30 April 2010

Voiced by actors

I have to confess to not watching the third and final leader's debate last night. My head was a mush with election detritus, I'd been on a train to and from Manchester all day, and I needed a rest from Gillian Duffy and all the other stuff... and so I watched Wallander (the Swedish version) on iPlayer. Bad Series 2 hair dye job or not, it's still the best cop show on TV. I'm working on a screenplay for "Wallander with Wallander" where Kenneth Branagh's version and the Swedish chap are thrown together into a case via some sort of Doctor Who style parallel universe rift... I think it would work well, and is no dafter than say, Ashes to Ashes.

One thing that would also work well is if the election debates had been spoken by actors instead of the real politicians. You may remember the ludicrous Tory decision in the 1980s that when Sinn Fein representatives appeared on TV their words should be spoken by actors... I think that would have worked well.

Having not watched the debate I can't comment on the details, but it does seem interesting that on the supposedly left-of-centre Guardian, many journalists are now swinging behind Cameron rather than Clegg. For example, we have the previously reliable Jonathan Freedland saying that "barring an earthquake, David Cameron is on his way to No 10". Is this a damage limitation exercise after deciding that Nick Clegg was a flash in the pan, or something more sinister?

BBC poll of polls is continuing to show a Tory lead of around 5% - that may be enough to establish the Tories as the largest party but is unlikely to secure an overall majority. If the polls stay at this level - with the Tories on 34% , and Lib Dems and Labour on about 28-29 apiece - the key questions are:

(a) will the upsurge in the Lib Dem vote seriously hit the Tories in key Lib Dem - Tory marginals or is it going to be more of a hit to Labour in key LD-Labour marginals?

(b) will the leakage to minor parties (which seem to be on about 10% in most polls) seriously hit the Tories in seats that they would otherwise easily win? I'm thinking particularly of UKIP here.

My guess is that if the Tories emerge as the largest party Cameron may attempt a minority government rather than going into coalition with the Lib Dems. So as my good friend Clarkey tweeted last week, we may be looking at minority Tory govt rather than Labour-Lib Dem coalition.

That could actually be good news for Labour in the medium term as it would finally get Brown out of the way and enable the post-New Labour era to begin. If Mervyn King's assertion that the winner of this election will be out of power for a generation is correct - and that's a big if (surely the Tories will try to claim that they've inherited the economic situation from Labour and it's not their fault?) then Labour could actually be grateful for a narrow loss.

But right now, there's been, as Spinal Tap would say, "a bit too much fucking perspective". I've read too many badly written and hashed together columns, blogs and tweets (many of which were of my own making) and I'm finding it difficult to care anymore.

Maybe it's time to watch Mrs Berstram's DVD of Glee Volume 1: Road To Sectionals (or as I call it, Road To Sectioning, because you have to be mental to watch it.)

28 April 2010

Bigotgate - Brown makes a schoolboy error

Well, the media had some fun today, didn't they. And I don't begrudge them that - the poor sods are probably exhausted after talking about a "hung" parliament for two weeks.

Gillian Duffy (any relative of Stephen "Tin Tin"?) expressed a worry about the number of Eastern Europeans in her local area, was assuaged carefully by Gordon, who then LEFT THE FUCKING MIKE ON in his car and said something to his aide Sue Nye along the lines of "why are you letting me meet dreadful people like that bigoted woman?"

Get with the programme, son! This is pretty much your standard Sun/Mail reader shtick. I used to hear FAR worse than that on the train into Liverpool St every day - from the so called "professional classes".

I don't think Gillian Duffy is a bigot. As John Harris points out in the Guardian, this is the kind of person who got left behind by New Labour. No-one bothered to tell her why Rochdale was suddenly populated by hundreds of Eastern Europeans; what the benefits of the EU single labour market were, or what free movement of labour was actually about. Instead, she asks questions and gets called a bigot - behind her back, when Gordon Brown thinks no-one is listening.

Some people I respect a lot have blamed the Murdoch press for the whole thing - but that's letting Brown off the hook too easily. In the 24-hour news cycle, you never drop your guard during a campaign like this. That much should be fucking obvious to anybody contemplating political office from district council level upwards. And if you can't handle that you CERTAINLY shouldn't be running for Prime Minister. Tony Blair, whatever his faults, understood this. For sure Blair got caught out one time with George Bush when the mike was left on - any of you kids remember "Yo Blair?" but that was Bush's fault, not Blair's. I don't believe Blair would have made a schoolboy error like this during a campaign.

Once again this shows that Brown is NOT comfortable in this role - while it's still entirely possible that Labour will emerge as the largest party from this shambles it's really painful to watch. Can we really go through another 5 years of this guy? Ripley, I've heard enough of this shit, and I'm asking you to pull the plug.

In an election defined by the expenses scandal, in the wake of which public opinion of their elected representatives has hit an all time low, is it really sensible to be treating voters - of any persuasion - with this kind of contempt?

Oddly enough, because the Greek debt crisis - which, paradoxically, might HELP Labour the same way the Lehman thing did 18 months ago - has now displaced Bigotgate on the rolling news, Brown has got off much more lightly than he might have done otherwise. We'll have to wait to see whether this has precipitated any poll shift. My guess is it will have done something because the polls are so volatile, any damn thing can shift them.

