Posts Tagged ‘ge2015’

There was an interesting story in today’s Sunday Times. Well, that is, I suppose news in itself, but the story at its heart was shit stirring about the forthcoming Labour Party leadership election, suggesting that “the unions” are exploiting a loophole in the rules for who’s allowed to vote. To understand why this is important, it’s useful to know that the rules under which the new leader of the labour Party will be elected have changed since Ed Miliband (the former leader who resigned the day after the election) acceded to the position in 2010.

When he was elected leader, the electorate was split into three, one-third each. There were the Labour MPs and MEPs, Individual members of the party, and individual members of affiliated organisations, (such as trade unions). Each third would constitute 33.33% of the final vote.

This has now been replaced with a straight ‘one member one vote’ system, where individual party members as well as ‘registered’ and ‘affiliate’ members. Affiliate and registered members have to pay a small one-off fee to be part of the electorate. The story then in the Sunday Times is that trade unions are trying to ensure that as many of their members become affiliated members so they can vote. I see nothing wrong with this whatsoever. Even leaving aside the long and detailed relationship between the party and the trades union system, it surely cannot be but for the benefit of the party to increase the electorate to catch the greatest possible of voters.

Where I’m less sure of my ground – and the unions’ propriety – is that under the rules, the member themselves doesn’t have to pay the affiliation fee; that can be paid by the union. Now, that may well be within the rules, but I fail utterly to see how in any way, that’s within the spirit of one member one vote. It’s not beyond the wit of man to see that if someone’s paying for you to be able to vote, they want you to vote in a specific way. And can tell you so. Again, while that’s within the letter of the rules, I cannot see how it’s within the spirit.

So what? I hear you cry. It’s within the rules, and the rules were carefully drawn up to avoid precisely this appearance of the unions shoving their weight into the contect. So, they knew what they were doing and it’s all lovely and no problems whatsoever.

Yeah, there is a problem. A huge whacking great problem: “it’s within the rules” is the worst possible reason for doing anything except for “I was just following orders”.

MPs expenses? Well, except for the few (and they were a few) who broke the law, all the other claims – proper or not, honourable or not, dodgy or not – were “within the rules”. When people complained about bankers getting huge pensions and payouts, they were “within the rules”.

Oh and don’t forget tax avoidance, the very exemplar of ‘it’s within the rules”. I don’t see too many trades unions saying that’s a good enough reason for tax avoidance.

Hence my concern. Of course Unions should be able to give their recommendations as to who they’d like to be the next Labour Party leader; I’m fairly astonished that’s even in dispute. Everyone and every organisation is entitled to not only supply their opinion, but to publicise it as well.

I’m just uneasy about anyone leaving the impression that they’re buying votes. Apart from being a gift to the right-wing press who never need another reason to take a pop at the unions or Labour, it just smells bad.

We’re not even at the stage where nominations have formally opened. And already, I can see this is going to be very complicated. Labour have a habit of airing their dirty laundry in public, which I suppose is better than pretending everything is fine, but is it really impossible for people involved, for the unions, the candidates and their supporters, to fight for their party without leaving festering wounds? If not, those wounds will last for years… until the next election and after.

There have been as many variations on “a week is a long time in politics” as there are attributions for the original. Often ascribed to Harold Wilson, similar if not exact sentiments have been observed as far back as 17th Century France. 

Only five years ago (only!) the week following the general election was the most electric time in politics in my adult lifetime. I can thoroughly recommend Andrew Adonis’s Five Days In May as a very good read; it’s the closest you’ll ever get to reading a thoughtful and considered political thriller. And for once, knowing the end doesn’t spoil any enjoyment of reading how the people concerned got there; if anything, it enhances it.

But I never felt, a week later, like the week had flown by and that somehow the British political world had changed without me being aware of it. I can’t say the same this time. So much has happened in the past seven days that it’s truly astonishing that it’s only been a week since the election. As I write this, I’m about 90 minutes away from exactly a week since I got the biggest political shock of my life. People have compared it to 1992, but if there is a comparison, it’s that 1992 pales into almost insignificance next to the political earthquake that an exit poll at 10:00 pm threw at the British, politicians and public alike. You could see the utter shock on everyone’s faces, and you knew that it was mirrored on your own. Any doubts that the exit poll was accurate evaporated within a couple of hours and within a couple more, everyone was thinking the unthinkable: could it really happen? Could the Tories win a majority? Well, yeah, they could and they did. By then, Lib Dem Cabinet Ministers losing their seats was almost expected, but when Douglas Alexander – the Shadow Foreign Secretary – lost his seat, one wondered where the rout would end. It ended with Ed Balls – the Shadow Chancellor for fuck’s sake – losing his seat. In one election, the Conservative Party and the SNP between them had decapitated the Labour Party, only one of the four shadowing the great offices of State would survive the following day: Yvette Cooper the Shadow Home Secretary.

As soon as it was clear that the Tories had won (and even had the exit poll been right and they were 10 seats short of a majority, they could say with some justification that they’d won) I knew we’d be saying goodbye to:

  • Miliband, who couldn’t stay having led his party to an election where Labour lost seats;
  • Clegg, who saw his party almost obliterated, and reduced to a rump; and
  • Farage, who’d said he’d resign if he didn’t win Thanet South.

And in a single shocking hour, just before noon on Friday, all three had gone. Just like that. I started wondering who would replace them.

For Labour, the obvious candidates for the leadership would be Cooper, Chukka Ummuna and Andy Burnham, but there’d likely be an unexpected candidate, someone more junior who fancied their chances. For the Lib Dems, obviously Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, the only two slightly-bigger-than-small beasts of the party who’d survived. But let’s be fair: they’re irrelevant for at least a decade now. And for UKIP? Well, probably Patrick O’Flynn and Paul Nuttall, possibly Suzanne Evans.

In the extraordinary few days that have passed since Thursday, we’ve seen it all. And every day, no matter how convinced you are that you’ve lost the ability to be surprised, something happens to make you reevaluate that certainty. As well as the Labour candidates above, two others, more junior have thrown their hats in the ring, And Liz Kendall got their first. I’m not sure how much chutzpah counts in leadership elections, but she seems to have it in spades. She’s definitely one to watch. Even if she doesn’t win, the mere courage in running must give her a reward with a senior shadow job. The Lib Dems? Yeah, well. It doesn’t do to dwell on them, or to intrude upon what is rapidly appearing to be a private grief.

And UKIP… well, if Liz Kendall has chutzpah, then Nigel Farage has it in such measure that you’re reminded of a man who murders his parents, then pleads for mercy from the court, as after all, he’s an orphan… His un-resignation – apparently at the urging of UKIP’s National Executive Committee – started a row inside the top echelons of the party that is running still, and every day someone else is briefing for Farage, or against him. Nasty, personal attacks are made as if they’re the first option instead of a last resort. Is Farage still leader? Well, it’s just after 9pm. He might be. He might not. He’s Schrödinger’s Leader at the moment, and everyone’s waiting to see whether he’ll take the poison.

And while those three parties conduct post mortems in public, David Cameron has a problem. And it’s being ignored at the moment, but it’s likely to be the biggest problem he faces in the first year of his new administration apart from preparations for the EU Referendum, which he’s sensibly delegated to George Osborne. Osborne has already alienated an enormous percentage of the British population. Time for him to expand his odious nature to Europe as well.  

The problem that Cameron has? His own party’s manifesto. I don’t know a single person who thinks that Cameron intended all of the manifesto to stand. Remember the Stone Lions I mentioned a few weeks ago? Well, Cameron had some in the manifesto. Of course he did; given that everyone – including top Tories – expected there to be some kind of negotiations post-election, he’d have been foolish not to. What they were I don’t know. It’s easy to guess, but that’s all they’d be: guesses. That hasn’t stopped some pundits suggesting the £12bn welfare cuts would have been cut to maybe £8bn in negotiation; that having emerged as the largest party, the proposed boundary changes could be put to one side again; that the repeal of the fox hunting ban could sit on the table forever. And don’t forget, blaming the coalition partners served everyone during the last parliament.

But he doesn’t have that option now. He’s got to attempt to put into practice all of his manifesto and I’m utterly convinced that there’s stuff in there that he doesn’t want to do. And he never thought he’d have to. It will be interesting to see what comes out over the next year; last time, opposition to some government policies came from his own backbenchers; this time it may come from inside Downing Street.

OK, let’s get one thing out of the way now – I’m going to retire the “GE2015 plus…” titles. In a bit. Think it would be daft to continue them for much longer, especially since no-one other than extremely junkified politics nerds – among which I count myself, obviously – is counting the days since the election. If this was a new government, then carrying on “GE2015 plus…” through to maybe 100 days might be interesting, but as I suggested yesterday, the one thing this isn’t is a ‘new’ government. So, I’ll keep it going for another few days and then put it out to pasture to stud.

The fallout from the election continues apace, however. While the Lib Dems struggle to find a reason for continuing, their forthcoming leadership contest has taken on the air of a staff meeting for a chocolate teapot factory deciding who’s going to be boss of their new open air fallout shelter. Regarding their plight, one has to laugh; if you don’t you’ll sob tears of sadness. The rules specify that any leadership candidate has to have the support of 10% of the parliamentary party; they now have eight MPs. So, it won’t be hard. No wonder they’re rushing through the election; they’re scared even the candidates will have forgotten what the Lib Dems are otherwise.

As for Labour? Well, this afternoon, they announced their own timetable for a leadership (and deputy leadership) election. Given the electoral system, presumably double maths is the last subject. But nominations formally open in a couple of days, ballot papers go out mid-August with the result to be announced on 12th September, voting actually having ended two days earlier.

And for the first time in my life, I’ll have a vote in the decision to elect a party’s leader and deputy leader. For on Friday, as the election results were still sinking in, I joined a political party. That in itself wouldn’t have shocked my friends. It may have surprised them though; I’ve never been one to tether my politics to a single party; indeed, I’ve said before that whereas my gut goes Tory on the economy, it goes extremely liberal on social issues. But the results so stunned me, so upset me, so saddened me, that I felt I had to do something. So I joined the Labour party. And it was that if anything that would have shocked my friends. Delightedly so, I suspect. But a shock nonetheless. If I had to place myself anywhere on the ‘party political’ map, I’d have said that I fell soundly into the left wing of the Tory Party; I felt comfortable in the area inhabited by Ken Clarke, and before him, people like Peter Walker and Michael Heseltine, politicians like Francis Pym and (Lord) Peter Carrington.

But if last week’s election showed anything, it showed that the left wing of the Tory Party no longer exists, and hasn’t for some time. What senior Conservatives like George Osborne, Philip Hammond and Michael Gove would call the left of the party is in fact what used to be the centre grounding of the party, in itself a mark of how far right Osborne et al have pulled the Tories.

And that party is not only one I cannot support in any way; it’s one that I do not want to be in government. Now, let’s be straight: I’m not calling for the overthrow of the government. Nor am I saying that the election we’ve just had was unfair, either in the voting or the counting. By the means of our ageing electoral system, the people have chosen, a majority Conservative government. It may be that the 2010-2015 election was a mere anomaly. First Past The Post usually gives single party majority governments, and it’s done it once again. If you ignore the opinion polls, history shows us the election result we got was far more likely than a hung parliament.

And for all the discussion pre-election about a government’s legitimacy, under our parliamentary system, all a government needs to be legitimate is the ability to command a majority in the House of Commons. And this government will be able to do that. And while they technically have a majority of 12, the effective majority – since Sinn Fein members don’t take their seats and therefore can’t vote – is 16. And that’s only a shade under what John Major had at the start of his 1992 administration. It’s certainly enough to get through almost everything they want to. The only serious problem they’ll have is over Europe. But that’s a subject for another day, and another blog entry.

So, the government has the legal and moral authority to govern. Yes, more people voted against the government than voted for them. Yes, that’s how it works. If you add in the number of people who could have voted but didn’t, they only got about 25% of the electorate voting for them. Again, yes, that’s how the system works. And those who complain about it better be prepared to show how they protested when their party of choice was elected under the same system if they want their complaints to be taken seriously.

So, yes, the Conservative Party has lost me as even a half-hearted supporter. I’m not suggesting that people who voted Tory are evil, nor that they have no compassion; merely that they were wilfully or otherwise ignorant of the policies the government now seeks to introduce. Because if they voted knowing full well the policies that will noe be put before Parliament, then I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s an old, and usually false, saw to say that “I haven’t left the party, the party left me”, but for me, this government has done that for me. I can’t see how the Tories will move back to the centre-right ground, its natural home I’d venture to suggest, within the next fifteen to twenty years. Which means that it’s Labour for me unless or until they have a policy or party leadership that renders a potential Labour government as toxic to me as the Conservative Party now is.

