On the Battlebus with Nick Clegg

April 16, 2015 2:15 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Trevor York joins the party leader for a day's campaigning on the Lib Dem battlebus.

Nick Clegg stands up on a wobbly-looking chair in front of a packed south London campaign HQ.

"This man is an absolute legend!" he says with a glance at a smiling Simon Hughes, who is standing at his side. "I don't know what kind of vitamins he's taking - but he's unstoppable." The Bermondsey and Old Southwark 'war room' - where the veteran MP is waging a determined fight to hold on to his tough inner city constituency - is the first stop on a whirlwind day's campaigning with the Lib Dem leader on his shiny new yellow battlebus.

After Nick has taken a swipe at Labour's local record and given a pep talk to activists and told them he is sure that "with their help", Hughes will retain the seat, it's time for a quick photo op outside. Then we all hop on the battlebus.

For decades, the 'battlebus' has played a big part in all three main parties' general election campaigns. And despite the growing importance of social media and the internet, it still's a vital, visible demonstration of intent - and the best way to get the party leader, and the newspaper and TV journalists accompanying him, to key battleground constituencies.

In all, the Lib Dem battlebus will cover around 3,000 miles during the campaign and has already visited Lancashire, the West Country and Wales. However, despite the long hours on the road, Nick seems to be enjoying the experience.

"I'm nosy, gregarious and like meeting people," he says with a laugh when I join him in the curtained-off enclave at the back of the coach dividing him and his advisers from Fleet St journalists and BBC and ITV film crews. "It also makes a welcome change to fighting the Whitehall wars I've been waging these last five years."

During the campaign Clegg has been pictured doing everything from swinging along zip wires to playing bowls - photo ops which help generate valuable press exposure.

However, his battlebus tour also helps plays a more serious role in shoring up support, cheering up 'the troops' on the ground, reaching out to local media and generally flying the flag in the four corners of the country.

"I think visiting key Lib Dem constituencies such as Simon's, and seats such as Montgomeryshire and Oxford West which we're hoping to recapture, raises morale and gives our campaigns on the ground a real boost," he says over a quick lunch. "That's why I've also been to Watford and Maidstone and The Weald - two other seats I think we stand a good chance of winning."

A couple of hours after leaving London, we reach Seaford where Nick joins Lewes's popular Lib Dem Norman Baker at a local primary school - where he talks to pupils and the local media and poses for pictures with Baker. Then it's back on the battlebus, and on the road again.

On the return trip to London, Nick seems remarkably chipper. "I still believe there's everything to play for in the campaign and that's why I'm out and about so much on the battlebus," he says. "I think we're going to confound an awful lot of people come election night."

See also the BBC's report: General Election 2015: Life on board a battle bus.