I remember being on holiday as a little girl in Scarborough. One of the tabloids had some prize whereby if you carried a copy of the paper and discovered their man out and about in a seaside resort and told him something like "To my delight, it's Chalkie White", you could win £5. He came to Scarborough when we were there and I spent a whole day looking for him. I didn't find him and I didn't get the fiver. I figure someone owes me a fiver today though, because I found Chris Grayling on the campaign trail.
Finding Grayling on the campaign trail is really hard because ever since he said Christian B&B owners should "have the right" to reject gay couples, the apparatchiks have kept him in a locked cupboard in Central Office and fed him pancakes they slide under the door. I only wanted a bit of colour for the blog. My "mummy blog" which is pink. I'd have been quite happy with a bit of a chat and carry-on-campaigning-Chris. But they weren't that happy to see me at Berwick Tories HQ. Not at all happy.
The first thing his minder did was start cross-examining me about who I was.
(Actually thinking about it, it was the second thing because the first thing was to ask me to leave the building on the grounds it was a private meeting and he presumably thought I might hear something Chris was saying to members which he wouldn't say in public. Something like "Gay-boys, don't you just hate them?")
After I'd left the building, the minder starts asking how I knew Grayling was in town and how many readers I have (not many I told him, which is true), and how disappointing it must be if nobody reads me (a slightly unnecessary remark but there you go.) I asked for two minutes with Chris before he started glad-handing, but No, I could put a few questions as we walked.
I liked Grayling as soon as I met him - he was charming, intelligent and pleasant. (He'd even read the blog.) He's slightly tall for my taste bearing in mind I'm 5ft 2" and he's about 8ft nothing. Bearing in mind he's tall and I'm short and we are walking, it wasn't easy. It got less easy when the North-East communications man promptly stuck his phone right in front of my face to record my recording. This is disconcerting but I'm willing to go with the flow. As I say, Grayling is a grown-up politician and I'm a blogger, so we're fine right?
After all hell broke loose after his comments, Grayling issued a statement saying he was sorry "if what I said gave the wrong impression" and assuring all and sundry that he had voted for gay rights. As we walked through the archway into the market town of Alnwick, (past a sign advertising a B&B,) I asked whether he was sorry for his words that B&B owners should have the right to reject gay couples.
He said: "I said everything I was planning to say about it last week. I said I didn't intend to cause any offence. I pointed out I actually voted for gay rights, I actually voted for this particular piece of legislation. I voted for a number of other pieces of legislation particularly the civil partnership ones, and these are difficult, sensitive issues as I said but the proof of the pudding is what you do and I voted with my conscience."
I said he had patently been talking off the top of his head (well, I didn't want to suggest he'd been talking out his arse) but was he sorry for the words? Would he like to take back what he said?
Grayling wouldn't. He said: "The important thing now is to focus on the rest of the campaign. What I don't want to do is get into a prolonged discussion. I think I have said what I'm planning to say."
But I made the point this was an opportunity to retract. (After all, an apology for creating the impression you have given, is not the same as an outright apology and admission what you said was beyond the pale.)
"I think I've said what I'm going to say, I said (it)on the BBC last week, explained my comments, made a number of statements. I think I want to now talk about the rest of the campaign."
I asked as an honourable man whether he had offered his resignation as Shadow Home Secretary.
"I think as I've said I want to talk about the rest of the campaign."
At this point, the Northern press guy who is so close to me on the narrow pavements of Alnwick that he is virtually in my handbag told me I could keep asking the same question, but I'd get the same answer so I might as well move on. (I love it when people give me blogging tips.)
I explained I had to ask the questions.
The press guy repeated I was going to get the same answer so I might as well move on to another question.
So I did as I was told.
I said: "The Daily Mail described you at the end of last week as Calamity Chris... The Sunday papers also said you weren't long for the world, you were going to lose your job. Can you actually go on?"
