10 May 2010

Could Dave be deprived after all?

Asks Mike Smithson.

That's No 304 in John Rentoul's world famous series.

Labour leadership mania: Gossip and fiction

Facts are few on the ground this morning relative to what the comrades will get up to later this week

First the gossip.  Paul Mason, Newsnight's economic editor, pushes Michael Crick to one side as he tours the streets of Westminster on Sunday afternoon:
It breaks into two parts. First, even though there is no "coronation", if the David Miliband camp and the Jon Cruddas camp were to get together it would make David Miliband hard to stop. Labour would suddenly have, goes the argument, an Attlee and a Nye. A plausible centrist leader and a leftist who can reconnect with the base. This is being mooted but is not a done deal.

Since Harriet Harman has ruled herself out of seeking the leadership I can see Ed Miliband emerging as a candidate backed by parts of the union movement (eg the GMB) who don't want an alliance with David Miliband. Ed Balls would be backed to the hilt by the existing party machine, Unite and to an extent the "old Labour" left; also the ScottishParty.

The Labour NEC meets on Tuesday and Labour officials are in a rolling meeting schedule until then to decide how to respond if the party goes into opposition. One told me to expect civil war between the Brown "machine" and all those hitherto excluded from it, from the moment the PM leaves office.

All very well, dear boy, but Brown has to resign as Labour leader first, which not the same as him leaving office.

Now we move to Peter Oborne, who has fallen in love with word hyperbole:

Mr Miliband is backed by Mr Blair himself. I am told that Mr Blair's real purpose in returning to join the Labour campaign in the final days before the election was not to secure victory for Gordon Brown but to ensure a smooth takeover for his protege, who worked as his head of policy in Downing Street after the first Labour landslide of 1997.

There's more:

However, I do not share the growing belief that a Miliband victory is inevitable. He may be popular among the London elite - but he can go down very badly indeed among ordinary Labour supporters.

Here is one example. Last Tuesday, on the very eve of the election, the Labour Party held a rally in Manchester at which Gordon Brown spoke and senior party figures including Mr Balls and Mr Miliband were present.

The latter put in a perfunctory appearance, yet Mr Balls stayed behind afterwards chatting, purposefully allowing himself to be photographed shaking hands or linking arms with local activists and trade union leaders.

Nor did he leave until the very last person had been given ample time to make his acquaintance.

And the icing on the cake:

One lethal charge is that Lord Mandelson abused his role as campaign chief to neglect the Labour Party and instead promote Mr Miliband's leadership bid. For example, it is being claimed that the peer was responsible for the extraordinary decision to allow Mr Miliband to travel to Washington to meet Barack Obama at an international summit in the first week of the campaign. Many Labour strategists believe the Washington trip would have been an ideal chance for Mr Brown to display his statesmanlike credentials to the British electorate. Instead this golden photo-opportunity was handed to Mr Miliband. Questions are being asked as to why that was so.

What utter nonsense.  Brown made the right decision.

Watch this space for the facts, once Brown has spoken.

Speculation mania: What is going on?

Substance is not a word that can be used to describe the coverage of the talks between the Tories and the Lib Dems.  Is a deal almost agreed or is the gap between the two sides unbridgeable?  What hope is there if the two sides can't agree over what to eat for lunch:
As the teams broke off for lunch, news seeped out of a difference. The Tories were tucking into sandwiches of cheese, chicken, beef or egg while the Lib Dems were munching tuna and cheese and onion sandwiches.
No doubt an expert in the field of 'sandwich mind games' will be wheeled out to give a full explanation.

Meanwhile, Ben Brogan, who is fast becoming Cameron's spokesman on planet earth, starts to tick the boxes:
He is offering to trade reform of the voting system for a two-year deal with Nick Clegg that would deliver economic and social change and, in particular, the painful cuts needed to reduce the deficit.

By offering backbenchers a free vote in the Commons on whether there should be a referendum, he knows nearly all of them will vote “no”, and may find enough anti-reform Labour MPs to form a blocking majority.

But senior sources speculate that he could eventually offer the Lib Dems a form of electoral reform based on the additional vote system (AV) or even the AV-plus devised by the Lib Dem peer Lord Jenkins – and rejected by Mr Blair – more than a decade ago. Both maintain the constituency link that Tories say is essential, and both require voters to express a second preference.

Could this seal the deal?

We watch and we wait for a little substance.

09 May 2010

DM4LO: Waiting for Gordon Brown

The DM4LO committee will kick off its campaign as soon as Gordon Brown makes his intentions known.  However, it is important to note that if the Tories form a minority government under the guise of "a confidence and supply arrangement", then the need to resolve the Labour leadership becomes more urgent as there is likely to be a further election this year.

While we wait, The Indy lists the possible scenarios:

Scenario 1

David Cameron becomes prime minister. Gordon Brown moves out of Downing Street and gives notice he will quit as leader of the Labour Party on 26 September, the opening day of Labour's annual conference in Manchester. Meanwhile, he has to face Cameron every Wednesday at Prime Minister's Questions, during which he is ritually humiliated. Labour's poll ratings slip as it spends four months engrossed in a leadership contest, with the ever-present risk that the Tories might call a snap election. Once the new leader is in place, Labour's ratings improve.

Scenario 2

Cameron becomes prime minister. Brown resigns as Labour leader with immediate effect. Harriet Harman takes over as temporary leader and, finding that she rather enjoys being in charge, persuades the National Executive that it can save a bit of money by delaying the leadership election until September. This gives her time to weigh up whether she should join the contest. Her weekly jousts with Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions are hit and miss. Labour's ratings fall until the leadership question is settled.

