31 May 2010

I am the Laws

And so David Laws wins the prize for shortest ministerial career to date (although he'll probably be back at some point if this coalition holds up.

While the manner of his departure - feeling unable to come out because of possible prejudice - is unfortunate, the media reaction - that the Coalition has been deprived of some sort of star performer - is ludicrous. Laws's main attributes seemed to be a hard-right approach to economic policy and a wish to cut public expenditure as much as possible. What's so great about that? He was the Judge Dredd of the coalition administration. A Tory by any other name.

Similarly, fears that Laws's replacement, Danny Alexander, will be somehow not up to the job, are equally laughable. In one of my previous jobs I spent some time talking to Danny Alexander for a project I was doing on welfare policy and found him to be very on-the-ball. I have little idea what his general political stance is, but the idea that he's out of his depth is frankly ludicrous. I don't know how the newspapers get away with writing crap like that.

26 May 2010

Moving so far to the right you won't recognise them

While yesterday's Queen speech (useful details of the 23 bills included here) contained some good stuff, notably on civil liberties (scrapping ID cards, reduction in surveillance and CCTV, more rights to protest) it was, particularly on economic policy and public services, largely a right-wing Tory effort.

The biggest example of this is the complete change in priorities for academy schools. Previously used as an attempt to boost performance of badly-performing schools in deprived areas, they are now going to be used as a kind of surrogate grammar school or GMS programme - the best performing schools will be allowed to opt out of LEA control and will get more resources to do so. Huge educational inequalities already exist in the state system, but one could at least argue that Labour's academy program was an attempt to bring the worst performers up to closer to the average (even if the mechanism for doing so was questionable). Whereas this is a recipe to exacerbate educational inequality and pave the way for the wholesale privatisation of the system a few years down the line.

Welfare reform is another area where the Coalition is moving to the extreme right. While the idea of conditionality in the benefit system (i.e. where you have to undertake job search as a condition of receiving benefit, if you are fit to seek work) is reasonable enough, the amounts of benefit currently being offered to unemployed people are so inadequate that there is no way the system can function properly to facilitate job search. Iain Duncan Smith's solution? Pay people even less and make the sanctions positively draconian. It seems likely this will just produce thousands of people dying on the streets, or a new criminal underclass. Which is of course the idea, as the coalition will then be able to implement harder sentences and be "tough on crime". It's like Tony Blair x 1000%.

So some real sicko bills here, giving the lie to the idea that this is some centrist coalition. That certainly doesn't mean that the left should oppose every single thing the coalition's doing. But it does mean that on several key policy issues the agenda seems to be a lot of Tory and not very much Lib Dem.

17 May 2010

Jon is outstanding... but he ain't standing

So Jon Cruddas has ruled himself out of the Labour leadership.

This is a pity in many ways: I don't know if Jon could have won if he'd stood, or even if he would have been a good leader if he'd won. But for many years he's been offering the most coherent critique of New Labour from the soft left. That's the level of insight Labour needs if whoever wins this election is going to turn things around to be able to win next time round. And we haven't seen it yet from other candidates, potential or actual.

I'd hoped that Ed Miliband would get to that level of incisiveness at the Fabian conference last weekend; but he didn't really get there, which was a disappointment. David Miliband's campaign "re-launch" (what, one week in?) also falls a bit flat for me. And the thinness of the candidate field so far is a little worrying. With Jon out of the running, and no other obvious left candidate, we're not going to have the kind of excitement that the Clarke-Redwood ticket, for example, brought to the Tory campaign of 1997 (or was it 2001? I can't remember). This could be a deadly dull Labour leadership campaign - which would be a real shame. OK so we don't want a repeat of the 1981 Labour deputy leadership contest (and at least there's very little chance of a party split) but it would be great if someone in the contest could display a little passion. At this rate we'll end up drafting in Liam Fox to give the pretenders lessons...

16 May 2010

Reflections on the Fabian conference: exploring the wrong reasons for losing

Spent an enjoyable (yes, really) day at the Fabian Society post-election conference at SOAS yesterday. It was billed as the Ed Miliband show, and Ed didn't disappoint, announcing his candidacy for Labour leader. It was a pretty good keynote speech - Ed is an old lag at the DaveCam "strolling round the stage without notes" shtick. He didn't blow the audience away, though. What was weird was that two points, in particular, were stressed as to why Labour lost - and this wasn't just in Ed's speech, but all over the place in the panel sessions:

1. "voters on the doorstep" were worried about immigration;

2. "voters on the doorstep" were worried about an "unfair" tax and benefit system and in particular, lack of conditionality in the benefit system (this wasn't how voters expressed it, obviously, but this is what they meant; people who were getting benefits without doing any work).

