Just before the 2005 general election, Polly Toynbee, suggested that people might want to ‘hold their nose’ when voting Labour, but that they should vote Labour anyway.

The last few weeks has convinced me that she was not only on the mark ten years ago, but that some very decent proboscis grasping will be necessary this election as well. And not only for Labour. I’ve come across very few people who are voting for a party (yeah, I know we vote for candidates, not parties, but you know what I mean) with nary a concern in their mind when doing so. Well, with one exception: UKIP; many of those who are voting for UKIP are doing so with a wholehearted support that would be frankly worrying if it was for any other party and is downright scary with UKIP.

Right at the start of these daily election blogs, I set out my views on UKIP, and they’ve not softened in any way; if anything, they’ve hardened, and I genuinely didn’t think that was possible. If you’re voting for UKIP and express support for their policies*, well, that for me is the very essence of me respecting your right to hold those opinions while detesting the opinions themselves and thinking anyone who holds such opinion is either a knave or a fool. Feel free to let me know which of them you are.

(*policies. heh. They’ve only one policy they give a shit about; they’d chuck every other policy overboard if it meant getting to continue complaining about belonging to the EU. They don’t actually want a referendum, you see. They’d lose, and lose big. What they want is to continue to complain about the EU, complain about not getting that referendum, and having their MEPs play the system for every penny they can screw out of the EU for their own benefit.)

But as for the other parties, well, there are very few people I know who agree with all of ‘their’ party’s manifestos. Almost everyone I know who’s voting Labour thinks that the most important thing is to get the Tories out, and what a Labour government would do in its place is less important than making sure David Cameron et al aren’t in any position to do much after 7th May. That’s slightly unfair. They do care what a Labour government would do, which is why so many will be squeezing their shnozzles when they use that stubby pencil to mark an untidy cross in a box in five days’ time. Lots of people who’ll vote Labour will do so firm in the knowledge that the Labour party isn’t left wing enough for them, that while austerity will lessen under a Labour Chancellor, it won’t cease. They’ll vote for Labour, while being uneasy at some of the flagship policies put forward by Ed Miliband and the front line politicians. They’ll vote Labour knowing that while it’s the Tories who call themselves a broad church, it’s Labour who has potential Secretaries of State who are as far apart politically as its possible to be while remaining in the same party. And moreover, some of those sitting around the a Labour Cabinet table will be pushing policies that belong to a Labour Party the voters barely recognise. And yes, there are some people who’re voting tactically, who aren’t natural Labour Party supporters, but who recognise that the Labour Party candidate is the best placed in their constituency to stop someone from another party getting in, whether that’s a Tory or a Liberal Democrat. 

And that’s Labour. The Conservatives live (or at least have lived during the past five years) up to their ‘broad church’ label more now than at any time in the recent past. You’ve had Iain Duncan Smith, a man who must have undergone empathy and competency bypasses at some time in 2010, sitting around the same Cabinet Table as Ken Clarke; the difference couldn’t have been clearer, either in integrity, honesty, intellectual rigour or political smarts. You’ve had Michael Gove, a man notable for being unable to be more arrogant if he tried – and that’s saying something considering his fellow ministers – sitting at the same table as Dominic Grieve, possibly the most respected Attorney General of either party in the last twenty years. And, of course, you’ve had George Osborne, who can be fairly contrasted with anyone in the government who knew what the fuck they’re doing.

The Tories are currently polling about the same level as Labour, give or take a percentage point. Which means, you’ve probably guessed, that I know some people who’re voting for their Conservative Party candidate. And I do. Not as many as are voting for other parties, but yeah, some who’re planning on voting Tory in just under a week. But I don’t know anyone who’s planning on voting them without grudgingly doing so. There are lots of reasons why they’re voting Tory: some just don’t trust Labour, some desperately do not want Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, some who genuinely think austerity needs to continue no matter what. Now, these people aren’t evil. They’re not horrible people. They just don’t want the recovery – such as it is – to be put at risk and they think it will be under Labour. And they’re reluctantly prepared to put up with IDS and Osborne and their ilk to get that done. And again, there are some people who’re voting tactically, who aren’t natural Conservative Party supporters, but who recognise that the Tory candidate is the best placed in their constituency to stop someone from another party getting in, whether that’s a Labour or a Lib Dem candidate. 