Scenario 3

Cameron becomes prime minister. Brown resigns, Harman takes over, but the National Executive insists it cannot risk a leadership contest overlapping an election should Cameron go back to the country in the autumn. It decides on a one-day conference in July when the results of a postal ballot can be announced, and the new leader and deputy anointed. Two months of intensive campaigning follow. In July, Labour has a new leader, who spends the August break planning strategy for the autumn.

The comrades would be well advised to adopt Scenario 3, but Gordon Brown has to resign as Labour leader before the fun starts.

Alan Watkins: "Politics is a rough old trade"

That was just one of the memorable phrases that came from the pen of Alan Watkins, the doyen of political columnists, who died yesterday.  Others being: "chattering classes", "men in grey suits" and the "young fogeys".

His final column in the Indy on Sunday appeared just after the first TV leaders' debate.  Watkins compared Clegg's success to a third party by-election win and concluded:
Mr Clegg is adept at the soft answer that turneth away wrath. He does not have anything to teach Mr Cameron; still less poor Mr Brown, who chews gum even when he does not have anything to chew.
The week before he said that Labour had left it too late to woo the Lib Dems:
I do not think a modern version of the Lib-Lab pact is going to come to anything much today. Mr Nick Clegg is not prepared to be seen, as he inevitably would be seen, as the subordinate partner to Mr Brown. Why should he be? Mr Clegg now regards himself as one of the bigger boys. Mr Brown should have made his overtures long ago. Or Mr Tony Blair should have done it long before that. It is now too late.
His columns, style of prose and knowledge of political history will be missed, not least on this weekend, of all weekends.

08 May 2010

David Cameron's plan of action for the weekend

As discussed in the previous post, David Cameron is in rather a powerful position.  Ironically, he being ably assisted by the rumours that are circulating about Gordon Brown's little chat with Nick Clegg, which confirm that Labour is no position to cut a deal with the Lib Dems under its present leader.  However, he does need to move matters along before the markets open on Monday morning.

All Cameron needs to do agree with Clegg what will be in the Queen's Speech and then they both issue a statement.  Cameron can then say he can command a majority in the Commons and the details between the parties will be agreed in due course.  This will derail anything Brown is cooking up and he have no choice but to resign.

This document should be agreed and issued before Monday morning, after which Cameron deals with the noises off within his own party, makes no further public comment, sits back and waits for the wheels to turn.

If he can pull off this simple cunning plan, pictures of Dave and Samantha waving from the steps of No10 should be on the front pages of Tuesday's papers.

Gordon Brown has turned the election result on its head

It was kind of Gordon Brown to give a lecture to the nation on its unwritten constitution yesterday.  However, not for the first time, he decided to skip over a few important facts, which are rather fundamental to what happens next.

The Labour party has 258 seats, a loss of 91 from the 2005 election, and 29% of the popular vote.   On this basis, Brown has assumed the 'moral right' to remain in office as Prime Minister.

The Labour party has little hope in putting 'a coalition of willing' together to get to the magic figure of 326, which would allow for its proposals in a Queen's Speech to be passed by the Commons.  The Tory party, however, has 306 seats and will, presumably, have 307 when the one remaning constituency holds its election in a few weeks.  This is more than adequate to form a minority administration.  And yet, under under the guise of a clever document produced by the Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, Brown is allowed to say in office.

Of course, the small matter of government has to proceed, but it be would be far better, relative to the critical financial position that we find ourselves in, if this happens under a Prime Minister who is likely to command a majority in the Commons.

Gordon Brown has not only been wrongly advised to remain in office, but has also rejected the message that the voters have sent him.  Brown and Alastair Campbell, who unwisely toured the TV studios yesterday wearing a a yellow tie, has to accept the show is over.  The crowds have all gone home.

Gordon Brown should have resigned yesterday and departed with dignity.  The Labour party has to rebuild itself in double quick time, as there will be another election within a year, and can only do this in opposition under a new leader.

Brown's alternative is not credible.  His thinking, obviously, is that the Lib Dem talks with the Tories will fail and Clegg will then run into Brown's open arms and cut a deal.  Then what?  Does Brown, or Clegg for that matter, seriously believe such an arrangement will last long enough for the process of electoral reform to take place?  Then comes the problem of Brown's leadership.  Will this be acceptable to Clegg?  If so, how will Labour elect its new leader whilst mixed up with this ill thought through concoction?  Oh, and then there is our financial situation to consider and the painful decisions that have to be made.

Meanwhile Cameron, with the number of seats the Tories have, will play havoc with this arrangement in the Commons.  He will also say, rightly, that Brown has no authority to remain in office.  After a short period, Brown's pack of cards will fall into a heap and the Tories will win a landslide election.

If Gordon Brown remains in office his failure will be complete.  He will destroy not only what little credibility he has left, but also the Labour party.

The tragedy is that neither he nor the people advising him appear to recognise this.

A very un-British election day and night

Before we move forward to what happens next, the various failings of our traditional way of doing things on election day, and what followed when the clock passed ten, need to be dealt with.

No doubt there will be a little inquiry and a few strong words for the returning officers responsible for the not-so-small cock-up that took place at various polling stations.  It really was a disgrace that the simple job of allowing voters to exercise the democratic right failed so spectacularly, especially when the turnout was only 65.1%.  In the time he had to fill before the results started tumbling in, David Dimbleby, rightly, made much of this national embarrassment, which should not be forgotten as the drama of the next few days unfolds.

Now to the BBC election night programme itself.  Over the years this has set the standard that the others follow, but it hit a very low common denominator on Thursday night.  Just who was responsible for hiring that boat and inviting celebrities to give their not-wanted opinions on what was going on?  Helicopters following cars travelling along empty roads in the middle of the night are not required.