Two reasons why no-one has "come clean" about the cuts

Nice analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies yesterday on the fact that none of the three major parties have given the electorate any details of what they are going to cut to eliminate the "structural deficit" in the public finances (currently estimated by HMT to be running at around £70 billion per year). IFS reckons that the possible efficiency savings that can be squeezed out of public spending are overstated and so we are looking at much greater tax increases - like the early 1990s for example - rather than spending cuts. Larry Elliott in the Guardian concurs and suggests that VAT will be raised to 20% after the election as part of the tax-rise package.

It is of course shameful that the parties are pulling the wool over our eyes in this way. I suggest two reasons why it's happening:

1. The fallout from John Smith's "shadow budget" in the Labour election campaign in 1992. The impact of the negative press campaign against this carefully costed programme of "tax and spend" cannot be overstated. It shaped Labour thinking on tax for the whole of the Blair era and has made all parties wary of committing to detailed tax increases on the grounds that they will get hammered in the media. The ludicrous furore over the £6bn National Insurance increase, which fortunately seems to have died down in the later stages of the campaign, is a reminder that the press are still not prepared to discuss the election in rational terms, but would rather talk about how Nick Clegg is a Russian aristocrat, or other such ridiculous crap.

2. The fact that Labour moved its Spending Review back to autumn 2010 for no reason whatsoever except that an election was approaching. If a regular spending review was mandatory - in the same way that there has to be a budget every year - then we wouldn't get politicians just moving things around to suit their own ends. (Of course, in Labour's defence it should be pointed out that before 1997 the UK didn't even have medium-term spending reviews in any structured way.)

There is also, I guess, a high level of uncertainty about how large the structural deficit is. If the global (and UK) economy bounces back strongly from the recent severe recession we might well be back in surplus in just a few years. Alternatively, if the banking crisis has altered something fundamental in the economy and recovery is very sluggish, the finances could be much worse. Nonetheless that is no excuse for not setting out plans to deal with the central scenario as well as contingencies for the worst case scenario.

One rather senses that we are in a bubble, a comfort zone which will burst pretty f***ing soon after polling day, when we wake up and see that huge cuts and/or tax rises are on the way to pay for bankers' greed and incompetence. Certainly the final leaders' debate, on the economy, is unlikely to enlighten us further as it's in none of the parties' interest to break ranks and come up with a detailed plan that would no doubt be ripped to shreds by their opponents and the media. So prepare for another evasion of the major issues on Thursday.

26 April 2010

Talk is cheap...

Interesting comments by Nick Clegg in the Guardian today implying that he would look first to the Tories to form a coalition if, as expected, the election result produces no clear winner.

His grounds for doing so are that it's absurd that Labour would be propped up by the Lib Dems if - as the polls seem to suggest - they came 3rd in the national vote share.

That's a reasonable argument. It would be ridiculous for the 3rd place party to provide the Prime Minister - even if Labour came first in number of seats.

However, Clegg is - sensibly - insisting on proportional representation as a precondition of any deal. At first sight this seems to rule out a Lib Dem-Tory coalition as Dave Cameron has said he doesn't want PR introduced. What happens if the electoral arithmetic means that a majority Lib Dem/Tory or Lib Dem/Labour coalition is possible, and Cameron says no to PR, but Brown says yes? It would be surprising if the Lib Dems and Labour weren't able to come to some kind of agreement - even if it meant Brown stepping down as PM in favour of Clegg.

Many would say there's no way Brown would agree to do that but if the alternative is a Tory government (albeit a minority Tory government) then maybe...

Labour have been making mixed messages about PR and the Lib Dems for some time now. In the progressive corner we have Alan Johnson, who sounds very ready to countenance PR (he must be regretting he didn't carry through on the leadership bid last summer - would have made things a hell of a lot easier now, for sure). In the reactionary corner, we have the likes of Ed Balls, who claims that coalition governments are not "the British way". Well that's because of the insane electoral system Ed... but we can actually, y'know, change the electoral system?

A wolf in sheeps clothing is well known tanning salon devotee Peter Hain, who is in favour of Alternative Vote (a complete fudge which combines non-proportionality with being relatively hard to understand, thus being worse than either PR or FPTP) but who says (in the aforementioned Guardian article) that PR is bad because it breaks the link between an MP and his or her constituents "and so makes it more difficult to sack corrupt MPs". Er... been hiding under a rock for the last year, Peter? FPTP really did a good job of rooting out expenses corruption, didn't it? And the "constituency link" is the most overrated piece of bullshit argument I have ever seen. For most of my life I have lived in seats in Essex represented by the most dreadful right-wing Tories - people I have nothing in common with ideologically whatsoever. At least in multi-member constituencies like in the European elections there is a chance of having a Labour or Lib Dem MP who represents (to some extent) your views even if you live in the Tory heartland.

But basically, talk is cheap at this stage and the three party leaders can say whatever the hell they want about PR, coalitions etc... my guess is that if we do get that balanced parliament (I prefer 'balanced' to 'hung' as it sounds like no-one's died, which is in fact the case) then people will be modifying their positions pretty damn quickly. My guess is either (a) Lib Dem/Lab coalition or (b) a short-term minority Tory government followed by new elections later in the year. But we certainly can't rule out the Lib Dem/Tory deal at this stage.

24 April 2010

A posting in the national interest

In previous postings and comments on this blog, I've mentioned that the UK Independence Party has a very useful role to play in this campaign, which is to siphon off votes from the Tories in marginal seats to help Lib Dem, Labour and Green candidates win.