And then there’s the Liberal Democrats. Again, while I know a few people who simply won’t, can’t trust Nick Clegg the Lib Dems this time around, I know more than a few people who’ll vote for the Lib Dems despite the last five years, not because of them. I’ve not hidden my views that I think Clegg et al were right to go into coalition with the Tories, and my main anger at them is blowing the genuine opportunities they had to influence policy, instead wasting their political capital on an electoral reform referendum and House of Lords reform. If only they’d have used that capital to good effect. But, politics is full of what if’s and rarely do they help matters. But most people I know who’re voting Lib Dems are absolutely voting tactically, in seats where they are – or were – the best chance of stopping either Labour or the Tories… or in a couple of cases the SNP.

I must confess to being in a similar situation. While I’m not displeased with our current MP, since it is a Tory/Lib Dem seat… (not exactly a marginal, but was LD until 2010*) I’m faced with the choice of voting for an MP I’m not pissed off with or for a candidate whose party I think wasted their opportunity when granted it.

Or for voting for a party that genuinely doesn’t stand a chance. Hmmm. I’ve still got five days to decide, eh?

But either way, I’m likely to be holding my nose when I do so. 


Small edit to add the following, in which cartoonist Ralph Underwood nails the situation for many people with his ‘real’ ballot paper:

Codicil isn’t a word that’s bandied around much, and certainly not during the election campaign. If you don’t know what a codicil is, I’m saying you’re not alone. Here’s the definition:

  
The manifestos of the parties were released a couple of weeks back. Their election pledges are in the pages of the manifestos. When you vote for the candidate of your choice, you know on what platform they’re standing: the party manifesto, or in the case of an independent, their personal one.

Except these days, you can’t rely on the manifesto. Despite the fervent and passionate denials by both Miliband and Cameron last night, some of the manifesto just won’t be enacted into legislation. For a start, there are the post-election deals that will have to occur; not necessarily formal deals, but deals nonetheless. Then there are the bits that fall by the wayside during the normal course of legislative events; some things won’t work in practice, some things won’t be affordable, and some things you’ll get MPs rebelling on. And finally, there’s the rather inconvenient fact that even a majority government can’t possibly enact their entire manifesto; there simply isn’t time in the parliamentary timetable. Even if the timetable was changed so that MPs worked five days a week, 52 weeks a year, there still wouldn’t be time to enact every bit of legislation, not without abandoning proper parliamentary scrutiny. (That’s not a recommendation against increasing the time MPs are at Westminster; I think it’s a joke that they only spend as little time in the House as they do.)

So, you’ve got the mainfestos and you know that at least some of the manifesto will be put into legislation. After all, they’re not going to pass any legislation that’s not in the manifesto, are they? Well, yeah, the thing is, they will.

Firstly, there are Private Members’ Bills that might attract government support. Then there are MacMillan’s “events, dear boy, events”. Sometimes things happen that require legislation that weren’t – or couldn’t have been – foreseen at the time of the election. That’s fair; things happen… to every government.

And then there are the things that really should require codicils to the Manifestos. They’re the things that an increasingly desperate party leader promises in the final days of an election campaign. They’re things that, no matter what they say now, weren’t considered in any way part of the offer to the electorate twenty-four hours before they were delivered in a speech. Because, obviously enough, had they been thought of – and thought important – when the manifesto was developed and created… they would have been in the bloody thing. 

But here’s the thing: we elect candidates based upon the platform upon which they’re standing for office. And it’s utterly plain that the platform is that which is in their manifesto. Any government’s mandate gets its moral authority from it’s manifesto, not from things that aren’t in the manifesto, and that includes the last minute promises.

So, because it’s not in their manifesto, the Tories are not standing for election on a platform of not cutting child benefit, despite Cameron’s pledge today not to do so.

And the same applies to new policies announced since manifesto publication for any other party.

So, maybe yeah. Maybe we do need manifesto codicils, something that allows the parties to claim – with justification – that they have a mandate for these last minute promises. And maybe, just maybe, that would allow the voters to know what the fuck they’re voting for.