Sadly, overwhelmingly sadly, history has shown me that’s possible. I just hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

Given how often politicians, and especially Prime Ministers, must think about how they’ll be remembered, it’s somewhat  pleasing to me that they have no choice in the matter. Well, apart from Churchill, but then many unbreakable rules were broken by Winston Spencer Churchill. “History,” as Konrad Adenaur said, “is the sum total of the things that could have been avoided.” Which is a neat way of saying that life – and a political career – is a consecutive and continuous series of “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.” 

Though as Mark Twain said, “In the real world, the right thing never happens at the right place at the right time; it is the task of journalists and historians to rectify this error.” Not strictly relevant, but I’ve always liked the quote.

Point being that you never know, and nor does a Prime Minister, what your legacy will be, for what you’ll be remembered above and beyond anything else. Certainly not while you’re doing it, and almost as definite, not in the immediate aftermath when you’ve left office.

OK, there are exceptions. Churchill’s the obvious. I’m pretty sure Winston knew for what he would be remembered. After all, he wrote “History will be kind to me, for I shall write it.” But even so, he pretty much knew he’d be remembered for World War II. David Lloyd George possibly hoped he’d be remembered for laying the foundations of the welfare state just as Nye Bevan no doubt fervently wished he’d be remembered for the NHS. 

Lord North, on his deathbed, asked his daughter how history would remember him. The answer, of course, was for losing America.

But all of these politicians have been dead for decades, or centuries in that last case. How will more recent politicians be remembered. I’m sure that Tony Blair, during the Iraq War, didn’t think that conflict would define his premiership. His administration did so much more, much that was genuinely impressive, but it’ll be another 20 years, maybe longer, before his time as Prime Minister isn’t be overshadowed by that. Thatcher? She’s left office in 1990, twenty-five years ago… and there’s a strange bifurcation of views. For a large section of the populace, she’s remembered for destroying the industrial nature of Britain, while for others her maiming of the trade unions and the politics of the left are her legacy.

Heath? Remembered for taking us into Europe, and not much more. Wilson? MacMillan? Callaghan’s legacy was, sadly, the Winter of Discontent. I say sadly because, as I indicated yesterday, I’ve a soft spot for ‘Sunny Jim’; he was the first Prime Minister I actually paid attention to, rather than was merely aware of. And what I saw, I liked. I really should read a biography of him. Gordon Brown? Too soon to say, but my gut feel is that he won’t be remembered as a stunningly good Chancellor but as a bitterly unlucky Prime Minister. Mitch Benn says that Colin Baker wasn’t the worst Doctor Who, merely the unluckiest. I feel the same about Brown.

And so we come to David Cameron. The election we’ve just had, and the days immediately following it have, quite possibly irrevocably, changed my view of him, and also what I think he’ll be remembered for. When Cameron came to office, back in 2010, I felt, like much of the country, I suspect, perfectly willing to give the man time to see what sort of politician he was, what sort of Prime Minister he’d become. I further suspect, however, that what I saw and what I believed about him as time passed varied greatly from what others, including close friends, saw and believed.

Cameron was accused of being ‘the heir to Blair’, and ‘Thatcher’s child’, the former because of his style, the latter because of his policies substance. I never agreed with either. I came to see him as, if he was anyone’s political progeny, the scion of Harold Macmillan: utterly convinced of his rightness to ‘rule’, but with a genuine feeling of noblesse oblige. Hamstrung by the right of the Conservative Party who would never trust him for not winning the 2010 election outright, I thought, and to a lesser extent still think, that it was nothing but political cowardice on his part that stopped him being the Prime Minister he should have been: someone who believed power was his right, that he’d been trained for it, but that power carries responsibilities; to the poor, to the needy, to the ill, to those who need help.

And it was that same cowardice that stopped him sacking incompetent secretaries of state, that stopped him slapping down errant ministers, that stopped him being a Prime Minister of whom it could be said “He did his best for the country as a whole, and you know what? that was good enough for me.”

Strangely, it was the 2015 election – or rather, the result of the 2015 election – that gave him strength instead of weakness. In the hours after it became clear he’d won an outright majority, he could – and should – have fired the entire Cabinet and appointed, possibly rarely reappointing – the Cabinet he really wanted, one not bound by either wing of the party. Never would his personal authority be greater. Never again would he have the power to do what he wanted, how he wanted and the moral authority to appoint who the hell he wanted.

And he blew it. He blew it to an extent that as I say, I have to revisit my views of the man himself. I mentioned previously that character didn’t end up playing anywhere near as big a part in the election campaign as predicted. At the time, I wasn’t that sorry; elections should be about policy, not personality. But I think I was wrong. (Hey, look at that, something else about which I was wrong.) For David Cameron’s actions show that one of three things has happened since the election:

  1. He really doesn’t think he’s got the authority in the party that he really has;
  2. He’s already planning his exit strategy and he’s just keeping the seat warm for his successor; or
  3. He really is a heartless bastard who doesn’t give a shit about the poor, the needy and the distressed.

If it’s 1. above, then he’s genuinely not understood the process and consequences of being re-elected, and I despair.

If it’s 2. above, then it’s obvious that he doesn’t think he’ll get a deal on EU renegotiation and all he’s doing is setting up the leadership battle for 2018.

And if it’s 3., above, well, coming back to the theme, his legacy won’t be supervising the economic recovery or equal marriage, it’ll be as a Prime Minister that did his best through negligence to destroy the fabric of our British society. And, sadly, his best will be good enough. 

For once, I’m not talking about ‘spin’ as in ‘spin doctoring’, but the wondrous thing in British politics known as a cabinet reshuffle. (Well, I guess there’s that kind of spin doing the rounds as well, but…)

As usual, when it comes to reshuffles, the important appointments aren’t so much those left in place, particularly those left in place near the top of the greasy pole. In many ways, they’re the easiest decisions to make for a Prime Minister, since any move from one of the great offices of state would be seen not merely as a demotion, but the potential end of a political career. The only way around that is to spin the top three, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary, and some Prime Ministers have done that, a straight swap. 

Indeed, when James Callaghan resigned in 1967 after a devaluation that the Treasury had sworn blind wouldn’t happen, Wilson slotted Roy Jenkins into the Chancellor’s role and reshuffled Callaghan into Jenkins’ old job at the Home Office.

Small digression: Callaghan remains the only person in British history to have held all the three great Offices of State and also became Prime Minister. There’s been a few who held two of the three, most recently John Major who was both Chancellor and Foreign Secretary before ascending to the First Lord of the Treasury, which is one of the Prime Minister’s other job titles. But Callaghan did all three jobs. 

I’m reminded of something from Tales from the Cutting Room by Michael Cockerell about his encounters over the past few decades of his career as a political journalist with leading politicians. When he covered Jim Callaghan, Cockerell related a conversation he’d once had with Roy Jenkins, wherein Jenkins said about Callaghan (who hadn’t gone to University) that he’d never before come across such a powerful personality linked with such a lack of intellect. Jenkins, of course, was one of four University educated men that Callaghan had beaten to the Labour Leadership and the office of Prime Minister when he went for it in 1976. When Cockerell had quoted Jenkins to Callaghan, and said that the view was shared by others, the latter had laughed and then said “it’s true, although I think I was probably cleverer then they thought I was. Yes, I haven’t got a huge intellect. But then again, I became Prime Minister… and they didn’t.

I warmed a lot to Callaghan merely from that exchange.

Digression over. Anyway, notwithstanding the above, there are a couple of interesting of ‘staying in place’ examples, most notably Iain Duncan Smith remaining in post at DWP. But he’s been kept there as a message, that message being apparently “we won, we won, hahahahahahaha, we won, so we can do what we want to the benefits system and you can’t stop us hahahahahahaha.” I genuinely can’t think of any other reason to keep IDS at the Department of Work and Pensions. I’m not kidding either. Given the complete clusterfuck that he’s supervised… wait, ‘supervised’ is probably the wrong word; I don’t believe he’s supervised anything. He’s been not semi-detached from the process: he’s entirely detached to the point of delusion. Everything that’s occurred should be laid at his feet, sure, but he’s living proof of the Peter Principle.

Ugh. shudder

Let’s move onto something less unpleasant, and it’s a mark of how detestable is the idea of IDS staying at the Department that Gove taking over at The Justice Department is an even slightly better appointment. When I first heard of the appointment on social media, before it was officially confirmed, my first thought was that David Cameron had got hammered and hadn’t yet sobered up. Then the other appointments started coming through, and my view remains that it’s not those who are left in place that are the most important pieces of the message the Prime Minister wants to send, it’s the promotions, demotions and… erm… sideways-motions? Maybe they’re called ‘motions’ because the they end up shitting on the country.

Anyway, Gove turns the anomaly of appointing a non-lawyer as Lord Chancellor’s and head of the Justice Department into a convention that it doesn’t need to be a lawyer in the roles. I can’t express my disagreement firmly enough with this new policy. We’ve already had one person in that job who was so bad that during his tenure, the department was routinely found to have acted unlawfully. If a Prime Minister doesn’t care about that, he’s not fit to be Prime Minister. And the stupid appointments continued through Saturday and Sunday.

We now have a Culture Secretary who is hostile to the BBC licence fee. We have an Equalities Minister who voted against equal marriage and an employment minister who wants to bring back capital punishment.

Could it be worse? Yes, of course it could. Doesn’t meant that it’s not lousy now though.

I suppose I’d better mention the shadow cabinet reshuffle as well. There, I’ve mentioned it.

Oh, one other thing. Remember a while back, I wrote about how people are only too eager to believe an image as long as it suits their political purposes? How even when it’s proven false, somehow you’re at fault for correcting them? I offered examples such as a picture contrasting a full chamber of the House of Commons purporting to be MPs discussing their pay with a picture purporting to be an almost empty chamber discussing welfare cuts. Turned out to be nothing of the sort; both were of other Commons debates.

And there was a picture of the Prime Minister and George Osborne laughing, and some said it was during a debate about welfare reform. But it wasn’t.

And a Michael Gove quote from a piece written as a journalist before he was even an MP, let alone a Cabinet Minister was suffixed “Michael Gove, education minister”.

Well, here comes another one. This picture did the rounds on Sunday:

  

And of course – of course  – it was stated, not suggested, flat out stated, that this was champagne being delivered to David Cameron and George Osborne following the election win. Thankfully, Twitter corrected it fairly quickly: it was from 2012, and… no, wait, it was from 2008… except it wasn’t. It was from 2004, when the Prime Minister was Tony Blair and the Chancellor was Gordon Brown. Funny thing though; I just did a search on Twitter. Now, sure enough, there are the corrections out there, but the tweets saying it was this weekend? There are a lot of them; a lot of them, and some of them are from today. Again, who gives a damn about truth if the story fits the narrative.

In the great movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a US Senator returning to a town to bury a friend reveals to a journalist that it wasn’t in fact the Senator who shot the outlaw years ago; it was the friend, but the Senator received the credit and it kickstarted his political career. When he finishes the tale, the journalist throws his notes in the fire:

Senator Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?

Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

I don’t think it was intended as a recommendation, but people seem to have taken it as such so many times, and never more than when it comes to ascribing crassness or malice towards political opponents. I miss the time (that never existed, of course) when people were that, political opponents, not the enemy.

I was going to write today about reshuffles. But I got too angry. So I thought I’d write about the Labour Party leadership runners and riders. But I got too angry. And then I thought that I’d put some words down about the likely inclusions for the government’s Queen’s Speech. But I got too angry and finally I took the fucking hint and realised I needed another night’s kip before I trust myself to write something that’s not full of expletives.

So instead, something to hopefully make you smile.

From 1987, and Jasper Carrott’s talk to first time voters, or Virignal Voters…

Notwithstanding Sir Humphrey Appleby’s view that you get anything potentially troublesome out of the way in the title of an Act Of Parliament (so you don’t have to actually do anything in the body of the thing), it’d be remiss of me to even begin to set out my thoughts on what happened on election day, or to suggest what I think will happen in the days and weeks ahead without admitting one, crucial thing: I was wrong.

I wrote something just under 40 blog entries specifically about politics, and the forthcoming election, and I was wrong. 

I was wrong about so, so much. Now, were I to start listing out all the things I was wrong about in regard to anything at all since only January… well, I’d take up far more of your time than you have a right to expect. 