The exit poll proved to be accurate prediction, but the BBC failed in many ways to provide a serious analysis of results.  Although Peter Kellner was on hand to assist Emily Maitlis operate her flat screen TV, the programme was left in a vacuum without a psephologist sitting alongside David Dimbleby as the declarations came in.  Dimbleby did, eventually, stamp his authority on the programme, but it was a poor imitation of what has gone before.

Thankfully, David Butler, one of the architects of the once successful BBC format, made a welcome appearance on programme, but it wasn't the world he had created.  He did, however, make one of the more astute observations of the results:
I think the 1974 analogy is a very strong one and I think if Cameron does carry the next government, a minority government, he has a very good chance of winning a clear majority in a quick election afterwards.
The BBC has a huge a gap to fill when the 71-year-old David Dimbleby decides to call it a day.

07 May 2010

Election 2010: The morning after

A number of points after being up all night:
  1. Labour and the Lib Dems may not have the number of seats to get a majority.  Therefore it is likely that Tories will form a minority government, but Cameron will have to accept electoral reform, which gives his party a long term problem;
  2. It's likely there will have to another election within a year;
  3. Assuming Clegg will not do a deal with Brown, Labour can only stay in office if the public will accept another unelected Prime Minister;
  4. Labour has to look to the future.  It would be better for the party to regroup and elect a new leader in opposition.  It would then be in much stronger position to fight the next election.  Mandelson has to take this into account if he is considering keeping Brown in office;
  5. One further matter.  Clegg has said the party that has 'more seats and votes has the moral authority to govern'.
Follow Events Dear Boy, Events on Twitter as the day unfolds.

Twitter wins over blogging

Follow Events Dear Boy, Events on Twitter as the night unfolds.

06 May 2010

Labour's blame game

Who and what will Labour blame tonight?

In no particular order:
  1. Lord Ashcroft;
  2. The media for reporting style over substance;
  3. The reporting of the TV leaders' debates and the instant polls;
  4. Anyone apart from Lord Mandelson for his lacklustre and shambolic campaign;
  5. The Blairites for destabilising Brown's leadership.
The fun will start very soon.

Election 2010: Predictions, a hope and a fear

With so many variables, not least the number of undecided voters, we will have to wait for the exit poll to discover how many seats the parties are likely to get.  The only certainty is that Labour will not get an overall majority.

Predictions:  The Tories will have a working majority or form a minority administration.  There will not be another general election this year.

Hope: That Gordon Brown conducts himself with dignity.

Fear: That the Labour party will be humiliated tonight and turn in on itself as soon as the polls close.

The post-election analysis can wait, but Martin Bright accurately reflects the thoughts of this member of the AJ4PM committee:
It will be clear tomorrow that the Labour Party should have never allowed Gordon Brown to become leader of the party. If it loses badly it will only have itself to blame for failing to replace such an electoral liability when it had the chance. This electoral campaign has been dominated by the ageing patriarchs of the New Labour project and they have been found wanting. Prescott, Campbell, Mandelson and Straw have been too prominent. They need to be swept aside if the Labour Party is ever to recover.

05 May 2010

No one does it better than Tony Blair

Alan Johnson comes a close second to Tony Blair in the art of communication.

Here is the three-times-election-winner explaining why his so-called heir had to spend the penultimate night before polling day travelling around the country:
The issue for voters is to decide whether the Tories have really changed…when you look at the Tory party today and take it as a whole, you will be going back to what you had before, and if you want to do that, do so with your eyes open.
No one wants an over-heavy state, but there is an element of what the Conservatives are saying that almost suggests that government has no role to play, or it is down to volunteering.

To go out of an alliance with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy and to go into an alliance with a pretty fringe rightwing group. That is odd.  Why would you want to do that? That is how we remember the Tories.

Our foreign policy becomes just one endless wrangle with Europe. It is not just that it leads to internal convulsions in the Tory party, it ends up affecting the country, at a time when the world is becoming ever more interdependent.

An attitude that says we will take a little Englander approach to Europe is just not smart on any basis – it simply fails to understand the modern world.

If only it had been Alan Johnson

Our man has been doing his stuff this morning:
Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are experiencing some kind of slow puncture, the air is coming out of the tyre since the first debate.
He admitted that he didn't know that Simon Cowell had pledged his support for David Cameron in today's Sun newspaper and when asked whether he was a fan of TV talent shows, he said:
I'm supposed to say yes because I'm supposed to be in touch with popular culture, but not really.

Who's Simon Cowell?
It would have taken more than one night's campaigning by David Cameron to have stopped Alan Johnson winning Labour a fourth term.

Will Gordon Brown offer Nick Clegg the ultimate prize?

Brown makes another passionate speech, the tax credit scare stories continue and the Cabinet send out mixed messages over the small matter of tactical voting.  But the polls are not moving and 38% of voters (an unlikely high figure) are saying it was "quite possible" they would still change their minds.  So, what will happen on Friday afternoon if the Tories cannot form a government on their own, but there is a clear majority for a centre-left coalition.

Brown returns to Downing Street, makes a little speech and then disappears inside to have chat with Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary.  Sir Gus advises Brown that he should make his intentions clear without delay, the markets are getting nervous and the Tories have already spoken to the Lib Dems.  Brown decides to ring Nick Clegg.

GB: Hi Nick.  Congratulations on a fine campaign.  Our two parties have a majority.  Only Labour can offer you electoral reform.  We have the opportunity to realign politics.  The Tory party cannot do this.  Can you pop in for a chat this afternoon?

NC:  I cannot give you any assurances at the moment.  My people have already met Cameron's team and they are considering what we have said.  Besides, you have to take this on board.  The show-stopper is your leadership.  There would be uproar if I did a deal with Labour with you as leader.

GB: I know this.  I decided last weekend to stand down and this is known to few close colleagues....

NC: There is no way that I will agree to another unelected Labour leader becoming Prime Minister.

