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.

26 April 2010

The Labour leadership Part 4: Alan Johnson makes his move

To continue with the life and times of Alan Johnson.

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.

Then:
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.

AJ4PM committee alert: What is going on?

Has our little campaign been disbanded without prior warning?

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.

John concludes:
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.

So coming second and winning is all right but coming third and winning is not. Does this make sense to anybody?
No, it does not.

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.

Alastair Campbell tries to have it both ways

One day it's a lack of style, the next it's policy.

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

The Labour leadership Part 3: It's time for action

After another wasted day on the campaign trail, Gordon Brown has given an interview to The Independent.  Invoking God will not get him very far:
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:

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."

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.

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

Five polls and Labour's weekend

There are five polls out tonight:
Comres: CON 34%(-1), LAB 28%(+3), LDEM 29%(+2)

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)
But one is a rouge:
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?

The voting begins

As Michael Crick reports:
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.

Past experience shows that most postal voters tend to cast their ballots within only a day or two of receiving them.
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.


An unworkable idea from David Cameron

David Cameron loves grabbing the headlines.  He has been out in the sun warning about a hung parliament and then:
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.

The state of play with 12 days to go

A day in a nutshell neatly sums up where we are in the election campaign:
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

A little local difficulty

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

“The Lab-Lib fantasy”

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.

Digg This

The differing views from Tory land

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.

On policy:

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.

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Labour's message and the messenger

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Before the ink has dried on the front page of the ‘new look’ Independent, Nick Clegg has already given his views on Brown’s message:

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.

Meanwhile, Labour are all over the place on how they will deal with the Lib Dems.  Alan Johnson is saying yes to a coalition government, only to be followed by the tactless Ed Balls:

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.

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Ash cloud: We are all experts now

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.

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Seats, the share of the vote and trends

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.

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20 April 2010

The Labour leadership Part 2: Thinking the unthinkable

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?

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Playing straight into Clegg’s hands

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.

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The Labour leadership Part 1: So much for the theory

“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.”

And then:

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.

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19 April 2010

Not all Tory ideas are good ones

David Cameron on “ash cloud”

The idea of using Royal Navy ships was something the Conservative party suggested and I'm delighted the government has taken it up.

As a reminder, he made a similar comment about the TV leaders’ debates.

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The ‘unknown unknown’ of this election

No, it’s not Nick Clegg but the ‘ash cloud’.  The not-so-small problem high up in the sky is dominating the news agenda.  Gordon Brown, of course, can’t be blamed for what has happened nor for the fact the planes were immediately grounded.  But how he has chosen to handle this could become an election issue.

Nick Clegg has rightly, for the moment, said that he will support the government's action.  Presumably, David Cameron will do the same.

Gordon Brown, for obvious reasons, will not want ‘ash cloud’ to dominate the the election campaign, especially in the week when important economic data is released that will play a vital part in Labour’s election strategy.

Brown should carry out his responsibilities as Prime Minister, but he must avoid exploiting this issue for electoral gain.

If he does allow short term tactics to kick in, it be could very damaging to Labour's campaign.

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The Tories problem in a nutshell

There were no ‘senior’ Tories available so Tim Montgomerie, of ConservativeHome, filled the gap on the Today programme:

It was a natural assumption of more or less all of us that barring a massive upset, David Cameron would be in Downing Street.

The Tory party’s mindset has been thrown completely off balance by Nick Clegg.

The sound of mixed messages from Team Cameron will follow very shortly.

 

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The Tories are lost in the fog

The latest YouGov poll has confirmation, if any were needed, that the Lib Dem breakthrough is not a spasm.  Yet the Tories still don't get it.  Here’s Cameron, in an interview with The Guardian, on electoral reform:

Most proportional voting systems break one or two cardinal rules – first that there is a direct link between the MP and his constituency and second that you can throw the government out of office.

Under PR, it could be argued, it’s far easier to “throw a government out of office” as no one party has a majority. 

Then:

I think disenchantment with politics would be even greater if in a smoke-filled room, and after a 100-day negotiation, suddenly a government emerges, and it is not really anything anyone voted for.

Forget the 100 days and the smoke-filled rooms, this is exactly what the public will have voted for.  The anti-politics electorate want fundamental reform; they are saying “no” to the status-quo.

Yesterday, the Tories had a bucket full of advice, most of which misses the point.  Then last night, James Forsyth pops up with his suggestion how the Tories should “burst the Nick Clegg bubble”

What the Tories need to do is to deflate it with humour. They should point out the absurdity of a lobbyist turned Eurocrat turned MP presenting himself as the alternative to the old politics.

