“I just want people to vote,” says ‘pub landlord’ and wannabe South Thanet MP Al Murray, at a press conference at the New Inn Pub in Sandwich today. “They can vote for me or they can vote for someone else – that’s how it works. It’s a free country.” Whether his inclusion on the ballot will have that effect is less clear , writes Steve Ballinger.
I was in South Thanet with Helen Whitehouse, the Daily Mirror’s Voice of a Generation reporter, finding out what young people think of the political debate taking place here.
The sixth formers we met outside the pub – politics students enjoying a real-life political tussle on their doorstep – weren’t impressed, with either Murray or Farage. “I just want anyone but UKIP,” one of them told us. “I think it’s a shame my first vote will probably be a tactical one”.
Inside, the media were there in number – from Channel 4 and Sky to TV crews from Germany, Holland and even The Gambia. The planned parachute jump hadn’t happened – because of his weight, he claimed – but when Murray landed at the New Inn there was quite a scrum awaiting him. There is hardly a pressing need to raise the media profile of this Kent constituency, however, when UKIP leader Nigel Farage can summon the london media to any pub of his choosing for his own press conferences.
The apprentices we’d chatted to earlier at Ramsgate football club, also in the South Thanet constituency, weren’t aware of today’s big event down the road. Their take on politics was rather different to that of the Sandwich students.
Olly, 19, was fed up with the negativity that characterises political debate. He did, however, think UKIP was offering something new and different, and had breathed a bit of life into politics in Thanet. Not enough life, mind you – neither he nor fellow apprentice Ellis, 18, was planning to vote.
“I’m not really interested. Politicians don’t speak to young people,” Ellis told us.
Al Murray had brought a bunch of sixth-formers with him to the press conference today, “the voters of the future” as he called them. His pitch, delivered in ‘pub landlord’ character throughout, was one of benign intent – to increase political engagement. That Nigel Farage is standing in the same constituency, he claimed, was pure coincidence.
But will his presence help get more young people – 2 million of whom nationwide won’t bother turning up at the polls in May – to cast a vote? Of our two apprentices, Olly thought that Murray was making a mockery of Thanet and giving the town a bad name. Ellis hadn’t even heard of him.