Thanks for bearing with me over the past week; as I mentioned, we suffered a family bereavement (my ex-wife lost her mother) and so the last few days have been fairly busy with… stuff, including a shiva.

IFor understandable reasons, then, I’ve only sporadically been online and only picked up now and then the election news. However, one thing I noticed was… well, maybe noticed isn’t strong enough a word to use. I’ve… let us say ‘had it thrust in my face’, even moreso than in the last few years, the fact that the Conservatoive party really doesn’t want my vote.

It’s not that the Tories are inherently evil; I don’t believe that for a second and anyone who says they are generally drops a few points in my respect for them. But throughout this parliament in general and the election campaign in particular, the Conservative Party in its current form seems to have gone out of their way to find different policies to piss me off, different arguments to offend me, and different presentations to irritate me. So, yeah, for whatever reason, I’m becoming convinced, simply, thar the Conservative Party doesn’t want my vote. And while I’ve not 100% decided my vote, I’m not entirely convinced that they deserve it either.

Anyway, what with being away from 24 hour politics for a week, it’s been weird catching up with the campaigns tonight in the final Question Time before the election. It wasn’t a debate between the leaders; if anything, it was a debate between the party leaders and the audience. Indeed, one person following the exchanges on Twitter asked if the BBC could have have a political series just featuring the audience. It was that sort of crowd: not willing to take the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on face value. Each of them were tested and each of them was found waiting on one or two points.

The format was simple: each of the three of them (David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) faced the audience one at a time for 28 minutes.

Let’s take them one at a time. Well, actually, before I do that, let me make one point that was incredibly obvious: Nick Clegg was the only one of the three to treat the audience members as individual people. Both Cameron and Miliband seemed to answer questions with the formula: “hello, [insert name]… [insert boilerplate answer]”.

So, David Cameron. To be fair to the audience, they gave him a rough time and he was permanently on the backfoot. That said, at no point, did he fail to get his answers out. But I can’t believe for a moment that he convinced any undecided voter to go ‘yeah, he convinced me; I’m voting Conservative.” He ducked the question about potential coalitions, or confidence and supply arrangements, but did so entirely unconvincingly. And he continued to dodge any questions that he didn’t like. It was political cowardice of the highest order, but I suspect he’ll be regarding his performance as ‘all right’.

Next came Ed Miliband. I could pretty much copy what I said about Cameron, except that he didn’t duck questions. He answered them passionately, and earnestly, but somehow equally unconvincingly. When it came to questions about potential post-election negotiations. Hhe flatly ruled out any deal with the SNP. Now some might think he’s either daft or lying when he said that; I don’t. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing, sure in the knowledge that the SNP won’t, can’t, vote to keep the Tories in power. Again, like Cameron, I don’t think he convinced anyone who hadn’t already decided to vote Labour next week and again, he’ll be regarding his performance as ‘all right’.

Finally, Nick Clegg and I suspect I’m not the only person who’d forgotten how good he can be in front of a live audience. He engaged with every questioning audience member; well, all but one and I’ll mention that in a minute. From the first question, tuition fees was mentioned and he didn’t hide his admission that he’d got it wrong, and that some people would never forgive him. Out of the three of them, I thought he was the most honest about his party’s standing and chances in the election. And of the three leaders, he was also the only one who seemed to want to convince the audience one person at a time. Apart from one. I usually am very intolerant of politicians ‘slapping down’ members of the audience. I figure dealing politely with impolite questions in part of the job. But one person aggressively demanded to know if Clegg had plans for Friday when he loses his election and is out of Parliament. There was a flash of anger from Clegg’s eyes and he said “Charming.” Then “no” and he moved onto the next question. I don’t blame Clegg at all; I think he was fairly restrained in the circvumstances. 

I’ve no idea whether Clegg has convinced anyone, but he certainly came closer than the other two, and I think he’ll be rightly pleased with his performance.

Apparantly, in England, Nigel Farage will be answering questions in about twenty minutes. To be honest, unless the first question is “why the fuck don’t you fuck the fuck right off?”, I’m not really that interested.

Something more substantial tomorrow, ok?

Due to a family bereavement, I’m taking a few days off from the daily updates. 