But even limiting it to the election, there’s a lot. So, let’s get at least some of them out of the way in this entry and then we can move on.

my initial prediction

Those following me on Twitter, or on here, and even those people who’ve asked me in what I understand we’re supposed to call ‘in real life’, have heard my guess about what was likely to happen on Thursday for the past three years or so. It was fairly obvious to me: a parliament – and government – pretty familiar to that we’ve seen since May 2010, give or take a dozen seats. I guessed the Tories might lost a dozen, and the Liberal Democrats would lose slightly more. but between them, they’d have a majority, and the Labour Party would just have to get used to another five years of opposition. The SNP? Oh, they’d pick up a few seats, probably at the expense of Liberal Democrats, but they wouldn’t be a force in parliament, as would not UKIP or the Greens. No question, however, that the Lib Dems would be the third biggest party in the Commons. To those who consistently warned and suggested that the Lib Dems would pay a heavy price for their behaviour in coalition with the Conservative Party, well you were right and I was wrong. I thought they’d take a hit; I never thought for a moment that they would be obliterated from front line parliamentary politics in this country.

my later prediction

Oh, when I screw up, I do it in style, don’t I? Not that long ago, about two weeks out from the election, I said that I’d come to the considered view that Ed Miliband would be our next Prime Minister. Let’s be honest, I moved from a position that turned out to be wrong (above) to a position that couldn’t have been wronger had it been in a square marked “THIS IS WRONG”, and had certificates scattered around from the University of Being Even Wronger. All the numbers made sense, and it felt right. Well, I was wrong. The only person who apparently was even more wrong than me that Ed Miliband would get the call to kiss hands was Mr Miliband himself. As I said way back when I started election blogging some eight weeks ago, I’ve paid attention to every general election in this country since 1979, and I’ve been interested in politics since before then. I’ve never seen a politician grow during the election campaign as much as Ed Miliband did. While the campaign opened with many people thinking “why the hell does anyone think he can be Prime Minister”, I can’t have been the only one surely who saw that growth and thought “ok, now I get it…” 

Why he chose to discard much of that growth in the closing days of the campaign with that bloody pledge engraved stone is one for the political memoirs. There were loads of gags and jokes around when he presented it to the press and public, but the best one for my mind was written for the post-Election Have I Got News For You? Jo Brand said it, but I’ve no idea who wrote the gag: “You can imagine what happened: Ed says to his advisers, ‘look, I don’t want to do what I did at conference and forget anything. What do you suggest’ and one of them replied ‘look, just stick them on your tablet.’ “

I offer that joke up just as a smile to myself to be honest; I’ve had little else to smile about since Thursday. But yeah, I genuinely thought Miliband had done enough during the campaign to show that he was ready for the big job. And I was wrong.  

    the north south divide

    The classic example of ‘be careful what you wish for.’ I wasn’t alone in hoping that the engagement during the Independence referendum shown by all groups in Scotland would continue; engagement from the young through to those, let us say, born at a more comfortable distance from the apocalypse. Well, guess what? That engagement continued, and thrived and flourished. The turnout north of the border was significantly higher than that in England, and it cost Labour and Liberal Democrats their seats in the dozens. The SNP didn’t merely get more seats, they went from 6 seats to 56, and from under 20% of the vote in 2010 to 50% of the vote on Thursday. I didn’t see that coming. Not at all. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. And I was wrong. The polls were suggesting a large increase, at times potentially a complete sweep of the seats. But no-one believed that, not even Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader. When the exit poll was released at ten ‘o clock on Thursday evening, suggesting that the SNP would take 58 seats, she tweeted that she expected a good night, but not 58 seats! Well, she near as dammit got there.

    that exit poll

    Now here’s where I admit I’m wrong about something you didn’t know I was wrong about, but in the interests of full disclosure, here’s another mea culpa. That exit poll, the one which the BBC – and other organisations, but I’m a traditionalist where elections are concerned, and I was BBC-watching – released at ten. When it came out, everyone rushed to trash it. The Lib Dems’ former leader Paddy Ashdown flat out said it was wrong; Tory politicians said they expected a good night, but not that good; Labour politicians came the closest I’ve ever seen to saying that pundits relying on it were going to make damned fools of themselves.

    Well, here’s the truth. So did I. I saw the numbers and in my gut I knew they were wrong. Not a chance were the numbers right. They couldn’t be. For them to be correct meant that either every poll published over the past six weeks been woefully, pitifully  inaccurate, or that there’d been a sudden swing to the Tories in the final 24 hours on a scale that topples electoral records left right and Lib Dem.

    For those who’ve forgotten, or didn’t know, this was the exit poll:

    Conservatives 316 seats, Labour 239, SNP 58, Lib Dems 10, Plaid Cymru 4, UKIP 2, Green 2, Others 19

    Impossible. For a start, That’d mean the Conservatives would gain a dozen seats or so seats, that Labour would lose 20 or so, that the Lib Dems would be decimated (and then decimated again, and then decimated again another seventeen times). Impossible. And everyone said so. Well, these were the actual final tallies:

    Conservatives 331 seats, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, Plaid Cymru 3, UKIP 1, Green 1, Others 18

    Pretty damned close. So, yeah, another time, another subject on which I was wrong.

    “coalition? pah! i’m aiming for a working majority” 

    I owe David Cameron an apology. I suppose I owe Ed Miliband one as well, but he’s got enough on his plate at the moment (though I suspect his inbox is emptier than it’s been in four and a half years), to worry about me. I said not that long ago that he was delusional and hugely disrespectful to the ordinary voter to pretend that a majority was not only possible, but that was what he was aiming for. Again, I’m not alone in this, but I feel my own wrongness on this to be understandably more personal than what anyone else said. So, yeah, David Cameron, I was wrong. Mind you, you’ve been wrong lots of times over the past five years on other things, and you haven’t apologised to us about them, so yahh boo sucks.

    so, was I right about anything? anything at all?

    Actually, yeah, I was. I predicted that any party leader who didn’t get the result their party members demanded would go by lunchtime the day after the election, and true enough, the leaders of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP went in a single hour, between 11am and noon. 

    Go me.

    More tomorrow, but hopefully, less in respect of what I was wrong about. Possibly. 

     
     
     
        
     
     
     
     
    I’ve got a lot to say about the result, but not today. I’m too angry, too upset and just plain too sucker-punched to write sensibly. I’ll always remenber the words of a former boss of mine: “he who makes a speech in anger will make the best speech he’ll ever live to regret.”

    Tomorrow, people. Tomorrow.

     
     
     
     

    Oh, I had so many things to write about…

    When I started this daily election blog countdown with GE2015 minus 50: voting, and elections… and me, I wondered how I’d fill 50 entries’ worth with my views on the election. Now fair enough, I took a week out in the middle of it for family reasons, and there’ve been a couple of non-politics entries, and even a couple of stories for you to… enjoy, but on the whole, I’m pretty pleased with how it’s all gone. 

    Well, I was, until I started this entry and realised, not for the first time in the past twenty-four hours, that this is it; this is the last entry before the election. 

    I already know what tomorrow’s entry is going to be; I’ve known for some time. And I suspect, when I post it, no-one wil be overly surprised as to its contents. Moreover, as the last week has passed, I was at first tempted, then seriously tempted, then finally resolved to continue posting something daily for at least another couple of weeks, merely amending the title so it’ll be “GE2015 plus…” So you’ve got that to look forward to.

    But what to write today? There are so many options, I’d find it difficult to narrow down to six, let alone one. So, in keeping with the shambolic nature of this blog, let’s do just that: narrow it down to six, and write a little something on each, an anthology post if you will.

    the dog that didn’t bark

    It’s difficult to identify the single subject about which the political pundits have been proved most wrong; there are a lot to choose. There were those who believed that one or other of the main two political parties would unquestionably pull ahead of the other during the campaign. Suggestions that the campaign would break Miliband, and Labour would fall prey to bitter infighting during the election campaign. Some, like John Rentoul, were utterly convinced that UKIP’s anti-immigration views would thoroughly infect the campaigns of all the parties. (To give him full credit, John’s freely admitted that he was wrong on that.) But if I had to choose one thing about which so very many were wrong, it was the suggestion that character would play a large part in the campaign. 

    It hasn’t. I mean, sure, it’s been there, hovering around backstage, waiting to be called into the spotlight, but to a large extent, that’s where it’s remained. There’s been the odd attempt (some very off indeed) to attack the characters of the main players, but none of them have stuck. The right have attacked Labour (and the SNP) for their policies more than who’s been promulgating them. The attacks on the two Eds – Miliband and Balls – have in the main been about what they did or didn’t do while in office, and what they’ll likely do when given the chance again. The only attack on Miliband that’s had any wider resonance is the occasional nasty reference to him being part of a “North London metropolitan elite”, i.e. he’s Jewish. But even that card has been played sparingly, or at least a lot more sparingly than even I thought it would be. Cameron, Osborne et al have been attacked for their policies while in government and what it’s assumed they’ll be if returned to power. There are only two party leaders who’ve been attacked again and again because of character rather than policy. Nick Clegg hasn’t lived down the tuition fees fiasco, but even then, the attacks have not been upon what he’ll joyfully throw away in negotiations, but on whether the Lib Dems will matter after Thursday. I hop they do, though not necessarily with Clegg as their Leader. I’m quite prepared to believe the party’s pitch as a moderating influence, and I support it in principle.

    The other leader personally attacked has been Natalie Bennet. Now, I’m not saying that other politicians haven’t had their gaffes exposed, etc., but Bennet’s ‘brain freeze’ was emblematic of a party that’s not ready for prime time, as our colonial cousins put it. It was difficult to attack many of the green’s policies, so Bennet became the focus of dissatisfaction with politicians who crumble under pressure. I’d be astonished if she’s still leader in six months; she blew it.    

    missing in action

    After the 2010 election, a common complaint from politicians was that the debates ‘sucked the life’ out of the campaigns; that the parties’ policies didn’t receive enough details examination because everyone was concentrating on the debates themselves, rather than what the debates were supposed to be about. Well, they’ve not got that excuse this time, yet I’d argue that the policies of the parties have been even worse served than in 2010. A half dozen policies from each is probably about all anyone could mention. Sure, the manifestos have been out for a while – and yes, I downloaded them all and read them all – but if you relied solely on the media reporting of then, you’d be forgiven for believing they could each fit on a single side of A4 paper, with room for a signature at the bottom.

    This is an important election for all sorts of reasons; if you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you that. But there are going to be a lot, a hell of a lot, of people voting who don’t actually know – or in may cases care, what they’re actually voting for. There are lots of reasons for this: 

    • the inconvenient truth that the manifestos are no longer a list of things a party would do in government; they’re a list of things which will form the basis for negotiation with another party, either in a formal coalition or a less formal ‘arrangement’
    • the amount of tactical voting that’s about to take place; as long as who they’re voting for is to the left of the Tories, or to the right of SNP (depending on personal preference) that’s fine
    • the parties themselves have had their pledge cards and their front pages of manifestos and their weekly plans; I never thought I’d miss the daily press conferences the parties held, when every day was planned to concentrate on another policy statement. But no, now it’s week by week, and as a result, only the dedicated politics junkie knows more than ten of each parties’ policies
    • the lack of transparency in the campaigns; as the ISF pointed out in a scathing review of the parties’ election promises, people voting for Labour have no idea how much they’ll have to borrow to fund their promises, and people voting Tory have no idea where the welfare cuts will fall. And that’s not all; the the added complication of potential official deals or unofficial arrangements means that even if you think you know either of the two numbers above, you don’t.
    • the cherry-picking of statistics and lack of agreement; one thing that’s been incredibly noticeable this time around is the extraordinary amount of cherrypicking of statistics and analyses. Both Labour and the Conservatives have proudly brandished IFS and other reports when they attack the other party and hold the IFS up as a paragon of independent virtue… and then go on to say, with no apologies, that the IFS are flat wrong when it comes to analysing their own party. No explanation of this ludicrous position, just a flat statement: “The IFS are always right when they attack the other lot and are never right when they attack our lot.”

    it’s suited everyone to ignore some things; the Tories really don’t want to have a conversation about welfare cuts, about as little in fact as Labour wants to have a conversation about borrowing. Moreover, if the parties limit the  subjects under discussion, it’s easier for them to ‘control’ the conversation. Furthermore, there are some policies no-one standing for election wants to have a chat about in the public arena. TTIP springs to mind, as does VATMOSS

      sorry, how many?

