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Politics & Government

Hard Hats And Loud Vests On The Prime Minister's Campaign Bus


In just over a month, the United Kingdom will vote in a national election set to be every bit as tight as the last. Most polls suggest the result will be another coalition government. BBC correspondent Jonny Dymond - yes, that's his real name - has the dubious pleasure, as he sees it, of being the BBC's man on Prime Minister David Cameron's bus. He sent us this commentary.

JONNY DYMOND: Back in 2012, I tagged along for the final stretch of the Romney campaign, and I realized then that the very worst job in political journalism was being the one who covered the candidate close-up. The long search for interesting details in a life so tightly controlled that you, the journalist, are there just to catch those unscripted moments when a candidate falls over, mistakes one state for another or, you know, accidentally declares war.

Three years later, and yes, I am to be found at a small gaggle of embittered journalists waiting on the prime minister's every word, indeed, as he pretends to be delighted by a pit stop with the brewer, a baker or a candlestick maker. The similarities don't end there. In the lonely corners of American political conventions, you'll sometimes find British politicos, wide-eyed with wonder at all the money wafting around, trying to learn some new data-mining vote-winning strategy from an American political class that is both admired and reviled here for its utter ruthlessness and sheer professionalism.

And we Brits have picked up a few tricks. We had a debate for just the second election in our history, which sparked many knowing references to John F. Kennedy's youthful vigor and Richard Nixon's five o'clock shadow. And yes, social media is alive with the chirrups and tweets of party activists pointing out the rank foolishness of their opponents and the honest wholesomeness of their candidate. Talk of the air war and the digital battle, how we love our military metaphors, all feels remarkably familiar. But it's fueled by those visits to a small business, preferably one that requires the dawning of a hard hat and a high-visibility vest. The prime minister chats meaningfully and looks thoughtful in front of the cameras, gets into a large bus painted with a purposeful slogan and then goes on to do the same thing over and over again.

But reports from the front line - sorry - suggest a curious reversion because for all the sophisticated strategizing, what may come to decide the result in this election is what has inevitably been christened the ground war; otherwise known as knocking on doors trying to persuade people of the righteousness of your cause and then getting them to vote on the day. It's quite low-tech, and it's pretty hard on your feet. But there is something refreshingly old-fashioned about it. And who knows? Maybe watching in the near constant rain is a Republican or Democrat strategist working out how this newfangled ground war thing might work in the U.S.

MARTIN: The BBC's Jonny Dymond on Prime Minister David Cameron's campaign bus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.