Peter Rosengard hits the campaign trail 50 years after his Uncle Jack captured Rudolf Hess. But just whose side is he on? And why is his candidate dead?
The last member of my family to play an active role in politics was in 1942, when my great uncle, Regimental Sergeant Major Jack Rifkin (late of the Queens Own Hebrew Highlanders) captured Hitler’s Deputy, Rudolf Hess, in a field in Scotland.
Trust me on this one.
Actually, Hess was not trying to arrange a peace deal but was pioneering the first No Frills airline…no pilot, you flew the plane yourself and you parachuted out.
So now we know where Stelios got the idea for Easyjet from.
I, too, have no idea what that has to do with the current General Election but I bet it’s got your attention.
On the day of the last election in 1997, I had set off to walk to my local Notting Hill voting station. (Does anyone know why polling stations are always located in the one tiny street in your entire neighbourhood that you have never heard of? …and why it’s always on just the part of the A to Z. where the staple is?)
An hour later, I finally found the place.
“Peter Rosengard.” I announced.
The electoral officer looked me up on his roll.
“Shirley Rosengard?” he asked.
” No … that’s my ex wife …I am Peter Rosengard.”
He checked again.
” I am sorry but there is only a Shirley Rosengard on the electoral roll” he said.
“That’s impossible. I have lived here for four years…I am definitely on the roll.”
“Are you sure you are not Shirley Rosengard?” he asked. He was trying to be helpful.
I was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts…. and nine months into this column I feel I know you all well enough by now, to tell you that I am a man who is… on the hairy side of the world. (I have to shave my entire body three times a day just to stay vaguely Neanderthal… just kidding ladies.)
Anyway, I have been called a lot of things in my life … but never a woman.
I hadn’t voted in the previous three elections, so I was determined to vote this time.
I knew my rights.
I leant towards him and said “I’ll settle for being Shirley Rosengard. Just between ourselves, I have been having a small depilatory problem recently, but nothing, I hope, that’s going to interfere with the electoral process.”
He looked round …and pointed towards a booth.
At that very moment, a large elderly woman who had overheard our conversation barred my way and said “You are a man! You cannot possibly vote as a woman …kindly leave the premises…or I shall have to ask a police officer to remove you.”
That is why I didn’t vote last time round.
So, when my barrister friend, Mark Muller, rang me this morning and said “Do you want to come down to Windsor today and campaign for me?” I immediately said ‘Yes.’
Why not? I wasn’t doing anything. Besides, I felt it was finally time for me to play my part in our great democratic process.
I hadn’t seen Mark for quite a while and it was only when I met him a couple of hours later, outside the Castle, that I discovered I was campaigning for the Labour candidate.
“It doesn’t matter to me.” I told him “I would have campaigned for you if you were a Conservative or a Lib. Dem. I am not the slightest bit politically minded.”
“Great…” he said, pinning a Labour badge on my shirt. “Buy the Sunday Mirror tomorrow. They are running a piece on me. Did you know that Brigitte Jones’s Diary’s Mark Darcy is based on me?”
“Do you think I should just pop in to a cinema and see the film quickly now, just in case I get some questions on it?” I asked.
“We haven’t time.” Mark said.
He pointed at the little group beside him. “This is my campaign team… Sheree, Julian, Michael and Edward … meet Peter.”
He handed me a huge bunch of leaflets. “What do you normally do?” I asked my fellow Campaigners as we all headed into the new shopping precinct.
“I am a film director.” Sheree said.
Michael and Edward were human rights barristers in Mark’s chambers and Julian was a property developer and film producer from Shepherds Bush. So really it was just your average New Labour Election 2001 local campaign team.
“What do you need to win Windsor, Mark?” I asked as we stood shoulder to shoulder handing out leaflets in the shadow of the castle’s ramparts, outside the ‘Naughty Freak’ boutique.
“Fifteen thousand more votes than the previous Labour candidate got last time.” he said.
“Oh good, so at least you are in with a good chance then.” I said.
I made a dash for it and charged single handed into Waitrose.
“Excuse me Sir” I said, leaping in front of a tweed- jacketed, white- haired, elderly man and his wife.
“But, will you be voting for THIS man?” I thrust a photo into their faces.
He looked at the picture, gave me an odd look, and shook his head.
. “He is dead.” he said.
“Are you sure?” I said. “I was only talking to him just a minute ago.”
“He died thirty five years ago.” he said.
I looked at the picture. He was right; it was a photo of Winston Churchill.
I had picked it up in a barber’s shop in Mayfair a few days earlier. I must have taken it from the car with my newspapers by mistake.
“Yes…you are quite right… HE is dead,” I agreed.” But HE was a great man wasn’t he?” I continued gamely.
“Yes. He saved us from Hitler you know” he said. .
” If HE was standing in Windsor today, HE would get your vote wouldn’t he, Sir?”
“He certainly would.” he agreed.
“Well you can’t vote for HIM, can you?…because, as you rightly pointed out, he is dead, but you can vote for THIS MAN!”
I held up a photo of Mark.