      One thing I was curious about once the deadline for registering as a candidate passed was “just how many prospective parliamentary candidates can there be in a constituency?” Obviously, there’s no actual limit, but once you get more than 20 candidates, someone is guaranteed to lose their deposit. You have to deposit £500 when you hand in your nomination papers, and you lose it if you don’t get at least 5% of the valid votes cast. Now, obviously, when you get parties getting 30%, 40% or more, then the chances you as a non-main party candidate are going to lose your deposit skyrocket. But it’s always interesting to see who loses their deposit, if for nothing else to discover which ‘main’ party has fallen so far in the constituency’s judgement that… well, they might as well have not bothered.

      But back to the number of candidates. Highest number of candidates for any constituency in this election goes to… Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which has 13 candidates, but to be fair to the constituency, the only one standing as a prospective parliamentary candidate anyone’s paying attention to is one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, current Mayor of London. Delightfully, among his fellow PPCs, are candidates for The Eccentric Party of Great Britain, The Realists Party and of course, someone from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, which raises the question “is there an UNofficial Monster Raving Loony Party?”

      As for the constituency with the fewest candidates, well, that’s the constituency of Buckingham, the constituency of Speaker John Bercow who, in accordance with parliamentary convention, does not stand under any party banner, but instead as “The Speaker seeking re-election”. Although it sometimes seems like it’s more honoured in the breach than in the observance, the tradition is that no main party stands against The Speaker. And indeed, tomorrow, the only two other candidates standing against Bercow are someone from The Green Party and someone from UKIP. So, this year at least, the tradition that no main party stands against The Speaker is maintained.

      politican maths

      I’m obliged to BBC Radio 4’s More or Less and The Economist‘s Tim Harford for introducing me to this term. Much like the glorious “Politician Speak (with translations for the hard of believing)” piece by Alistair Beaton, ‘politican maths’ is not so much a solution, but an identification tool, assisting you to understand when politicans are playing fast and loose with statistics in a way that is not exactly ‘lying’, but wilfully misleading nonetheless. 

      Now this isn’t just using a single statistic and misleading by ommission. For an example of that, we can do no better than remember a couple of months ago, when the ‘in’ thing was to accuse the government of planning to reduce government spending to a number not seen since the 1930s, implying that – at 35% – it’d be shockingly, horrifyingly low. After all, the 1930s predates the NHS, and if that comes out of the 35% what the hell is left for anything else? Now, the figure was accurate… as far as it goes, which as it turns out isn’t very far. Y’see, there’s one hell of an error of omission going on. The strong implication is that 35% was the average government spend in the 1930s. But it wasn’t. It was nowhere near that figure. The year Labour chose to compare spending to was 1938… when the UK was preparing for a little thing called World War II. So, government spending sky-rocketed. The actual average government spend in the 1930s, excluding 1938 and 1939, was… about ten percentage points lower, at roughly 25%. But I guess “taking spending back to a level not seen since the 1930s… and then adding 40%” wasn’t as catchy.

      But I’m not even talking about that, crappy use of statistics that it is. No, this is equally bad, but in an entirely differently misleading way. The Tories, a fortnight or so ago, said that if Labour get in, one of their policies alone would cost working families about £3,500 each! True or False? Well, true, but only if you play with the numbers, stand on one leg, squint slightly and spin three times withershins. Ah, but it’s true then! If, and only if, you understand how the number was arrived at. 

      The Tories took Labour’s statement that they’d fund half the £30bn they want to borrow with tax increases. OK, so we’re at £15bn. Then you divide that by the number of adults in the UK, right? Noooooo. If you do that, the resulting number is far too small. I know, divide it by the number of working adults? Resulting answer still not big enough. Hmm, Ah, divide by the number of families! Closer but no cigar. Ah… go it. Divide the £15bn by the number of families with at least one person working. That’s about 17m. So, £15bn/17m = £882.35 Hmm. not very big, is it? OK, so multiply that by 4 to get four years’ worth: £3,529. And that’s how the Tories came up with the number of roughly £3,500 for each working family. As Tim Harford said, that’s like advertising for a secretary, saying “I’ll pay you £100,000” and then after the interview, saying “that’s over a four year period, obviously…”

      “politician maths”; use it at your peril.

      scold the front page!

      To complain that the front pages of British tabloid newspapers are awful is a bit like complaining that clowns wear make-up or that fiction is made-up; it’s kind of the point. British tabloids have a long and egregious history of carefully considering what’s in the best possible taste, and then ensuring that any such good taste is jettisoned with a speed that fairly breaks the sound barrier. While pictures of dead dictators garner complaints left right and centre, the papers have free reign to produce eve of election front pages that are jaw-dropping in their awfulness. 

      If such tabloid front pages can be compared to a large mountain of faeces – and I think they can – then the Daily Mail’s cover this morning is the biggest shit on the summit:

       

      (That’s of course even ignoring the fact, pointed out by many, that the top and bottom half of the front page are at war with each other; the bottom half admitting, proclaiming, that the Conservative government have fucked up the NHS.)  I’ve really nothing more to say about this than to say that if Paul Dacre (the editor of the Mail) is that scared, there are two obvious conclusions: (1) the guy he’s scared of is a good egg, and (2) this is nothing, nothing to what’s coming our way if Miliband ends up as Prime Minister.

      thinking about voting

      As I write this, polling stations open in a little under twelve hours’ time. Whoever’s reading this, if you’re able to vote tomorrow, a plea: I’m not pleading with you to vote – if you already haven’t decided you’re going to vote by now, I sincerely doubt that anything I write here could or would change your mind. But if you’re going to vote, think carefully about who you’re going to vote for. Don’t, please, vote for the [insert party] candidate just because your dad voted for the same party; don’t vote for a candidate just because you can’t stand the other candidate. At least make sure the candidate you’re voting for is someone you could stand having as your member of parliament. Read the manifesto if you’re not sure. For all my well-aired issues with manifestos, they’re still the closest and only guide we’ve got to what a political party stands for. Basically, what I’m saying is: you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror afterwards: make sure you’re not going to have to see yourself wincing too hard, eh?

      Manifestos
      Conservative Party
      Labour Party
      Liberal Democrats
      Green Party
      Scottish National Party
      Plaid Cymru
      Trades Union and Socialist Coalition

      (Yeah, I’m not linking to UKIP’s manifesto. You want that one, go and find it yourself.)

      And on that note, I bid you good luck, fare well, and vote tomorrow, you fuckers: VOTE. (OK, I said it; sue me.)

      “With a little under forty hours until polls open in the most unpredictable election…”

      Well, let’s be fair, you’ve seen similar openings to blogs, opinion columns, editorials, but it’s not. Unpredictable, I mean. As a moment’s thought should show, the election results don’t appear to be that unpredictable. Labour and Conservatives will get somewhere around 270-280 seats, Lib Dems somewhere around 30, the SNP 50+. 

      So the results of the election aren’t going to be that surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to the polls the last few weeks. They haven’t materially moved since even before the official campaign started. What is in doubt, however, as others have more accurately said, is the outcome.

      I’d been waiting for Nate Silver to weigh in and what do you know? He came to the same conclusion: the wholesale results aren’t that difficult to predict, the outcome almost impossible. Sure, there’s likely to be the odd surprise. Constituency polling indicates, for example that people who’d normally vote Tory in Sheffield Hallam constituency are now throwing their weight behind Nick Clegg, in order to ‘save’ him. The results for the constituencies of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey and Paisley and Renfrewshire South will be particularly interesting, both having sitting MPs named D Alexander, Danny and Douglas respectively. And both, should they survive their respective challenges by the SNP would form part of any government involving their parties. And both, obviously, wouldn’t even be in the House of Commons should they not. There’ll be a few dozen seats worth paying attention to on Thursday night as the results come in, either because they have long-sitting and senior party MPs, or because the seats are known marginal… or even more interestingly, no one thought they were marginals, but they turn out to be. That turned out to be a bit more complicated that I anticipated, but you know what I mean, yeah?

      But the outcome of the election? That’s far from certain. In fact it’s so far from certain that if you were standing on the Empire State Building using the Hubble Space Telescope, you’d have trouble even glimpsing it.

      The constitutional position is surprisingly clear: if the sitting Prime Minister can’t maintain a majority – in other words, if he loses it – he has to go. Both literally and figuratively; he’s supposed to go to the Monarch and advise her that he cannot command a majority and advise her to call Ed Miliband. Note that it’s not dependent on Miliband being able to command his own majority, it’s solely down to whether Cameron’s lost his

      The Fixed-term Parliaments Act adds a few tweaks to the existing system but none that materially affect the basic rule: the sitting PM goes to the Monarch if he loses his majority. What the Fixed-term Parliaments Act does is give a sitting Prime Minister a certain period to try and put together a majority he can command; three weeks or so. But, and it’s a big but, don’t forget that such negotiations are fairly new to the British public, and indeed to everyone in this generation of politicians. Last time, it was only five days between the date of the election and the formation of the Cameron administration  they might get slightly longer this time, as 2010 proved the world doesn’t fall apart; the UK didn’t fall apart in those five days. I recall other countries who were much more used to coalition negotiations exhibiting surprise that it only took five days. Though, of course, that recalls the utter astonishment from Americans that we don’t have a transition period, that if the former opposition win the election, they move into Downing Street the day after the election.

      As it is, I suspect many candidates and their supporters will empathise with Dick Tuck who, after an unsuccessful run for the US Senate from California, memorably said: The people have spoken… the bastards.”

      But there will be many, many more people on Friday morning, echoing Bill Clinton from 2000: “The people have spoken; we just don’t know what they said.”  

      I’m always surprised when people don’t know that political adverts are exempted from normal advertising rules, specifically those regarding truth and accuracy. I’m sadly much less surprised at the verbal calisthenics performed by some to excuse falsehoods when it comes to politics. 

      I entered this period of election campaigning pretty convinced that the most dangerous people involved were those who’ll never admit to their ‘side’ doing anything wrong. They’ll constantly greet any attack upon their party or union or protest group with criticism aimed at the attacker, ignoring accuracy and truth in an attempt to do damage to their arguments. They’re blind to evidence and dead to argument. They’re the sort of people who think that their party would solve all of society’s ills if they were only allowed to do whatever they wanted, without opponents getting in the way, all opposey and stuff.

      To be fair, it’s at the extremes of British politics that these people flourish: the supporters of UKIP or TUSC or the EDL or Socialist Worker; everything is someone else’s fault, and if only the people would listen, then they’d see that [insert party of choice] have all the answers. But the mainstream parties aren’t immune from this. The Conservative party has its supporters who think that the 2007-8 crash only affected the UK because Labour fucked everything up and we’d have been just fine and dandy if only there’d been a Tory government in power. And Labour has their own activists who think that had Labour been in power the past five years, then everything would have been ok and no-one deserving or in need would have suffered. At all. But for both Labour and Conservatives, there are only a relatively few people who take this attitude. More often, people do see the faults in their own side… and then excuse them, either because the other side is “worse” or because they take solace in an adaptation of Stephen Decatur’s line from the late 18th Century: “my party right or wrong, but my party”.

      And every party has people like this; the mainstream parties in this instance are no less prone to it than the extremists. They’re the kind of people who disdain acuracy as long as they make a point. They’re the people who’ll willingly throw caution to the wind, abandon truth and fact as long as a ‘point’ is made. And woe betide you if you dare to query them. And this isn’t even ‘politican maths’, which I’ll deal with later in this post. This is just plain not giving a shit about the truth as long as you get to make your point.

      It’s pretty well universally acknowledged that ATOS’s administration of health assessments for Employment and Support Allowance was a disaster; successful appeals against the assessments skyrocketed and there’s numerous examples of anecdotal and other evidence of unfairness and just plain negligence. But a while back, a statistic started doing the rounds that surprised and horrified even the most ardent supporters of the scheme: 10,600 people had died within six weeks of their claims ending.

      I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be disgusted by such a claim. I’m disgusted by such a claim, but not because of the 10,600 people who’ve died but because there’s more than emnough evidence to show that it’s just not true. What’s worse? The statistic, or knowingly using the deaths of 10,600 people to spread a falsehood?

      Ah, but I hear you say – or I would as soon as Microsoft or Google invent real time aural commenting – “doesn’t the DWP itself admit that 10,600 people died within six weeks of their claim ending?” Yep, they sure do. In this document. So, what’s the problem? Well, as Tom Chivers among others pointed out in a superb piece, 10,600 number isn’t the number of people who died within six weeks after their claim ended. It includes people who died and then their claim ended… because they’d died. Now, given that a number of people were on the allowance suffered from seriously physical or mental disability, it’s not the hugest surprise to discover that some died while receiving the allowance. How many? No idea – the DWP document doesn’t separate then out. Could have been 5,000, could have been 10,599. No-one knows. The only thing we know for absolutely sure is that some of those 10,600 died before their claim ended, which by an elegant inevitability tells us that of the 10,600 people who died within six weeks of their claim ending, far fewer died after their claim ended. Again, how many? No definitive number; could have been 1,000, could have been 5,000.