He told me: "We're in the middle of a general election campaign. Our goal is to win the general election and bring change to Britain. Nobody has got a job for the future anyway - we haven't won the election. We're not measuring curtains. We're not planning for the future. We're taking the Conservative message out onto the doorstep
to try and deliver the change people want."
We danced through the Dannatt issue, and with the North press guy insisting we keep moving and instructing me to ask "a local question on a local campaign please", I asked about reports that lawyers claimed there was a case to arrest the pope when he comes in September. (According to the frontpage of The Sunday Times, lawyers believe they can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch their own civil action against him or refer his case to the International Criminal Court over his role in the alleged cover-up of sex abuse against children in the catholic church.) Did he think the lawyers had a case against the pope, I said.
The North press guy intervened again to inform me I was here to talk about local issues.
No, I'm not I told him, and asked him not to tell me what I was there to do.
I turned to Grayling again. Was there a legal case?
"I've come to Alnwick to talk about local issues..." he said and sang the praises of candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan and what a good MP she would make.(Which is true, she would work her socks off.)
I made the point he was the shadow home secretary and asked again "Do you think there is a legal case to arrest the pope if he comes in September."
Now the guy may be called "Calamity Chris" but I did not expect him to tell me "Fuck the Pope - they guy's got it coming" but I'd have liked some sort of answer to the question bearing in mind his front-bench responsibilities.
He repeated the fact he was in Alnwick to talk about Anne-Marie and the local campaign, and I didn't mind that so much. Politicians don't always answer questions, and at no time was Chris Grayling less than couteous and straight. He knew what I was doing and I knew what he was doing.
I do however mind about political hacks like Bill Clare, (Grayling's minder) and Peter Bould (the Northern comms guy)acting in a way I found intimidating. And I speak as a former national TV and newspaper journalist so I'm not that fragile. As a press journalist, however, you have status, and as a TV journalist you have a camera recording everything. As a blogger, you're on your own, mate.
Clare interrupted us and told me they had "very courteously" asked on a number of occasions not to do any more questions. (This was not true. They hadn't asked me to stop.) While he hectored, I shook Grayling's hand and thanked him for his time. Other people had a reason to spend time with him, Clare went on. I kept the recorder going and showed him it. "If you think that's the way to conduct it, OK - you know better than that" he said like a disappointed father.
Bould then chipped in to tell me I'm supposed to have an accreditation pass to join them. Did I have it? (This was just to prove how they weren't brow-beating me.)
"You are supposed to have an accreditation pass to join us, have you got your pass with you."
I'm a voter, I told him.
"I know but you are supposed to have an accreditation pass to interview him which is what you wanted to do, and I'm wondering if you have your pass with you? Do you have your pass with you? " (Bear in mind, here I've already done the interview and we are way past this conversation.)
I told him I was doing what I did as a member of the public.
"No," he said. "You are interviewing him." This presumably means members of the public shouldn't ask questions.
(At this point, and just for good measure, I got thrown out of a shop the Tory posse had gone into on the grounds "the owner" didn't want me in there.)
"You are interviewing him," said Bould. "Members of the public don't come along with a dictaphone and record him. You're very much like a journalist to me."
I asked him to let me get on with it.
"I'm not being confrontational here," he assured me.
At which point, so unconfrontational was he being, I got out my camcorder and YouTube loomed.
I reminded Bould I had already done the interview, I was indeed there as a blogger and a member of the public. At which point with a camcorder pointed at the two of them, they started talking about the weather (which was lovely by the way).
Now I could have gone home at this point what with the fact none of them seemed to like me all that much. (Apart from Chris that is. I bet Chris thought I was OK really, and I'd return the compliment.) But if I'd have gone home, I'd have missed the electioneering proper. Trailing in the wake of Chris and Ann-Marie, I asked a good 30 Alnwick folk did they know who the tall man with the blue rosette was. One did (and he'd been introduced, but in all fairness he assured me he knew before. Honest.) When I asked another if he knew who Grayling was, he proferred: "A shadow muppet?"
So I've got another blog rule for my Standards of Blog Conduct
Rule 2: Use a camcorder at all times.