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An Election Story
  Avoiding the Question


         I have received a letter from a fellow journalist, which is nothing more or less than a cry for help. Unfortunately, I am not sure I am the right person to help him, as his problem is more legal or social than journalistic... well, perhaps it would help if I were to print the letter, let you read it and invite your comments.

Dear Mr Kington,
       I am a journalist working for a rival newspaper to yours. I have landed myself in a very strange dilemma, which I can see no way out of. I would ask my editor for help, except that he might not believe the strange set of circumstances in which I have landed, and even if he did, he would be more likely to fire me - after all, editors are not famous for their sympathy. I cannot think of anyone else to turn to except you.
         Briefly, I have recently been set a roving commission as an election reporter, my brief being to come up with quirky stories about the election to add a little spice to a rather bland stew.
         To begin with, I didn't do badly.
         For instance, I went round the streets of St Helen's for a day, showing people a picture of Shaun Woodward and asking voters if they could identify him. Nobody could. The next day, to be fair, I took round a photo of the Conservative candidate and nobody could identify him either. The next day, to be even fairer, I took round a picture of a medieval woman and nobody could identify her either. It was St Helen, after whom the town is named.
         Then I found a man who lives on a canal boat in Berkshire and who cannot get registered as a voter because he has no fixed abode. It is the abiding fear of the electoral officer, apparently, that people on canal boats might register to vote in one constituency, then move their boat to another one and vote there.
         I am sure you can guess already the headline I used on that piece.
         "The Original Floating Voter!"
         It went down very well.
         And the other day, when stuck for an idea, I started thinking about the colours used by the different political parties. None of them is very pleasant. There is the washed out blue of the Tories. There is the hot orange of the Lib Dems, like a semi-successful dip. And there is the raw red and yellow of the Labour posters, both colours very crude and unrelenting.
         In fact, the more I stared at the harsh red and yellow of the Labour stickers, the more I was convinced it reminded me of something.
         Suddenly it came to me. McDonald's! The same glaring plastic hues of those dreaded yellow arches and the red surround, announcing the presence of another fast junk food joint, issuing greasy smells and greasy paper. Labour and McDonald's shared exactly the same colour scheme.
         Or was it?
         If you have ever chosen a paint colour for a room, you will know how difficult it is to match colours by eye.
         The only way to do it would be to take a Labour poster to a` McDonald's restaurant and compare them.
         (Incidentally, have you ever questioned the use of the word "restaurant" to describe a McDonald's outlet ? In my experience, a restaurant is a place where a chef uses freshly bought ingredients to try out his own ideas. In a McDonald's there is no chef. There are no fresh ingredients, because everything is shipped from a factory. And there are no individual ideas. A restaurant? I think there is a case for the Trades Description Act here...)
         So I carefully took down an unwanted Labour political sticker and took it to the nearest McDonald's "restaurant".
         I stuck it on the side of the "restaurant" near to their own red and yellow colour scheme.
         I retreated a few yards with my camera, ready to take a photograph of the offending reds and yellows.
         When suddenly a car screamed up alongside me, four chaps in suits tumbled out and laid hands on me before I could take a photo.
         They claimed to be members of the world-feared "McDonalds' lawyers" team, who were ready on standby anywhere to crack down on any criticism or agitation against McDonald's.
         My offence?
         Apparently it is against the law to "impute political leanings" to any private company. And by sticking a Labour poster on a McDonald's "restaurant" I had committed that offence.
         The penalty is two years or a whacking fine, and McDonald's are well-known to pursue all critics relentlessly.
         What do you think I should do?
         PS I need hardly say this letter is not for publication.
        Miles Kington writes: Perhaps I should have read to the end of the letter before printing it. Sorry about that.

The Independent Wednesday May 30 01

© Caroline Kington