      And here’s where it gets ugly, because the moment you point that out, you start getting attacked by those who are so angry at the system, so [rightly] angry at any deaths, that they jettison truth and accuracy and say that it doesn’t matter whether the number’s accurate or not, and by insisting on accuracy, you don’t care about those who have died.

      It’s because I care about those who’ve died that I think it’s important to use accurate numbers, numbers that supporters of ESA health assessments can’t attack. Chivers was attacked for daring to bring that wrong statistic to people’s attention. Doesn’t surprise me in the least.

      Here’s another claim that’s done the rounds lately: one million people have visited food banks. You’ve probably seen the statistic. If true, that’s an indictment of the government that’s impossible to defend. Except of course it’s not true. But the moment you point that out, as I have, you get people saying “oh, so if it’s half a million. You’re ok with that are you?”  No, I’m bloody not; I’m pissed off and angry as hell that half a million people have to use food banks. But at least I’m pissed off and angry because of an accurate number. How about you?

      As I wrote some time ago 

      I may be a heretic here but I don’t want my representatives in parliament to be humourless robots; I want them to be human, and that means that, occasionally, they’ll laugh at a witticism or funny comment. And not only at their opponent’s discomfort. Sometimes a genuinely funny comment is made in the chamber; it happens more often than you’d think. 

      OK – here’s a picture of George Osborne and David Cameron laughing on the government front benches. Yeah, I know, I’m sorry. You might have to drink to forget that image, but I’ve put it there for a reason. No, not for you to have an excuse to drink to forget that image. Well, not wholly.

      Anyway, there’s Prime Minister and The Chancellor of the Exchequer laughing during a debate about… Well, you don’t know, do you? It could be about something deadly serious or it could be questions to the Leader of the House about suggested debates. The comment could have been a political point scored against Ed Balls or it could merely be that someone farted in the chamber. But if someone tweeted that picture and said “Look, this is from today’s debate about food banks! See how the Tories laugh at poverty”, it’d go round Twitter tweeted and retweeted as gospel.

      Finally, my sympathy even stretches to Michael Gove. Only for one thing, mind you, since I think he was a disastrous Secretary of State for Education and is not exactly shaping up to be even a half decent Whip. But let’s attack him for what he’s done recently, not for stuff he did before he was even an MP. It’s similar to my views on the Daily Mail: daft to constantly bring up the Mail’s support for fascism 80 years ago (!) when there’s so much to attack the paper for now.

      So, Michael Gove. There’s a pic that’s been doing the rounds for the past year or so. Here it is:

      If true, it would be a horrible thing for a politician to say, let alone a Secretary of State for Education. But he didn’t say it as Secretary of State for Education; he wrote it in a piece for the Times when he was a working journalist, before he even became an MP. And yet the pic states – or at least heavily implies – that he said it as a politician. That’s just flat wrong, and indefensible. It’s certainly fine to ask Gove whether he still thinks that, and then to attack his view if he confirms that. But there’s no way it’s fair to suggest he said it as a representative of government.

      A picture tells a thousand words; nowhere, however, does it say the words are accurate.

      My point being that if you’re going to criticise politicians and policies, then do so from a position of knowledge and accuracy. Otherwise the moral ground upon which you stand ain’t only hit ‘high’, it’s substantially lower than those you’re attacking. 

      I can’t think of a single instance in which using a false statistic or misattributing a quote, or indeed, misquoting, brings anything beneficial to the table. If the truth is inconvenient or the unaltered facts don’t back your case, then maybe, just maybe, it’s your case that’s at fault. 

      So many people have rightly criticised this government for playing fast and loose with the facts that you’d think the people making those attacks would feel it incumbent upon themselves to make sure their facts were straight, wouldn’t you? Ah, if only. 

      Meanwhile, here’s Mitch Benn on governments not paying due regard to the evidence. 

      To describe a limit beyond which you can’t go as a ‘red line’ has been part of the English – and surprisingly, Hebrew – language for quite some time, longer than you might think. No, for once, it wasn’t Shakespeare who came up with the phrase, but a journalist covering the Battle of Balaclava, who used it to refer to the appearance of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment and parts of the Turkish army as they stood before (and repelled) a vastly superior force of Russian cavalry, with the words: “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel”. This action was later described by Rudyard Kipling in the poem Tommy as “the thin red line of ‘eroes [heroes].” But in the intervening years, and particularly the past decade or so, it’s entered the political vernacular, and – in the UK at least – never moreso than in the current election campaign.

      I’ve mentioned before how I think manifestos in their current format are past their sell-by date, and really don’t apply in a situation where any and all of the policies can be bartered away in order to at least ensure that some of your policies do get enacted. Although Ed Miliband and David Cameron have done everything but swear on a stack of bibles that they won’t negotiate away their manifestos in order to gain, or continue in, respectively, power, no-one with any political nous believes them. Like all political promises that can’t in the end be lived up to, they rest on a belief that… “people understand.” And the sad thing is that people do understand… most of the time.

      Don’t get me wrong, were Labour to gain power and then not repeal the hated ‘bedroom tax’, or The Conservatives continue in power, but with the support of the SNP, people wouldn’t ‘understand’. Not at all.

      But, say, if the Tories can’t once again increase the inheritance tax threshhold to a million pounds, or Labour didn’t enact legislation to end time-limited visits for older people in social care to take an example from their manifesto, people probably would understand, to be honest.

      What’s interesting this weekend though, is that the parties, while the Tories and Labour maintain that they’re going for a majority, have started setting out their ‘red lines’ for any negotiations. The Liberal Democrats are being as plain as they can be; I suspect they’ve learned from 2010 and are now putting out their demands in advance in a way that lets the other parties know what the price of their support will be. But both Labour and the Conservatives are slipping out their own red lines.

      Kind of reminds me of what I suggested for manifestos, doesn’t it?

      The full piece is in that link but basically, I said that manifestos should have three parts:

      (I) The dealbreakers:;Six items that WILL be in any coalition agreement; these are the items that will be translated into statute. If another party has a contradictory item in their list of dealbreakers, those parties cannot form a coalition.

      (II) The aspirations: the intellectual backbone of the party’s agenda, limited to twenty separate points. Policies that the vast majority of the party’s supporters (and potential voters) would like enacted in a world where the party has a secure working majority and “events, dear boy, events” don’t get in the way. But – and it’s an important but – everyone understands that if a coalition is formed, these are the things that may have to go by the wayside. These are the negotiable points for a coalition agreement.

      (III) The wishlist: the policies that don’t form any part of a coalition agreement, and are the first chucked overboard in negotiation.

      Thing is, we’re kind of getting the dealbreakers now, but after the manifestos have been printed and published. And, as I said the other day, any such promises or pledges are meaningless, given that parties derive their moral authority to govern by the votes they’ve received for their manifestos. And there’s nothing in the manifestos saying what’s a red line.

      I mentioned a moment ago that both Cameron and Miliband keep saying that they’re going for a majority. As Steve Townsley has pointed out, what else would you expect them to say? One problem with this is that virtually no-one believes a single party working majority is achievable in this election. The bigger problem however, is that the public, the voters, the electorate… know the party leaders know this as well.

      Just over ten years ago, when Tony Blair was forced to a commons vote about higher education funding, I wrote the following:

      I’m getting worried about Tony Blair.

      No, seriously.

      He went on television this morning and when asked whether he’d call a confidence vote if MPs voted against the government’s reforms for higher education funding (which include ‘top up fees’), replied “I haven’t contemplated defeat”.

      Now either he’s lying or he genuinely hasn’t contemplated what happens if he loses the debate. And if that’s the case, then he’s obviously mentally unwell. Every poll of MPs shows that there are far more than the required 81 members of his own party ready (some might say ‘eager’) to vote against the proposals.

      And Tony Blair hasn’t contemplated defeat on the issue?

      Either he’s lying or he’s mentally unsound.

      I know which I’d go for.

      Well, I’m getting the same feeling about both Cameron and Miliband. Nick Clegg was absolutely right when he picked up on their common use of the phrase ‘darkened room’* to indicate where deals would take place to suggest that if they truly believed that no negotiations post 7th May would be necessary, they should go into that same darkened room for a much needed rest. That’s the politest way I’ve ever heard of saying that they’re talking bollocks.

      (* Isn’t it interesting that they used “darkened room” instead of what used to be the common phrase – “smoke filled rooms”? I guess they both thought that the idea of a smoke fllled room is now inconceivable…)

      Either the two party leaders with a shot of being Prime Minister after Thursday truly believe that they can achieve a single party working majority, in which case they’re deranged and should stand down immediately, or they’re lying, wilfully attempting to mislead the very people upon whose votes they rely.

      As with Blair, I’m pretty sure which it is.

      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.

      For 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.

      For all the attacks on politicians for deliberately misleading the public, it’s painfully obvious that there are times when a government has no real choice but to maintain a poker face and blatantly lie to the public. 

      Note that I’m conflating politicians and the government there. I’ll separate them out in a minute, but bear with me, eh? First of these necessary occasions is perforce national security. I’m sure that there have been any number of occasions in the last decade when, say, the Prime Minister on his way to a meeting about a terrorist threat, has seen a journalist and answered “everything’s fine”. I wouldn’t expect them to say anything else. 

      Moving away from that, while still on the less physically dangerous but still definite security of the nation, back in the days when a government could devalue its currency, a Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned after assuring everyone that there would be no devaluation. Mr Callaghan never wavered in his denials up until the point when it became necessary to devalue, after which he resigned as a matter of honour, since he’d lied both to the House of Commons and the public at large. And I’m sure that anyone reading could come up with their own scenarios for when it would not only be favourable but necessary to lie to the voters. That’s in government.

      When you’re not in government, and especially when you’re fighting an election campaign, though, then it becomes far less clear. Take the current election campaign. I’ve already written about the straw men that abound in this election, but I ignored the biggest lie of all, since I wasnt quite sure of what I thought about it or how  to express it once I did come to a conclusion. Fortunately, Andrew Rawnsley has written a superb piece for the Guardian entitled Hung parliament? Absolutely not. According to the great pretenders. Rawnsley is always good; like the best political columnists, even when I don’t agree with him – which is often – his writings always make me think. And as I have mentioned before, that’s never a bad thing. However, in this piece, he’s spot on.

      The opinion polls are uncertain about many things: how bad will the Lib Dems rout be, punished for their willing part in the coalition government? How hard will election night north of the border be for Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy? Will UKIP even hold both of the seats they’ve already got, let alone increase their representation? Oh, the polls don’t indicate certainty in any number of  things. But all of them, all of them, beyond peradventure show that we’re heading for a hung parliament, a parliament in which no single party has a majority. And yet, both the leaders of the two main parties maintain this pretence (to state it mildly) and willingly lie (to state it less kindly) to the electorate that they are campaigning for single party majority government.

      Now one could make the case, as it has been made to me, that parties who tell the unvarnished truth don’t win elections, and that you can’t campaign for a hung parliament. Indeed. Campaigning to win is what politicians do, in our or any other democratic system. But to tell the public you’re campaigning for the impossible – which is what the polls have been telling us for years now – is by definition deluded at best and mendacity at less best.

      I’m no politician. I’ve no wish to be a politician, and those sighs of relief you sense from every party are real, I assure you. But to campaign for something you and everyone else knows is impossible strikes me as patronising the  electorate. OK, I hear you say, what about any party that doesn’t stand a chance of being in power and having their policies enacted into legislation? What about the candidates that stand against a sitting MP in a safe seat? What’s their point? They’re fair questions.  

      I’m still optimistic enough to believe that most people stand for parliament because they want to do good by their fellow examples of humanity. Not everyone who stands for parliament fits that description, but the overwhelming majority do. And that extends to almost all of the people who achieve their wish and get into parliament for the first time. Again, not everyone, but definitely most of them. After they’ve been in parliament a while. of course, you have something to judge them by: their record as an MP. But that’s another entry for another time. Back to the candidates. Some stand, knowing they don’t have a chance, but stand either because they’re party politicians and hope to be selected for a winnable seat next time around. Some stand knowing they have no hope, but they want to get their issues raised locally. Independent candidates who stand under the “Save our Local Hospital” banner, for example. And, similarly, some stand hoping to get their actual preferred candidate to nail his or her colours to the mast, in other words, to ‘keep them honest’. 

