Sketch: Spam, egg, chips and Lib Dems as Farron launches Manchester election campaign

Tom Peck
An enthusiastic Tim Farron campaigning in Manchester: PA

According to a recent poll, only a third of British people know who Tim Farron is, so the Liberal Democrat leader can count himself unlucky that the driver of a blue Transit van past Cringle Park in Manchester was one of the elite 33.3 per cent of the country that is even able to lean out the window and shout "Tim Farron is a tosser!" right as you’re launching your election campaign in front of a crowd of tens.

That said, it wasn’t the blue Transit’s first drive-by. Moments earlier, as the placards were being handed out, the local volunteer diligently checking who was a participant in the rally and who was press, the overall numbers being identical as ever, it had been past once already, this time shouting, "Go Home! Nothing’s going to change!" It’s possible then, that the second, more bespoke vituperation had been researched in a nearby lay-by.

Bisecting these two contributions was a second motorist, who braked suddenly up Erwood Road to shout "Vote Brexit!" I turned in time to be 95 per cent sure it had come from a driving instructor whose pupil had been explicitly instructed to slow down for the purpose, the subsequent getaway impeded by what looked to be a lengthy search for third gear.

They’d chosen Cringle Park not merely because a minicab firm a mile and a half away had never heard of it, but because it borders two Liberal Democrat “target” seats. One, Manchester Gorton, is among the safest Labour seats in the country, and perhaps might not be a “target seat” for the Lib Dems were they not already most of the way through a by-election campaign for it that has now been called off.

If the Liberal Democrats win Manchester Gorton, Labour could very well be reduced to single figures, making it very hard but by no means impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to stay on. But the money’s been spent now.

The leaflets printed. No going back. To call it a “meta-event” – ie an event that occurs solely for the purposes of being recorded by the media – would be a disservice to the word event.

The minutes leading up to the Dear Leader’s arrival were filled with feverish discussions between the two local candidates, their aides and various councillors, strategising the photo opportunities that would need to be capitalised upon while all the while sounding never more like the spam, spam spam spam egg chips and spam sketch from Monty Python.

“We need to get one with Jon and Tim,” one particular aide pondered gravely. “One with me and Tim, one with you and Tim, one with Jackie and Tim, one with Jackie and Jon and Tim, one with Jon and Jackie and no Tim, one with Jackie and you and no Tim, one with Tim and Tim, one with Tim, Tim and no Tim and one with Jon and Tim and you and no me or Tim. Does that make sense?”

Brenda “not another one!” from Bristol’s representative here in the form of a seven year old boy, who sat under a tree in his school uniform in the middle of a bivouac of “Liberal Democrats: Winning Here” placards.

He stared simultaneously into a phone and an iPad, one placed on top of the other, grabbing both his cheeks at the point where the jawbone meets the ear, and howled throughout without a second’s pause for breath, providing the precise background mood music that the nation’s politicians will spend the next seven weeks ignoring, just as they did here.

“Are the British people fed up of politicians on their TV screens?” Mr Farron said later on, to a TV news reporter who had just asked him that very question, filming the answer to put on his TV show. “Yes, they probably are. But are they fed up of democracy? No they are not.”

And as if to prove it, he and a crowd of 35 press photographers and three TV crews invaded no fewer than three driveways, as Mr Farron placed a leaflet through the letter box at the end of each.

One of those TV crews, by the way, was the Lib Dems' own, there recording promotional footage. Quite what the propaganda value will be to the party of extensive film of Tim Farron walking up a road works-ridden street conducting interviews with local newspapers, breaking every 15 seconds or so to alert his own backwards-walking cameraman to the imminence of various open manhole covers and exposed utility pipes, is not immediately clear.

“This is a chance to change the future of this THERE’S A FOUR FOOT DROP BEHIND YOU MATE country. To say the people of this country do not want a hard CAREFUL a hard Brexit. Theresa May has called this election for one reason and one THE PAVEMENT’S COMPLETELY OPEN BEHIND YOU, YOU’RE GONNA STEP RIGHT INTO IT and, sorry, one reason and one reason only, and that’s because she’s seen WATCH OUT ON YOUR LEFT, IT’S STRAIGHT DOWN, STRAIGHT DOWN she’s seen the weakness of the opposition and she couldn’t help herself. BLIMEY THAT WAS CLOSE.”

No Liberal Democrat leaders were harmed during the making of this film. If only the same could be said for that little boy, and of course, for the rest of us.