Fair enough, but both of those were huge issues in 2005 as well - and Labour still won, albeit narrowly. Personally, I don't buy these issues as the main reason why Labour went from 2% in the lead to a 7% deficit against the Tories in a five year period.

So what's my explanation? A different kind of deficit - the fiscal deficit - is part of it. Mainly because the economic crisis badly damaged Labour's reputation for economic competence - and deservedly so, because Brown, in particular, had spent 10 years telling people that he'd abolished boom and bust. If you rely on a story that turns out to be obvious bullshit, don't be surprised if people turn on you very quickly when you get found out. The next Labour leader should deliver a bottle of champagne to George Osborne, because if it hadn't been for the fact that he was seen as a complete twerp even by most of his own supporters, the Tories would have done a lot better IMHO.

The other, easier-to-fix problem (in fact an already fixed problem) which wasn't mentioned at the Fabian conference yesterday (out of respect to Gordon Brown) is that Brown was, quite simply, fucking awful in an election campaign. With a few honourable exceptions his campaigning style was tired, awkward and offputting. Contenders for the leadership and other commentators are cautioning against blaming the whole result on Brown and I quite agree; but on the other hand, it's important to acknowledge that he was a huge problem. Any of the potential Labour leaders - even Ed Balls - would be vastly more comfortable in the election campaign.

So overall, Ed did OK, and despite efforts by his brother MicroBlair to lay down some frontrunner credentials in the Observer today, it seems to me that the Ed bandwagon is running and will be hard to stop. But he's gonna have to be a lot more specific over the next few months about how to win the next election. Some preliminary suggestions:

  • admitting that Labour got the economy wrong. The Tories were very good at this in their 1974-9 period of opposition; Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher basically junked their entire "post-war-consensus" approach to the economy (which they had supported in Ted Heath's cabinet) and argued that Labour was still stuck with the old model and only the Tories could run the economy effectively. It was largely bollocks - monetarism was a much bigger failure than anything Wilson or Callaghan attempted - but it played well with the voters. The key for Labour is to pigeonhole Coalition economic policies as stuck in the neoliberal orthodoxy that Blair and Brown signed up to. And then offering a more effective alternative to cuts, retrenchment and austerity, based on long-term investment and active industrial policy. (This skips over a lot of stuff that I'll be developing over the next few months).
  • do not degenerate (further than has happened already) into the party that best articulates the concerns of Daily Mail readers. Labour is not going to win the next election by being tougher on benefit "scroungers" or immigration than the Coalition. Partly because the Coalition is going to be extremely tough on both of these (and damage millions of lives in the process). There will not be a lot of space to the right of Iain Duncan Smith on welfare for example, and for Labour to try to live there would be a huge error. Better to promote a benefit system based on a "flexicurity" model; high benefits combined with job search conditions. On immigration, one thing that no-one really acknowledged at the Fabian meeting was that we can't restrict the numbers of workers coming in from central and Eastern Europe (even if we wanted to do so) without, er, leaving the EU? Pushing the coalition towards an ever-more-Eurosceptic stance (and pointing out the absurdity of the Lib Dems for supporting this shit and junking their own, progressive, policies on immigration) is the best way forward. The more Labour can push the Coalition up a UKIP-inspired cul-de-sac the better.
  • Take the reform ball and run hard with it. Political reform and civil liberties are two areas where the Coalition is probably going to be doing some very progressive things, and rather than clinging on to the most unpleasant aspects of the New Labour era, Labour post-2010 needs to challenge the coalition from the left rather than the right. The coalition is offering a referendum on AV? Great, we'll offer one on AV Plus if we get in. The coalition is scrapping ID cards? Great, we'll expand FOI measures. And so on. These areas provide an ideal opportunity to emphasis the differences between past and future Labour.
Anyway that's just some ideas for now. I enjoyed the conference; most of the general public wouldn't have.

14 May 2010

The strange death of the Lib Dems?