Dear oh dear.  This will just hand more support to Clegg on a plate.  Cameron has got to start listening to what the electorate are saying and change his strategy to suit.

Team Cameron are making an error of judgement if they keep cruising along spouting the same message.

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18 April 2010

It’s not the policies, stupid

Here we go.  They are at it.  The Tory outriders, Tim Montgomerie and Fraser Nelson, both think they know how to it:

In his News of the World column Fraser Nelson says there are five keys to Downing Street: immigration, education, defence, crime and jobs. He uses his column to set out the winning Tory policies in each area.

The biggest issue missing from that list is the whole anti-politics thing.

Then we get a word cloud that highlights the biggest concerns of the Tory grassroots:

image

There will loads more of this free advice over the coming days, but Andrew Rawnsely’s take on the dilemma facing the Tories is spot on:

Influential voices around David Cameron are telling him to forget any more loving and concentrate on bombing. Their visceral instinct is to go for the Lib Dems as wet on crime, reckless on defence, soft on immigration and in love with Europe.

The risk for the Tories is that this lures David Cameron back on to Michael Howard territory and will look like a lurch to the right which is repulsive to the liberal, centrist voters that he needs.

But it’s much more than this.  It’s the image the Clegg projected during the debate that allowed him to cut through.  He resonated with the public because he wasn't the other two, and has understood “the whole anti-politics thing”.

The Tories can alter their policies until the cows come home, but unless they address the wider issues that Clegg successfully exploited last Thursday, they will not cut-through to the voters.

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Meanwhile, Murdoch makes a call

imageRebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, is going through the first editions of the Sunday papers.  Her mobile rings and it’s Rupert Murdoch at the other end:

RB: Hello

RM: What's going on?

RB: We have some good stuff in the papers.  The paywall is nearly….

RM:  I’m interest in the polls, dam it.  I only back winners.  I’m not going to have my reputation ruined by a young upstart.  I should never have listened to you and that chap Coulson.   I’m flying over.

RB: You can’t.  The airports are closed.

RM: Don’t tell me what to do.  I run the world not Charlie Whelan.

RB: No, it’s nothing to do with the unions.  A volcano has erupted and……

RM: Right that does it.  The Brits are hopeless.  Us Aussies will have to save the day.  Where’s Trevor Kavanagh?  He knows how we do things down under.

RB: We could organise a conference ….

RM: We don’t need a bloody telephone hook up. You just rolled over when Cameron put on the charm act.  Now….

RB: But you did the same when Blair…

RM: That was different.  Blair had Mandelson and Campbell behind him.  All Cameron has is George Osborne.

RB: Well, what shall we do?

The phone goes dead.  A few minutes later Trevor Kavanagh rings:

TK: Rupert is in a right state.  He is going to speak with Mandelson to see if he can pull it off.  Meanwhile, I will draft a leading article for his approval, just in case we need it.  Goodnight.

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Richard Dimbleby: “Thank you, son”

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While poll mania was breaking last night, Archive on 4 had a marvellous programme,‘A Night to Remember’, looking back on 60 years of election nights.

Listen out for a young David Dimbleby reporting from a count in October 1964.

Bob McKenzie’s simple swingometer, still used by the BBC, will have its work cut out on 6 May.

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17 April 2010

Election 2010: A safe prediction

The evidence:

ComRes: CON 31%(-4), LAB 27%(-2), LDEM 29%(+8)

ICM: CON 34%(-3), LAB 29%(-2), LDEM 27%(+7) (carried out before the debate)

BPIX: CON 31%(-7), LAB 28%(-3), LDEM 32%(+12)

YouGov: CON 33%(nc), LAB 30%(+2), LDEM 29%(-1)

Prediction for 6 May:

We will all be able to tell our grandchildren we voted in the last first-past-the-post election.

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Tory panic attack: Paxman to the rescue

Suddenly without warning, David Cameron agrees to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman:

JP: Where did it all go wrong?

DC: That’s a question for George Osborne.

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George Osborne in la-la land

His “take on week two of the campaign

It’s been another great week for our campaign.

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Is Nick Clegg about to join a unique club?

There are very few politicians that come along and at a stroke change the weather.  Since the war this unique club is made up of a handful of members: Anthony Eden (Suez); Harold Wilson; Margaret Thatcher; and Tony Blair.  Two further nominations should be considered.

Enoch Powell would not be welcomed by the others, but his controversial “rivers of blood” speech” did directly influence the result of the 1970 election.  His later intervention during the February 1974 election should also not be forgotten. 

Roy Jenkins become a temporary member for a short period when he foolishly decided to create the SDP.  But once that ill-thought-out brainwave collapsed his membership was terminated.