GB: But, we could get over this.  You have been elected...

NC: OK, I will come and see you in an hour.

Gordon puts down the phone.  An aide enters to confirm that Balls has lost his seat after 5 recounts.  Mandelson, who has been sitting in the corner of the room, smiles to himself and and leaves to speak to David Miliband.

Meanwhile, Shirley Williams has just been interviewed by a stunned Jeremy Paxman and proposed that Nick Clegg becomes Prime Minister in a coalition with Labour.

A media frenzy breaks out.

Quotations of the day

Gordon Brown:
I may have not been meeting all the people I should have been meeting, but I certainly tried.
I am not going to talk about what happens after Thursday, because the people are the boss. The people make decisions.
Ken Clarke:
I think there's a still a slim chance we can get an overall majority.
A Tory strategist agrees:
We're not there yet, but still hope to be by Thursday.

04 May 2010

AJ4PM: More turmoil

In the unlikely event that Labour is in a position to do a deal with Nick Clegg on Friday, John Rentoul, the emeritus chairman of the AJ4PM campaign, has this to say on his blog:
(a) because Brown would hang on as Labour leader; and (b) because it would look most odd to end up with David Miliband or Alan Johnson as prime minister when they did not lead their party in the election campaign, including the televised debates.
If our cunning plan had succeeded before the election, it would have been fine to have two unelected PM's in the same parliament.  So why is it "most odd" for AJ or DM to replace Brown if he is not acceptable to the Lib Dems?

The voters elect a Government not a Prime Minister.

Labour just has to hope that its vote holds up

At long last Gordon Brown finds his voice and makes a passionate speech.  Unfortunately for him, and the Labour party, one swallow doesn't make a summer.  You can't fatten the calf on market day.

All the usual ingredients are there for the final hours of the campaign: the frantic travel to the marginal seats that matter; and the scare mongering.  Meanwhile, two Cabinet minsters have urged Labour supporters to vote tactically to keep the Tories out.  It's desperate stuff that adds to the lacklustre way the party's clattering train has travelled over the past few weeks.  Then, up pops Tony Blair at a garden party in Jacqui Smith's marginal seat.  Is this the most effective way to use Labour's most successful leader?

Who knows what the 46 million voters are really thinking.  Will there be regional variations when the votes are counted?  How will the expenses scandal play out in individual seats?  The voters want change, but will they move in a decisive way in David Cameron's direction?  What impact will the minor parties have?

In the crucial hours hours before election day, the polls lag behind as the electorate finally make their minds up.  They reflect a snapshot in time, and will not detect any last minute changes as the voters march to the polling stations.

At the end of the day, Labour has to hope that its vote holds up and tactical voting denies the Tories enough seats to form a minority government.

Until the fog clears early on Friday morning, there is little point in further speculation.  The only certainty at the present time is that this will be the last first-past-the-post-election, which will have major implications for the Tory party and David Cameron, if he becomes Prime Minister.

03 May 2010

Keep an eye on the party leaders' movements during the coming days

It's a Bank Holiday, but that doesn't stop the pollsters carrying out their day job.  The more seasoned campaigners will wait until Tuesday night before paying too much attention to what they are telling us.  Meanwhile, with less than 72 hours to go until the polls open, the 'politics of fear' takes hold as the leaders criss-cross the country in an attempt to get the vote out:

On Sunday, Brown took himself off on a whirlwind tour of ten Labour seats in the London area:
He addressed a black gospel church, knocked on doors, watched breakdancers and roped in several B-list celebrities on what his spokesman called “Super Sunday”. At each stop he was greeted by placard-waving Labour supporters, some of whom were quietly ferried from one venue to another.
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg travelled to the North:
Nick Clegg mounted his most sustained assault on the Labour heartlands yesterday with a journey from Burnley to Redcar in which he pitched the Liberal Democrats as the party of the northern working class.

Today Mr Brown will travel to the East Coast, while Mr Cameron visits the North West for the morning, returning to London at lunchtime.

Mr Clegg will concentrate on London, giving interviews to LBC, GMTV and Talk Sport before travelling up the west coast as far as Scotland tomorrow.  He has organised town hall-style meetings with voters every evening before polling day

So, Brown is concentrating on the party's core vote, as Cameron and Clegg continue to attack the Labour heartlands.

Keep an eye on how the leaders schedules chop and change over the coming days, as the parties canvassing returns and private polling dictate where they should be concentrating their efforts.

Also, watch for the security that surrounds David Cameron as we move towards polling day.  If it tightens, that will give a good indication that he will get over the line.

The polls may not give an accurate picture during the final push, but the movements of the leaders will tell us what is actually going on.

David Cameron is getting ahead of himself

Oh dear.  Just as our Prime Minister-in-waiting was beginning to act the part the mask slips once again.

Cameron was on fine form when he was interviewed by Andrew Marr:
I've said very clearly if there's a hung parliament, which I think there are many disadvantages and I've set those out, but we would behave responsibly. We'd do everything we can to have a good and strong government in the national interest. I think we should talk about the issues now and the result after it has happened.
Good stuff, but 24 hours later he gives yet another interview to the Independent:

David Cameron is set to claim victory if Labour comes third in Thursday's election even if he fails to win an overall majority.

His plan raises the prospect of a constitutional wrangle in which the Conservatives and Labour fight for the right to form a minority government if neither wins outright.

The article goes on:

Mr Cameron challenged the Whitehall convention that says that, if Britain votes for a hung parliament, the existing Prime Minister gets the first chance to form a government, even if his party has fewer seats or votes than its main rival. The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, recently reaffirmed that this remains the position.

Now Dave, listen up. 