The Labour Party is currently reporting a surge in new members since the coalition was formed - including a large number of disaffected Lib Dems. Interestingly, the Lib Dems are also reporting some (net) increase in numbers. So there could be a lot of people out there who like the idea of the coalition and want to do something to help. Or, these could be entryists of some kind wanting to wreck it. At this stage it's impossible to say.

If this coalition arrangement does work out - and that's a big if - one thing we might see is a Tory/Lib Dem merger down the line. Which would be a huge coup for Cameron, as he would have succeeded in moving the membership power base away from the extreme right with lots of new socially and economically liberal types - the sort of people the Guardian's Julian Glover likes to eulogise - brought in.

More accurately it'd probably be half a merger because the other half would have upped and joined Labour or the Greens some time before then. Leaving - what exactly, in the middle of British politics?

Maybe nothing at all. That's right kids, we could be back to 2-party politics, last seen in its purest form in the UK around 1970 or thereabouts. If that happens, a 2015 election where both Labour and the Tories get over 40% of the vote each - again, last seen in 1970 - could be on the cards.

My guess is that a rump Liberal Democrat party - the true believers in Third Force Politics - will persist even if the party does disintegrate along the lines I suggest. Does anyone remember the "Old Liberals" or "splinter Liberals", otherwise known as The Liberal Party? These guys are fantastic. Their logo is straight out of a Co-op supermarket ad from 1973 or so. They had a party political broadcast a few years back (may have been 1997 or 2001) which consisted of a couple of guys sitting at a trestle table telling it like it is. Old Skool! We need more of this in British politics.

As parties split, merge and shift over the years, they do seem to leave a snakeskin train of detritus behind them. As my mate Clarkey pointed out to me there is also a splinter SDP complete with the original 1981 logo. Their main policy commitment seems to be to leave the EU - ironic, given that one of the reasons the SDP was formed was that Labour wanted to leave the EU in the early 1980s. What goes around comes around.

Extraordinarily, Veritas, whom I last blogged about in the 2005 election, still seem to be going in some shape or form. I didn't even know Kilroy was still alive...

13 May 2010

Going all gooey-eyed over the coalition - lame punks and journalists who should know better

Gawd, there was some right awful nonsense being written about the Coalition on yesterday's Guardian website. The normally pretty good Jonathan Freedland, who 24 hours before had been claiming (sensibly) that Cameron "limped across the finishing line, clinging to the shoulder of the Lib Dems", now suggests that this is "David Cameron's clause IV moment - a bid to seize the centre ground permanently". What, with Iain Duncan Smith at DWP, William Hague as the most anti-EU Foreign Secretary since records began, neo-con Micky Gove in charge of schools, and George Osborne at HMT? This isn't "seizing the centre ground" - it's the more ambitious neo-Thatcherite project of attempting to shift the centre ground so that You Are It.

Freedland even goes so far as to suggest that needing a coalition with the Lib Dems was the result he wanted to give his "modernisation project" more weight and legitimacy. Well, if this govt manages to develop something genuinely new on the centre-right rather than swallowing up the right wing of the Lib Dems on the way to a hard-right destination, he will have been proved right. But I'd argue it's a stretch, and I think Lib Dem activists (those that haven't left already) are going to have a tough job selling this to voters who mainly (not exclusively) voted Lib Dem to keep the Tories out.

Freedland at least attempts to get to grips with the real issues even if it's from a different perspective each time out. I can live with that as an intellectual exercise. What I can't live with is the odious Julian Glover, the Guardian's head leader writer and a man who is seemingly on a mission to turn it into a clone of the Telegraph. His is a political sabotage mission of the most audacious kind. In his article yesterday Glover suggests that: "the unifying idea [behind the coalition] is liberal... [which] implies a strong respect of the primacy of the individual over the state - a distrust of arbitrary authority and interference that is part of the Conservative philosophical inheritance".

There is so much wrong with this sentence that I don't know where to begin. Firstly, Glover's described a libertarian - not a 'liberal' - philosophy. I don't use "liberal" myself to refer to any kind of political discourse as the word's become so confused (partly because in the US it was used from the 1930s onwards as a more palatable synonym for "social democratic") that it's lost all meaning, in the same way that "progressive" will be doing soon...

Secondly, the Tories are almost never about the primacy of the individual over the state. They are about the primacy of (very rich) individuals over other (poor) individuals with support from the full apparatus of the state - and institutions who owe their legal existence to the state, such as corporations - where necessary. People on benefits who think that the Coalition prioritises their interests over the state will get a pretty fucking rude awakening when their benefit cheque gets cut. And the Tories are never afraid of using the most extreme police state measures against their own citizens to preserve the 'natural order of things' - police hit squads in the miners' strike of 1984, anybody? (To be fair, Labour shares this obsession with the creeping police state).