Beyond that, however, I should stress that NO-ONE of sound mind should consider voting for the UKIP in any shape or form.

A YouTube interview with UKIP leader Lord Pearson from the BBC News channel has been posted up by the nice folks at Left Foot Forward. It shows the guy is a loon with some very dodgy views on Islam, banking regulation and several other key policy areas. What's more, he couldn't even be bothered to read his own party's manifesto. Clueless doesn't begin to describe this twat. He's also a very good argument for why the House of Lords should be abolished.

There are many far, far worse videos of Pearson than the one LFF posted up... here's one from some American woman who likes Ayn Rand, for starters. Someone like this shouldn't be elected to Westminster under any circumstances (and of course, the f***er is an unelected peer... probably worked out that free thinking voters would rumble him first chance they got.)

Anyway, I'm posting this in the national interest, as UKIP is run by a loony, and - despite their protestations - is only marginally better than the BNP, if this is what the average member thinks.

Never loved Elvis

This piece of entertaining lunacy from the Labour campaign is amusing, if nothing else. I reckon Gordon Brown may actually have a good sense of humour... it's just that he doesn't allow anyone to see it. He did at least manage the only laugh of the second debate, with a quip that Clegg and Cameron reminded him of his two kids squabbling at bathtime.

The highlighted comment on the 'Elvis rally' is interesting:
A morale-booster for the activists, but with some senior Labour figures feeling the party is trapped in the ghetto of its own core vote, perhaps this type of event might have been intended to appeal to floating voters.
I think the point is that Labour has retreated to a strategy of maximising the core vote in its heartland seats - Scotland, Wales, the North of England, some bits of London - and leaving the Lib Dems to fare the best they can with the progressive vote in the rest of England. The floating voters have been given up as a bad job.

My calculations with the BBC election calculator (easier to use than the Guardian one - recommended) show that if Labour goes any lower than its 1983 share of 28% (which is certainly possible) it's most likely going to get less seats than the Tories, but it's going to be pretty difficult for the Tories to get an overall majority unless they start polling in the high 30s rather than the low 30s again.

Which could happen, but I don't see how Cameron's current strategy of playing to Daily Mail readers' most base prejudices is gonna help. You've already got the nutters in the bag, pal. Could we perhaps see the Tory rhetoric shift more to the centre over the next week in a bid to hoover up some of those (L)iberals? Or are they, like Labour, desperate to shore up the core vote and avoid leakage to UKIP/BNP (which I do believe is more of a factor than the polls are letting on?)

It's really getting fascinating now.

22 April 2010

Seconds out... round 2

I'm looking forward to tonight's foreign policy debate, in which Nick Clegg surely has an advantage because the Lib Dems are planning not to spend £100 billion on a replacement for Trident, which at a time when public funds are pretty scarce, makes them pretty sane, and the other two parties loopy.

For sure, Cameron and Brown will try to do the old 1980s Cold War trick of portraying Clegg as soft on defence. But it ain't 1987, and most of the country has surely moved on. Apart from the kind of people who are persuaded by the ludicrously pro-Tory line of the Sun and the Mail; but then, they're the hardcore Tory voters - 30% of the electorate - anyway. Not the swing voters.

As the only major party who opposed the Iraq war, the Lib Dems also have a big "I told you so" advantage there.

It's quite possible we could see a further boost to Lib Dem polling after this debate - as long as Clegg can do as well as he did last time. It'll be tougher in one way as both Brown and Cameron will be gunning for him more than last time. On the other hand, that gives him the chance to carve out a distinctive position in one of the areas where Lib Dem policy is distinctive - and more progressive - than Labour or the Tories.

If we see the Lib Dems at 38% or so in the polls after this debate - the level at which they start to win hundreds of seats on a uniform swing - prepare for absolute fucking PANIC STATIONS at Labour and Tory central. Although my preference going into the election was for Labour, I'm really rather enjoying this, and would love it if the Lib Dems went all the way into Number 10. A fair voting system after all these years, eh? Who'd have thought it?

20 April 2010

Lib Dems up to 34% on YouGov... any of you Tories starting to get nervous out there?

Hopes among leading Tory strategists (leading Labour strategists have been somewhat quieter on this point, of which more later) that the Lib Dem surge would fade away are quashed by a poll for YouGov today which has the Lib Dems continuing to hoover up swing voters, up to 34% while the Tories fall to 31% and Labour slips further to 26% (although they won't be too worried as long as they're still within shouting distance of the Tories).

The dreadful Dave Cameron 'big pitch' party political broadcast from last night may have contributed to the Tories' decline, with Dave apparently ditching a broadcast attacking Labour at the last minute to deliver a vacuous speech to camera about how the Tories were the "real change." Great stuff Dave, except that Nick Clegg is selling your basic shtick a lot better than you are... Jesus Christ, the Tories must really be bricking themselves now. Their lead over Labour is almost certainly not enough to beat them in terms of number of seats, and meanwhile they are going to be handing a lot of seats over to the Lib Dems on this kind of swing.

If the Lib Dems maintain support at this level, the only thing that can really save Tory hopes of a majority is for the Labour vote to collapse to the low 20s - which I guess is just possible, but seems extremely unlikely. Certainly the Labour approach at the moment seems to be to have faith that their core vote will hold at the 25-30% mark, be nice to the Lib Dems (witness for example Peter Mandelson saying today that he can understand why people want to vote for them, pretty much an admission that New Labour is crap) and hit the Tories as hard as possible to help the Lib Dems as much as themselves. The Tory approach, by contrast - which involves hitting everybody else as much as possible - means they are spread thinly and looking negative.