There is nothing wrong with setting out your plans for government.  The voters want to know what you will do, but don't start taking them for granted.  The punters don't like it.  Do you remember what happened to Neil Kinnock after his trip to Sheffield in 1992?

Maybe you will be able to govern without the Lib Dems and rely on the support of unionist MPs.  Nobody knows until the results are announced.

You will win the largest number of seats and votes on Thursday giving you the "moral right" to govern.  However, you should wait for Gordon Brown to fly back from Scotland and have his chat with Sir Gus, after which he will make his intentions clear.  By early Friday afternoon you will be on your way to the Palace.

If, on the other hand, Brown and Mandelson decide to make a mess of things, just be patient and wait. 

"No comment" is the answer to any questions about national situation in the early hours of Friday morning.

That is the end of the free advice.

02 May 2010

Cameron's biggest challenge

One of the more astute comments made during the campaign came from Peter Hyman, a former strategist for Tony Blair, on Newsnight last week:
At the moment the Tories are polling the same as [the former leader] Michael Howard. They've had all this modernisation but they are at roughly the same level as they were five years ago – that's the story of this campaign.
Indeed so, but the momentum does appear to be finally moving the Tory party's way.  All the little problems with selling the "Big Society" message have been quietly forgotten.

Unless the voters haven't declared their true intentions to the pollsters, Cameron will get over the line, either alone or with the help of Nick Clegg.  The Lib Dem leader has all ready given the green light to the Tories by saying the party who gets the the most seats or votes will have the "moral right" to govern.

The fact remains, however, that Cameron will be not carried on the nation's shoulders into Downing Street.  There is no real enthusiasm for the Tories.  Whatever the result, Cameron will become Prime Minister without a convincing mandate.  He may well have to govern with a small majority and return to the hustings within a year to eighteen months.

Cameron said this morning on Marr that "the style of government I aspire to is one of quiet effectiveness".  He will need more than that.  He has got to show persuasive leadership as he takes the country through the savage cuts in public expenditure, not to mention the tax rises.

His biggest challenge will be to keep the patient content as he prescribes the bitter pills that have to be swallowed.  If he fails in that, the authority of his government could fall away very quickly.

The Labour leadership: A contest is needed, not a coronation

According to Patrick Hennessey in the Sunday Telegraph, Brown is expected to step down quickly if Labour is defeated on Thursday:
Labour insiders say the Prime Minister could well be replaced by Harriet Harman, the party's deputy leader, as a "caretaker" while Mr Brown's successor is a chosen – in a battle which is likely to last for months.

Miss Harman is thought unlikely to stand for the leadership itself.
This is the only option allowed for under the rules of the Labour party.  However, it when we get down to the details of what happens next that the problem arises:
A group known as the "ultras" which includes Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary and the man who is running Labour's much-criticised campaign, is keen to install David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, as leader without a formal contest.
This will not do.  One of the numerous errors the Brown camp made was not allowing a leadership contest to happen when Blair stood down.  The party must have an internal debate where the various candidates put forward their vision and plan for the future.  Only then will the party be able to move forward.  Besides, there is plenty of time.  The Labour conference doesn't meet until the autumn, and whatever the result on Thursday, there is unlikely to be another general election this year.

Mandelson is right to push for David Miliband.  But if Labour find themselves in opposition after Thursday, there must be a contest, not a coronation.

"The sweetest old lady in England"

Gillian Duffy has spoken in a dignified way about her chance encounter with Gordon Brown last Wednesday:
You know the thing that upset me the most wasn’t the word bigot.
It was the way he called me “that woman”. I’m not “that woman”. It’s no way to talk of someone, that, is it? As if I’m to be brushed away. Why couldn’t he have said “that lady”?
‘I know later Gordon blamed Sue [Nye, his gatekeeper] for introducing me but it wasn’t Sue,’ Gillian says adding with genuine concern. ‘I was that worried about Sue. I thought, “I hope she doesn’t lose her job.” I was looking for her on telly the next day and I was very glad to see her there with Gordon in Birmingham.
Now that she has given her side of the story, let's hope the media leave her in peace.

01 May 2010

The polls and Anthony King's magic number

For what it's worth, the consensus amongst the great and good at White Hart Lane (Spurs won) is that Cameron will get over the line, but there is no enthusiasm for him or his party.

So, to the polls:
YouGov (30th Apr-1st May) CON 35%(+1), LAB 27%(-1), LDEM 28%(nc)

ComRes (30th Apr-1st May) CON 38%(+2), LAB 28%(-1), LDEM 25%(-1)

ICM (30th April) CON 36%(+3), LAB 29%(+1), LDEM 27%(-3)

BPIX (30th Apr-1st May) CON 34%(nc), LAB 27%(+1), LDEM 30%(nc)

Angus Reid (TBC) CON 35%(+2), LAB 23%(nc), LDEM 29%(-1)

There was also an ICM poll of marginals.  It showed support in these seats at CON 35%(-1), LAB 35%(-2), LDEM 22%(+3) – so only a minor Lib Dem boost in these seats. These levels of support equate to a swing to the Conservatives of 6.8%, so just the swing they would need for an overall majority
Anthony King, who does know more than most about these small matters, had this to say earlier in the day:
If the Tories could somehow edge upwards from their present 33 per cent to 37 per cent, and if support for both the Lib Dems and especially Labour fell back, Mr Cameron could still win an overall majority - but his majority would be tiny.
John Rentoul has some interesting stuff behind the ComRes headline figures:
I have changed my mind about who to vote for because of Gordon Brown calling a voter a "bigoted woman".

Agree                  11%
Disagree              85%

One in five - 19% - of people in social group DE agree.  People in the north and Midlands are most likely to agree.
If King is right, then the Tories are almost there.  But will there be any 'unknown unknowns' during the remaining four days?

