislings, we see their shifty discomfort with the ‘coalition’ grow each passing day. As they start to sign off on David Cameron’s cuts — with an asset-rich Cabinet abolishing Child Trust Funds for the poorest in the country — their sense of hopelessness accelerates. So we on the Labour benches bear witness to the Liberal Democrats’ crisis of identity, which is made flesh in ever more lurid displays of yellow clothing. Luminescent yellow ties, yellow scarves and then — the coup de grâce — a yellow waistcoat worn by Colchester MP Bob Russell. He glowed like a human Magic Marker. But even this wardrobe will not be enough to save them from the Tories’ anaconda embrace.
Knocking up the steep, residential banks of Trent Vale on election day, I was delighted to receive a phone-call from Flora Fraser. At the other end of the phone were sat herself, A.N. Wilson, Lady Antonia Fraser, historians Munro Price, Roy Foster and Andrew Roberts ready to award me the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography for my work on Friedrich Engels. Flora herself is well acquainted with North Staffordshire, having, as a child, campaigned for her father in Stone with the slogan, ‘Don’t vote Labour. Vote Hugh Fraser.’ An altogether more romantic connection is that at Stoke-on-Trent railway station, Frank Longford proposed to Elizabeth. And those acquainted with the curved platform lines, Derbyshire brickwork and ridge-and-furrow roof know it is exactly the right place to seduce a historian.
My son’s admiration for Maisy Mouse gave me the perfect excuse to visit the Hay-on-Wye festival over the Bank Holiday. Forget Marcus du Sautoy on maths or Tina Brown on ‘whither blogging’, for me Hay is about Cyril Squirrel and Eddie Elephant. The questions fired at Maisy author Lucy Cousins by a room of overachieving four-year-olds were incisive: ‘Are you married with Maisy?’ ‘Why doesn’t Ostrich have a name?’ Leaving Hay, we bumped into Eric and Marlene Hobsbawm, who were full of pride at the Labour leadership bids of their late, great friend Ralph Miliband’s sons Ed and David. But with trademark political precision, Eric felt it would be ‘incorrect’ to choose between the two.
One of the more surprising greetings I have had walking the Palace of Westminster is the cry of ‘Zac! Zac!’ as a hefty, backwoods Tory MP lumbers after me in the forlorn hope I might be the new member for Richmond Park. As I turn on my heels ready to explain the small matter of there being a billion pounds between myself and Mr Goldsmith, there is a pained display of disappointment. But I also explain to them that while Zac Goldsmith is MP for a flight path on the edge of Heathrow, I represent one of the great conurbations of England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, home to Arnold Bennett, resting place of the Staffordshire Hoard, and — after a tough couple of decades — a city on the rise again. It is an extraordinary privilege.
Tristram Hunt is Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central.