A real liberal govt (in the Glover terminology) would take on multinational corporate power, enact land reform and land taxation on a massive scale, and effect the kind of fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families that this country really needs. A British political party did once promise to do that in its manifesto, but it wasn't either of these lame coalition partners. The party was Labour. And the year was 1974.

12 May 2010

First thoughts on the coalition

OK people... this is very early on, just going on stuff from the Guardian live blog really, and full details haven't yet been announced, so it's subject to revision. But for now, here is my response to the first details of the Lib/Con deal.

  • The Tories got pretty much all the top positions. I guess DaveCam as PM was never in doubt but I'm amazed Clegg agreed to George Osborne becoming Chancellor over Vince. Vince is in there as Osborne's No 2 - Chief Sec... that'll be good fun for him. Taking his orders from a neo-con twerp. Poor Vince. He deserved better. Unconfirmed reports that Chris Huhne is getting Home Secretary. Given that the Tories' Chris Grayling is damaged goods after his homophobic remarks, that would make some sense.
  • Tories have given way on a central component of their tax plans - but don't jump in the air just now, as it's the plan to raise the income tax personal allowance to £10,000 - a £17 bn measure that gives no help at all to non-earners and very little to low earners. Something the Tories were committed to in the long run but said they couldn't afford. So we can surmise that public spending will have to fall even faster to pay for it. Badly targeted, crazy measure.
  • The IHT threshold increase has been ruled out for this parliament. Amen to that.
  • Not clear what's happening with most of the other parts of the Lib Dem package. The 'mansion tax' has been ruled out, not surprisingly, given the kind of people whose interests the Tory party is run in aid of. Apparently CGT will be increased - not sure to what rate, yet. I guess it could have been worse.
  • Tories seem to have got their way completely on immigration, defence, Europe. In other words, most of the most progressive parts of the Lib Dem manifesto have been dumped in the bin. Nice work, Nick!
  • Plan to equalise constituency sizes for the next election. This is being touted as an implementation of Lib Dem policy on the Guardian blog, but surely it's Tory policy as well? Probably will reverse the current bias towards Labour (although to the extent that several Scottish seats are Lib Dem, it's unlikely there will be complete equalisation of constituency sizes there without some kind of fiddling about.)
  • Coalition MPs will be three-line-whipped to push a bill for a referendum on AV through the Commons. (Not clear what happens in the Lords if it gets stalled there.) On the face of it this is the Lib Dems' greatest achievement from this deal. Labour should back the referendum in the Commons too - and campaign for it in the country as well (the Tories are going to be free to campaign against AV in the referendum campaign itself). In fact, Labour should up the ante by putting in an amendment providing a second yes/no question on the referendum ballot - for STV, which is the Lib Dems' preferred model - and then dare the Lib Dems to vote down the amendment. The sight of Lib Dem MPs voting down their party's own policy because the Tories told them to is not one that will go down well with party activists. See, kids, this is the kind of fun and games a well-organised opposition can have with the coalition.
  • Fixed term parliaments of five years - which is surely too long (why not four? Probably because these guys want to wait as long as possible before the next election before the economy recovers.) Not sure how this will work in practice. Surely you'd have to have the proviso that it can be overridden by a vote of no confidence? Otherwise, suppose that in 2012 (for example), the coalition breaks down - having passed this measure into law already - and Cameron is leading a minority administration. If there can't be a vote of no confidence, but he can't pass any legislation because he hasn't got a majority, what then? Complete impasse for 3 years? Begins to sound like the US model! Crazy stuff.
  • Banking levy and bonuses. If not sabotaged by the Tory right (which is a big if), this looks reasonably promising, to be fair - particularly if Vince is taking personal charge of this area.
  • Tory 'free school' plans going ahead. We'll see how this one pans out. My instinct would be it's the first step in dismantling the state education system - but I'd be willing to be proved wrong.

