Are politicians’ visits anything other than brief photo opps?

Jeremy Hunt with Ben Gummer at Ipswich Hospital.

Jeremy Hunt with Ben Gummer at Ipswich Hospital. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

As I approach the home straight of my sixth general election campaign, I really should be getting used to being treated like dirt by top politicians and their staff.

But actually the contempt that too many of them show for the places they are visiting really is starting to grate.

Last week I told how Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin paid a 30-minute visit to Ipswich to have his photo taken on Henley Road before jumping back into his car that rushed him back to the station.

That was rather amusing – and was at least softened by the fact that he had paid a rather more meaningful visit to the town three weeks earlier.

But the visit by Jeremy Hunt to Ipswich Hospital on Monday was a total farce.

I’d been told I’d have the chance for a good interview about how wonderful the hospital was – and to raise other health issues. In the end the “private” part of the visit over-ran and his special advisor (the dreaded “Spad” immortalised in The Thick of It) insisted that he had no time for a long interview with me.

The television interviews were far more important than the local newspaper – and very enlightening they were too.

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Frankly it sounded as if Mr Hunt had swallowed a dictionary containing the phrases “Mid Staffs Hospital,” “Long-term economic plan,” and “Prosperity increases tax receipts” and spewed them up for the viewers’ benefit.

When I tried to ask questions on other subjects, I was told by Ben Gummer I was factually wrong and Mr Hunt was bundled off to the station to allow him to have some other cheesy photographs taken in Clacton.

Mr Gummer later apologised to me for being squeezed out and told me that campaign organisers expect local newspaper reporters to be “19-year-olds who don’t understand the subject.”

Okay, I don’t have it tattooed on my forehead that I know what I’m talking about – but I suggest that any campaign organiser who thinks I’m a 19-year-old really should go to Specsavers!

To be fair, Mr Gummer also stepped in and arranged for me to have an “e-mail interview” with Mr Hunt about the issues I was unable to raise – but it’s not quite the same thing and frankly it’s the way you’re treated on the day that sticks in the mind.

Not everyone is like this. When Ed Balls came last week, his Spad was a bit fidgety about giving me time but Mr Balls (whom I had met before) was insistent that I should get a decent opportunity for questions.

And to be fair, I feel I’ve always had a good crack at questions when the Prime Minister has been in the region.

But the next time the Tories send a bigwig to town, I’ll think twice about whether it’s worth bothering to cover the visit. Or maybe I’ll just turn up in my old cheesecloth shirt and flared jeans – that’s what 19-year-olds wear, isn’t it?