The next leaders' debate is going to be fascinating. We know Cameron will try to hit the Lib Dems as hard as possible but what's Gordon Brown going to do? My guess is he'll offer some token skirmishes with Clegg but will turn the big guns on Dave.

YouGov also suggests that about 50% of the electorate would vote for the Lib Dems if they thought they could win a majority. Of course, if 50% really did vote for them, they'd probably win about 500 seats. Could it become a self-fulfilling bandwagon? We're not there yet. But there's still time.

19 April 2010

Uncharted territory

New YouGov poll today takes the Lib Dems into the previously uncharted territory of being in the lead: Lib Dem 33%, Tories 32, Labour 26.

The BBC calculator reckons this would leave the Tories with slightly more seats than Labour but still about 80 or so short of a majority, with the Lib Dems on about 140 seats. Again, this would mean that either Labour or the Tories could form a coalition with the Lib Dems.

Given that Clegg says he will in the first instance approach the party with the strongest "mandate" - which on seats, in this case, would be the Tories - we need to start thinking seriously about how a Lib Dem/ Tory coalition would play out. The main issue is that the differences between the two parties on electoral reform are so great that I don't see how it can happen unless Cameron caves in and agrees to STV for general elections (possible if he's desperate enough) or Clegg abandons his demands (again possible, but he'd be a fool, particularly as he'd almost definitely get more traction on this with Labour.)

The most likely scenario if we do get the Tories as the largest party but a very long way short of a majority is that the Queen invites Cameron to form a government, he gets defeated on a confidence vote, and then we get a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.

It would all be a lot easier, however, if Labour does manage to secure more seats than the Tories. That way, Brown would probably get the chance to form a government first and no-one would have to f*** around with Dave Cameron.

It could be, of course, that Brown gets the chance to form a coalition even if Labour has less seats than the Tories. In Feb 1974, as the sitting PM, Ted Heath was allowed a few days to try to thrash out a deal with the Liberals even though the Tories had less seats (but more votes) than Labour.

The problem, as so often in British politics, is that there aren't clearly codified rules for this sort of thing - just convention and the views of self-appointed "constitutional experts". So don't blame me if the whole thing falls apart and we have anarchy on the streets. (But then, some of you kids are just waiting for that, aren't you?)

The election has now become great fun. Like one of those American football plays where someone fumbles the ball, once it gets picked up, the carefully-planned set pieces that the coaches have relied on for so many years are useless and the players on the field are forced to rely on their instincts. It's painfully obvious that neither Labour nor Tory strategists (nor indeed, Lib Dem strategists) had planned for a scenario where the Lib Dems suddenly leapfrog into the lead 2 weeks into the campaign. It's entirely possible that the Lib Dem bandwagon could become an unstoppable force - particularly if Clegg can persuade the huge numbers of people that have zoned out of politics completely over the last few years to give him a chance. If the Lib Dems can get up to about 40%, we could be looking at a Lib Dem landside victory. And then... who the hell knows?

As one of the media commentators in the Sunday papers (can't remember who unfortunately) was saying, the Daily Telegraph may have handed Nick Clegg the election by breaking the expenses scandal last summer. Although a few Lib Dems were involved in that, the overwhelming focus was on Labour and Tory MPs. This created a climate where attacking the "old politics" is a more effective strategy than ever before. In a way, all Clegg had to do in that first debate was look like an honest and competent guy - and he certainly delivered on that. It may get harder for the Lib Dems as other parties scrutinise their policies (although most of the attacks delivered by Labour and the Tories so far are laughable) but the evidence is that huge swathes of voters stopped listening to both Labour and the Tories some time ago.

It could be that the only way to save the "old politics" after the election is a Labour-Conservative coalition. That doesn't bear thinking about.

God, I love elections... wish we could have one every year.

17 April 2010

Desperate Dave

Must be tough being Dave Cameron these days.

After seeing his poll lead whittled away by Labour over the first 2 weeks of the campaign, Dave is now fighting on two fronts as the Lib Dems threaten to move into the lead, with the Tories now polling at 33% on YouGov - no better than their 2005 result. And given the bias in the electoral system it would have to be a very freaky set of electoral results to give the Tories an overall majority on May 6th with 33% of the vote.

So what does Dave do? He tries to scare the electorate. This on the PA feed: "Tory warning over hung parliament". Quoting:

Mr Cameron said Britain was in desperate need of action to remove the "black cloud" of the deficit and clean up politics.

"Is another five years of Gordon Brown going to get that job done? He's had 13 years and he is making things worse," Mr Cameron said.

"Is a hung parliament going to get that job done? A hung parliament would be a bunch of politicians haggling, not deciding.

"They would be fighting for their own interests, not fighting for your interests. They would not be making long-term decisions for the country's future, they would be making short-term decisions for their own future.

"The way we are going to get things done is to have a decisive Conservative government."

Even by Dave's lowly standards this is the cheapest of punk BS. Fact: we have a dysfunctional electoral system. (How else do you explain the idea that Labour could get most seats on 28%, barely above its 1983 polling level?

Fact: only the Lib Dems (and the Greens) are offering an STV system that would sort this out. (Labour's proposed AV system is NOT proportional representation).