      While I have my own political preferences as to who does and doesn’t get elected, and I wish some candidates far more luck on the day than I do others, I’ve a certain level of respect for anyone who stands for election, who states their views clearly and waits for the election result with trepidation, eagerness or terror; sometimes all three.

      As for parties, well, depending upon the working majority, and don’t forget that Tony Blair’s New Labour’s stonking majorities in 1997 and 2001 of 160+ were the exception, parties sometimes can influence proposed laws as they makes their way through the legislative process. Via the medium of select committees and the committee stages of a bill, smaller parties make their presence felt, often punching well above their weight as regards their actual parliamentary presence. And, as Rawnsley points out, too often forgotten is that parliamentary parties are themselves coalitions, with the Conservative party containing both the europhile Ken Clarke and the almost fanatically eurosceptic William Cash. Labour are the same, with the Blairite Liam Byrne and the wouldn’t piss-on-Blair-if-he-was-on-fire Jeremy Corbyn. Such extremes of each party often share views with other parties in the Commons and such alliances influence the main party’s policy all the time.

      As Steve Townsley (again, I recommend you read his comments to this blog; while I don’t often agree, they’re important contributions to debate) has pointed out, our political system does not lend itself well to politicians seeking election telling the truth. Too often, it’s advantageous for the politician to bare-facedly lie to the electorate. Every candidate will tell you that they are their own person, that they owe their party only allegiance, not mindless servitude. And yet, most will blindly follow the party whip once elected, and those who do not are punished by the party machines. Well, I say ‘punished’. It depends on how the elected MP sees their future career. If the MP wants advancement within the hierarchy of government, well, that’s dependent on the Prime Minister. And, strangely enough, Prime Ministers aren’t often inclined to promote those who rebel against the party whip. Of course, if the MP wants instead to have a career as a backbencher, serving on select committees, then sure, obvious and public withholding of favours by the party machine is less a punishment and more a badge of honour.

      But either way, it’s rare that our system encourages MPs – or those who wish to become MPs – to tell the truth to their electorate. 

      But for the leaders of the two main parties, the only two men who can in fact become Prime Minister to openly campaign by the medium of mendacity… well, it doesn’t bode well for our political system, does it? 

      Given that we seem to have been in campaign mode – officially or unofficially – since the turn of the year, there’s an arguably surprising amount of activity as we come up to the last couple of weeks before the election. The length of the unofficial campaign was of course guaranteed by the passing of the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act. I’ve more than a few problems with the act as it was passed, not limited to what happens when a vote of no confidence is passed and the length of a parliamentary term. The latter should have always been four years, not five. And the current ‘zombie’ parliament has proved that more than once. However, given what the Tory led coalition has done in year four and year five, it’s certainly arguable that a three year term would have been preferable. However, no, a four year term was teh obvious solution and only self-interest from the governing parties made it five years. But as I say, there’s been a lot of activity since the official campaign started at the end of March. Unfortunately, all the parties seem to mistake activity for achievement. Gone are the days of morning press conferences where at least the parties could tell the press what the ‘message’ of the day was going to be. Now, while party politicians are running around like… no, I wasn’t about to type “headless chickens”, why did you think that?

      But, while party politicians are running around like they’ve constantly got to get to a meeting for which they’re late, voters would be forgiven for thinking they’re being engaged by the politicians less and less. The current set of ‘debates’ proved to us what the Americans have known for decades: while there’s nothing wrong with debates per se, it all comes down to the formats. The last time around in 2010, the debate formats couldn’t have been designed better, even with 76 rules that all had to agree to, including that the candidates would shake hands afterwards. Seriously. For all the complaints about the rules last time, the formats this time around couldn’t have been more calculated to turn the voters off from the debates if they’d tried. Next general election will either see a return to common sense for the debates, or theyt’ll be off the table for a generation. 

      There’s an old saw about politcs: you don’t fatten the pig on market day. On other words, there’s no point bringing out policies that will appeal to the public so close to the election that there’s no time for them to appreciate them before they vote. And yet, parties insist on doing this, not recognising that the additional time granted to them needs to be filled with policy or the public will – quite rightly – make the quite reasonable assumption that the parties are hiding their true policies. I’ve no problem with parties using focus groups and suchlike to see how their policies go down with the public; while I think parties should start at the basic primnciples and then develop fact led policies from them, things like focus groups tell them how the policies can best be presented. Unfortunately, all the parties seem to have ignored presentation to the point where the policies themselves get lost because no-one’s quite sure what was said.

      Which, as I wrote in another piece, leaves the field open for the straw men we’re seeing so much of.

      But market day approaches and it worries me that – in large part because the manifestos were only published three weeks before the election – the public don’t actually know what they’re voting for. They know, possibly, what they’re voting against, but they can’t possibly fairly judge a manifesto running to almost a hundred pages, or more in some cases and pay attention to what the politicans are saying. Well, not if you’ve a job and a family and a social life, and you’d like some time for them as well.

      Do me a favour though; vote for someone, not against someone. That way, at least you can look in the mirror on 8th May without wincing. Well, without wincing too much, anyway.

      In October 2002, then Chairman of the Conservative Party, Therese May, told the party conference that too often the party’s aims and priorities were wrong, and that the party was seen too often as “the nasty party”. It was, I’m sure, just another conference speech for her, and as so often with these things, it wasn’t teh phrase that she expected to become associated with the party forevermore. Ah, well… if only she knew, eh?

      But self-identifying as that gave the party’s political opponents what they’d been anxious for, and a turn of phrase which – surprisingly enough – they’d not found particularly easy to come up with themselves. “The nasty party” label stuck, partly because it was true, and more importatly because it was seen as true. One wonders whether – knowing the tag’s future longevity, if she had her time again, whether Mrs May would have chosen a different epithet to hang around her party’s neck.

      However, no-one from the party can truly complain about the label, precisely because it was created and publicised by one of their own. Harder to resist protesting against a label that’s stuck on you by your opponents, truthfully applied or otherwise.

      But if the Tory party has been described as the “nasty party”, pretty much every election for the past twenty-five years has been described as the “nasty election”. I’m reminded of the question and answer to the American bank robber Willie Banks, asked by a judge “Willie, why always banks?” to which the sensible and inevitable answer came forth: “that’s where they keep the money.”

      I’m reminded because people ask “why do campaigns go negative?” The answer, equally inevitable, is “that’s where the votes are.” Negative campaigning, sad to say, works. People are more eager, on the whole, to discover, and rediscover, what’s bad about their party’s opponents than they are to learn about what their party plans to do in office. The culture is one of “whatever we do, it can’t be worse than what they’d do…” and people fall for it, every time.

      It’s notable that party political advertisements aren’t covered by the Advertising Standard Authority. So, they’re not obliged to be truthful, to present opinion as that, rather than as an inviolable fact.

      A neat trick that’s arrived from over the pond the last couple of elections is the straw men. I use the plural because there are two sub-divisions of the same thing that do the rounds. 

      The first is to flat out lie about what the opposition has said they’d do and then show why such a policy (that they’ve made up, I remind you) is bad, disastrous, economically unsound and a breach of people’s rights. Hence you get the Labour Party saying that the conservative party secretly plans to shoot the homeless. Or you get the Tories saying that Labour intend, once in office, to castrate the rich. Both policies are daft, both policies are made up, yet leading politicians from both parties will attack their opponents with similarly made up policies or proposals.

      The cousin to the above is to go one step further: accuse your opponents – again, completely without foundation, of accusing you of something wild and daft. And then say why you wouldn’t bring in such a policy. So, Labour politicians accuse Tory politicians of saying that Labour would get rid of Trident, and then trot out the party policy about Trident, showing that the Conservatives are lying. Or Conservative politicians accuse their Labour counterparts of declaring that the Conservatives would end the NHS, after which the Conservatives promise they won’t.

      Now, make no mistake. This isn’t what I referred to a few days ago, where one party asks another party to guarantee no rise in a tax rate or something, and then asking for more and more specifics, trying to limit the party’s options. These are deliberate misstatements in order to traduce their oppponents and make their own side look better by comparison. These are lies under a different name.    

      And talking of “under a different name”, this election is different for one reason: the rise of social media and more importantly, the ease and rise of entirely anonymous social media. In the past three weeks, a numebr of Twitter accounts have jumped up and started tweeting the most astonishing abuse. Two I know of have been so vile that targets of these accounts have left – hopefully temporarily – Twitter. One popped up a couple of days ago, purporting to be a UKIP candidate’s account. The acount tweeted about the superiority of the white race, the pervsersion of homosexuality, etc.  These false flag accounts can do tremendous harm to people, to parties and to the entire political process. And I’m not kidding about the last. Too many people retweeted the abuse and genuinely beleived the account was genuine because of the observer’s view of the party concerned. Of course, in this occasion, it was a UKIP account. I was doubtful of the account because even having seen the BBC documentary “Meet The UKIPpers”, I found it hard to believe that any UKIP PPC-hopeful would be that blatant. A lot of their supporters are racist and stupid. But they’re not THAT stupid. It turns out that the hoaxer (too kind a word, but…) was a known racist who loathes UKIP because they’re not right wing enough; a bloke who in a recent court case even the judge described him as a committed internet troll.

      We’ve under three weeks to go before the election. I expect to see a lot more straw men and a lot more false flag accounts before 7th May. Both rely upon prejudice, the prejudice that people hold against a political party. I wouldn’t vote for UKIP. I’d urge others to not vote for them. But please, attack them for the policies they’ve already stated, not for made-up crap that demeans both the writer and the reader.

      This is really yesterday’s piece, but various things caught up with me, swamped me, and then overwhelmed me to the point where I just didn’t get a chance to write anything for yesterday’s daily entry. So, while there’ll be a piece later today being ‘today’s entry, here’s a piece of short fiction about election outcomes…

      Title: The Figurehead Wept
      Length: 200 words exactly

      As the television news related the results of the election, the man wept.

      It had been a hard campaign: the politicians knew it, those in the media knew it, and the public knew it. Despite the government being among the most unpopular in recent years, the length of their continuous service lent a veneer of respectability to their fervent cries of being the only people the voters could trust.

      As he heard the noise in the streets, the man wept.

      Marketed as the only way to vote for true patriots, wrapped in the flag, the government had fought the dirtiest and nastiest crusade for vote-gathering that any alive could recall. Nothing had been beyond those charged with winning the election: blackmail became by the end of the campaign the first option rather than the last resort it had once been.

      As he thought of the past few weeks, the man wept.

      The past and soon to be reconfirmed Prime Minister, leader of his party, looked at the death list he’d prepared. And wept.

      And then, as he considered the future, the man wiped his eyes dry.

      Then, unable to help himself, the laughter recommenced, his eyes filled, and he wept.

      © Lee Barnett, 2009

      Back later…

      There’s not a lot certain about the outcome of the election on 7th May. Well, I should really say ‘outcomes‘, because although the one thing everyone wants to know – and will find out – is ‘who’s going to be the next Prime Minister?’, there are a lot of other outcomes that matter. 654 of them, in fact. 

      654? But there’s only 650 parliamentary constituencies, I hear you cry. Well, indeed, but there are four more outcomes in doubt… which I’ll get to in a minute. But, as for the 650 elections for 650 constituency members of parliament… well, we already know the result of most of them. We may not know by how much the successful candidate is going to win by but we know that which candidates are going to win in a lot of seats. They’re the ‘safe seats’. Or rather the seats we call ‘safe seats’ that in fact turn out to be ‘safe seat’s. Of course, there are going to be seats we think of as safe right now, but on the day will turn out to be anything but. One might think that if you’re a Cabinet minister or a shadow cabinet minister, then you’re probably safe. 

      Let me disabuse you of that notion.

      Every general election brings surprises, and every general election brings an end – temporarily or otherwise – to some high flyers’ careers in frontline politics. Let’s just take the last four elections.

      Among those who lost their seats in the Labour landslide of 1997 were the Leader of the House of Commons, the Secretaries of State for Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Scotland, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Solicitor General, and a load of other ministers or lower rank. Indeed, the second of these – Michael Portillo – whose result came in mid-way through the results became symbolic of the Conservative’s party’s loss of power. “Were you awake for Portillo?” became such a cliché that Portillo himself in 2010 observed that “my name is now synonymous with eating a bucketload of shit in public.” One finds it hard to disagree.

      OK, so that was 1997. What about 2001? Obviously, with another landslide pretty much the same as 1997’s, you’d expect fewer frontline politicians to have lost their seats. And to be fair, hardly any did, but this was a rarity.

      In the 2005 election, when the Labour party’s majority dropped by almost two-thirds, five Labour ministers lost their seats, along with their non-ministerial colleagues.