So, overall: with a few very honourable exceptions, this is the Tory manifesto being implemented with aid and comfort from a party previously described as "progressive" by many of its members. Alistair Campbell's twitter activity suggests that the Labour party has started picking up disaffected Lib Dems already. While that's probably gross exaggeration if not outright falsehood, what we see, as of 8pm last night, when we look at the mainstream UK political scene is: 2 centre-right parties, and one centrist party with the potential to be left. (And, of course, the Green Party further out on the left. Basically we have moved from the 2005 election, where the Lib Dems were outflanking Labour on the left on most issues, to 2010, where they have plonked themselves firmly on the right of the spectrum.

That leaves a huge amount of space on the left that Labour can exploit - particularly if the right wing of the Conservative Party (or the left wing of the Lib Dems) makes the coalition fractious (which seems likely, though not inevitable). I'd be feeling pretty optimistic now if I were running for Labour leader. New Labour (Mk 2 version) starts here.

Now it's time to get out there and fight those cuts on the streets.

11 May 2010

DaveCam at No10

Well here it is kids. Gonna be Labour and the Greens (and the Nationalists) vs the coalition for as long as it lasts.

Exhausted by 5 days of political mayhem, all I can manage is the following three words:

"Ho Ho Ho".

Informed commentary will follow shortly.

10 May 2010

A bidding war on voting systems

Right then - the current situation on the rival coalition offers is as follows (at close of play on 10 May, although it might have changed by the time you read this):

Tories: a referendum on Alternative Vote (AV) - with the Tories whipped to vote in favour of the necessary legislation, but the Tories campaigning against AV in the referendum.

Labour: a bill to deliver AV without a referendum. A referendum on a PR voting system (either AV+ or Single Transferable Vote - it hasn't been decided yet). Not clear whether Labour would campaign for PR in the referendum.

So a coalition with Labour would present a much better chance of bringing about AV. But AV, of course, is not proportional representation - so would the Lib Dems go for it? Some of their present successes under FPTP elections rely on the rest of the vote being split between Labour and the Tories (and sometimes others like the SNP or Greens). Analysis by the Electoral Reform Society suggests that AV would have given the Lib Dems 22 more seats if people had voted the same way they do now under AV. But of course that's meaningless, because huge amounts of voting is tactical - particularly in marginals, and a high proportion of Lib Dem seats are marginal. Under AV, you wouldn't have tactical voting, and so the vote counts might be completely different. It's not at all clear to me whether AV would help the Lib Dems that much. Whereas proper PR almost certainly would help them.

So, if I was a Lib Dem MP I'd be very tempted by the Lib/Lab/plus "traffic light coalition" option as the only route to a voting reform that could actually offer my party anything substantial. However, I'd insist that as well as introducing AV, Labour campaigns for STV (or AV plus) in a referendum to be held before the next election. Whether STV or AV plus could be implemented before the next election is unclear - apparently the boundary changes would take at least eighteen months to implement because of legal shenanigans. Assuming that a referendum could take place in early 2011 at the earliest, could the traffic light coalition last until - say- 2013 to deliver the necessary reforms and wait for the boundary review? It'll be damned difficult.

But why do we need complete boundary changes in the short run? As I understand it, STV operates in multi-member constituencies (as does the current system for the European Parliament, which surely should be considered as an alternative Westminster model - simpler than STV in many ways, and probably my personal favourite.) So if you have 5 MPs per constituency (for example) it's easy: you just aggregate up the existing 650 constituencies into 130 multi-member constituencies. (might need to do some fiddling around to preserve national integrity -i.e. no constituencies overlapping between England, Scotland, Wales + N Ireland. But not that hard, surely?) In the longer run I'd recommend equal sized populations for constituencies (ironically what the Tories are advocating now, albeit just so they can re-rig FPTP to get a semi-permanent majority). But a modified version of current constituencies will do for now. I think this could be in place for an election as early as summer 2011.

There are rumours that by the end of the day we'll know whether Lib-Con or Lib-Lab+ is our future... but then the lobby said that yesterday, and the lobby was talking total crap, so don't hold your breath.

Betting on the Labour leadership

I never place bets so this is strictly theoretical from a personal perspective... but I find the discussion of odds etc. fascinating. So there you go.

We now know there will be a Labour leadership campaign within the next 4 or 5 months. William Hill are offering 4/7 on David Miliband, 8/1 on Alistair Darling, 10/1 on Alan Johnson, 11/1 on Ed Miliband and 12/1 on Ed Balls.

