10 May 2010
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.All very well, dear boy, but Brown has to resign as Labour leader first, which not the same as him leaving office.
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.
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.
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:
What utter nonsense. Brown made the right decision.
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.
Watch this space for the facts, once Brown has spoken.
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.Could this seal the deal?
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.
We watch and we wait for a little substance.
09 May 2010
While we wait, The Indy lists the possible scenarios:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
- 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;
- It's likely there will have to another election within a year;
- Assuming Clegg will not do a deal with Brown, Labour can only stay in office if the public will accept another unelected Prime Minister;
- 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;
- One further matter. Clegg has said the party that has 'more seats and votes has the moral authority to govern'.
06 May 2010
In no particular order:
- Lord Ashcroft;
- The media for reporting style over substance;
- The reporting of the TV leaders' debates and the instant polls;
- Anyone apart from Lord Mandelson for his lacklustre and shambolic campaign;
- The Blairites for destabilising Brown's leadership.
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
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.
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.It would have taken more than one night's campaigning by David Cameron to have stopped Alan Johnson winning Labour a fourth term.
Who's Simon Cowell?
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.
I may have not been meeting all the people I should have been meeting, but I certainly tried.And:
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
(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.
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
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.And:
So, Brown is concentrating on the party's core vote, as Cameron and Clegg continue to attack the Labour heartlands.
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
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.
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:
The article goes on:
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.
Now Dave, listen up.
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.
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
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.
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.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:
Miss Harman is thought unlikely to stand for the leadership itself.
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.
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”?And:
‘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
So, to the polls:
YouGov (30th Apr-1st May) CON 35%(+1), LAB 27%(-1), LDEM 28%(nc)Anthony King, who does know more than most about these small matters, had this to say earlier in the day:
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
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".If King is right, then the Tories are almost there. But will there be any 'unknown unknowns' during the remaining four days?
One in five - 19% - of people in social group DE agree. People in the north and Midlands are most likely to agree.
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.
No, no. I’ve always made it clear that I’m not, not interested in that [caretaker role] at all.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.
You’re asking me about leadership and I’ve got absolutely no ambitions there at all, not even for a few minutes.
The AJ/DM4PM/LO committee will issue further statements in due course.
30 April 2010
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.As discussed earlier:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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....
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.
This is the key point:
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.
That's the contents of one post-election blog post done and dusted.
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.
The DM/AJ4PM/LO committee is very grateful to Mr Norman.
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.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.
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.
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
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?It's time that Peter Mandelson stopped dominating Labour's campaign.
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.
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.
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.
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.
26 April 2010
His interview on the Politics Show was an important development, where he had this to say about electoral reform:
I support AV Plus, where you can decide on the local candidate if you want, one to four if there’s four candidates, and the candidate has to get more than 50 per cent, and you cast another vote for the party of your choice.Not only has he been a long standing advocate of PR, but he must feel he is in the best position to cut the deal with Clegg.
I think it's a nonsense to continue to lecture the public about this spectre of a coalition government. I don't find that as frightening as some of my colleagues do.Asked if he was referring to Mr Balls, he said:
Not just Ed. There's lots of my colleagues who are in a different place to me on things like electoral reform.Clearly, he is only entering the debate in this way because of the rumours now circulating about Brown's leadership after 6 May. These, of course, are being cleverly put about to counter 'the five more years of Gordon Brown' line. However, as discussed, they do not go far enough.
Now, let's move to Martin Kettle, who argues that "Labour is incapable of removing Gordon Brown". However, he forgets one important point; the role of Peter Mandelson. Brown has only been allowed to continue because of his support. Once that is withdrawn, as may well happen if Labour finish up as the largest party, then it will be impossible for Brown to continue as leader.
Without doubt, David Miliband is the favoured candidate to take forward the Blairite agenda, but he may not be best placed to lead an arrangement with the Lib Dems. Alan Johnson, however, neatly fits the bill for the reasons stated above.
So, will it happen? That all depends on Labour finally get its message across through the shambles of its campaign and, of course, what happens on polling day.
But two small matters will not change. Clegg with not deal with Labour with Brown as its leader, and Cameron will not agree to PR.
The emeritus chairman of the AJ4PM campaign suggests that "if Labour comes second and is the largest party, a deal might be on" between the Lib Dems and Gordon Brown.
I do not know if Clegg realises what he has said, but he has now resolved an ambiguity that I thought he was keeping open. When it comes to dealing with the other parties, it is votes that matter, not seats - if Labour comes third in votes. And that means, in practice, that he will support David Cameron as prime minister unless Labour manages to scrape into second place in votes.No, it does not.