So this means we need a coalition involving the Lib Dems - or even, a Lib Dem majority govt (possible if they can get to 40% or so of the vote) - to sort out a system that is so obviously broken that it's hard to look at the seat projections and do anything except laugh.

What we DON'T need to do is to vote in the Tories, who are the only major party proposing to keep this daft system exactly as it stands.

What's really happening is that Dave knows he's been rumbled. Even if he emerges as the largest party (unlikely on the most recent polls) a Lib Dem - Labour coalition could still reach 325 seats if the Lib Dems do well enough.

If this all works out I'm gonna design a special lapel badge for Nick Clegg as The Guy Who Sorted Out British Politics. Many unresolved questions, of course. Will Gordon Brown really agree to a coalition involving legislation to introduce proportional representation? It seems difficult to believe.

But then, 2 days ago the Lib Dems at 30% was difficult to believe.

16 April 2010

Lib Dems striding effortlessly towards majority government?

Well, YouGov have results from a poll conducted just after the debate and it's pretty extraordinary stuff: Tory 33%, Lib Dems 30%, Labour 28%. Yep, if this is right, the Lib Dems are now in second place. A much bigger shift than I'd have thought, and they will probably drop back a bit, but I guess this just underlines that everyone's support is, as someone once said of Lyndon Johnson "a mile wide and an inch deep".

Just for fun, I fed the swings into the Guardian swingometer again. The Lib Dem gain - which would be up 9% on the 2005 result - was almost off the scale. Effectively an 8 or 9 percent swing from Labour to the Libs with the Tories stuck at their 2005 level of support. For the record, this produced:

Labour - 278 seats
Tories - 244
Lib Dems - 96

Once again this brings home the insanity of the electoral system - Labour with least votes but most seats?! Mental.

But the key thing is that - in contrast to the 1983 election where virtually all the votes the Lib Dems (or Lib-SDP Alliance as was) were gained from Labour, Clegg is drawing support pretty much equally from both parties. Intriguingly, a result with the Lib Dems getting 30% could mean that they could form a majority coalition with EITHER Labour or the Tories. Which way would Clegg jump? My guess is that Gordon would cave into a demand for full proportional representation with STV and we'd have a Lib Dem-Labour coalition. Only because Cameron looks least likely to compromise on voting reform - but I may be underestimating his guile.

This one really is up in the air now - I don't think the swingometers are at all reliable with swings of this magnitude, and there could be any result at all. Shit, if the Lib Dems keep trending up they could be looking at 40% support and a majority of about 300 or so. Well it would be an interesting result...

I agree with Red Two's comment on the last post that the acclaim for Clegg's performance seems to have ballooned out of proportion to how good he actually was. Maybe it's just that against the cheesiness of Cameron and the stiltedness of Brown, anyone - even the walking abomination that is Tony Blair - would have performed well. I'd love to have seen what would have happened to voting figures for UKIP or the Greens if they'd have been let into the debate.

15 April 2010

dull but worthy

The leaders' debate is dissolving into a consensual mush over long-term care now so I can round it up - pretty much as expected. Clegg probably came off best because he was very much on an equal footing with the other two. Brown and Cameron have very different styles but they both got a lot of points across. And that means, I think, that Clegg and Brown both get more out of it - in terms of net gain - than Cameron. Brown because he was expected to be crap and was actually OK, and Clegg because nobody can really call him a Mickey Mouse minor-league politician after this.

The Guardian tracker gave Nick the lead on the instant track, but their Twitter feed suggests that this was because a lot of people from Lib Dem central office were pressing the 'plus' reaction button on Clegg a lot. Well fair play to ya guys, but it does mean that any post-match statistical analysis will be worth sweet FA. Dunno if I'll be tuning in for the other two.

(By the way, with reference to my previous post, there ARE going to be Scottish and Welsh debates - next Tuesday - but no sign of a UKIP/Green/BNP debate.)

Understimating Gordon Brown part 266

Quite a bizarre article here from Polly Toynbee whom I normally agree with pretty much 100%.

Under the eye-catching but dubious headline "tune in for Gordon Brown's car crash", Polly, who like many of us has oscillated over the last few years between thinking Gordon is the best thing since sliced bread and wanting him to resign immediately, says:

If even Tony Blair, the great political performer of the age, didn't fancy his chances against William Hague or Michael Howard, why is Gordon Brown putting himself up against Cameron, who has many of Blair's thespian skills? If your lurcher has a limp, would you put him in the dog race? And it's not once, it's three times. Why?

The main reason we haven't had these debates before is that we've never had a situation where both main party leaders wanted them to happen before. Normally what happens is that there is a clear favourite (Tony Blair in the last three elections) and he had nothing to gain by saying yes to a debate. In 1997 his refusal at least led to some classic comedy in the shape of the infamous "Tory chicken incident" where the guy hired by the Tories to follow Blair around in a chicken suit was ambushed by a rival chicken with a detachable head (meant to symbolise the state that the Tories were in by that stage) hired by the Daily Mirror.

This time round, Brown was well behind vs Cameron in polling at the time these negotiations were taking place, so it was a combination of thinking "I've nothing to lose" and also his feeling that the electorate would come round if only they'd look at the policies and stop focusing on soundbites.

Meanwhile, Dave Cameron presumably thought Brown was such a liability that the more the UK public see of him, the better.

So the interests of the two parties coincided. It's as simple as that.

