This was the 28th Cameron Direct event held around the country. Tonight it was Chatham & Aylesford's turn. People are understandably cynical about political meetings, but these evenings are different. There are no speeches, just an hour of David Cameron answering questions. It's truly unspun. The audience is made up of floating voters - you can tell they're not paid up Tory Party members by the absence of any questions about Europe. Cameron clearly enjoys himself, and he comes across well. One woman said to me afterwards that she liked the fact that he didn't indulge in 'politician speak' and spent very little time criticising others.
Another said she had voted LibDem at the last election but she knew they stood no chance in Chatham & Aylesford. "Cameron seems very normal and has a normal family." So has Nick Clegg, I said. "Yes," she said, "but he doesn't do it for me." Well, she certainly won't be number 31 by the sounds of it.
There is very little by the way of party politics during the hour. The questions are entirely unrehearsed and not put in in advance. There's no host, Cameron picks the questioners himself. They were on a wide range of subjects, many relating to the recession and society.
There were two areas I thought which could improve the evenings. Firstly, it would be better to have Cameron in amongst the audience - in the round maybe, rather than addressing from the front of a hall. And secondly, it took a little time for the audience to warm up. In the old days of the public meeting, the main speaker would always have a warm-up act. Not a comedian, but someone who could entertain the audience and get their political juices flowing. Perhaps I should volunteer... :)
Some may think that this is not a good use of a party leader's time. I disagree. As Cameron said in his introduction, most senior politicians when they visit a town have a pre-prescribed programme to follow. They arrive in a whirlwind, visit a factory or a hospital, do some local media interviews, do a local Tory fundraising event and are then whisked off back from whence they came. At least with these Cameron Direct events David Cameron is questioned by real people on issues which interest them. Each person attending will no doubt tell at least three others of their experience, and hopefully tell them how impressed they were. In marginal seats, reaching six hundred people makes these evenings very worthwhile.
There's also no attempt to promote the local candidate during the meeting. Tracey Crouch got a mention right at the end, but that was it. And that's probably right. It's Cameron who's the audience have come to see.
So all in all a very successful evening. In fact, more politicians ought to do this. There's a lot to be said for some good old fashioned public meetings.
AMUSING FOOTNOTE: Half way through the hour Cameron mentioned that there were four representatives from the UK Youth parliament present, as well as myself. He told the assembled throng that "Iain Dale is to blogging, what Johnnie Cash is to country music". I bellowed out: "Can't you do better than that?" He shrugged and laughed. So he likened me to a dead jailbird. He loves me really.