So coming second and winning is all right but coming third and winning is not. Does this make sense to anybody?
Clegg is being rather clever. He is attempting to maximise the Lib Dem vote, while at the same time destabilising Brown's leadership. There is no way Clegg will support Labour with Gordon Brown in post, no matter what the result. Not only would he lose credibility, but the electorate will not wear it. That is crystal clear, the voters don't want five more years of Gordon Brown.
If the Tories hold the largest number of seats by a large margin, then Cameron is likely to form a minority administration. Several reasons. One, Clegg would not be able to carry his party if he cut a deal with Cameron. Two, the Tories have the money and resources to fight a second election before they administer the painful medicine that the voters will have to swallow. Third, it's not in the Tory party's interests to agree to electoral reform.
If the Labour vote collapses between now and polling day, then Clegg's dream is over. However, it may not if Mandelson & Co face up to what needs to be said before 6 May: that Brown will stand down no matter what the result.
If that happens and Labour finish as the largest party, then Alan Johnson is in a very strong position to cut a deal with Clegg.
There will more on Alan Johnson after the break.
On Saturday, Campbell's idea of an Elvis impersonator backfired spectacularly, then yesterday he attempts to dictate to the media how they report the campaign.
Ironically, both these little events neatly deflect from the message the party is attempting to get across. Through the prism of the leaders' debates the media are focusing on policy, but with the opinion polls indicating a hung parliament they will, of course, focus on what will happens after 6 May.
Part of Campbell's and Mandelson's problem is that they are attempting to fight this election as they did in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Then they had a messenger who could sell. They only have have themselves to blame if, in 2010, the message is not cutting through.
25 April 2010
How can it be a priority to give to people who have already got so much? It's not God helps people who help themselves', it's God helps people whom he has already helped'. That's what their [the Conservatives'] motto is.He ploughs on:
People know that the fight is on. They know that the election is wide open, they know that the closed book that people expected it to be a few weeks ago is not where we are.Eventually we get to the leadership question:
This is just not good enough. Brown's leadership is now the central factor in the last stages of the campaign. These "arrangements" do more than "fixate people in London", they will determine the outcome of the general election.
Mr Brown would not address one possible outcome doing the rounds in Westminster: that, in the event of a hung Parliament, he would step aside to allow a figure like Alan Johnson or David Miliband to be leader in a "progressive coalition" with the Lib Dems.
Asked if he felt he was bigger than his party, he replied: "No one is bigger than the party – no one, and certainly not me. [But] if you want to write about what happens after the election, you've got plenty of timeto do it after the election is finished.
"As long as the election is happening, we're talking about the policies. I am not talking about all these institutional arrangements that so fixate people in London."
Nick Clegg who will, if the polls remain as they are, play a pivotal role in the days after the election has reconfirmed he will not work with Gordon Brown. Therefore who leads Labour, if they are to have a chance finishing as the largest party, has to addressed before polling day. Parking the problem, that should have been resolved months ago, will ensure the very opposite that Labour is hoping for.
Having set out three options in Part 2, Labour has now to act if they are to stop support draining away. With the polls as they are, Brown's wheeze of moving the agenda onto policy is not going to work . It will disappoint Alastair Campbell but coalition politics will dominate all else. The sooner that he and others accept this the better.
Labour's strategy, such as it, is has to dumped in double quick time. Mandelson correctly spoke about Labour being the "underdog" in the period leading up the election. Now is the time to act the part. The party has nothing to lose. Brown has to declare that he will stand down after polling day. Then, if Labour do hold the largest number of seats, the Cabinet names a interim leader, which is allowed for under the rules of the party.
The party has to save itself from a repeat performance of the 1983 election. It can only do this if decisive action is taken over Brown's leadership. It's time for him to face reality and do what needs to be done. The only alternative is to accept defeat.
24 April 2010
Comres: CON 34%(-1), LAB 28%(+3), LDEM 29%(+2)But one is a rouge:
ICM: CON 35%(+2), LAB 26%(-2), LDEM 31%(+1)
YouGov: CON 35%(+1), LAB 27%(-2), LDEM 29% (nc)
BPIX: CON 34%(+3), LAB 26%(-2), LDEM 30%(-2)
Ipsos MORI poll: CON 36%(+4), LAB 30%(+2), LDEM 23%(-9)So, the Tories are in a slightly stronger position, the Lib Dems momentum has been maintained and Labour are still in the game (just).