This brings us neatly on to Nick Clegg.  He may well become a permanent member.  That all depends if he swims or sinks during the coming days, but he has changed the weather of the campaign.  The polls are only one factor.

Labour will attack the Lib Dems over the coming days, but this should be treated with a pinch of salt.  They need the Lib Dems to take seats from the Tories in the South-west and South, but not in the North.  The danger for Brown only becomes real if Clegg eats into those heartlands.

However, Clegg’s rise to greatness is far more damaging to the Tories and the principal casualty is David Cameron. 

It had been assumed that he would enthuse and inspire the voters during the campaign.  It was Cameron that was expected to light up the sky with his vision and to engage with the electorate.  It hasn't happened.  All we have had is a non-tax cut, “efficiency savings” and a glitzy manifesto launch, when he politely informed us we would have to become experts in DIY.

The subtlety of what took place on Thursday night is profound.  The clothes that Cameron was expected to wear during the campaign have been taken from him.  It is Clegg that has inspired and cut through to the electorate, and by doing so has put the Tories firmly on the defensive.

Little doubt Team Cameron are having ‘don’t panic yet’ meetings this weekend in an attempt to tweak their strategy.  But they need more than that.  The Tories need Clegg to ‘crash and burn’ spectacularly during the coming days, and for Cameron to score heavily in the second debate.  Without both of these little happenings, he will be in deep trouble.

One more small matter.  If the polls do continue to indicate a hung parliament, the turnout is likely to be high, which favours Labour rather than the Tories.

Cameron has to hope that the after-effect of that volcano that exploded on Thursday evening quickly evaporates, otherwise Nick Clegg may well join that unique club of politicians that have changed the weather.

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AJ4PM: Keep an eye on our man

imageThere was a ‘little local difficulty’ between senior members of the AJ4PM committee a few weeks back that was amicably resolved.  The conclusion reached was that Brown would survive and do a deal with Nick Clegg, if fate happens and we finish up with a hung parliament.  Committee meetings were then suspended for the duration of the campaign.

However, time has moved on and the odd volcano does erupt from time to time to cause all sorts of unexpected problems.  One that did explode this week was Nick Clegg and now theories galore are popping up on what will happen on 6 May.  The dust does need to settle but the dynamics of the campaign have changed.  It could be, if Clegg doesn't slip up in the days ahead, that he will be in a much stronger position on 7 May than was earlier thought.  The “clunking fist” may not be the only one banging the table in any post-election chats.

Alan Johnson, who wouldn't have allowed Clegg to become nation’s sweetheart in such a dramatic way on Thursday evening, has been fairly prominent in the media since the debate.  Today he has given interview to The Times, which contains some wonderful nuggets.

On Clegg:

He’s good at presentational things, he was very slick and relaxed. It’s easy for him. The last Liberal Prime Minister can only be contacted by spiritual medium. He hasn’t got any record to defend.

Then, on Labour and Lib Dems “shared interests”

We have a lot in common — electoral reform, for example. We agree that we shouldn’t be playing games around national insurance and that we shouldn’t kowtow to companies like Marks & Spencer that have just paid Stuart Rose’s successor £15 million as a golden handshake.

They also agree with us that this nonsense about a tax break for married couples is judgmental and unfair. I think it would be very difficult to imagine the Lib Dems being able to form a government with the Tories.

On a coalition with the Lib Dems:

I am a supporter of PR and so I believe we have to kill this argument that coalition government is dangerous. Leaving this election aside, I don’t have a horror of coalitions. You see what happens in many other progressive countries.

Now we move to the important stuff.  “Maybe”, The Times asks, "it would be easier for Mr Clegg to do a deal with a different Labour leader. Some Lib Dem grandees say they would prefer David Miliband or Mr Johnson himself”

I don’t know if that’s true. They’re not picking our leader. If we get to that position [of a hung Parliament] Gordon would have done a huge amount to bring us back from the brink. We were dead and buried before Christmas. Compared to where we were, a hung Parliament would be seen as huge transformation. Gordon could stay as long as he wanted.

The emeritus chairman of the AJ4PM committee may disagree, but his words are significant: “Gordon would have done” and “Gordon could stay”.  Johnson didn't use the word “will”.

Our man is playing footsie with the Lib Dems for obvious reasons, but he is also keeping his toes in the water in case his skills in negotiation and communication are needed once the polls close.  Also, AJ and Miliband are appearing to be performing a double-act at present.

Finally, we come to the role of Peter Mandelson.  Although there was a little difficulty with Brown before the election, he will be in a pivotal position if he pulls off a miracle on 6 May.  The Blairite project was his baby and he will do all it takes to stop Ed Balls succeeding Brown.

