Gordon Brown hit Bradford right on schedule yesterday. The whole visit was shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, of course, but word of this sort of thing can’t be stopped from getting out; half an hour before the PM arrived, a lone protester carrying a placard about Iraq stood patiently outside the National Media Museum.
Inside, the 50-plus strong invited audience who had been asked to participate in a Question Time-style event hosted by the Telegraph & Argus began to take their seats in the Cubby Broccoli cinema. They were drawn from all professional fields and walks of life in Bradford, and at very short notice.
Security personnel with sniffer dogs combed the National Media Museum. One of the NMM staff looked fondly at one of the eager Spaniels snuffling around a plant pot. “We don’t get many dogs in here, apart from guide dogs,” she said. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”
As the small convoy of cars carrying the PM and his aides pulled up at the entrance, I was upstairs on the non-public top floor of the museum, awaiting my brief allotted interview slot.
Suddenly, poker-faced men in black suits and ear-pieces materialised from apparently nowhere. Even the lifts were shut down until Gordon was ready to ascend.
And then he was there, buoyed upon a small army of attendants. First impressions? He’s not as tall as he looks on the telly. He also smiles quite a bit more than he seems to in usual newspaper portraits.
Mr Brown was whisked down the corridor for a small debriefing and, no doubt, a cup of coffee. I took a sip of water and paced a bit, and suddenly he was shaking my hand and saying my name.
We sat around a small table dominated by a flower display and some leaflets for the NMM’s coming attractions. It was a cosy, face to face interview – if you ignored the 15 or so people staring expectantly at me.
“Three questions,” said one of his aides curtly, holding up three fingers in case I misheard. Okay.
“What and should the Government do about stalled regeneration projects in Bradford?” Question one. Mr Brown nodded. “Westfield,” he said. The Hole on Broadway has evidently reached the top.
“We have injected £112 million into Bradford over the past eight or nine years for regeneration and obviously we are very determined that Bradford can move forward,” he said. “I will be meeting with Bradford’s MPs to talk about regeneration,” and added that he would be asking Westfield what could be done to move the project forward, with the rider that the development needed the support of the commercial and retail sector to advance.
Question two. What of the banking crisis that left Bradford & Bingley in pieces and many people locally out of work? The picture, he said, was not as bleak as it seemed a year ago: “Last year people doubted that HBOS, Bradford & Bingley and other banks and building societies could survive and keep people in their jobs.” Survive they have, albeit in stripped-down form. And the future for those currently out of work or fearful for their jobs in that sector? “The banks will need those skills to survive.”
Finally… should it be the Royal Mail strike? Education? Immigration? Fuel poverty? I settled on a current hot topic, the impending appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on the other Question Time, the one on the BBC last night. On that he was quite firm: “The issue for all of us is to expose racist, sectarian and divisive policies of the BNP.
“When people realise that the BNP has for years debarred anyone not of the indigenous population from being a member they do start to understand that it is a racist organisation and we need to expose them.
“The BBC made the decision to allow Nick Griffin on Question Time and it is up to them. But anyone who thinks a vote for the BNP is a protest vote against the main parties really does need to be aware of the BNP and what they stand for.”
Then he was off and away, on his tour of the NMM and down to the Cubby Broccoli cinema where he was going to get a proper grilling – at the hands of T&A readers.