On Friday night a week before election day, we are all complacent about #Auspol and fascinated by #brexit. Everyone but Bill Shorten, it seems, thinks Malcolm Turnbull is going to win. So all eyes are on the UK – they’ve just voted to leave the EU, David Cameron is stepping down and Boris Johnson has been touted as his successor.
Within hours I am at the airport on my way to London, enjoying the only five consecutive hours of uninterrupted sleep I will get over the next week. In-flight wifi proves a rude awakening. What happened to the glorious peace of being uncontactable whilst on a flight!?
We land at Heathrow at 9.30pm – greeted by a late London summer sunset full of the promise of Pimms and lemonade on the Thames. But nothing says reality like a phone call from the Commonwealth Bank informing you that some dodgy character has skimmed three grand out of your account whilst you were enjoying a small screen movie marathon. (Has anyone seen the movie Legend with Tom Hardy – is he not the best looking man you’ve ever seen? The East London accent and his penchant for a good suit and a tie bar? Amen! But I digress.)
Yet to check-in or offload my luggage, I’m straight to the CNN studio until 3 am. My head hits the pillow for a few hours then up again at 6am for PM Agenda and hosting my show The Latest out of Westminster. It feels like the world’s media is jammed onto a patch of grass barely the size of a football field. Some of the more ambitious, recognisable, and relevant MPs make their way across the road for various interviews at all hours of the day and night.
The UK press is vastly different to ours. British TV is very conservative (nothing like their sensationalist tabloid cousins) and senior reporters are the top dogs and want to see the hierarchy observed. British television’s own little aristocratic clique! Suffice to say no one is interested in friendly banter with an unknown reporter from Australia. So how do I work out who some of these 650 MP’s are? The best way is bluffing… or ‘blagging’ my way through. I find a familiar face in Nine’s Tom Steinfort – he’s a good mate and I trust him. So, after a few hours of live crosses, Tom runs over, sympathetic to my need to get some cracking guest on my show, and says ‘see this guy in the trench coat? I don’t know his name but he’s just done an interview with Bloomberg and he’s very good. He’s an ex-staffer for the Tories’.
Acting on that intel, I go for the intercept. ‘Excuse me Sir, my name is Laura from Sky News Australia. Sorry, I just saw you on Bloomberg (lie). Forgive me, who did you used to work for?’ Stares blankly, signs of contempt quickly spread across his face. Replies ‘Do you want to start again?’. I think, no, not really. But I’ve obviously bruised his ego. So I smile and mumble something about jet lag and being from Australia. After a long awkward moment he says ‘I didn’t work for anyone. I was the Foreign Secretary. Maybe you should do your homework’. And with that he is gone.
Over the coming days I speak to some familiar faces – no strangers to leadership instability themselves, John McTernan and Mike Rann are both back in the thick of it. McTernan who worked for Tony Blair and Julia Gillard has some choice advice for Jeremy Corbyn, who is holding on by the skin of his teeth, despite most of his party lambasting him in the press and in private – Monty Python’s Black Knight indeed. Mike Rann, former Australian High Commissioner, departs from all diplomatic language as he describes Brexiters as ‘deserters and cowards… a proxy vote to stage a Tory leadership coup… the electorate was manipulated into voting on what was really a dog whistle about race.’ Right. My days roll on in a cycle of three to four hours sleep, live crosses, interviews with various characters pushing their barrows with the odd glimpse of naked unspun truth. In my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, adrenaline-driven haze, I come to a crossroad. I can either use my spare three hours a day to catch up on sleep or I can reacquaint myself with the London I love. I choose the latter, carefully mapping out my minutes window shopping down Sloane St., en route to my happy place – Harrods for champagne and oysters. An absurd indulgence and a world away from my days pulling pints at the Marylebone Tip for 6 quid an hour. My body doesn’t know what time of day it is – it even seems somehow normal to have a glass of Pinot Noir at 10.30 am wrapped in a terry towelling robe.
My week is coming to an end and my requests for interviews with Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Sadiq Khan have been politely declined. My bags are packed, when I get a call from a guy called Gawain (no, not a typo). With a name like Gawain, he could only work for Nigel Farage.
Boris Johnson has just pulled out of the race for the Tory leadership, having been undermined by Michael Gove. Nigel Farage has just returned from giving the European Council one of the best ever ‘I told you so’ sprays. He isn’t speaking to any of the British press but he’ll speak to me. I have an hour to get to his office. Compared to the barely-lived-in surroundings of his office, the Ukip leader is splendidly sartorial, with the gritty charm of a man who obviously enjoys a good drink and a smoke. Respect. Declining the offer of a drink I make my way out of the office, only to bump into Liz Hayes from 60 Minutes. Nothing kills off an ‘Exclusive’ like the presence of a rival network. And with that, I too, was Brexiting. On my way home in time for election day, back to relative political stability; where the PM expects to be returned with a sizeable majority and a clear mandate, the electorate rewarding the genius of an early double dissolution election and allowing the PM to pull dissident conservatives into line.
Assumption the mother of all….
Laura Jayes is anchor of ‘The Latest with Laura Jayes’ on Sky News Live