For that reason, together with a possible hung parliament with Labour holding the largest number of seats, Johnson, Miliband, Mandelson and Brown himself will be the key figures that decide the future direction of the party after polling day, whatever the result.

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Simon Heffer on the “nation’s sweetheart”

Pulling no punches and using his own unique charm, Simon Heffer swallows a dictionary to describe the nation’s latest household name:

We now know exactly who Nick Clegg is: he is Mr Integrity, the nation's sweetheart, the only honest man in politics. I had thought the public were a bit brighter than that, and would see through his pious, sanctimonious, oleaginous, not-me-guv display of cynical self-righteousness: but they didn't.

Then he moves on to the other two:

Mr Brown's impersonation of a robot, and his projection of all the charm of a caravan site in February, were pretty predictable: but the place where hair was really being torn out yesterday was around poor old Dave. The attempt by this trust-funded Old Etonian (and Old Bullingdonian) to come over as Mr Ordinary was rather tragic: if we have to hear much more about his children's state school and his family's experience of the NHS, some of us will need medical attention of our own.

Heffer’s column on Saturday 8 May will be a treat, no matter what the result.

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16 April 2010

Poll mania: Calm down, folks (again and again)

The latest YouGov poll:

CON 33%(-4), LAB 28%(-3), LDEM 30%(+8)

But, as Anthony Wells says:

The surge in Lib Dem support therefore seems to have come pretty evenly at the expense of the Conservatives and Labour.

And:

On a uniform swing these figures would leave Labour the largest party, despite being in third place.

Stay calm until Sunday or Monday.

A NC4PM committee is not needed yet.

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Cameron is the man who isn't there

Will he or won’t he?  That is the question.

Now that Gordon Brown has taken the correct decision to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, what will David Cameron do?

Lord Mandelson does have a point:

After last night we now know why. He doesn't like scrutiny and he doesn't like tough questions. The contrast with Gordon [Brown], who has agreed to do the Paxman interview, is obvious.

Playing the game of catch up is not where the Prime Minister-in-waiting should be.

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David Miliband: “Best line on debate was Alan Johnson”

The tweet of the debate:

imageIt goes well with this picture that was taken just after January’s failed coup.

Such is life.

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Poll mania: Calm down, folks (again)

ComRes has released a poll:

CON 36 (-3), LDEM 35 (+14), LAB 24 (-3)

It’s made up of sample who watched the debate and is not weighted.

Move along.

UPDATE

John Rentoul has the full story:

The final analysis of the ComRes instant poll for last night’s ITV News at Ten among those watching the First Election Debate, extrapolated across the GB adult population as a whole, puts the Conservatives on 35%, Labour on 28% and Liberal Democrats on 24%. This compares to the ComRes poll broadcast on ITV News at Ten on 14th April showing Conservatives on 35%, Labour on 29% and Liberal Democrats on 21%.

Well done, old friend.

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The quote of the debate from David Cameron

The Prime Minister-in-waiting last night:

I was in Plymouth recently and a 40-year old black man made the point to me: ‘I came here when I was six, I’ve served in the Royal Navy for 30 years, I’m incredibly proud of my country

Hat tip to Political Scrapbook:

Ummm … So that means he was what age when he joined the Navy, Dave? Ten years old?

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A picture that paints a 1000 words

image

Nick Clegg looks ahead, while the other two are more concerned with what’s going in the studio.

It speaks volumes as to how the three leaders approached last night’s debate.

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TV leaders’ debate: The three leaders and a fourth man

Alongside the funerals of Churchill and Diana, Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom, the first TV leaders’ debate will join the watershed moments of television history.  It is the defining moment of the campaign.

The silly worm and the meaningless instantaneous polling should be dismissed.  The weekend polls will be the ones to be taken seriously.

The debate itself wasn't stilted.  The leaders did engage and the audience behaved itself.  Everybody involved is on a steep learning curve.  It will interesting to see if any of the 76 rules are modified for debates two and three.

Due to Nick Clegg’s impressive performance, the dynamics of the campaign have changed.  Whether he can build on this remains to be seen.  Labour’s hope is that the Lib Dems will now take votes from the Tories, which will make it increasingly difficult for them to achieve an overall majority.

Gordon Brown, as the underdog, entered the debate with nothing to lose.  Nobody expected him to perform well, but apart from rattling off too many statistics, he passed the test.  He will be more confident as a result of his performance and, just maybe, that part of his personality that we never see will finally come through during the debates to come.

The strategy that the Tories adopted has to questioned.  Their priority for this debate should have been to inflict a fatal blow to Gordon Brown.  It didn't happen.  Cameron was effective on the NHS and crime, but the natural media performer didn't cut through as he should have done.

