Phil's General Election blog

Our political correspondent kicks off his election blog


My last day at Westminster for a while. The doors are being locked. The House of Commons is now a politician-free zone.To Smith Square, just round the corner, for the launch of UKIP's campaign.

Not long ago, I was one of just a handful of journalists at a UKIP election launch. Sometimes it wasn't even a handful. Those days are gone. There's a huge crowd of reporters, photographers and camera people.

Everyone's waiting for Nigel Farage.

He's late. His press team are looking anxiously down the street in the direction of The Marquis of Granby.

The Marquis isn't a UKIP grandee. It's the nearest pub and it's a Farage favourite.Surely not...Then a black car draws up and he arrives. A sheet covering a huge UKIP poster is torn down so rapidly it almost takes a couple of their candidates with it. A few words from the leader about UKIP's Prescott-style pledge card (the old campaigning ideas are often the best) and then he's mobbed by reporters. And that's it.It all felt a bit low-key, like all the parties' efforts on Day One.

They've all had ages to plan for today. Was this the best UKIP could do? Was a speech to business leaders the best Ed Miliband could do?

Was heading off to the Palace - unnecessarily - the best Messrs Cameron and Clegg could do?You got the feeling that it's not just some voters who are suffering election fatigue even before the real campaign gets going.Things, as someone once sang, can only get better.


To the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury to chair an ITV Schools Debate with sixth formers from the city and a panel of four politicians. It should have been five but the Green Party representative was stranded in London when her train was cancelled.

More proof, she would doubtless say, that the railways should be renationalised. Not surprisingly, the students' concerns didn't mirror those of voters as a whole. Immigration, for instance, wasn't much of an issue for them.

But they did want to know about the tax on tampons, the way the media cover politics and whether the monarchy should be abolished.On tuition fees they seemed remarkably unfussed.

These sixth formers seemed to accept them as a fact of life. And, surprisingly, none of them thought Labour's promise to reduce fees to 6,000 pounds would make any difference to young people thinking about going to university.Grammar schools divided opinion - but this was in Kent, after all,which is one of the few places in the country where they still exist.

As for the politicians, inevitably the issue of Europe created the liveliest moments.

As our French friends would say, plus ca change.The first time I was in the Gulbenkian was for an ITV debate in 1986.The issue then was Europe-related and it provoked furious argument.It was about "the fixed link" - what we used to call the Channel Tunnel before there was one.Back then, the audience overwhelmingly decided it was a bad idea because it could lead to uncontrolled immigration. The fear was that closer European integration via a "fixed link" would mean Kent would get invaded.

Not by Polish plumbers - that really would have seemed far-fetched in1986 - but by French dogs.The audience were convinced a tunnel would mean the dogs would all head to Sangatte and escape to Britain - and, when they got here, they'd bite us and give us all rabies.

The podiums are set for Thursday's leaders' debates on ITV Credit: ITV


A day up north, by train to Manchester.

Media City. Last time I was here in Salford, before it was all built, it felt I was in the middle of nowhere. Now it's transformed.

It's an amazing place. The home of 5 Live, Blue Peter, The Voice... and now the ITV Leaders' Debate. It's the only time David Cameron will come face to face with his opponents.

It was great to check out the venue and see all the preparations. The set is fantastic, and the whole team producing it are determined it'll be memorable. Donna the floor manager we all know as our floor manager on the ITV regional political shows. It was good to see a friendly face. The leaders will be safe in Donna's hands.

It's not the first leaders' debate of course. That was the ITV debate five years ago. But there's another excitement now because this time we'll give the country its only 2015 debate in which all the leaders are present. And no-one has a clue how the format - seven leaders sharing a stage - will work.

The train back down south is delayed. The West Coast Mainline is in chaos. Thirsty passengers who get on at an unscheduled stop, Milton Keynes, are told the shop has had to close because of overcrowding. Whoever closed a shop because there were too many customers? "Hope you all had a comfortable journey," says the cheery guard as we pull into Euston. "I know you didn't but I have to say it so I can chalk it off my list of things to say'.

Everyone laughs.

He makes us slightly less grumpy about how late back we are.