FOR the first time in more than 30 years, I am watching a General Election year unfold as a spectator rather than a BBC journalist, and I cannot tell you how relieved I am.

The first time I worked on a General Election was back in 1992. I was sent down to Penzance to help BBC Radio Cornwall’s West Cornwall reporter.

Stephen Strong was a proper old-fashioned hack; a journalist who lived and breathed his patch, had a superb network of contacts and seemed to know everything that was going on.

I was tasked with providing him with technical support and acting as a runner at the St Ives constituency count.

Not only was Stephen a great journalist, he was also a wine buff, and one of my main memories of that night was going back to the BBC’s Penzance office at one o’clock in the morning where we enjoyed a very fine bottle of red as he edited his report.

My other memory is Stephen’s passion for politics and how engrossed he was in the national story unfolding that night.

You may remember 1992 was a shock win for the Conservatives under John Major. Most polls and predictions had suggested a narrow Labour victory.

That dramatic night sparked a fascination with politics that continued throughout the rest of my broadcasting career.

Since then I have chaired numerous debates with candidates, grilled Prime Ministers, studied endless manifestos and taken flack from all sides.

Reporting on elections is a thankless task. Interviewing politicians at the best of times is like trying to nail jelly to the wall, but in an election year the stakes couldn’t be higher, the responsibility is huge to try to test all the policies being put forward so that voters can make a fully informed decision.

As the interviewer I had to be as well briefed as I could but time constraints, coupled with politicians refusing to give a straight answer, meant I never felt I had helped to provide much insight for our viewers and listeners.

This year, as I watch on as a spectator, I get the feeling this is going to be an even more brutal campaign and even more difficult for journalists.

It’s also more important than ever to test the promises and pledges being made on all sides because, in my view, politics is in a pretty bad place at the moment.

Not just in a bad place here, but all over the world.

Recently there have been disputes about the election results in Pakistan. Meanwhile, in Russia, the results of the presidential election later this year are probably just a formality.

In America, it’s likely the race will be between someone tied up in numerous court cases or a man whose age and cognitive abilities are being questioned.

What a choice!

Here, we enter a General Election year with a Prime Minister who wasn’t the one we started with after the 2019 election; in fact he’s the third since then!

We’ve also gone through numerous Secretaries of State, we’ve had scandals over parties during lockdown and a COVID Inquiry overshadowed by the mystery of missing WhatsApp messages.

Getting to the truth has felt like wading through treacle.

There are also separate inquires into the way PPE contracts were handled and we’ve had numerous MPs removed from office over sex scandals and other inappropriate behaviour.

We’ve had independent statistical organisations calling out ministers for their misleading use of statistics. I even heard a senior treasury minister on the radio the other day getting into a terrible tangle over the debt figures.

Meanwhile, we have had a major U-turn from Labour over Green policy funding, and the party continues to grapple with issues of anti-Semitism.

In the 30 years or so that I have covered elections, I think politics is at an all-time low. Let’s face it, the bar hasn’t been very high for a while.

Previous elections I’ve covered have been against the backdrop of the MPs’ expenses scandal, anger over the Iraq war and the financial crisis.

In the coming months once again we will be bombarded with promises and pledges from all sides, but there are only really two things I am hoping for from those who are elected: competence and integrity.

I have seen increasingly little of these qualities in recent years, but competence and integrity are the basis for everything else.

I want people in senior Government roles who know what they’re doing and will therefore be able to stay in the role long enough to make a difference rather than the merry-go-round of recent years.

I want people in senior Government roles who are honest; who don’t use statistics in a misleading way and tell us straight when they’ve got things wron,g rather than trying to find someone else to blame.

Too much emphasis has been placed on spin and slick presentation from all sides, but this isn’t a TV reality show.

We are facing some serious challenges. The NHS is on its knees; councils are struggling to provide services, even though we’re about to pay much more for them; the economy remains sluggish, the list goes on.

Then there are the international threats and the impact of climate change.

So please, whoever wins this time around, let’s have no more scandals, no more playing fast and loose with statistics, no more infighting, no more cover-ups and no more spin.

Competence and integrity; it’s not too much to ask is it?

Bye for now!