All the parties will need to take stock and tweak their strategies over the weekend.  The Tories have already played, with the exception of a petrol price wheeze, most of their cards but the ‘underdogs’ have not.  The Labour campaign, which has been dull and their media operation poor, can only improve.  What does Peter Mandelson have up his sleeve for the weeks ahead?

The reaction of the electorate will be a key factor to the future direction of the campaign.  But the two further debates will now dominate along with the polls.  And, of course, there are still the ‘unknown unknowns’ to pop up.

Following last night’s debate the result of this election is still wide open.  The safe bet has to be that Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, will have a significant role to play once the polls close.

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Google and the TV leaders’ debate

Were you watching and listening to every word that Brown, Cameron and Clegg uttered?  Apparently not.  We were also using Google:

Nick Clegg, his Liberal Democrat Party, and its manifesto generated many queries as people searched for Lib Dems and Liberal Democrat manifesto 2010. Searches for David Cameron and the Conservatives beat out the well-known incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour, but the two parties’ manifestos generated about the same number of searches.

Many Brits sought to watch the debate, searching for ITV election debate and live political debate, while others sought real-time polling information with queries such as debate polls, leaders debate poll and who is winning the debate.

Gordon Brown told David Cameron, “I'm grateful, by the way, David, for you putting up these posters about me and about crime and about everything else. You know, there's no newspaper editor done as much for me in the last two years, because my face is smiling on these posters, and I'm very grateful to you and Lord Ashcroft for funding that”, generating queries for Gordon Brown poster and Lord Ashcroft. David Cameron’s statement, “We’re going to get rid of some of these quangos” sent users scurrying to determine what a quango is. Nick Clegg’s repeated railing against renewing the Trident missile and David Cameron’s repeated railing against the jobs tax, a one percent increase in National Insurance contributions, were the other issues generating queries.

Overwhelming these debate-related queries was the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano and the closure of British air space.

Interesting stuff.  Quangos and Trident will now become campaign issues in double quick time.

It appears that the electorate are engaging with what the leaders have to say.

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15 April 2010

Did Cameron look like a Prime Minister-in-waiting?

That is the only question that matters tonight.

Nick Clegg did very well.  More importantly, Gordon Brown survived.  But David Cameron has not put to bed the doubts about his leadership abilities.

No knock out blows.  No big gaffes.  We move to round 2.

The polls at the weekend will make very interesting reading.

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Election 2010: The defining moment

Steve Richards, who has not been an advocate for the leaders’ debates, argues “that the most significant event of the campaign has already taken place”

The launch of the Conservative manifesto earlier this week and the document itself was extraordinary, one that breaks the mould of such events in ways the media has understated. In its counter-intuitive, thought provoking and stand-out distinctiveness the launch reminded me of Labour's equally extraordinary shadow Budget, presented during the 1992 election campaign, another moment that came to be seen as pivotal.

I suspect when the post-election reviews are held it will be seen one way or the other as the key moment. Strategists from all the parties will look back and conclude either that this was when David Cameron sealed the deal or when he blew it.

Up to a point, Lord Copper.  Richards is right about the 1992 campaign. The shadow Budget, that Brown was partly responsible for, did seal the deal for John Major.  But time has moved on.

The voters have not been engaged by the manifestos, the policies or the campaign so far.  The first debate will be the defining moment and alter the direction of this campaign.  The character of our leaders and their ability to communicate through the medium of television are the all important factors these days.

The debate about Gordon Brown’s leadership, and the doubts that the electorate have about making the decisive shift to David Cameron proves the case.

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TV leaders’ debate: The day of judgement

Forget the hype, mind games and expectations management, success in the ‘art of communication’ will be the thump card tonight.

Here is the ‘cut out and keep’ guide of what to look out for:

A – aggression, arrogance

B – body language, boredom

C – candour, confidence

D – discipline, dress code

E - early exchanges, empathy, evasiveness, eye contact,

F – facts, fibs, flippancy

G – gaffes, gestures, gravitas

H – hesitation, human touch, humour

I – impressions, insults, interruptions,

J - jokes

L - leadership, lizard tongue

N - nerves

R – reaction, repetition

S – self-deprecation, slip-ups, smiles, sound bites, statistics, stories, stupid lines

T - the time limits, tributes, truth

W - waffle

For once, the verdict on tonight’s debate will come not from the commentators, but from the millions of voters throughout these damp islands.

And last but not least, the founding members of the AJ4PM committee will finally be able to pass judgement on Peter Mandelson’s decision to keep Gordon Brown in post.

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