“Because Mark Muller, your Labour candidate, is not dead! In fact I can guarantee you he is100% alive…and believe me Sir… he is just like a young Churchill! He is a great man in the making… a future Prime Minster…. AND he went to Windsor Grammar!” I threw in for good measure..
“A Vote for Muller on June 7th…is a vote for the new Churchill.” I concluded.
With a triumphant flourish, I handed both of them a leaflet.
As I strode off, I made a mental note to ask Mark if he’d consider dropping the ‘u’ in his surname, ‘Muller’. It’s only one letter, but I felt sure Mark MILLER, would be worth at least another five thousand votes… after all the war only ended 55 years ago, and Windsor voters clearly had long memories. (Most of them looked old enough to have fought in it themselves.)
But if he wouldn’t change it, then maybe he should go the whole hog and stick a ‘Von’ in front of it. “Vote for Mark Von Muller!” It could be catchy…if only from an alliteration point of view alone, it had a lot going for it.
I tried it out on a couple of teen skinheads lolling around outside Boots.
They liked the sound of it. “BNP….I’m voting BNP.” the slightly less acned of the two dribbled.
I spent the next couple of hours trying to persuade large numbers of voters, who turned out to be mainly foreign tourists, to vote Labour.
“I am so sorry, I am only ‘ere for the shopping.”
“Well you could move here, buy a house. You could commute to Rome… Eurostar probably goes there…house prices in Windsor are shooting up all the time…and if you hurry, you could get UK citizenship and be on the voters register by next Thursday.”
We moved on to a council housing estate in Slough. As I headed off down Grampian Road, I kept using a 30- second version of my Churchill photo approach.
“He’s dead!” “Sorry!!…wrong photo!…but Mark Muller is the NEW Winston!!….”
It seemed to work incredibly well.
After an hour of this I had got a whole street full of new committed Labour voters.
I rang the candidate on his mobile and told him about Churchill/Muller, the new secret Labour vote getter.
“Mark, if you print up 50000 Churchill posters round Windsor with the words ‘A vote for Muller is a vote for Churchill, you’ll cruise it.”
“We haven’t got the money.” he said. “Anyway, I am sure he was a Tory.”
“Yes” I agreed with him “I’ll give you that…but he moved around a bit in his youth, a bit like Sean Woodward, really.”
He wasn’t totally convinced either by my idea for changing his name.
“Miller sounds more English….less German.” I said.
“But my name’s Muller.” he said
“Look, I know that, but it’s only for a few days…you can always go back to Muller after Thursday when you’re the new MP for Windsor.”
He promised he would think about it later after the evening’s Big Appearance at The Windsor Skittles competition.
“By the way, Peter, remember no finger pointing. ..people don’t like it… a clenched fist is much better.”
“But not combined with an outstretched arm.” I said.
I knocked on another door. A large bald man in his thirties opened it.
“Excuse me Sir I am from the Labour Party. Can we count on your vote?”
“What’s your policy on assassination?” he asked .
“I am very glad you asked me that Sir” I replied “because I just happen to have the party’s assassination expert with me here”.
I turned to Michael, the human rights lawyer.
‘Assassination’ Michael, are we for it or against it?” I asked.
“We are against it” he said, after only the slightest pause.
“Labour is against it, Sir.” I said turning back to my prospective Labour voter.
“Well I’m not f***ing voting for your lot then!” he said and slammed the door shut.
In Cheviot Way, a small concrete playground with only a rusty slide and lopsided roundabout in it, was separated from a motorway by a high wall. Overhead planes were continuously landing or taking off from Heathrow and made a constant roar.
(I don’t just do dialogue you know.)
An old lady came to the door. “Can we count on your vote, Madam?” I shouted.
She looked at me blankly.
“Can we count on your vote, Madam!!?” I screamed above the noise of the planes.
“Marie!” she shouted. “Marie!”
A blonde, tired looking woman in her fifties appeared at the end of the hall and, bulging out of a pair of black leotards and a tiny gold lurex top, tottered towards me on scuffed white stilettos.
“What do you want?” she shouted, swaying slightly.
“Can we rely on your vote madam?” I shouted.
“I’ve got hot fat on the cooker.” she bellowed and went back down the passage.
“Was that a yes for Labour?” I shouted after her.
“I’ll put her down as a ‘don’t know’.” I said to Michael.
All afternoon I had overheard people talking about the ‘trend, ‘but I hadn’t been able to grasp whether it was a good trend or a bad trend, which direction the trend was heading in, or whether the trend was up or down.
On the M4 on the way back to London, I rang Mark.
“Mark, what is the trend?” I asked
There was a pause.
“Peter… Michael Trend is the sitting Conservative MP for Windsor.
I am running against him.”
“Oh right…Just one last thing Mark …can you just remind me…are you hard on crime and soft on drugs…or soft on crime and hard on drugs? I think I might have got it the wrong way round.”
The Saturday Column June 2nd 2001 Copyright Peter Rosengard 2001 Weekly on www.rosengard.com All back columns including those that first appeared in The Independent 1993/1995, are now up on the site. Please see The Saturday Column Archive.