Whether it’s being on the receiving end of a John Prescott punch or an insult from the Gordon Brown, nothing upsets the rhythm of an election campaign quite like an impromptu meeting between a politician and the public.
That moment came on Wednesday morning when, during a routine walkabout by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, up popped Malcolm Baker.
As he later told the Telegraph: “I had something I had to get off my chest.” And he certainly did.
Spotting a gap in the crowd of supporters around Mr Farron in Kidlington, north of Oxford, Mr Baker stepped forward, button holed his man and began berating him over Brexit.
With Mr Farron struggling to get a word in – oh how the tables are turned on these occasions – Mr Baker let fly, accusing him of regarding anyone who voted to leave the EU as racist. “You think Leave voters are all racist,” he said, jabbing his finger. “I’m proud that they’ll be coming out of Europe and we’ll have our own policy and won’t have to pay a 100 billion bill to leave!”
Mr Farron tried in vain to point out that some of his best friends had voted Leave and aren’t racists. But Mr Baker would have none of it.
“Don’t tell people who voted Leave that they didn’t know what they were voting for,” he said.
The sight of two men squaring up reminded political observers of the moment in the 2001 election when Mr Prescott, then Labour deputy, responded to a close-range egging with a sharp left jab.
But Mr Farron is a Lib Dem, and a committed Christian, and appeared to take it all with remarkably good grace. Disappointingly he didn’t even mutter anything about his tormentor being “a bigot”, as Mr Brown said of voter Gillian Duffy after their ill-fated 2010 meeting.
And yet, what should have been a carefully stage managed photo-opportunity had been spectacularly hijacked by that most dangerous of political predators – a “member of the public”.
After his sudden propulsion into the national consciousness, Mr Baker, who turned 65 yesterday, explained why he felt compelled to confront Mr Farron. “I’m angry that we’re all being tarred as racists,” he said. “Everybody thinks that Leavers voted purely over immigration and we didn’t.
“Uncontrolled immigration and the impact it’s having on this country was a factor for some, I’m sure, but it was not the only reason ... for me, and many others, the chief reason was the fact that our laws our being made in Europe by an unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy.”
Mr Baker, a lifelong Labour voter from Woodstock, was asked by Mr Farron if he could justify his vote to his grandchildren and he said he was proud to have chosen Brexit.
“We can’t predict the future, but in years to come I’ll be able to tell by nine-month-old grandson, Alfie, that I voted to give Britain a chance to govern itself,” he said.
Mr Baker – who received an MBE in 2003 for raising money for charity as an Elvis Presley impersonator – said the EU “has become an uncontrollable beast”. The retired Royal Mail manager went on: “It’s too big, it’s too expensive, it’s got an accounting system that’s shot to pieces. Voting to leave means we have the opportunity to take control of our own destiny and make friends with the rest of the world.”
He admits Brexit has divided the country. Indeed, his daughter voted Remain while his son voted Leave. “She thinks I’m an idiot and he thinks I’m brilliant,” said Mr Baker. “Some people are calling me the village idiot.”
As if to prove the point, his niece Sarah Baker posted on Twitter: “Malcolm Baker is my uncle, and I’m absolutely bloody mortified. Maybe I should give up my maiden name after all.”
Reflecting later at home, Mr Baker said: “I sit in my front room watching politicians spouting off and sometimes I just want to kick the TV ... seeing that Mr Farron was in my neighbourhood was just too good a chance to miss. I just felt I had to get what I think off my chest. And, to be fair, he was very nice about it.” “We’re being branded as bigots, but the 52 per cent voted to leave for the right reasons,” he said.
“Brexit isn’t about being little Britain. It’s about becoming more global and with the right people in charge taking the opportunity to trade with the United States, with the Commonwealth, with every country.”