The quote of the campaign from Gordon Brown

The Prime Minister reflecting on the Gillian Duffy incident:
I have personally paid this heavy price for a mistake that I made.
Gordon Brown, like the rest of us, waits for the all-important weekend polls.

"Labour chose to hug Mr Brown close"

This morning brings the shock horror news that the Guardian has come out for the Lib Dems (or the Liberals as Gordon Brown insists on calling them).  With Polly Toynbee on board, did they have much choice?

The leading article highlights the "wrong decision" the Labour party made last year:
Any election is also a judgment about the future as well as a verdict on the past. A year ago, the Guardian argued that Labour should persuade its leader to step down. Shortly afterwards, in spite of polling an abject 15.7% in the European elections, and with four cabinet ministers departing, Labour chose to hug Mr Brown close. It was the wrong decision then, and it is clear, not least after his humiliation in Rochdale this week, that it is the wrong decision now.  The Guardian said a year ago that Mr Brown had failed to articulate a vision, a plan, or an argument for the future. We said that he had become incapable of leading the necessary revolution against the political system that the expenses scandal had triggered. Labour thought differently. It failed to act. It thereby lost the opportunity to renew itself, and is now facing the consequences.

Alistair Darling is "not, not interested"

That didn't talk long.  Following yesterday's speculation, Alistair Darling has appeared on Straight Talk to rule himself out of any post-election leadership role:
No, no. I’ve always made it clear that I’m not, not interested in that [caretaker role] at all.

You’re asking me about leadership and I’ve got absolutely no ambitions there at all, not even for a few minutes.
David Miliband, who has been superb during his media performances this week, remains the only option if Labour is to have a long term future as a political force.  But there could still be a role for Alan Johnson.  It all depends on what happens after polling day.

The AJ/DM4PM/LO committee will issue further statements in due course.

30 April 2010

Can the Labour party have a caretaker leader?

The DM/AJ4PM/LO committee may have to renamed at the end of next week.  Meanwhile, rumours have stared circulating about what may happen once Gordon Brown makes his intentions clear.  First out of the traps comes Iain Martin's take on what may happen:
I hear the name of Alistair Darling being mentioned increasingly as the interim option.
Whan considering any speculation, it worth keeping in mind the rules of the Labour party:
When there is a vacancy, if, for example, the leader resigns or becomes incapacitated.

When this happens, the Cabinet can liaise with Labour's administrative body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), on whether to appoint an interim leaderuntil the next annual conference.

This person does not necessarily have to be the party's current deputy leader.

However, if the party is in opposition, the deputy leader will automatically "act up" and the NEC will decide whether to hold an immediate ballot or to wait until the next party conference to do so.
As discussed earlier:
The dear old Labour party has to keep the show on the road, stay united and hope that their core vote doesn't collapse.  A lack of discipline from within the ranks before the polls close will just make matters worse for the exhausted comrades.  How the party conducts itself next Friday depends on whether Ed Balls holds his seat.
Enough said, for now.

The return of Tony Blair

Much has changed since the-three-times-election-winner gave a little speech in his former Sedgefield constituency.  Today it's reported that he will return to the hustings with a tour of marginal constituencies.

Is this such a good idea?  First, Blair's visit will become a media frenzy.  Second, it will eclipse Gordon Brown and any post-debate message that Labour wish to get across.  Third, it invites further ridicule for Brown and the party.

Tony Blair has left the stage and should stay there.  There is little to be gained by bringing him back at this stage of the campaign.

David Cameron is on his way to Downing Street

After three ninety minute TV debates the election campaign is almost over.  There is not much left to be revealed apart the weekend polls.  Unless they tell us we are living in another world, Cameron will be asked to form a government next Friday.

Cameron passed the test on Thursday by saying nothing.  Earlier in the day had been asked about the 'Gillian Duffy incident' and correctly refused to comment.  Then, it was left to Gordon Brown to close the lid on Labour's period in office, which he did twice during the debate itself.

First, he had this to say in his opening statement:
There is a lot to this job and, as you saw yesterday, I don't get all of it right.
Second, in his closing staement:
I know that if things stay as they are, perhaps in eight days' time David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, would be in office.
He must be the first Prime Minister to have conceded before the polls close.

What happened in between those two remarks didn't amount to very much.  Brown was negative and smiled at the wrong times.  Clegg wobbled, especially on immigration, but he had done enough during the first debate.  Cameron finally got the hang of having an election campaign in 270 minutes and for the first time started to sound like a Prime Minister.

The media narrative will now move from hung parliament mania to endless speculation as to whether Cameron will get an overall majority.  The challenge for him over the next six days is to transform himself, in a seemless way, from being an opposition leader to the country's next Prime Minister.  His first post-debate test will come when he is interviewed by Andrew Marr.

Like the 1983 election, the real battle is over who finishes second.  Nick Clegg is best advised to cease all talk of what may happen after polling day and concentrate on maximising the Lib Dem vote.  He just needs to smile, nod, wave and avoid any banana skins.

The dear old Labour party has to keep the show on the road, stay united and hope that their core vote doesn't collapse.  A lack of discipline from within the ranks before the polls close will just make matters worse for the exhausted comrades.  How the party conducts itself next Friday depends on whether Ed Balls holds his seat.

Let's hope that Gordon Brown conducts himself in a dignified way before he leaves office and his opponents allow him to do so, but first he has to negotiate his way through the interview with Jeremy Paxman.  The sad truth about that, as with so much else during this campaign, is that there will be few listening to what he has to say at the beginning of the long holiday weekend.

So, the ducks are nearly in a row.  Barring any unknown unknowns, we know that the somewhat tragic career of Gordon Brown is over and who will be our next Prime Minister.  Next Friday, we will find out if Cameron can walk alone into Downing Street, and which party he will face across the despatch box when the new House Commons first meets.