All being well, I’ll pick up again on Monday. 

Thanks. 

The closer we get to the election, the more it looks like Ed Miliband will be our next Prime Minister. In the same way as after the 2010 election, the numbers simply didn’t add up for Labour to stay in power, even with the Libe Dems supporting them, the maths seems against David Cameron remaining in Downing Street for more than a day or so after 7th May.

At its simplest, polls are suggesting that the Tories and Labour will likely get just under 300 seats each, around the 280 mark. The Lib Dems are forecast to get around 25-30 seats, but any increase is likely to be at the expense of Tories, not Labour. So Tory-LD combination gets them, say, 305-ish. Another 9 from the DUP gets them up to say, 315-ish. Labour, meanwhile, with their 280 together with the SNP’s likely 45 to 50 gets them to 325.

There are 350 seats, one of which is The Speaker’s, so 326 is the winning post, right? Nope, Sinn Fein MPs don’t take their seats, so the effective winning post is 323. You may recall that after the last election, the right-leaning papers were full of crap about Gordon Brown squatting in Downing Street. In fact he was doing nothing but his constitutional duty, remaining as Prime Minister until he was of the opinion that he could no longer control a majority in the House of Commons. What’s the betting that those same newspapers won’t do the whole “squatting in Downing Street” this time, but will instead proclaim that Cameron is doing his constitutional duty by remaining in place?

There’s been some confusion as to at what point Ed Miliband gets the opportunity to become PM. I’m not sure why; constitutional convention is fairly clear on the subject. If Cameron can’t maintain a majority, he’s obliged under that same consttutional duty to inform the Crown of it and recommend she ask Ed Miliband to form a government. There’s a small new quirk built in by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which gives parties a short – but limited – time to pull together a majority. But in essence, it’s the same thing: if Cameron can’t do it, he’s obliged to recommend Miliband. It’s particularly amusing to me, given the obvious deep and personal dislike between the two men.

Even if it wasn’t blatant in their confrontations over the past four and a half years during Prime Minister’s Questions, too many off-the-record briefings have let the numerous cats out of their bags. Miliband seems to genuinely despise Cameron’s entire governmental culture, while Cameron doesn’t seem to have gotten over an equally genuine shock and revulsion of Ed becoming Labour Party leader, rather than his brother David.

Thing is, no matter what his ministers have done (has a law minister ever been more comprehensively and regularly slapped by Judges than Grayling?), no matter how badly his ministers have mismanaged, no matter how just plain nasty his government’s policies have been, I don’t believe for one second that David Cameron thinks he can remain in office one moment beyond that the constitution allows. If there’s any doubt, he’ll walk. In fact, any doubt at all, he’ll run.

Unlike Blair, who freely admitted that he’d never been a House of Commons man, Cameron strangely always has been. Though, as a general rule, he was always better at asking questions in opposition than he has been at facing them in government.

For the past two years, I’ve been expecting the Tories to slowly but surely claw back one percentage point at a time, and get to the election on around 36-38%; that would have given the Tories and Lib Dems a majority; smaller than the one they’ve had for the past five years but just about doable.

I’m no longer convinced of that; I’m slowly coming to two conclusions:

(1) Ed Miliband is likely to be the next prime minister in a minority Labour government that’s going to have problems from, say, day 30. I’ll give them that long but they’re going to have to fight for every vote in the house, every concession from the opposition, every day after that. With the Fixed-term Parliaments Act keeping someone in power unless one of two things happen, it’s going to be very very interesting for politics junkies like me. 

As for what those two things are, well, I’ll write about them tomorrow.

(2) The second conclusion is a variation of the old saw about oppositions not winning elections; governments lose them. This time around there won’t be any winners. The government will be formed out of the parties that merely lost less badly.

As I sit in front of the keyboard, it’s just after half-past eight and this is the first chance I’ve had since this morning to write. What’s been occurring? Well, stuff. That’s it, really. But today just got completely away from me, and as a result I’m entirely at a loss as to what’s happened today in the various parties’ election campaigns. Now, while I’ve never claimed to be an expert on the policy proposals, I don’t really want to write something which, in hindsight, and with half an hour of the right research would be accurate, but that if I write it now, ignorant of the day’s events, would do nothing so much as prove to everyone I’m an idiot. I don’t mind my friends knowing I’m an idiot, but I’d rather not prove it to too many others tonight.