Who knows what is going on? Not Labour, that's for sure. Yesterday's NHS rally was dreadful and to put the icing on the cake Alastair Campbell is off to the football tomorrow. Would that have happened if Blair had been fighting for Labour's fourth term?
A Newsnight colleague got his postal ballot this morning. So some people will have begun voting today, two days ahead of the official start of postal voting.And this:
In 2005, 15 per cent of all votes cast were by post. The rules are a bit tighter this time, but some analysts think the postal vote in 2010 could be as high as one in five voters.So, the final phase of the campaign becomes less relevant to large proportion of voters, which needs to be factored into polls during the next twelve days.
Past experience shows that most postal voters tend to cast their ballots within only a day or two of receiving them.
In the future, if someone becomes Prime Minister in the middle of the parliament they must hold a general election within 6 months.Would Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas Home, Jim Callaghan or John Major have agreed to this? Gordon Brown nearly did, but that is another story.
Even in the age of anti-politics, the only way to defeat a Government is with a vote of no-confidence.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
Labour's campaign is set to focus on the future of the NHS, while the Conservatives launch new plans to deal with economic crime. David Cameron will also find time to make an appearance at his sister's wedding. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg is taking a day off from campaigning to spend time with his three sons, who had been stranded in Spain owing to the volcanic ash cloud.With twelve days until election day little matters except for the third debate and the polls.
Gordon Brown, having failed to cut through during the campaign, "has decided to adopt a more high-profile role". Will it make a difference? Who is listening to what he has to say? Brown can talk about the economy until the cows come home but we all know the message. Unless Labour start to put the Tories on the spot about tax cuts, VAT and public spending, they will not be able to move the agenda on.
The tactics of Peter Mandelson remain a mystery. Here is the person who put his faith in Brown's leadership but has failed to produce a strategy for him or his party. There has been no game-changing moments and nothing to engage the electorate. Mandeson has had Brown moving around the country from one group of Labour supporters to another with little to say. Perhaps he does have rabbit to produce, but it has been invisible to date.
The Tories, of course, should have had the election in the bag before the campaign started. Their policies and leader have not convinced the voters that they should be elected for the first time since 1992. Cameron, by default, may get an overall majority, but the Tories will not have a mandate for the "change" they keep banging on about.
Luck plays a large part in politics as does being in the right place at the right time, which the Lib Dems and Clegg have had in spades during the campaign. They have said what the voters want to hear. Just as important, they been allowed to build on Clegg's success during the first debate because of the failures of Labour and the Tories. It remains to be seen whether they can maintain their momentum.
So we wait for the Sunday polls and the final debate. This lacklustre stage-managed TV election, which has been defined by the first debate and Nick Clegg, may still be blessed by an unknown that will stir the voters. We shall see. Whatever the result throws up in twelve days time, two party politics are at an end and the electoral system will have to be changed.
Labour and the Tories have misjudged the mood of the electorate. In one sense Cameron was right: "We can't go on like this".
22 April 2010
It had to happen one day. The little box of tricks that churns out this stuff decided to have a sense of humour failure. Twenty-four hours on the dark side of the moon is more than enough.
So, what’s going on? Ah, part two of an election in 270 minutes. If tonight’s debate doesn't set the world on fire, a couple of numbers and a decimal point should do the trick on Friday morning.
Normal service will resume once the backup of AJ4PM documents has been restored. They could still be needed.
21 April 2010
From Martin Kettle:
Look at today's polls again. The Lib Dems are first on 34% in YouGov and second by a single point on 31% in Populus. Does that suggest anything?
To me it suggests that the increasingly real question is not whether the Lib Dems will support a Labour government after 6 May. It is whether Labour will support a Liberal Democrat government. Forget about the Lab-Lib deal, in other words, and start thinking about a Lib-Lab one. If I were Clegg I would sit tight and make Labour sweat. Brown is not really interested in co-operation. He is interested in clinging to power. And if there is one thing I am clear about amid the swirling currents of this election it is that the voters want Brown out, not Brown rescued.
Kettle’s last sentence is signed, sealed and approved in glorious Technicolor.
Two conflicting views about what is going in the deep inside the Tory party.
