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.