29 April 2010

The day the political life of Gordon Brown came to an end

The first leaders' debate remains the defining moment of this campaign.  Yesterday was a car crash waiting to happen.  What came together in Rochdale yesterday lunchtime was the failure of Labour's media operation and further proof that Gordon Brown lacks the necessary skills required to lead the party, especially during an election.  The millions watching tonight, together with any voters he meets in future, will wonder what he is really thinking.

Brown's advisors and the those that provide his 'wrapping and packing' as he goes about the country have many questions to answer about Labour's shambolic campaign.  There has been no clearly defied strategy.  No central message that has hit home with the voters.

Take yesterday.  Why wasn't he told to switch his microphone off?  Who advised him to go back to the scene of the crime and have a yet to be revealed conversation with Gillian Duffy?  Why did he come out of her house grinning?  Didn't Brown know that the cameras were on during his interview with Jeremy Vine?  Would any of the any unfolding drama have happened if Sarah had been on the scene?

And all on the day when the party leaders should have been questioned about their failure to tell us how they plan to reduce the deficit.

It will take a herculean effort to put Labour's clattering train back on the rails.  The party does have a story to tell, especially tonight, but it's doubtful anyone will be listening now.  The 'Duffy incident' will overshadow the third leaders' debate.  And then what?  The wait for the weekend polls to find out if Labour's core vote has been eaten into.

It will be a calamity if Labour comes third a week today, which has to be a real possibility.  The cold reality is that the party may not be the 'official opposition' in the new parlaiment.

Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson were very much the stragetic thinkers behind the New Labour project.  Both of them may well find that when the polls close they have consigned to the history books what they once created.

Whatever happens during the next week one matter is certain, Gordon Brown will not be able to continue as Prime Minister or Labour leader after 6 May.

28 April 2010

Bigotgate: A word a of advice for David Cameron

Dear Dave,

When your opponent make a gaffe, remember what Harold Wilson said when the Profumo scandal broke:
No comment... in glorious Technicolor.
Best wishes

Events Dear Boy, Events

At a stroke, Gordon Brown produces the campaign's unknown unknown

From Sky News:

The Prime Minister was confronted by 66-year-old Gillian Duffy while on the campaign trail in Rochdale.

He spent nearly five minutes answering her questions and told her: "It's been very good to meet you."

He smiled at the woman and then got into a waiting car.

However, a microphone picked up his words to an aide as he drove away.

Mr Brown was caught saying: "That was a disaster."

"You should never have put me with that woman."

"Whose idea was that?"

Mr Brown went on: "It's just ridiculous."

His aide then asked: "What did she say?"

Mr Brown replied: "Oh, everything, she's just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to vote Labour."

Alan Johnson is better than all the rest

Our man was on top form this morning:
There's a real sense with the Conservatives that in this 'big society' we just all walk around holding hands and walk into the sea singing Hare Krishna, and that's the way to tackle these problem.
If only....

Cameron's "failure"

Speaking this morning:
If we wake up on Friday May 7 and we find that we’ve got a hung parliament or no one’s got a clear result I don’t think that would be good for Britain. We have got to get to grips with our debt, we have got to the economy moving, we have got to make some decisions for the future, if we don’t do those things, yes it would be a failure, not just for the Conservatives, not just for me.
Up to a point Cameron is right, but his failure has already happened.  He and his party should have "sealed the deal" before the election was called.

Update:  Does he know the difference between debt and deficit?  If not, he would be well advised to do some homework before Thursday night.

Will Balls consign Labour to history?

Asks Matthew Norman in 1,182 words.  The answer is a simple "yes", but he paints an accurate picture of what may happen after 6 May:

For a decade and more, this greyest of eminences has stirred, fixed, briefed and bullied, first to remove Mr Tony Blair; and latterly in the cause – keeping his master in power – that has pushed his party to the edge of the abyss. If he has a political philosophy, it is the domineering, top-down, we-know-best, infantilising statism of Gordon himself, but it's not really about that. For Mr Balls, it is football thug tribalism – a with-us-or-against-us Manichean sensibility next to which Mrs Thatcher seems a proto-Cleggian champion of consensus.

The tribe, small as it may be, is incredibly dangerous for Labour. Leading the provisional wing is Charlie Whelan, who we're told is fixing the chieftainship by using Unite's money and influence to fill safe Labourseats with Blinkyite loyalists (or at worst pliable yeopeople). The propaganda operation is devolved to the amusingly slavish Daily Mirror, while in some subterranean grotto that enchanting smearmeister Damian McBride is said to be stealthily continuing the noble work that brought him to public attention.

If this gruesome cabal hardly strikes you as the A-Team, do not underestimate its power. With Labour traumatised by crushing rejection, they would mobilise on 7 May. Day after day the Mirror would run the Milibanana snap while rubbishing Mr Johnson as Alan Nice-But-Unutterably-Dim and Harriet Harman as a deranged old shrew. Spiteful false rumours about Blinky's rivals will seep through the blogosphere and Twitterati as Mr Balls postured as the great uniter while his Unite trolls execute his plan to divide and conquer.

This is the key point:

It will require every ounce of Peter Mandelson's will and cunning to frustrate a show of brutal, machine power politics to turn the least delicate of stomachs, and at just the time Labour would need to be Milk of Magnesia to a bilious electorate on the off-chance of a quick second election. Using the core vote as a Maginot Line, as Mr Balls would instinctively do, would produce a catastrophe more epochal by far than the one under Michael Foot in 1983.

