IT is an increasingly curious election with politicians popping up in the most unlikely of places – a Conservative minister yesterday pitched up in New Coundon, a mining community near Bishop Auckland with a population in 2001 of just 41, hoping to pick up votes.

Yorkshire has found itself cast as the heart of the election, with both Labour and the Conservatives decamping from London to launch their manifestos in the county’s industrial towns. Jeremy Corbyn was in Bradford trying to invoke the spirit of Huddersfield-born Harold Wilson; Theresa May, six days after rolling into Darlington, was in Halifax, trying to nibble in to Labour’s tiny majority of 428.

Let’s hope that some of Yorkshire’s downtoearthness rubs off on them. I remember cornering John Major above a caravan showroom on the outskirts of Darlington during the 1997 election, and he said: “I've escaped from the crazy, chattering circle of Westminster and once you're outside that, people think quite differently, talk quite differently and have different interests.” Despite recognising that, he still lost.

Loading article content

For me, the election became even more curious on Wednesday when a film crew from the Corporacio Catalana turned up to ask why unlikely places such as New Coundon were contemplating, however vaguely, of turning blue. The Catalan-language TV station is based in Barcelona, so quite what meaning my English answers will have is anyone’s guess.

The Catalan correspondent seemed genuinely surprised that the North-East felt so distant from the European Union. In Spain every day, he said, we use the autopistas – new toll roads paid for by the EU. When we think of the EU, he said, we think of long, straight roads and we’re grateful. But in the North-East, where it has taken nearly a decade to upgrade a small stretch of the A1(M) and where the A66 is in desperate need of a second carriageway, we have no straight roads to think of, only bendy bananas, so we vote Brexit.

The Catalans were also interested in one of my prized political possessions: a 1983 poster in which the unknown Labour candidate for the new constituency of Sedgefield introduced himself with his name in green ink: “Tony Blair”. There’s not a trace of red, even though red, as my Catalan friends knew, has been the colour of most of Europe’s socialist parties since the French Revolution of 1789 because it symbolises the blood of workers spilt in the struggle against capitalism.

But the North-East was different. In the 19th Century, the Conservatives wore red – apparently it was the racing colour of a Durham aristocrat and so his constituents followed suit. In 1910, the millgirls in Darlington wore red knickers to show their support for Herbert Pike Pease in his fight against the Liberals.

In the days before colour TV, colour standardisation wasn’t an issue. In the early 1950s in Darlington, the Conservative candidates always wore red rosettes, even though since 1949 blue had been the official Tory colour.

So North-East Labour plumped for green – possibly because of Irish immigration into the coalfield.

Colour TV demanded uniformity, so local colours died out, and Mr Blair in 1983 was probably the last to fight for green Labour.

“But Mr Corbyn,” said my Catalan colleague, “he is red. Very red, I think.”