Saturday 16 May 2009


I've been in Suffolk to help a friend who is standing for Suffolk County Council, although I haven’t yet found anyone to pay my expenses. I then went to the Chelsea flower show in the hope of finding out how to spend them. If I get them.

We were mainly delivering leaflets, stopping occasionally to interact with voters. I had wondered about the abuse we would receive as representatives of a flawed political system. But as I had found before, people were remarkably polite and on the whole pleased to see a candidate.

Northumberland has much to learn from Suffolk. Yes, there was the same enormous variety of care in gardens and houses, beautiful next to non-maintained, the same fascinating insights into people's lives: the hall filled with a 10-piece drum kit, the leopardskin cat-suit casually flung over the stairs, the stuffed dog in the window. But almost all the houses had letterboxes. Almost all clearly said what name or number they were. The passion for anonymity must be a Northumbrian thing.

Will my friend win? Well, he's a Tory standing against a sitting LibDem, with about a 10% swing needed. And Suffolk is a successful Tory council. I am biased, but I think the Tories have come out of the recent sleaze headlines marginally better than the other main parties. The main hassle is that a couple of local landowners have formed an independent party to protest against the development of an entertainment and indoor ski-complex on their doorstep. And although its real nimby stuff, an independent party could well get a lot of disaffected votes. I hope not: such votes, while sending a message, do not help effective management of a County Council.

The second part of my trip was to the Chelsea Flower Show. As always a combination of inspirational and depressing. The show gardens don't seem to have powerful perennial weeds; their wild gardens are so perfectly wild; their flowers are impervious to being battered by wind and rain. The highlights for me were James May's plasticene garden, the three major show gardens (Daily Telegraph, Laurent Perrier and the Perfumed Garden), and the smaller cottage gardens.

As always it is interesting how so many of the designers have the same drifts of green and purple perennials, the same blocks of limestone and water. In some ways its like fashion: the same influences emerge at the same time to form a trend. But actually, the gardens have looked very similar for a number of years. Nigel Havers had a guest spot on the BBC suggesting that all the designers used common blocks of plants and landscape and just took it in turns to move them around each year.

Perhaps, to quote David Cameron, its time for a change.

One other thing: the general mood seemed pretty optimistic, especially from the sculptor I saw opening a bottle of champagne for the customer who had just bought the five-figure sum sculpture. There was no shortage of people wandering around, no shortage of money being spent in the nearby bars although there was a shortage of taxis.

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