While obviously Brown has problems getting his argument across to the public, I don't agree with Polly that these debates are a liability. The fact that everyone expects him to be crap means that even if he's just OK, it's a victory, of sorts. As long as he can avoid being totally crap, it's worth doing. Also, when pressed on policy, Cameron has looked crap on several occasions, most recently in the Gay Times interview. Tony Blair he ain't.

The person who will probably gain most from these debates is Nick Clegg. He gets prime-time exposure on a equal footing with the two main party leaders - extremely valuable. Personally I'd argue that at least one of the debates should have opened up to minor parties - the Greens, UKIP and the BNP - and we should also have had a debate in Scotland with the SNP and the Scottish Socialists and in Wales with Plaid Cymru.

The format will be anodyne - no cheering, clapping, booing or follow-up questions. Why the hell we couldn't have had a special edition of Question Time - tried and tested, and found to work well for 30 years - is beyond me. But the antiseptic nature of proceedings will probably suit Brown, who is the most gimmick-free candidate.

I doubt these debates will swing public opinion more than 1% either way - maybe a bit more towards the Lib Dems if Clegg does well. But with many of the polls now f***ing close (e.g. 3% gap on Populus for the Times yesterday - matching my prediction exactly), 1% could make a huge difference to the final result. Anyway, I'll be watching closely.

14 April 2010

Civil liberties (or lack thereof), the Lib Dems and saving the UK from minority dictatorship

Strange spin on the imminent Liberal Democrat manifesto launch from the Guardian: "Nick Clegg goes to war with Labour." And yes, Nick Clegg is criticising the Government's record on civil liberties. But hold on.... the Tories don't gave a shit about civil liberties either, guys. Doesn't any of the Guardian editorial team remember Michael Howard as Home Secretary? The guy was an authoritarian nut.

Nonetheless, Nick Clegg is quite right to castigate Labour for the imposition of a police state, where environmental protesters are subject to brutal beatings by the police, we are spending billions of pounds on an ID cards scheme that will be totally ineffective, etc. etc. It's good that someone has the balls to stand up to the fascists at the Daily Mail, because Gordon Brown sure ain't got them. In fact he is good mates with the odious Paul Dacre, the Mail editor.

The rather abstract feelgood cover for the Labour manifesto should have consisted of three short senteces in red on white, as big a typeface as they could fit on A4 (or whatever size it is this time):


Laying down your credentials from the very start. That's what it's about. Remember the dearly departed Malcolm McLaren? He got it right with the Pistols album. NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS... HERE'S THE SEX PISTOLS. A clear statement of what it was about, straight out of Year Zero. Political parties, take note.

The hilariously titled Tory Manifesto, "Invitation to Join the Governmnent of Britain", should have been called "Invitation to get screwed over" but at least shows the Chaps have a sense of humour.

The best ever manifesto cover remains Labour 1997. Tony Blair's grinning mug, back when he seemed like the Messiah, and simply: "New Labour. Because Britain Deserves Better". In its own way as iconic as "Never Mind the Bollocks". I also liked the "little red book" from 2005 because of its sheer understatement.

I think playing hard on civil liberties will help the Lib Dems - would be nice to see them get 25% in this election and I'm happy for Clegg to attack Labour if it means they tend to take votes more from the Tories than Labour. With the Tories being squeezed by the Lib Dems and UKIP from opposite directions, we could yet see them as low as 35% or so in the final poll... which would (most likely) mean a hung parliament, although a strong Labour showing ("strong" being strictly relative here - I mean 32% or so, on a par with their 1987 shown which was seen at the time as disastrous!) could still mean a Labour majority.

I'm now of the view that Labour being (say) 20 seats short of a majority and a coalition with the Lib Dems would actually be a better outcome for the country than a Labour majority. Because the ludicrous situation where Labour could get an overall majority on about 33% of the vote has brought home, once and for all, that British "democracy" is f***ed, and it will only be fixed if the Liberal Democrats are involved in the government - because they're the only major party recommending STV. Also, we are a lot more likely to make progress on civil liberties under a coalition than under another majority Labour Government. The question is: can Clegg get enough votes to emerge with the balance of power on May 7th? I don't have huge confidence in him, but on the evidence of recent interviews (including the Paxman grilling where I think he did pretty well), he may be just about up to the task.

12 April 2010

UKIP if you want to... the farmers are not asleep

Trucking round the country again yesterday (Leeds down to Sheffield then on to Essex) and I was pleasantly bouyed by the amount of UKIP posters - particularly on the Cambridgeshire A14 OK, it could just be a few disgruntled farmers, but there are WAY more than in 2005. Is anybody going to do more investigation of this, I wonder?

Hey, Nick Clegg nicked my idea!

Nick Clegg, short on ideas of his own, had to borrow one from giroscope:

In an interview with the Observer, the Liberal Democrat leader says he fears "serious social strife" would break out on the streets if a government with limited support at the election on 6 May then raised taxes, laid off public-sector workers and froze wages.

Right on, bro. It's a very good point. In fact to be fair to Clegg, it's one of the best interviews I've seen with him since he took over as leader. Strip away the Thatcherite crap about "militant trade unions" and you've got a reasonably progressive policy stance.

But I still worry that - like Tony Blair, his obvious role model (or is it Dave Cameron?) he's better at finding the right soundbite than assembling coherent policy.