The alternative, far preferable in offering hope of recovery though it is, isn't so peachy either. If Mr Balls thinks he is losing – and assuming that he manages to keep hold of his seat in Yorkshire, which is far from certain – he will threaten his rivals with a Samson Option civil war, because that is his nature. Fight us if you must, will be the message, but know that if we win we will destroy you, and if we lose we will bring the temple down to destroy you at the cost of destroying ourselves. It's the same threat that he and his compadres used to quell at least one Cabinet putsch, and if the Miliband and Johnson livers are as lilyish as ever, it might well work again.

If Labour finishes where the polls put it today, we are in for a staring contest doubling up as a game of ultra-high stakes bluff. To survive as an electable force, alone or as partner in an anti-Tory alliance, it is essential that Mr Balls reverts to form and blinks first. Labour's progressive forces must watch this Weeping Angel like hawks on the all-carrot diet. Take their eyes off him for a second, and he will send the party back almost 30 years to the internecine nightmare that so nearly obliterated it then.

That's the contents of one post-election blog post done and dusted.

The DM/AJ4PM/LO committee is very grateful to Mr Norman.

The fantasy election campaign comes to an end

Forget all the talk of a hung parliament for the next couple of days.  With exquisite timing, the IFS sprinkles a dose of reality all over the election campaign:
The IFS, which is independent of political influence, says that the as-yet unspecified cuts in spending amount to some £52.5bn in the case of the Conservatives, £44.1bn for Labour and £34.4bn for the Liberal Democrats – which are the sums each party will have to find if they are to meet their stated aims for deficit reduction.

They imply deep cuts in almost every public service. The Conservative Party figure is larger than those for the other two parties because it has said it wants to cut public borrowing sooner and faster, and that it would put less emphasis on tax rises.

The IFS indicated that even now, a week before polling, the public is not being prepared for the age of austerity that will follow the election, which will involve the largest spending cuts since the Second World War if the Tories win, or since the 1970s in the case of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. 

The patient, of course, must be keep happy until election day.  But in this anti-politics mood, a touch of honesty is required.  The party that has the most plausible and convincing plan to manage the deficit will win the the trust and confidence of the electorate.  At the end of the day, a mandate is essential for the pain that will follow after 6 May.

We can't yet predict who will march into Downing Street, but how the parties play the trump card that has VAT written all over it could yet determine who will win this election.

The only certainty is the size of the bitter pills to come.

27 April 2010

Blair's back

John Rentoul reports:
Well, he's on his way, although it is not clear what role he will play in the election campaign's final week.
There are two things he needs to do:
  1. Have a word with Peter Mandelson
  2. Work a miracle

Alan Johnson "can talk human"

Jackie Ashley is right:
Inevitably, with the TV leaders' debates, this election campaign has been more presidential than ever before. And inevitably, given Brown's admitted lack of presentational skills, he was going to lose. So why have we not seen more of the Labour people who can talk human – like Alan Johnson, Harriet Harman, Tessa Jowell, Douglas Alexander and Ed Miliband?

So far it's been just the Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson show, with Mandelson doing his best at this morning's press conference to prevent Yvette Cooper from getting a word in. Daft, because Cooper is an excellent communicator. Other key Labour figures complain that they havebeen relegated to local radio studios throughout the campaign, or far-flung constituency visits.
It's time that Peter Mandelson stopped dominating Labour's campaign.

The quote of the day from Philip Hammond

The Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the Daily Politics:
I don't think any party has identified in detail how they will reduce public spending over the course of the coming parliament.
At last, three weeks into the campaign, a bit of honesty from a politician.

With the publication of the latest Institute of Fiscal Studies report, we can now have a debate about the bitter pills to come.

Mandelson gives a lesson in 'how not to it'

The reports in the papers this morning highlighting the breakdown of discipline inside the party will do little to help Labour get its message across.  Then up pops Peter Mandelson with a 'how not to do it' performance at this morning's press conference.

Here is a party that is pleading with the media to move the agenda from process to policy and he picks fights with both the Adam Boulton and Nick Robinson, by refusing to answer their questions on public expenditure cuts.  If that wasnt enough, he then goes on to decribe Clegg as "slightly arrogant and started to exude the kind of entitlement that we have associated with Mr Cameron and George Osborne".

Mandelson is well-versed to the odd fall-out behind the scenes, but that's no excuse for getting on the wrong side of the media.  Then, to cap the session off, he had to reminded about the showing of the latest party election broadcast.

The obvious danger for the party is that they will now lose the sympathy of the media during the final stages of the campaign.  Moreover, if the party doesn't make a recovery in the polls and party discipline opening breaks down, Mandelson will become the story.

The press conference did nothing to help Gordon Brown.

The polls: Will the Lib Dem bubble burst?

The overnight polls, apart from the non-weighted Opinium, show a narrowing of the Tory lead.   A separate poll for the London area also indicate that 'Cleggmania' has taken hold.

If we travel back a week, Anthony Wells provides a useful analysis of YouGov’s regional figures following the first debate.

The picture could not be clearer.  Clegg has cut through to the voters, whereas the other two parties are continuing to misread the mood of the electorate.  The change that the voters want is not for the Tories.  The danger for Labour is that the Lib Dem surge will continue to eat into the party's heartland seats, together with their core vote.

The campaign and the polls are stuck in a time wrap waiting for the final debate.  Clegg will keep saying what is needed to maximise the Lib Dem vote while at the same time destabilising the Labour leadership.  The Tories will continue to warn about a hung parliament as they have little else to say.  Labour, meanwhile, will have difficulty moving the agenda onto policy due to the failure of their own campaign.

Will anything change between now and polling day?  It remains to be seen if Thursday's debate will change the narrative yet again.  The 1992 campaign was jolted out of its statement on election day, and it could happen again if voters defy the pollsters.  Under our present electoral system only fate deals the unlikely result of a hung parliament .  It doesn't happen by design.

What this lacklustre campaign needs more than anything else during its dying days is an unknown unknown.