So, with your forebearance, I’ll provide you with a modium of entertainment, another fast fiction I wrote that has, at least tangentially, to do with legislative activites…

Title: Everyone You Don’t Know
Length: 200 words exactly

“And this…” the microphone holding man continued, “is Mrs Petula Johnson. Because your government held the Budget on a Friday, her company – which supplies cleaning services – was no longer able to employ her.”

The government minister forced a look of sincere caring to his features and shook the woman’s hand. She shot him a look that could have curdled milk, and moved off the stage rapidly.

“Next we have Peter Beaumont; he was adopted as a baby, became a Christian missionary, and solely because the department of transport increased the width of platforms at train stations, found himself standing next to his natural father.”

Beaumont strode towards the minister with a broad grin on his face, and shook the minister’s hand enthusiastically. Then he too vacated the stage.

A small chime sounded and there was an instant feeling of relaxation as the red light on the television camera went out. “Right, thank you everyone,” came a voice over the loudspeaker. “We’ve gone to the scheduled news. Back in fifteen minutes.”

The minister looked to his left, at the long queue of people waiting to scold him, or thank him.

He was sorry they’d ever passed that Law of Unintended Consequences…

© Lee Barnett, 2010

Back with something more substantial tomorrow…

We’re about eight hours away from a notable deadline, one I mentioned about a week ago: as from midnight tonight, no-one who has not registered to vote can vote on 7th May. 

I’ve written before about how important it is that people vote, and I agree with Matthew Parris who expertly dissected the reasons most people give and declared them lazy and lousy. He then went on to provide the only reason that really matters: voting changes things.

For all the nonsense that is thrown around about “oh, they’re all the same”, no, no they’re not. Not as candidates, not as parties, not the policies they put forward upon which you should vote. 

There’s a great scene in The West Wing, where, faced with a sign saying “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, VOTE”, one character protests, saying “See? I think it does matter who you vote for”. He changes the sign to read “No matter who you vote for, VOTE”. He’s right.

There are something over 3,000 candidates standing for election in two and a half-weeks, for 650 individual constituencies. As I’ve mentioned previously, some of those are entering an election believing they “should” win, either because it’s a safe seat, or the polls favour them, or even that they think they’ve done a decent enough job as the member of parliament already. And those people will get one hell of a shock in 17 days when they lose the election. Some candidates, like Stephen Twigg in Enfield in 1997, are going to get a hell of a surprise when they actually win a seat they didn’t truly expect to.

They’re not all the same. Whoever forms the next government, let’s be generous and say they last until 2020. Whatever state the finances are in, whatever state the health service, the education system, the defence budget… we can’t predict. Anyone who says they know what will happen in five months, let alone five years, is lying, or at the very best crystal ball gazing, with about as much accuracy as that noted predictor. So, one can’t possibly vote for what we want the country to be like in five years. No one can. For a start, take a look at what’s happened in the last five years. Not just what the government has managed (or mismanaged), but what’s happened around the world. Could we have predicted every one? Of course not. What would you have said were the odds when you were voting in 2010 that a conservative-led coalition government would bring in equal marriage? 

Back five years before then, to 2005. Very few people were predicting the crash only two years later. Some were, of course, but then some people always are. Just two years. And we’re expected to vote for who we want to run thing for the next five…

Some of the manifesto will be junked on day one. We know that. The electorate pretty much expects it these days, and especially since it’s likely that we’re in for another spell of coalition government, or at the least  a minority government. Some of the manifesto will fall by the wayside during the legislative process. And some, not a lot, but some of the manifesto will make it through the negotiations, through the legislative to and fro in the commons, make it through the Lords, and become law. 

So, basically, it’s going to come down to who do you trust to actually put their policies into practice, will get the legislation passed and not fuck up anything else too badly in the meantime.

You don’t have to vote. You don’t. I’d rather you did, of course. I’d rather everyone eligible voted.

But you won’t get the choice unless you’re registered. 

You’ve got eight hours, as of 4pm. 

Go.