It’s nice to be wanted

21 March 2001

The election hasn’t started yet (although it feels like it has from the rapidly-spiralling workload) and already I am being lobbied by pressure groups. No-one’s actually offered me any brown envelopes yet, but apart from that I’ve never felt so popular.

First off the mark was the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They invited me to a drinks reception co-hosted by Dr Vincent Cable, the Twickenham MP who is the former chief economist of Shell International and our shadow trade and industry spokesperson.

It sounded rather grand, but sadly it also coincided with the final evening before a key council by-election in the next door constituency to mine. Faced with a choice between sparkling wine and canapés among distinguished company, and rain-swept Chiswick streets, there was only one possible decision. London’s business leaders had to make do without my wise counsel.

Next through the post-box was the Britain in Europe campaign, with a helpful series of factsheets designed to brief hurried candidates on the salient issues. I now have no excuse for failing to understand EU structural funds, qualified majority voting and economic success in the Republic of Ireland. How easy it is for an overworked politician to have his thinking done for him.

Which is a problem, when you stop and consider it. As it happens, Britain in Europe are completely open about their enthusiasm for this country playing a leading role in Europe and about their support for the single currency. And I agree with them, so I’m happy to receive their material. But I can’t help wondering how many organisations will be pretending to be offering balanced and neutral information during this campaign, when in fact they are pushing a line and hoping it gets swallowed whole by the harassed and the unsuspecting. One to watch, I think.

No such doubts about Age Concern, who were the next off the mark. What you see is what you get with them. A manifesto with their priorities for the election and a survey to fill in and return. Do I believe pensioner poverty should be ended? May all questions be this easy to answer. Actually, I feel on safe ground here. In Scotland the Liberal Democrats forced the abolition of fees for long term personal care. We will spend this election campaign arguing for the same to apply across the whole country. No worries.

The most recent mailing came from Amnesty International, an organisation I joined as a student and still belong to. Consequently, agreeing to endorse their manifesto was another easy decision. Of course human rights should be at the centre of government policies. Hopefully no-one would argue against that one.

The point that all these groups are overlooking, of course, is that they are assiduously courting the prospective candidate of the party that scored 9.2% per cent in this constituency at the last general election. Strange things can happen in elections, but it would be a very strange thing indeed if I was to find myself in a position to grant their wishes after the election. Yet still they lobby me.

It’s nice to be wanted. But I wonder how many will want to invite me for drinks if I lose.