Scratch Darling - he's said he doesn't want it. (Not always conclusive I know, but we have to start somewhere.) Dave Miliband (formerly known on these pages as "MicroBlair" but that seems a little passe now) is probably the favourite but no way is he anything like 7-to-4 on IMHO. If I was placing a bet I'd in fact place two bets - one on Johnson, one on Ed Miliband.

Because there are two ways this could go: "safety first" and "punting on a youngster". And I would argue that Johnson is the obvious safe bet - popular with the general public, likes PR, would be good in a coalition. Ed is the youngest, freshest serious candidate. I think Dave Miliband might get squeezed between the two. (Of course, Dave and Ed might reach some accommodation not to both stand).

I don't think Ed Balls will make the cut, I really don't.

Any other wild cards out there? Harriet Harman might try but I just don't think she's popular enough to win. Jack Straw - maybe. Jon Cruddas - a fascinating option if he did stand, but I would imagine he might do a deal with Ed for a top job if Ed gets it instead.

Just when we thought things couldn't get any more exciting... almost a surfeit of political drama this year.

Brown lays down for the good of the team

Amazing... so Brown is stepping down as Labour leader, and formal talks are in progress between Labour and the Lib Dems for the "traffic light coalition".

If this works out, Brown'll go down in history as the man who facilitated the transformation of UK politics... by performing just badly enough to produce a hung parliament in the election (but not so badly that DaveCam became PM).

On the other hand, if a coalition is formed but falls apart before PR can be passed, or if they call a referendum that fails, it's probably game over for the left in Britain for a generation.

This is high-stakes political poker but I'll be f***ed if it isn't exciting.

I don't know... I still think minority Tory govt or a loose Lib Dem-Tory governing deal are the safest options for Labour - but if this rainbow thing does come off, I'll be very glad to be proved wrong.

08 May 2010

Where do we go from here...?

"Uzis on a street corner". (Jeez, I used to love Marillion...) Well, it ain't quite come to that yet, but every other coalition permutation has been punted around in the press with abandon over the last 48 hours.

Looking at the parliamentary arithmetic (and after 13 years of governments who had big enough majorities to be able to pretty much ignore parliament, isn't it nice to be talking about the parliamentary arithmetic again?) Tories plus Lib Dems, with a combined total of 363 MPs, is by far the most stable coalition option available.

The problem is that there's not enough in it for the Lib Dems to make it a goer - unless Clegg is a fool, which I don't think he is.

I can see the attraction from DaveCam's point of view - he gets to govern on a slightly more moderate version of their programme (which will play well to swing voters). Dave will be able to face down the Tory hard right (of which more in a moment) by pointing out that circumstances are difficult and being in coalition demands a degree of moderation. He won't give way on electoral reform - he'll have a commission to discuss it and changes will be cosmetic if any.

After which point, he calls another election, wins an overall majority (if he can), and the Lib Dems are unceremoniously dumped - having achieved almost nothing.

What's in this for Nick Clegg? The offer of a few cabinet posts, implementing a slightly modified Tory programme. No PR. Some commentators have suggested that the electorate will reward the Lib Dems for their commitment to stable govt. Er.... they're much more likely to drop the Lib Dems like hot bricks for being Tory collaborators. Especially if Labour presents a more palatable option under a new leader next time round.

I think Clegg is just going through the motions here. I can't see a formal coalition between Lib Dems and Tories working out. He'd be signing his political death warrant.

What about the alternative coalition which parliamentary arithmetic allows (just about) - a Labour-Lib Dem - plus 4 or 5 minor parties "rainbow" or "traffic light" coalition? The numbers stack up as follows:

Labour 258 + Lib Dems 57 + SDLP 3 + Alliance 1 + Green 1 = 320. Just short of a working majority, but for this govt to go down, there would have to be 321 votes against them. The opposition would be: 306 Tories + 8 DUP = 314. If both the SNP and Plaid Cymru tagged on to the Tories and DUP, they could bring down this coalition. But that's unlikely to happen in my view. The coalition could offer them a better deal (however slightly) than they'd expect from a Tory govt, and then they're effectively onside.

Make no mistake - this would be a lashed-up, opportunistic coalition (so would a Tory/Lib Dem arrangement, but the numbers are a lot stronger for that one). It would demand almost total voting loyalty from Labour and Lib Dem MPs to work out - so the likes of Frank Field (to name an obvious loose-cannon maverick) would have to somehow be kept onside. One way of doing this (as practised by Jim Callaghan in the late 1970s, the last time the numbers were like this) would be to turn crucial parliamentary votes into confidence motions - so the govt falls if Labour MPs vote against a bill to introduce proportional representation (which would be one of the main objectives of the coalition). It's also highly vulnerable to by-election losses, particularly if there's a public backlash. The Tory press would do its damnedest to make sure this coalition was unpopular.

