Profile: Passion for politics - Angela Salt OBE, director of communications, Electoral Commission

With polling day fast approaching, Angela Salt is feeling the strain of out-of-hours press calls.

Not only is the Electoral Commission charged with convincing a cynical British public of the integrity and effectiveness of the democratic process, it also needs to defeat lethargy and get voters to the ballot box.

With accusations flying that Britain's postal vote system is susceptible to fraud, the commission has also had to find time to encourage the nation's youth and minority groups to vote.

But one suspects that summoning the energy necessary will not be a problem for this passionate political communicator: 'I feel particularly strongly that people should vote. Women were once deprived of a vote - and people die for the right to vote. We take it for granted.'

Salt knows what it is like to be at the centre of intense media interest - she spent six years at the Millennium Commission and was the official spokesperson for the funding of the Dome.

It was a role that Salt, 41, says had many similarities to her present job and one that gave her the same sense of worth that she craves in her career.

Salt speaks in a measured tone, her voice rarely varying in volume or pitch. Her restrained delivery is perhaps a product of a staunchly working class, Catholic upbringing in Stoke-on-Trent, with parents she describes as 'decent and passionate'.

She (half-jokingly) suggests that her 'melancholic' demeanour matches the bleak, realist films of British director Mike Leigh, of whom she is a huge fan. 'I have a natural level of anxiety,' says Salt.

While the commission's role is to be politically neutral, Salt confesses to be a liberal. She says The Daily Telegraph is her preferred news read but can give her 'indigestion'.

And she thinks the Catholic Church is unfairly demonised in the media as 'backward': 'Personally I would have preferred it if they had made a more liberal choice for Pope. But I have been heartened by his initial comments. God works in mysterious ways.'

Millennium Commission director Mike O'Connor says Salt is very popular with her colleagues and is an 'extremely conscientious' worker. He recalls an event in Scotland where Salt was 'not best pleased' about some of the arrangements that had been made.

'That night, after half a bottle of whisky, she made me sign a statement (on a serviette, counters Salt) to say that it would not be her fault if we received bad coverage from the event. It shows just how anxious she is to do her job well.'

Salt is looking forward to election fever dying down: 'I do not want to live like that all the time. I enjoy the rest of life far too much.' She plans to 'swap the heady altitudes of the election for the heady altitudes of the Andes' soon afterwards. And yet she admits she will find it difficult not to log on to her BlackBerry, which she sees as a double-edged sword and the ultimate weapon for 'tagging comms directors'.

In the evening, she can often be found sitting on the sofa, surfing gadget sites while watching pre-recorded tapes of Coronation Street.

The proud bearer of an OBE for her work at the Millennium Commission, Salt talks more readily of footballing awards earned as a centre-half for her Battersea Park women's football team.

The passion with which she speaks of football's tension-releasing qualities would make any opposing forward fear for their ankles: 'I love letting off steam. Football is great for running around and shouting ... not that dissimilar to the office really'. Unfortunately she muses that she is 'coming to the end of my useful life' as a footballer, playing against girls young enough to be her children.

'Forty suits me. I am at a great stage in my life - it feels like a 27-year-old's life with endless football, films, travel and museums,' she says. 'It is carefree ... with a bit of anxiety thrown in.'

Salt will judge the commission's success on more than voter turnout. 'People will blame you for things that are out of your control. People won't vote just because of an Electoral Commission campaign. But if we can engage the public in political discussion, it will be a success.'

RESUME

1988: Teacher and acting head of department, Aquinas College, Stockport

1991: Deputy director, Catholic Communications Centre

1994: Advertising & sponsorship officer, Independent Television

Commission

1995: Press officer, Millennium Commission

1998: Director of communications, Millennium Commission

2001: Board director, Grayling

2004: Director of communications, Electoral Commission

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