First Simon Heffer:
It is too early to say whether the game is up for Mr Cameron and his party. I am told that Tory HQ is embarking on the familiar process of recrimination and panic, which can hardly be regarded as promising. Speaking on the telephone in the last few days to candidates and their helpers, I learnt that the mood in the country is sour, and that the fragile trust that the party at the grass roots had in Mr Cameron, his team of image-mongers and their project is cracking. There is trepidation before the debate tomorrow on foreign affairs. No one predicted Mr Clegg’s beano last week; perhaps Mr Cameron is about to have a triumph that will put him back on course. However, defending his party’s stance on the Iraq and Afghanistan expeditions against a highly sceptical public will test him to the limits. And should he attack Mr Clegg’s stance on Europe, he will invite exposure of his own mishandling of the Lisbon Treaty process, and could open a near-fatal wound.
We hear little about the “big idea” of the “big society”, which despite the efforts of propagandists died almost the second it left the womb. The public knows it is inadequate: the big idea it wants is about securing prosperity again, and the Tories are nowhere near a credible plan for that.
But his fellow commentator, Ben Brogan, paints a different picture and says the Tories have “a credible plan for government”.
Who is right? Perhaps this is the clue:
The Telegraph's Ben Brogan is believed by some to be thinking of joining Team Cameron if he makes it to Downing Street.
Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, Brogan’s views don't appear to be backed up by Cameron’s colleagues:
A series of anxious shadow ministers have warned the Tory leadership in private that David Cameron's central general election message – devolving power to create a "big society" – is crashing on the doorstep as candidates struggle to explain the idea to voters.
And a warning of what will happen if Cameron doesn't get over the line:
The source was clear about what would happen if Labour and the Lib Dems formed a coalition in a hung parliament to push through electoral reform. "By then we would have murdered our leader and his head would be on a stake. The last week shows how thin our support was. There is no great enthusiasm for Cameron."
With cracks appearing in the Labour party and now with the Tories, Nick Clegg is kicking the ball at an open goal.
Brown systematically blocked, and personally blocked, political reform. I think he is a desperate politician and I just do not believe him. And do I think Labour delivered fairness? No. Do I think the Labour Party in its heart has a faith in civil liberties? No. Do I think they’ve delivered political reform? No. They are clutching at straws.
That, of course, is predictable stuff from Clegg as he attempts to maximise the Lib Dem vote. However, it’s what Brown has to say that needs to be examined:
We have to show people we are in the business of the new politics and we have a plan for that as well as the economy. I don't think people have yet focused on that. We're serious about change. That is my mission.
This is all very well, but Labour's message and its policies are not cutting through. All Labour appear to be doing at present is making meaningless trips to visit its supporters that are poorly organised, where the odd heckler attracts all the headlines.
But, like the Prime Minister, he continually referred to “the Liberals” — a description known to infuriate Mr Clegg. Asked why he did not give them their full title of Liberal Democrats, Mr Balls replied: “Is that their name? They have been so many things.”
Alastair Campbell keeps banging on and on about the lack of focus on the policy agenda. Perhaps, instead of relying on the Labour Party media monitoring unit, he should spend time going through the papers each morning. He would then understand why it’s not happening.
To be frank, Labour’s media operation is a shambles. What has happened to that Rolls Royce election winning machine?
Unless the party start to speak with one voice and they address the the overriding issue of Brown’s leadership, then they face having a discussion with each other on 7 May, rather than with Clegg & Co.
For the moment the crisis is over and the planes are flying again, although it will take weeks for operations to return to normal. But, of course, all sorts of odd balls have popped up to give their considered views on what should have happened.
Team Cameron have called for an inquiry, knowing full well they that they would taken the exactly the same decision had they been the government.
Sometime soon, perhaps during the next 15 days, Cameron will prove that he is Prime Minister-in-waiting.
Why is it that when a poll is published we get an instant prediction on the number of seats?
It’s the share of the vote and the trend that matters.
At present, none of the polls give any party an overall majority.
That is all we need to know.
20 April 2010
Welcome back. Let’s roll the clock forward to the weekend before polling day. Debates two and three have gone off with the minimum of fuss. The Q1 GDP growth figures bring positive news. Brown and Cameron wheel out hopeful game-changing moments, but nothing cuts through. Cleggmania is still with us, although the man himself has slipped up over Trident and one or two other small matters. And the polls, although bouncing around a bit, still indicate a hung parliament.
Overshadowing all this is the question about Brown’s leadership and the demands Clegg will make when Labour is declared the largest party. Labour’s focus groups make grim reading on the leadership question and Frank Luntz keeps popping up on the telly saying the party’s biggest weakness is Brown.