There's also the practical matter that I don't think Clegg particularly relishes the thought of working with Gordon Brown - but Brown won't want to quit just yet to give way to another Labour leader. Perhaps if he said he'd stand down just before another election after the necessary PR legislation has been introduced that would be just about acceptable to all sides. It's a big ask, though.

The questions of democratic legitimacy of this coalition, which are being asked by commentators on the right, are bollocks, as Will Hutton points out in the Observer. It's not a "coalition of the defeated" because if you count holding an overall majority as a measure of "winning" and not getting an overall majority as "losing", EVERY party "lost" the election - including the Tories - and anyone who can put together a govt that can't be voted down is in the "winners". In terms of public opinion, this coalition would represent around 55% of votes cast - 19% more than the Tories on their own - so it's actually much MORE legitimate than a minority Tory govt (which I'll come on to next).

But I still think there's a lot less than 50/50 chance that we'll get this. It would be an unstable and rickety arrangement. And if it does collapse before delivering voting reform, the consequences for the left - and the middle - of British politics would be disastrous.

The safer bet for Labour and the Lib Dems - in some ways - is to let Cameron form a minority govt. The Tories would be allowed to pass a finance bill and implement the less controversial aspects of their programme, but some stuff would be a no-go area - for example the Tories' voting reform bill, which aims to change constituency boundaries to more or less guarantee a permanent Conservative majority. That's their idea of voting reform - the system is rigged against them, so instead of a proper reform, they will re-rig it to suit themselves. One has to admire the chutzpah of this, but there's not way the other parties would let them get it through.

Which is a very good thing, because without it I think Cameron will find it difficult to win the next election. People make parallels with 1974 - when Harold Wilson's minority Labour govt secured a tiny shift of voter support in their favour to win a majority of 3 in the second election that year - but why should we believe Cameron will get a honeymoon that lasts any longer than (say) 3 months? The economic problems seem to be getting worse, not better, in the short run, and the Tory spending cuts (which I would recommend Labour and the Lib Dems let the Tories implement just to show how crazy this policy is from an economic point of view) will provoke a 'double-dip' recession. Cameron will be under vicious pressure from the right-wing of his party to run a radical far-right govt, and given that his parliamentary position is so precarious, he'll find it difficult to resist the call of the nutters.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties can bring the govt down at the moment of maximum unpopularity, and - even if cash-strapped - Labour would probably win an election - or at least emerge as the largest single party - with a new leader under existing constituency boundaries in first-past-the-post. And then it's bye-bye Dave.

There is a huge argument raging on the blogosphere about whether Labour should go for the rainbow coalition or let DaveCam form a minority govt - assuming that the Lib-Con coalition talks fail. The best article I've found so far arguing for the rainbow coalition is Steve Richards in the Independent. As for supporters of letting Dave go it alone, Lance Price in the Guardian, and Richard Murphy on his blog, provide the strongest arguments.

On balance, I think Tory minority govt is safer. It gives Labour time - under a new leader, who should be elected ASAP - to work out a combined approach to electoral reform with the Lib Dems (and maybe other smaller parties as well) and synchronise their manifestos on this issue at the next election. Cameron of course has the power to call an election but so do they (by voting him down in conjunction with any combination of a few smaller parties), so it becomes a question of what the opinion polls are showing and who jumps first. The theme of the election next time may well be old politics (Cameron, leading a Tory party riven by infighting which has ALREADY BEGUN - only 48 hours after the results came out!) vs new politics (represented by a unified offer of voting reform from all serious opposition parties.

It's going to be just wonderful. Looking forward to it.

07 May 2010

Reflections on an extraordinary 20 hours

Well, what an extraordinary election result. I doubt we'll see anything as mental as this again in our lifetimes.

From 10pm when the exit poll first showed the Tories with 307 seats (later revised down to 305) I was absolutely riveted to the screen (although we did take a 20 minute break for curry).

