We have now seen the party leaders at the same event for the last time before polling day. This afternoon, Cameron, Clegg and Brown took it in turns to address the Citizens UK Assembly, a collection of urban community and faith groups. Citizen UK had a six point manifesto they wanted to test the leaders on: Agreeing to meet with the Citizens Assembly twice over a term, a living wage for workers, a cap on interest rates at 20 percent, an ‘earned citizenship’ scheme for illegal immigrants, an end to child detention in immigration centers and community land trusts.
The audience was heavily pro-Labour, Brown got a standing ovation for just walking in. But even given that, Brown was on impressive form. That looseness that sometime comes over political leaders when they know that everyone thinks they’re done for has come over Brown. He was even improvising jokes and was completely unbothered by a heckler who charged the stage.
Admittedly, those charged with questioning him after his remarks were rather cheerleading for him. They did a call and response with the audience on the points he agreed with them on and studiously ignored his failure to engage with the point about a path to citizenship for illegals. But today’s speech has to be regarded as Brown’s best performance of the campaign. Even those of us who think he’s been one of the worst Prime Ministers of the last hundred odd years, have to admit that he has a remarkable capacity to keep going regardless of the odds against him.
Clegg received a warm reception because of his support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants; this is, perhaps, the only occasion in the campaign where this policy has helped him. Clegg gave a general political speech that concentrated more on the moment, what he called this ‘unique opportunity’. But he did vary his delivery effectively, adopting more of a preachers’ cadence. When asked if he would commit to meeting with the Citizens Assembly, he made a joke about not having his diary as PM in front of him.
Cameron was the first speaker and initially I wasn’t particularly impressed by his performance, his voice seems—understandably—to be on the verge of giving out. But when I saw how pro-Labour the audience was, I had to reappraise Cameron’s effort. To get a decent round of applause from this audience was no small achievement. Also interesting to see how Cameron is moving towards fully embracing the living wage, ‘describing it as an idea whose time has come’.
Today’s event was a reminder of how much of an urban base Labour still has. That there is a crowd of two and a half thousand people at an event that is not a Labour party one who will give Brown a standing ovation just for turning up is testament to how hard it will be for the Lib Dems to replace Labour in the inner cities.