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My election week by Gillian Keegan

 Image: Grace Gay for Research Professional News. Sources: UK Government [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr; Getty Images

Ivory Tower: exclusive access to the campaign diary of the education secretary


My electoral agent comes in carrying a pile of newspapers.

“I don’t want you to panic,” they say.

“Who’s panicking?” I say, grinding my teeth and stirring my coffee with a shake.

“Have you seen this MRP poll?” they ask.

“Never heard of them,” I say. “There are just too many polling firms these days.”

“No, it stands for multilevel regression and poststratification,” they say.

“It’s too early for that,” I say. “Can you wait until I have another coffee?”

“It’s the gold standard of polling—forecasting results by constituency,” they explain.

“And?” I ask, wondering where this is going.

“You know how you were thinking of getting that conservatory added to your constituency home?” they say. “Well, I wouldn’t bother”.

“I know it’s rained a lot, but it won’t always be like this,” I say.

“I mean you are going to lose,” they reply, shuffling the pile of newspapers.

“But this is Chichester,” I say, “true, blue, Tory Chichester”.

“I know,” says the agent.

“Home of red corduroy trousers, home of the scone-eating Blazeratti,” I say, incredulously.

“I know, how do you think I feel? I’ll be the laughing stock of the electoral agents society, managing to lose Chichester with a majority of 22,000,” they say.

“But why?” I ask. “Chichester has been Conservative since the Domesday Book”.

“Apparently it’s all the crap that is being pumped out,” they say.

“Well, I’m not responsible for campaign comms,” I say.

“No, into the rivers and harbours,” they say.

“I blame the Lib Dems,” I say.

“Actually, I think it’s Southern Water,” they reply.


I can’t believe they have let Penny Mordaunt do those TV debates. If Chichester is on a knife edge, Portsmouth North is toast. Maybe after the election she could do an advert for Admiral car insurance.

They need someone with experience of the real world, someone who started as an apprentice and became a highly successful businesswoman. The phone rings to disturb my thoughts.

“Gillian this is Isaac,” says the caller.

“Newton?” I ask, confused.

“Levido,” they say with a deep sigh.

“I don’t have long,” I tell him.

“I know, I’ve seen the MRP polls,” he says.

“I’m glad you called,” I say. “I wanted to talk about these TV debates.”

“That’s precisely why I called,” he says. “There’s going to be one on Channel 4 tonight”.

“I wondered when you would call,” I say.

“Yes, we can’t have Penny go on again,” he says.

“Completely agree,” I say.

“So, I’m phoning around a few senior cabinet members,” he says.

Here it comes, not before time.

“So, I wanted to ask,” he says, “what do you think of Chris Philp?”

“Chris Philp?” I reply, incredulously.

“We need someone with experience of the real world, someone who became a highly successful businessperson,” he says.

“But, but…” I stammer.

“I’ll put you down as a maybe,” he says and hangs up.

I turn to my election agent, “I can’t believe they’ve put Chris Philp up for a TV debate before me,” I say.

“Maybe it’s because of the concrete,” they say.

“I know he’s a bit wooden, but I wouldn’t go that far,” I say.

They sigh deeply.


I’m taking time out from the campaign to have dinner with Mr K in Chichester’s finest chain brasserie.

“I hear Wiltshire is nice this time of year,” he says.

“I don’t think any of those seats are safe either,” I tell him.

“I meant for after the campaign,” he says.

“You mean for a photo opportunity with Michelle Donelan?” I ask.

“No, I mean for a holiday,” he says, not looking me in the eye.

“But after the campaign, it will be straight back to Westminster and to the DfE,” I tell him.

There is an awkward silence.

Eventually he says: “Maybe you could do with some time off”.

“But with all the people leaving Parliament, I would be in line for a top job,” I reply.

There is another awkward silence.

Then he says: “Have you ever thought about life after Chichester?”

“I thought we might retire to Bognor Regis,” I say.

“You are a bit young to retire just yet,” he says.

“After 10 more years in Parliament, I’ll be ready,” I tell him.

The awkward silence returns.

“We might have to downsize,” he says, finally.

“Well, I’m sure we’ll lose a few seats,” I tell him.

“I think you are living in a bubble and are detached from reality,” he says.

“That’s no way to speak about Chichester,” I say, looking round to apologise to other diners.


Out knocking on doors today. Time to speak to real people about their concerns.

“I’m really worried that our biggest employer might go under,” says a woman.

“St Martin’s Tearooms?” I ask.

“Sorry?” she says.

“I know it’s been a tough time for hospitality, what with Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine. But Rishi gave us Eat Out to Help Out…” I tell her.

“What are you talking about?” she says.

“Labour don’t have a plan for the Tearooms,” I say, checking my briefing notes.

“I’m talking about the university,” she says.

“Which one?” I ask.

“The University of Chichester,” she says.

It doesn’t register with me. “Really? Where’s that?” I ask.

“It’s the big Gothic building near the city centre,” she says, surprised.

“I thought that was the cathedral,” I say.

“It has 5,000 students and employs over 1,000 people,” she says.

“That’s nearly as many as Waitrose,” I reply. Every day is a school day.

“That’s the other big Gothic building near the city centre,” she explains.

“Do they do apprenticeships?” I ask, curious now.

“Waitrose?” she says, incredulously.

“No, this so-called university,” I say.

She sighs and says: “They are at risk from government policy that could make the future unsustainable.”

“I never thought Waitrose would be in trouble,” I say.

She sighs again and says: “Maybe you should consider voting Lib Dem.”

“I’ll put myself down as a maybe,” I say.


Mr K seems agitated over breakfast.

“This betting thing is getting out of hand,” he says.

“It was only a flutter on Royal Ascot,” I protest.

“No, all these people close to the PM who are being investigated,” he says.

“You’ll really need to be more specific than that,” I tell him.

“The campaign director is taking a leave of absence with two weeks to polling day because he and his candidate wife are being looked into by the Gambling Commission over alleged bets on the election date,” he reads out from the Daily Telegraph.

“Couldn’t they just bet on the Euros, like everyone else,” I say.

“I don’t think they want anything to do with Euros,” he says, clearly confused.

“Scotland is 100 to 1,” I say, glancing at the odds.

“Seats there were a long shot even before the Douglas Ross fiasco,” he says, still not understanding.

He puts the paper down and asks: “So, what have you got planned for today?”

“I thought I might go down to the beach at Selsey and look for small boats,” I say.

“That’s a good idea, and what will you do if you find any people smugglers heading back to France?” he says.

“I’ll ask if they’ll take me with them,” I say.

He goes back to reading the Telegraph. I stir my coffee with a shake.

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared with colleagues like insider information on the date of the general election. Want to enrol on an apprenticeship scheme at St Martin’s Tearooms? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com