Meanwhile, Mandelson has started to become rather worried that there could be a late swing against Labour that the polls fail to pick up. His overriding concern, of course, is to secure Labour's fourth term. But he is also hearing that Ed Balls is busy preparing his leadership bid that will kick in if Labour lose. What to do?
Option 1 – Mandelson could decide to leave the leadership question open until after the election.
Option 2 – Mandelson could think the unthinkable and go for a variation of the Bob Hawke Scenario and convince Brown it was in the party’s best interests for him to stand down days before the election.
Option 3 – Mandelson tells Brown that his fudging over the leadership question during the campaign will damage Labour at the polls and he has to announce, before the election, that he will stand down after polling day.
If the election battleground stays as is, there are considerable risks for Labour with Option 1, as the voters may well turn against the party on polling day.
Option 2 is obviously not feasible, but it’s a reminder of the solution put forward by John Rentoul and discussed by senior members of the AJ4PM committee a year ago. If it had been Alan Johnson or David Miliband last week, we would never have heard of Cleggmania.
So, we are left with Option 3, which would ensure Labour dominate the final days of the campaign
Will Mandelson press that button as we move towards polling day? If not, then what other options are there available to remove the Brown factor from the election equation?
This is an example as to why Nick Clegg is cutting through:
Two of the prominent businessmen who helped lead the charge against Labour's rise in national insurance have been nominated to become working peers by the Conservative party.
Simon Wolfson and Anthony Bamford were among the high-profile signatories to a letter supporting the Tory proposal to scrap the increase.
It’s the old politics, stupid.
“It’s substance over style”, says Brown. “Vote for change”, says Cameron. “Enough of the old politics”, says Clegg.
We can’t go on like this until election day, but that is just what may happen. One volcanic eruption during an election campaign is more than enough to cope with.
So, we get to the 6 May, pop down to the polling station and then wait for David Dimbleby to tell the nation: “It’s a hung parliament”. The night roles on and Labour finish as the largest party with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.
On the morning of 7 May, Brown returns to Downing Street, makes a speech to reassure the markets and then little meetings start happening to ‘seal the deal’ with Clegg & Co. Indeed the planning for such gatherings have already started:
Mr Brown has also turned his thoughts to who could best carry out the negotiations. Lord Adonis, who once stood as a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, is likely to play a key role. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary and a longstanding supporter of electoral reform, could also figure.
After a week of spin and rumour Brown confirms a deal has been reached. Meanwhile, the Tory party descend into civil war as David Cameron leaves the scene to spend more time with his family.
That’s the theory but life doesn't work out as one hopes. Events do happen and the best laid plans have to be tweaked along the way.
The problem is Gordon Brown. The voters don't want five more years of the chap and neither does Nick Clegg. Rachel Sylvester takes up the story:
Mr Clegg has a problem with Mr Brown. It dates back to the MPs’ expenses scandal, when the Prime Minister summoned the Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders to a crisis meeting at No 10. They were given a 15-minute rant about what should happen, which ended with Mr Clegg telling Mr Brown: “Look, Gordon, there’s no point having this meeting if all you want to do is lecture us.”
Those close to Mr Clegg have made it clear to senior Labour figures that it would be difficult for the Liberal Democrats to do a deal with a Labour Party led by Mr Brown. “The whole notion of change is so important to Clegg and Gordon doesn’t represent change,” says one Labour strategist. “It’s hard to see how they could prop up Brown in a hung Parliament.”
With Cabinet ministers openly discussing the prospect of coalition, the question of the Labour leadership is back on the agenda. David Miliband is seen as the candidate most likely to appeal to Mr Clegg, although some point out that Alan Johnson has long supported the Lib Dems’ favourite policy of PR. The suggestion is that the party’s elder statesmen — Lord Mandelson, Jack Straw or Alistair Darling — could ask Mr Brown to stand aside to give Labour a chance of retaining power. It’s hard to see him going easily — but it is being discussed.
Sylvester’s nuggets assume that Brown will not frighten the horses before the election, and with him as Labour leader, the party will be able to secure the largest number of seats.
But this could backfire. ‘Mr Substance’ may not cut through. At the end of the day ‘five more years of Gordon Brown’ may push votes away from Labour. The case for him wasn't made any easier by Ed Balls popping up on the BBC Campaign show and saying:
I think he'll be the prime minister for five years unless he went for an election after four years and went on for a fifth term.
What can Labour do reassure the electorate about Brown’s leadership? Is there a cunning plan that could be rolled out before the election?
As they say, we will return to this small matter after the break.