Still, the social unrest point is well made. It makes me laugh that Dave and the other defenders of FPTP say that a hung parliament could create social unrest. In fact, an unrepresentative Labour majority could be much worse for that. (The same would be true of an unrepresentative Tory majority, but that's more or less impossible given the current bias in the electoral system - if you take "representative" as winning 40% or more of the vote, the Tories will pretty much HAVE to do that to get a working majority - whereas Labour could get a majority on less than 35%.)

The lesson? A big tactical vote for the Lib Dems will be A Very Good Thing at this election.

Personally I'm voting for the Greens because the new Witham constituency is such a stitch-up that Robert Mugabe could probably get elected as long as he was wearing a blue rosette. (and it might yet come to that). But I would be voting Labour or Lib Dem if I were in a constituency where either of them had a cat in hell's chance of winning the seat.

10 April 2010

Vince Cable is a better Labour politician than the Labour politicians

Vince Cable - how much of a star is this guy? I love the man. Whereas Brown and Mandelson tried to talk tough against business but came off sounding rather weedy, Cable doesn't piss about. Business leaders are "utterly nauseating".... f***ing A, Vince.

If only someone could temporarily kidnap the gormless, Cameron-lite Nick Clegg for the duration of the campaign so that Vince could take over... I think we'd see the Lib Dems at 30%. And holding the balance of power at the election.

Which could be enough, just enough, to sort this country out.

Tory marriage plans - an insult to married and unmarried alike

The Conservatives' big idea:

Give £150 to working married couples and civil partners.

As in £3 a week. Dickensian idea, Dickensian price level.


08 April 2010

Meanwhile in the outside world...

...following Mark "Murdoch Plant" Thompson's scumball announcement that 6Music, the greatest radio station of modern times, is to close, here is an exciting campaign to get Half Man Half Biscuit into the charts as a protest.

Great band, great campaign. To the iTunes store!

Taking on the Tories on NICs

The National Insurance contributions row is running on and on - the Tories appear to have a steady stream of extremely highly paid business people on hand to argue that closing £6bn of the public spending deficit by raising NICs in 2011 is a bad idea.

This should be an easy slam-dunk for Labour to respond to. All it needs to say is that the Tories would be deliberately opening up an extra £6bn hole in the deficit at a time when the financial markets would expect them to have a clear plan to close that deficit (and indeed until 2 weeks ago they had a plan, of sorts).

The Tory counter-argument will be that they can find £6bn extra "efficiency savings" in public spending that Labour can't. Now, to be sure, this efficiency savings stuff is largely BS. You can - at least in theory - get modest efficiency savings out of the public (and private) sector every year through productivity growth - technological improvements which allow you to do more with less. What you can't do is invent several tens of billions of EXTRA efficiency savings - on top of that gradual drip-drip improvement. There is a problem here, because both Labour and the Tories have conjured ridiculously large efficiency savings estimates out of thin air - have a look at some of the suggested savings in various departments in the 2010 Budget and you'll see what I mean. The cuts which are already scheduled will DEFINITELY hit front-line services. In other words, both Labour and the Tories are already engaged in a con-trick with the electorate.

However, daft as this situation is, it doesn't harm Labour's case on this particular issue, because Labour can point out that, given that the announced cuts are ALREADY going to bite into front-line services, an additional £6 billion will hurt that much more. In other words, this opens the door towards portraying the Tories as the "slasher" party in the way that Labour did quite successfully in 2001 and 2005.

All of which may explain why Gordon Brown seems relatively pleased about the NICs row so far: it enables an opportunity to put "clear red water" between Labour and the Tories. To be clear, this won't be about Labour defending public services vs Tory cuts (even though as it should be if Labour had the guts); instead it will be about Labour's savage cuts vs the Tories' complete destruction of a huge proportion of the public sector. It's the wrong place to put up a battle ground - but it's still a battle ground, and played the right way, having this fight could actually help Labour as the campaign goes on.

07 April 2010

What odds on an uprising if the Tories lose?

Nice little article by Julian Glover in the Guardian yesterday outlining the 2 occasions since 1945 when the party with the most votes has not secured the most seats in the UK general election.

This could quite easily happen on May 6th. The current system is heavily biased against the Tories - playing with the Guardian swingometer, a uniform swing of as much as 4.5% from Labour to Conservative would still leave Labour as the largest party. That would equate to Labour on 31% with the Tories on about 38%.

Seven points down and still coming out on top in numbers of seats? That's an insane electoral system for sure. It makes George W Bush's US election steal of 2000 look positively innocent.

Moreoever, Labour could be three percentage points behind the Tories and still win an overall majority - just about.

Suppose that Labour does win despite being well down in the popular vote. What will the Tories do? They could just grin and bear it - wait for Labour to implode in office, like John Major's Tories did in 1992. But it's just possible that some of these Tory guys and gals won't take it lying down.

Yes, kids, we could be faced with armed uprisings on the streets for the first time in recent (mainland) UK history. We're familiar with stuff like this from Northern Ireland. But what about if it was North London?

The sad fact is: a Conservative, or other disaffected right winger, taking up arms in the event of a Labour "victory" would HAVE A POINT. Even though I'd personally prefer a Labour govt to a Tory govt, it can't be right to have a majority government by a party that gets millions of votes LESS than another party. It's ludicrous. So by all means, if you're a pissed off Tory voter - maybe check out your weapons stash.

