Jayne Dowle: Publicity stunts serve to show up the real divide

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I KNOW politics is competitive – and nothing is more competitive than an impending General Election. If you’re in for the fight, you’ve got to pull out everything you’ve got. It comes to something though when you’ve got to use your own children as ammunition. Is there a spectacle less-edifying than the Prime Minister, David Cameron, drafting in his son and daughter as cheerleaders at Prime Minister’s Questions?

Oh yes. Wait, there is. It’s Ed Miliband inviting a Good Morning Britain film crew to accompany him and his two sons on the “school run”. Note, it wasn’t technically a run. For the purposes of the filming at least, the Labour leader walked Daniel, five, and Samuel, four, to their school in north London.

If you always wondered whether Ed Miliband really was on another planet, you’ve now got proof.

It wouldn’t be seemly for any politician to do what most working parents of school-age children in Britain do every morning, which is to march the children out of the house, trailing lunch-boxes, half-finished homework and bits of toast and shove them in the back of the car.

I bet there were thousands of people watching that Good Morning Britain clip thinking that it’s alright for him – at least he’s got time to take a morning stroll. Meanwhile the rest of us are running around like headless chickens with one eye on the clock.

Did this particular exercise serve any useful purpose at all in terms of vote-winning ? Well, that remains to be seen. It did however, solve one mystery which has been preying on the minds of the nation.

If you always wondered whether Ed Miliband really was on another planet, you’ve now got proof. As they walked, he entertained little Daniel and Samuel with tales of Boo-boo and Hee-Hee, the imaginary inhabitants of an imaginary place called Faraway Planet. If he carries on like this, Downing Street might as well be relocated to outer space, for all the chance he has of reaching it.

It got worse. The presenter asked Miliband if he ever felt guilty about missing his boys’ childhood, what with being so busy and all that. “I do, I do,” he pleaded. Any dad catching this as he ran out the door to start yet another 12-hour shift must have had to resist the urge to punch the television. And what about those breadwinners who live in communities where there are so few decent jobs they must leave their children for days, if not weeks, at a time to work away from home? The sight of a politician in a suit skipping down a street hand-in-hand with his offspring could be enough to send them over the edge.

It is bad enough that “opportunities” like this are so nauseating that they put you off your breakfast. What’s worse is that they are hypocritical. Who bleats most about curbing press freedom and intrusion into private lives? Apart from certain celebrities with something to hide, it’s politicians. Yet, when it suits them, who exploits the public’s interest into those very private lives they seek to protect? Politicians. Do they really think we are so naïve that we don’t see straight through this?

And talking of hypocrisy, what were young Nancy and Elwen Cameron doing in the House of Commons when they should have been in school?

The education policies of this coalition Government will be remembered for many reasons, but chief amongst these will be the draconian stance towards pupils taking time off in term-time. Just in time, Mr Cameron seemed to recall this himself, and stressed that this excursion was “an authorised absence” for educational purposes. And to be fair, it’s not every day your dad leads what might be his last-ever PMQs in the hallowed halls of Westminster. However, to that I would say, it’s not every day your grandparents renew their vows for their 50th wedding anniversary. Yet, when my sister attempted to take my niece out of school for one day to witness this momentous occasion a couple of years ago, she faced a fine of more than £100.

Of course, no-one forces political leaders to take part in these things, or makes their children a part of the charade. We can only presume that some highly-paid “advisor” thinks it would be a good idea and urges their leaders on. This tells us two things really: that those who guide politicians seem to have no comprehension of how ordinary people might react, and that politicians are increasingly not masters of their own destiny, but puppets to be manipulated into a series of ever-more desperate scenarios.

In the end, what we learn from these staged affairs is this. These privileged political leaders obviously concur that parading their children sons and daughters makes them just like us. Look, they seem to say, here we are, proud of our cute and engaging children. We understand your concerns. We feel your pain at the cost of new school shoes. We know the price of a weekly shop, don’t we? Er, no. Scratch that. We don’t. Yes, it’s plain to see. What these publicity stunts really highlight is not what brings us together, but the differences which continue to divide us.