      2010’s election? Well… The childrens’ minister’s majority in his constituency fell to a shade over 1,100. We almost lost him from the house of commons. His name? Oh, Ed Balls, the current Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and likely to lose the ‘shadow’ element of that if Labour form the next government. In addition, the Commons did lose a health minister and the solicitor general from the previous parliament. moreover, two former home secretaries lost their seats with a clutch of ministers and parliamentary under-secretaries (junior ministers).

      So, there are going to be some politicians who are going to lose and it’s going to be as big a surprise to us as to them.

      But, as I said, there are four other outcomes that are of interest to me. Of great interest, as a matter of fact. And those won’t be fully understood or accepted by the people concerned until a few days after 7th May. Could even be a week or so afterwards. And those are the outcomes awaiting the leaders of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and The United Kingdom Independence Party. Now before anyone jumps up and says I’m being overly-selective in my choice of those four parties (“what about the Greens, eh? What about them?”) I’m not at all.

      The reason I’ve excluded the Leaders of the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the SNP is simply because their positions aren’t at risk following the election. Well… I’m sure about the last two, and unless Natalie Bennett really screws up in the next three weeks, I think her position is safe.

      But either because of internal politics, history or self-exclusion, all of the other four are at risk of losing the leadership. Let’s get the last of those out of the way first. Nigel Farage has said publicly that if he doesn’t win election to the House Of Commons in May, he’ll resign the leadership of the party. It’s a fairly high risk strategy because there’s no-one – no-one – in the party who could succeed him who has the ability to grab a crowd like he does. Both Patrick O’Flynn and Paul Nuttall are good performers but they pale compared to Farage. There’s a reason it’s Farage who keeps appearing on Question Time. If Farage goes, then UKIP slide into irrelevance for a while. Now, while I quite like that idea, I like what’ll cause it even more.

      OK. So, Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats. For a start, there’s absolutely no certainty that he’ll even win his seat on 7th May. Recent polls have shown Labour ahead of him, but well within the margin of error. Personally, I think he’ll get in and I hope he does. He’s had a rough deal the past few years, I think. Now, many of my friends, intelligent and smart people all, think otherwise: that Clegg will hopefully lose, lose big and that he’ll deserve to. I disagree, but that’s a discussion for another day.

      Long ago, before current first time voters were born, it wasn’t uncommon for a leader of a major political party to be given [at least] two unsuccessful general elections before they were booted out, or ‘did the decent thing’ and resigned. 

      Harold Wilson led the party from February 1963 to April 1976. During that time, he became Prime Minister in 1964, won in 1966, lost the 1970 general election but remained Leader of The Opposition throughout that parliament, then became Prime Minister again in 1974 (two elections that year), and finally left office at his own choosing in 1976. (Amusingly, James Callaghan took over, hence the comment at the time that Wilson resigned to make way for an older man.”)

      Ted Heath, who served as Prime Minister between 1970 and March 1974? Well, he took over the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1965 and didn’t resign until February 1975. In that time, he fought the 1966 election… and lost it, the 1970 one which his party won, and then the two in 1974, both of which he lost.

      The Liberal Democrats (and their forerunners the Liberal Party) have been in the past the most loyal of parties to their leader. They’ve tended to go at their own choosing, or when they’ve fucked up so badly that it’s obvious that they can’t continue in office any longer. 

      Again, during roughly the same time period, Jeremy Thorpe was Liberal Party leader from 1965 to 1976; he was succeeded – briefly – by his own predecessor Jo Grimmond, before David Steel led the party from 1976 to 1988, and then Paddy Ashdown led the party, then the Lib Dems, from 1988 to 1999.

      But that was in a different age, a very different age.

      If the current leaders of the political parties don’t get into government after this election, they’re finished. That’s been understood for some time now. David Cameron is the longest serving of the party leaders, as he took over in December 2005. So, that’s just under ten years, but he’s fought only one election before this one, as he took over after the 2005 election. Nick Clegg took over the Liberal Democrats two years after David Cameron became Leader of the Opposition. So, he’s been leader for almost eight years, but again, only one election during that time. Ed Miliband has been leader of the Labour party for just a bit under five years and the forthcoming election is his first as leader. (Huh; I just realised all three were elected during the winter months. Wonder when that was last true.) 

      If Cameron doesn’t manage to stay on as Prime Minister in a minority government or in coalition, he’s finished as party leader. Too manyt of the party have never forgiven him for not winning the 2010 election with a working majority, let alone this one. What’ll he do? Well, despite hints to the contrary, I suspect he’ll follow his predecessor’s example and resign both from office and as a member of parliament. He’ll leave frontline politics.

      Assuming he retains his seat – if he doesn’t, he’ll resign on the spot – Nick Clegg’s role depends on just how badly his party does. If they’re not part of the coalition, and it would have to be a Tory-led coalition, the party will demand his head. And since in politics, revenge is a dish best served with your opponents’ balls on a platter, if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, the only way Labour could enter coalition with the Lib Dems would be to demand Clegg fall on his sword, just as Clegg demanded Gordon Brown’s head during the 2010 negotiations… and got it.

      As for Ed Miliband, this is his one shot at the Premiership. He knows it, his party knows and and so do the voters. Enough of both of the latter have absorbed the myth that he stabbed his brother in the back by running and wining the party leadership. The party would never forgive him for another five years of Tory government, with the only remaining question being whether he’d resign immediately or carry on in a merely caretaker type role while those future candidates line up their supporters. 

      Of course, once you accept that one or more of the leaders won’t make it out of the election unscathed, the next question is who are the runners and riders for the succession? Well, everyone with any interest knows who’s likely to be in the race, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, or themselves. There is no guarantee, as I pointed out above, that any of them will be in Parliament to fight the battle. There’s the small matter of winning their own seats in three weeks’ time.

      I’ve having some problems deciding whether or not I’m a hypocrite.

      Now, to forestall the almost indecent rush of people wanting to confirm that I am, without knowing what I’m talking about, let me explain. I’m having the problem with my own hypocrisy – yeah, there you are, I’ve answered my own question – on several matters.

      Since we’ve an election coming up, let’s address the ‘big picture’ first, and assume that each of the candidates I can vote for totally accept and believe their own party’s manifestos and will do everything in their power to ensure their manifesto is implemented. Now I’ve mentioned before, and been taken to task over it, that I have real problems with voting for a politician when he’s standing on a platform or manifesto part of with which I disagree. So, for example, the Labour Party have not said in their manifesto that they’d spend 2.0% of GDP on defence. Now suppose that is a fairly important thing in my opinion, that keeping up to the NATO requirement is important. But then again, I do support many – really, it surprised me how much I agree with – of the things in the Labour Party manifesto. 

      Now one might argue that “well, you don’t have to support everything, you just have to prefer this candidate/party to that candidate/party”. Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. Once I’ve given him (and it’s likely to be him, let’s be fair) my vote, he has every right to believe  that I’ve supported every policy in the manifesto, and, after all, I can hardly complain if the party in government enacts legislation based upon a manifesto that I voted for. So, ok, I vote for the Labour Party candidate and he gets into Parliament and then votes not to spend 2.0% of GDP on defence. “Dear sir.” I write, “I am disappointed that you voted that way.” :Dear Mr Barnett,” he writes back, “what on earth are you on about? You voted for me knowing I would vote that way?”

      See my problem?

      There’s no party in this election which has a manifesto upon which I completely agree. Surely the moral thing to do is to abstain? Then I get to feel all warm and fuzzy while whoever gets in fucks everything up, and well, if I didn’t want them to get in, I should have voted against them, yes?

      Hmm.

      OK, how about this one? I have a local MP who I quite like. From everything I’ve seen about him, he’s a nice chap and hasn’t served as a minister in a department that’s been cutting services. He hasn’t served as a minister at all, as it happens. And again, from what I can see, he’s been a decent enough constituency MP. Let’s suppose he’s a conservative MP, and Labour were 20% ahead in the polls. Well, then, I could vote for him in good conscience knowing that I get to vote for a decent constituency MP and whether or not he gets in is irrelevant to who forms the government. Similarly, if the Tories were 20% ahead in the opinion polls, the same thing applies: the conservatives are going to form the government with enough of a majority that my MP getting back in or not getting back in isn’t going to affect who forms the government.

      But, sadly, neither of those situations exist. There’s every possibility, probability even, that every seat in this election will count. The Conservatives having one more or one fewer seat will in all likelihood affect who forms the next government, something that doesn’t exactly fill me with glee. Having one more or one fewer seat may make the difference between the conservatives in minority government, governing in coalition or forming the official opposition.

      So, do I say “look, how the rest of the country votes is up to them, I like this guy” or do I throw this guy who’s never done anything personally to offend me under the bus and vote for a candidate I don’t know a lot about just to try and influence who forms the next government. Because neither option right now is satisfactory to me. 

      I honestly don’t know. And I’ve only 23 days left in which to make up my mind. 

      I mentioned something else about which I feel a hypocrite. It’s still politics, but this time political comment. There are any number of columnists and political pundits I read. I read a lot. And I’m finding that although I’m still enjoying the writing styles of many of them, I’m finding it harder and harder to recommend them to others, simoply because the hit rate – the percentage of their pieces with which I agree – is coming down to 50% for most of them. As the election nears, and tribal politics comes to the fore, I’m finding some on the right that I agree with … some of the time, and some on the left that I agree with… some of the time. And the thing is that I’m feeling like I’m missing something by not deciding where I stand and telling everyone else how they should vote.

      Hmm – I need to think about this some more. I’ve 23 days, after all. But the clock is ticking. 

      Tick… tick… tick…


      *In the novel Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh, whenever the owner of the Daily Beast newspaper asks his foreign editor for confirmation about something, (“Is Yokahama in Hong Kong?”) the editor has two stock responses. If the owner is correct, the answer is “Definitely, Lord Copper”. If, on the other hand, the owner is egregiously wrong, the answer is always “Up to a point, Lord Copper.” No fool, he…

      One of my favourite non-fiction books to reread is Jeremy Paxman’s The Political Animal. I’m pretty sure he didn’t intent it to be ‘gripping’ but I find it that way every time I dip into it. Well, I say ‘dip into it’; I’ve yet to pick it up and not find myself an hour later still reading. 

      Paxman repeatedly makes the point, a fair one I think, that while some things change, particularly the type of person who enters parliament compared to, say, the type who entered Parliament forty years ago, many of the processes are the same, and what it takes to survive and moreover thrive, as an MP. It’s a shocking revelation just how many Prime Ministers we’ve had who lost one or both parents early in life, to the point that one wonders whether if Thomas and Martha Wayne had been British, we’d have ended up with Prime Minister Bruce Wayne.

      And, still once ministers, the same complaints have been made by and about them in the twenty first century as were made in the mid-twentieth. Anyone who’s paid any attention in the past half-dozen or so years can’t have been ignorant of the upset caused by MPs expenses, and their pay rise granted, I remind you, by an independent body. Yet the furore about what they’re paid goes way back. 

      Indeed, there was a snippet from the Daily Mirror that did the rounds a short while ago from 50 years ago, about an MP complaining that MPs weren’t paid enough. Easy to dismiss as the usual ‘snouts in the trough’ until you realise the MP complaining was Jennie Lee, widow of Aneurin Bevan, and something of a formidable left-wing presence herself. Hardly someone known for being in politics for what she could get out of it.

      Paxman spends one chapter discussing the politically convenient resignations from Cabinet and how ostensibly principled resignations rarely turn out to be so. But while a politician may resign from Cabinet, the usual way they leave it is either because they lost the election, in which case they have the solace of company.

      Or they get fired. It’s remarkable how few resignations and firings have taken place during the parliament that’s just ended. There are several reasons for this, none of them good for government or politics. While keeping ministers in place for a decent time is good practice, allowing them to mature in their roles, lack of promotion always ferments trouble within a party. Furthermore, the working practices of this coalition government has severely limited the promotion prospects for Tory MPs. I know, I know, some people regard Tories as the great enemy, but there’ve been some very good ministers in their time, and I wonder how many we haven’t seen come through the ranks because of this. 

      Moreover, successive Prime Ministers have seemed to regard sacking – or indeed moving – a minister as a signal of personal failure on their part in putting them into the job in the first place! It’s something to ponder that during the past five years, we’ve had one Home Secretary and one Chancellor of the Exchequer; we’ve only had two Foreign Secretaries because William Hague is leaving the Commons and asked to be relieved last year. Whether or not Therese May has been the best Home Secretary or not (and I side with the latter on this) keeping the main four jobs in the grip of essentially the same people for five years is not good. I’ve mentioned before that I think we can blame Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for George Osborne still being in place. Used to be that the Chancellorship was ok, one of the most important cabinet positions, but it was only that: one of the cabinet positions, and they served at the Prime Minister’s pleasure. No longer. Unless genuine ill-health occurs, I can’t see Osborne leaving the Exchequer until and unless David Cameron leaves Downing Street.