In short, armed uprisings by disaffected Conservatives might be one way - albeit a messy one - of getting a change in the f***ing daft electoral system (although of course Cameron has pledged to keep it with only minor changes). I will be monitoring right-wing blogs (discreetly) throughout the campaign for evidence of militia group activity and will report back from time to time.

A much better way of getting change in the electoral system would be to vote tactically to ensure that Labour does NOT get an overall majority but can reach a majority with Liberal Democrat support. As long as Clegg does not cock it up like David Steel did in 1977 and go into coalition with Labour WITHOUT demanding proportional representation as a precondition, we CAN get real electoral reform in this country.

Alternatively, could a Lib Dem/ Conservative coalition introduce PR? In theory yes, but Cameron would have to eat so much humble pie that it seems unlikely. Having said that, the guy is so desperate that anything is possible. I'd be very surprised, though.

Keep it real and keep a watch out for stray grenades on May 7th if it is a Labour victory - or near victory. You are being watched.

Playing with the swings... and the polls.... etc.

Only 24 hours into the campaign and I'm already addicted to the Guardian's 3-way swingometer. It's a nice site - the swingometer looks a bit like the rear light assembly on a Mk1 Ford Cortina (which nobody remembers, of course...) and you drag the black circle towards blue for a swing towards the Tories, yellow for Lib Dems. (I'm assuming there won't be a swing towards Labour in the election, surprise surprise).

The 'baseline' result of no swing is complicated by boundary changes this time round which means Labour has a notional majority of 48 over all other parties. For the record, the results last time were roughly speaking:

Labour - 36%
Tory - 33%
Lib Dems - 23%

The polls have, generally speaking, been all over the place these last few days. Yesterday, ICM/Guardian showed a 4-point deficit - 33% Labour, 37% Tory - the lowest on this poll since late 2008. But YouGov in the Sun and Opinium (sounds like opium?) in the Express had a 10-point Tory lead. I'm generally discounting anything published in the Sun or the Express in this election as they are rabidly biased. For example, the YouGov tracker poll a couple of weeks back showing the Tory lead cut to 2 points wasn't even reported in The Sun. Therefore, I'm going to make the assumption that ICM is more accurate than the other two polls and that the 'true' Tory lead is somewhere between 2 and 5 points. I could of course come a total cropper with this assumption but that's what I'm going with for now and we'll see where it takes us.

My prediction at this stage, then, is that the ICM poll is very close to what the final result will be. Let's give Labour an extra percentage point to reflect some pre-election tightening of the race - making for Labour on 34%, Tories on 37%, Lib Dems 20%. From 2005, that gives:
0.5% swing Labour to Tory
3% swing Lib Dem to Tory

Feeding that into the Guardian calculator (or as close as I could - it's very difficult to fine-tune the mouse enough to get the swings exactly right), we get:
Labour - 324 seats (-25)
Tory - 248 seats (+38)
Lib Dem - 48 seats (-14)

That would leave Labour about 1 seat short of an overall majority, but almost certainly able to stay in power, as the likelihood of all other parties being able to co-ordinate on a no confidence vote is slim, to say the least. At least until by-elections start to push Labour further into minority... very much a re-run of the 1974-9 Labour government situation.

This prediction may change if there's an obvious, and strong, movement one way or the other in the polls. But for now, I'm predicting Labour on the cusp of an overall majority. There are of course other factors to consider - e.g. will the swing be uniform or will the Tories perform better in the marginals than elsewhere? I'll come back to that later in the campaign as time permits.

06 April 2010

Here we go - election time again

It seems a long time since the Hal Berstram Voice of the Turtle election blog of 2005. And indeed it is - 5 years. That's as long as William Shatner spent out there on the Enterprise dealing with STUFF. Or he would have done if the series had not been cancelled. More recently, he spent 5 years on Boston Legal. Dealing with more stuff. And James Spader. But we are getting ahead of ourselves only 8 sentences into this election blog. Time to reboot...

I was looking back at some posts from last summer - back then, Labour was so dead in the water that the best we could hope for was a massive '83 or '87-style defeat, followed by the jettisoning of the old guard and a complete change of direction.

So how is it that ICM in the Guardian this morning currently finds Labour only 4 percentage points behind the Tories - a result that would probably leave them as the largest party in a hung parliament?

Explaining that, and a good deal of other weird stuff, will be the primary purpose of this election blog in its first week or so, before Parliament is dissolved and the campaign kicks in in a really big way. Lots to do now but I'll certainly be back before the end of the day.

03 April 2010

Rowan Williams: predictably attacked for stating the obvious

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been the subject of praise from this blog last year for telling it like it is at a TUC conference last November, has been telling it like it is again - and has run into a shitstorm from the leadership of the Catholic Church for doing so.

I don't think this will bother Williams that much though. He isn't in the situation of having to make desperate apologies for a gigantic, decades-long cover-up of an epidemic of sexual abuse by members of his clergy. Whereas the Catholic Church certainly IS in that situation... and is handling it extremely badly.

There's no more Catholic church-bashing that needs to be done on these pages - plenty of people are doing that very very well already. Here's a fantastic article by Geoffrey Robertson in the Guardian, for example, arguing that the Pope should be arrested and charged with conspiracy in organised child abuse.

All I'll say is: Rowan Williams vs The Pope. Compare and contrast, folks.

The complete collapse of the Roman Catholic wing of Christianity is now a real possibility. And I, for one, have seldom felt happier.

Now all we need is a Labour win on May 6th, and I'll be waiting for my third impossible thing before breakfast.