Sketch: Hague and Osborne's good walk spoiled

Civil service for hire
Civil service for hire

Never before has the sight of perambulating politicians got the news-hungry media quite so excited.

By Alex Stevenson

There are many advantages for politicians to being "facilitated" by the Cabinet Office. The logistical support (taxpayer-funded flip-charts), the "factual" snippets from helpful civil servants, the advice on constitutional issues (do what you like); all are warmly appreciated. Yet the biggest plus must surely be the stimulating exercise from parliament.

Unlike the prime minister, who gets driven the three-minute walk from the Palace of Westminster to Downing Street, the men deciding who forms Britain's next government prefer the pedestrian route.


The Cabinet Office is just past No 10, meaning the politicians have a marvellous opportunity for a relaxing stroll to get the old grey cells whirring at top speed.

Their thoughts may be muddied by the barbaric media maelstrom which gathers around them as they approach the Cabinet Office's steps.

Take William Hague and George Osborne, who strode together down Whitehall for their latest chinwag with the Lib Dems this afternoon.

For a brief moment they looked puzzled: the press had formed a barricade in some sort of makeshift starting line. I would have said it looked about as impenetrable as a Lib Dem incumbent's majority, but that is now hopelessly out of date.

Such is the competitive nature of the press that the front soon dissolved, however, as the cameramen broke free to advance for their close-up. There then followed the ridiculous spectacle of about 70 or 80 grown men walking backwards at speed, carrying horribly expensive filming equipment on their shoulders.

It was a miracle no one's limbs are broken in these rolling mauls. Innocent tourists were not crushed beneath the heels of British democracy. The only trampling in Westminster this afternoon appeared to be on Labour hopes of a Lib Dem pact.

Osborne and Hague, strenuously ignoring the polite advances of scurrying reporters - and the less polite insults of more impassioned passers-by - looked a mixture of abashed and appalled as they pressed ahead. Hague paused to make a statement on the steps of the Cabinet Office. No one on the scene could hear a word he was saying, of course, but it didn't matter. I'll wager a month's wages it included the phrase "strong and secure government".

"It's good for British politics," one watcher beamed proudly. He was a former Labour supporter who had got fed up with the party when it was "watered down" by Tony Blair. "They're going to have to thrash out a whole number of things. It makes us look very democratic." He said he wanted to see the Conservatives do a deal with the Lib Dems. Why betray your roots? He shrugged. "I just fancy a change."

An elderly lady asked what all the fuss was about. Was it worth hanging around, she wanted to know. "It might be hours - but then they might come out and announce a historic deal." Watching the indecision play out on her face was spectacular. She wavered, delayed, ummed and ah-ed. Perhaps she should consider joining the Liberal Democrats.

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