      Paxman devotes some time to the hiring and of cabinet ministers by various Prime Ministers. He mentions the number of sleepless nights that Prime Ministers have supposedly had when organising reshuffles, and how some Prime Ministers have tried to soften the blow. While new ministers would be invited to walk up Downing Street in front of the massed reporters and tv crews, Margaret Thatcher used to ask those she was sacking to come to the back door so they didn’t have to pass the media who would be shouting “Have you been sacked?”

      Here’s Paxman on how one particular Prime Minister dealt with firing in his Cabinet:

      There is no disguising the essential fact that you are being dispensed with because the Prime Minister thinks you’re less good at your job than someone else might be. Few have been as brutally frank as Clement Attlee, though. He once got rid of a Scottish Secretary with the words, “Good t’see you. I’m carrying through Government changes. Want your job for someone else. Sake of the party, y’know? Write me the usual letter. Think of something as the excuse: health, family, too much travelling, constituency calls. Anything will do. Good fellow. Thanks.”

      For a moment, the minister was stunned. Then it sank in. He was being slung out of the government. “But why, Prime Minister? Why have you sacked me like this, with no warning, with no complaints that I know of?” Attlee, who was already scribbling on the papers on his desk, looked up, removed the pipe from his mouth, and blurted out, “‘Cos you don’t measure up to yer job. That’s why. Secretary will show you out.”

      They don’t make ’em like that any more.

      Which is a pity, as recognising that a minister ain’t up to the job should be one of the essential Prime Ministerial skills.

      George Osborne today announced that the Conservative Party, if they win the election, will increase the Inheritance Tax threshold to one million pounds. For many, I’m sure that the choice of Osborne to announce the policy will remind them of nothing so much as Dr Evil in Austin Powers and that scene, but for those of us with very long memories, incredibly long memories, astonishingly… no, wait it was only in 2007 that the same promise was made and and reiterated right up until the 2010 election. 

      It was one of the flagship policies of the Conservatives going into the 2010 election, and was heavily promoted by David Cameron, George Osborne and the then chairman of the party Eric Pickles. So what happened? Well, depending upon your politicial outlook, persuasion and gullibility, any or all of the following:

      • The Conservatives didn’t win the election
      • The Conservatives went into coalition with the Lib Dems and had to give up some stuff, and it wasn’t that important
      • the Conservatives didn’t have the votes balls to push it through.
      • The Lib Dems insisted on it being dropped in the coalition agreement
      • It was a daft policy, given the mess the coalition government inherited

      And so, once again, we’re back at the manifestos and how any or all of the ‘promises’ made to the electorate during the election campaign fall by the wayside in the genuine mess of coalition negotiations.

      What strikes me about the promises that are being made this time though is the knowedge and experiences the main parties* have about such negotiations this time around. In Five Days In May, the superb book by Andrew Adonis about the immediate period following the 2010 election, it’s painfully obvious just how unprepared the Labour party were for even the idea of coalition. Senior people in the Labour Party thought – and as importantly, thought everybody else thought – that no matter whether they won or lost, the polls were spectacularly wrong and a majority government would emerge from the election.

      * Yeah, I’m including the SNP as a main party, if for no other reasons that they are likely to have more MPs after the election than the Lib Dems and they have vast experience in parliametary deals from their time as a minority government in Scotland.)

      As a result, they were spectacularly unprepared for coalition negotiations and – once again, depending upon who you believe – were either genuinely astonished at how professionally and eagerly the Conservatives and the Lib Dems entered into coalition, or stunned at how they were ‘played’ by the other two parties.

      Well, this time no-one can be so naïve. Assuming the polls are roughly correct, and I believe they are, there won’t be a winner this time around either. The very best that the Labour Party or the Conservative Party can hope for are (a) to be the biggest party, and (b) that the second biggest party can’t do a deal with another party to make them able to command a confidence and supply majority. 

      Thing is, if David Cameron et al, and Ed Miliband et al, do believe that, then they have to know that some of the things they’re ‘promising’ now won’t survive the election. Maybe it’s Labour’s policy of a mansion tax. Maybe it’s the Tories’ inheritance tax. But what’s certain is that they can make all sorts of promises now, attempting to get the votes, while knowing that they’ll never have to put them into practice.

      Now, what does that remind you of? 

      Well, it reminds me of the Lib Dems and their predecessors for most of my adult life. From the 1980s through to 2005, the Lib Dems could set out in their manifestos any number of daft, wrong or just plain stupid policies, in the certain knowledge they’d never have to afford them, never have to justify them, never have to implement them. I’m not saying that all of the Lib Dems’ policies suited such descriptions, of course not. But there were more than a few that did. Anyone remember the Lib Dems campaigning for the UK to join the Euro? Yeah.

      So, have we reached a point where the same applies, and if so, are the parties rolling out their stone lions?

      Yes, their stone lions.

      You don’t know what stone lions are? Well, read on. The story goes that there was a very successful architect who always seems to get his buildings approved by his clients with the minimum of fuss, no matter how outlandish or strange, or against the client’s original wishes.

      When he was a very old man, he passed the secret on to his successor:

      No matter what the design called for, I always ensured that in the original plans, there were two stone lions in the foyer. Two large, stone lions. Not ugly, nor inherently bad, but… they had to be horribly out of place. I made sure the client knew that I considered them essential to the harmony created by the building, or told the client they were symbolic of… whatever the hell I wanted them to be symbols of. I always brought any argument on the building back to the lions. Whatever the arguments the lions were staying. And of course, soon enough, the only thing that mattered were the lions. So, I’d give way on that… and the rest of the plans were approved.

      Three and a half weeks out from an election, it seems about the right time for the parties to be presenting their stone lions. Long enough to pretend that they’re either essential to ‘the long term ecocnomic plan’ or to solve ‘the cost of living crisis’, and to concentrate ire upon them. And a short enough period so that when they’re dropped, no one inside the upper echelons of the party really gives a damn.

      Keep an eye out for stone lions, folks; I suspect we’ll be seeing more of them before the election is through. 

      And so we’re half way through my countdown to May’s general election. Twenty-five entries (including this one) and almost all of them have been to do with politics or the election itself. 

      Time to reward you for staying with me so far, I think, with a past fast fiction. Here’s a story of exactly 200 words, that – while not ostensibly about politics or elections, or the ‘domestic tranquility’ so beloved of Americans – looks just a little into a future where the constant argument as to the primacy of  personal freedoms or security has been settled.  

      The Guard

      The security guard looked unpleasant, as if he hoped that his very presence would dissuade people from approaching him.

      He eyed me up as I got nearer to him, his contempt almost palpable, and held out his hand for my card. I’d been through this too many times and gave it to him, receiving a casual grunt from him in acknowledgement.

      He looked at the photograph on the card, then turned the card over and slotted it into a reader by his side. The reader beeped twice and then he held it up to my eye.

      After it beeped again, he reversed the reader and I punched in my PIN. Twelve numbers.

      Three separate checks. Three of them, just to ensure that I was allowed to pass through the door. Unreal.

      After the reader beeped a third time, the guard ostentatiously moved to one side and with a mocking look in his eyes, raised his hand to his cap. He turned away and opened the door.

      As it opened, I felt the familiar sensations, a conflation of relief and irritation.

      I threw a “see you tonight,” over my shoulder at my wife and children and left the house for work.

      © Lee Barnett, 2005

      Back tomorrow with something if not more political, then at least about the forthcoming election.

      There aren’t that many deadlines to meet left in this election. Some, but not that many. 

      Some, of course have already passed. The date of prorogation, for example. That had to happen by 30th March 2015. And indeed, it did, and Parliament was dissolved on that date.

      But there are quite a few still to come, the most important of which is the next one, in ten days, the last date on which you can register as a voter for this year’s election. I really can’t stress this enough: it’s important to register to vote. Even if you decide not to vote in the election (I really hope you do vote), unless you’re registered you won’t have that choice. 

      So, Monday 20th April is the Voter registration deadline 2015. It’s very easy to register to vote. I promise. It only takes a couple of minutes and gives you the opportunity to vote. It’s as simple as that. Click here to register to vote.

      Ok, the next deadline is not quite as important, but it’s a biggie. It’s the day after the voter registration deadline. 5 pm Tuesday 21st April is the deadline if you want to apply for a postal vote or a proxy postal vote.Click here to find out more about that.

      Exactly a week later, at 5pm on Tuesday 28th April is the deadline for proxy vote applications.

      And then there’s the date of the election, obviously. Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm on 7th May 2015..

      I mentioned that some deadlines had passed. There’s one that passed yesterday. If you wanted to stand for election on 7th May and didn’t get your nomination papers in by 4pm yesterday, you’re out of luck, I’m afraid. You’re not standing in the election on 7th May. You’re not going to be a candidate for the next general election. Well, not unless a very specific set of circumstances occur, and I’ll come back to that in a moment.

      The deadline for prospective parliamentary candidates was all over social media most of the day yesterday. (I understand that the remainder of the day had something to do with newspapers revealing that Ed Miliband went out with a woman, stopped going out with a woman, then started going out with the woman and they later married. I have no idea why this was news, but it apparently was. Newspapers, eh? Remember when they printed news?)

      But I digress. The deadline for registration as a candidate was yesterday at 4pm, and it occurred to me to wonder: if the names (and party affiliations) are set as of 4pm yesterday, what happens if someone dies? Do they stay on the ballot paper? Or what happens if – far more likely, let’s be fair – a UKIP candidate says something racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and is suspended or expelled from the party? Are they removed from the ballot? Do they stay on the ballot with their party affiliation blanked out? What happens?

      Well, I’m a great believer in going to the best, most knowledgeable sources, so I called the best, most knowledgable source on elections and how they’re run: The Electoral Commission. Took 30 seconds to look them up on google and within a couple of minutes, I was talking to the right person. What she told me made perfect sense on the one hand, and seems completely nuts on the other. Both at the same time. Which, if nothing else, proves that British elections are run in a way that exemplifies so much of British public life.

      OK, so yesterday was the last time anyone could be added to the ballot for the election on 7th May 2015. Note that qualifier, because in once circumstance – and only in one circumstance – it’s important. It’s the same circumstance to which I referred to four paragraphs back. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

      I just realised that some people reading this are not going to be from the UK, so they’ll have differently styled and formatted ballot papers. And I know at least one person reading this (Hi, Phil) will be voting in his first general election. So just for clarity, here’s what an annotated sample of the important bit of a ballot paper for a constituency parliamentary election looks like, courtesy of the BBC:

      So, as of 4:01pm yesterday, the names and party affiliations (if any; some candidates run as ‘independent’) appearing on the ballot paper for a parliamentary constituency were set. That’s it. They can’t be changed.

      What happens if a candidate is suspended from the party for some reason between now and 7th May? Well, as far as the ballot paper is concerned, not a damned thing. The ballot paper is set. They appear on the ballot paper as per their nomination papers. What if they are expelled from the party? Same thing. What if they join another party and repudiate everything they had up until that time espoused? Same. Thing, i.e. Nothing.

      The ballot paper for 7th May 2015 is now set.

      All right, but what happens if a candidate dies? Well, there are simple rules, with one qualification: whether or not the candidate is standing as an independent candidate or whether they’re standing as a party representative. 

      If they’re an independent candidate, then they’re just removed from the ballot paper. Simple as that.

      If they’re standing as a representative of a registered political party… well, here’s that special circumstance. If a candidate for a registered political party dies between the deadline for nomination and the election itself… theconstituency  election is postponed. The party concerned is given time to nominate a new candidate and the individual constituency election is held a few weeks after all the other constituency elections. So, here’s your chance if you want to stand for election in the next couple of months. Keep an eye out for any candidates for political parties who drop dead, and then apply to the new selection committee, because that’s your only chance of getting in.

      So there we are:

      1. As of 4pm yesterday, no-one can be nominated as a candidate for the general election held on 7th May 2015.
      1. Also, as of 4pm yesterday, barring death, any candidate on the ballot paper stays on the ballot paper with party affiliation, even if suspended/expelled from that party.
      1. If an independent candidate dies before 7th May, they’re removed from the ballot; if a party candidate, constituency election is postponed to allow replacement.

      Back with something less about process tomorrow…