We were scared shitless at about 11, when the Sunderland results came out, that the Tories had done FAR better than the 5.5% swing registered in the exit poll. We were seeing 11% swings in two of those three Sunderland seats (actually I think one was Washington but it was in the north-east conurbation area anyway) and that would have put the Tories home and dry with a big majority. So then we were thinking "shit, it's 1992 again." But then things got pretty weird, with MUCH smaller swings in some of the Tory targets. In fact, in Scotland the Tories were actually losing ground, and London was - in the main - also pretty poor for them.

The most unexpected story of the night was the total failure of the Lib Dems to break through and capitalise on Clegg's performance in the leader debates. There was the odd good result for them - a few good wins off Labour, a gain from the Tories in Eastbourne - but they lost several seats to the most dreadful Tories (including the excellent Evan Harris in Oxford West).

My happiest moment of the night was Caroline Lucas winning Brighton Pavilion for the Greens. I was pleased that James Abbot polled 3% in Witham, in a very tough seat.

The most ludicrous part of the footage? Andrew Neil interviewing various C-list celebrities at some kind of election party in central London. There was the odd good bit of analysis (e.g. Armando Ianucci) but most of this lot were complete space cadets.

In the 2005 election I went to bed at 4am because the results had got so dull but it was a 6am finish this year - at which point the overall vote prediction had only just been computed by the BBC - and only 2 hours' sleep before re-entering the fray at 8am for what seemed to be about 90 minutes' footage of Nick Clegg's car winding its way from St Pancras to Westminster. And then an increasingly motley crew of pundits chewing over the result every which way but loose.

Talk turns now to coalitions and the electoral arithmetic, but I want to take a little time-out before posting on that - maybe later tonight or first thing tomorrow morning. Upfront, it seems to me that Tory minority govt is the most likely outcome of this impasse - but several other options are possible, which I'll go through in more detail tomorrow.

Love to all. It's been an emotional classic.

Everybody has fallen asleep

Some amazing results here. Fiona Bruce has said that a hung parliament is 'certain' but almost everyone else in the fortified compound where I'm watching the result has fallen asleep. So it's just me holding the line now.

Some amazing facts:

  • Tories have achieved up to 11% in swing in certain seats but have achieved little or none in certain other targets.
  • The vote share seems to be Tory 37% - at the upper end of the opinion poll range; Labour 27% - the worst vote share since the 1920s; and the Lib Dems on about 23%. The Tories are much further ahead of Labour than Thatcher was in 1979 or Labour in 1992 (for example) but they haven't translated that into seat gains.
  • Tories have been shit in Scotland - actually falling back - and Labour seems to have done surprisingly well in London.

Very, very interesting. I think we're heading for Tory minority govt - and that's a position I'm very comfortable with. it's been an honour.

Overall judgement: Gordon should give Dave the hospital pass

Hello all,

I was going to produce a lot of posts tonight but it's been so fascinating that - aside from a lot of fluff on Twitter - I've been totally glued to the TV.

But it looks overall that the BBC exit poll is pretty much exactly right. So, what does that mean? If the Tories are at about 310 seats, while Labour could lash together a coalition with the Lib Dems plus other minor parties ,it would be highly unstable and not really a goer. Better to let Dave Cameron take office in v difficult circumstances with the economy collapsing, wait for them to f*** up and then seize power when the Tories become SO unpopular. So I think it'll be Tory minority govt - as I thought before the results came out. But let's see. I'll pick this up again tomorrow. Been a fantastic campaign - loved all of ya.

Turned away?

Any of you kleenex tissues out there been turned away from the polling station? With results dribbling in painfully slowly, this is the most exciting story so far. Please send in all reports of polling station mishaps to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont.

06 May 2010

Kids what's going on?

Can any of you motorised lawnmowers out there tell me what's going on? 11.4% swing in one Sunderland seat, only 4.8% in another. Seems very confusing - and shows, as we thought, that 'uniform swing' is a useless concept.

Exit poll reflections

Hung parliament - Tories on 307 seats... are the Lib Dems going down? Sounds like a crock of shit but here we go. I'll still take Tories on about 280 or so for now.

Goddamit we're ready now.

It's like Martin Landau said in Ed Wood... "pull the string". Pull the string".

Fortified compound, 24-pack, Channel 4 broadcasting some pretty lame-ass election stuff that is breaking up anyway 'cos the freeview is dodgy. Gonna switch over to BBC or ITN when they start their respective programmes. Actually the ITN signal is cack as well, so BBC it must be. I hate Dimbleby - old Tory bastard that he is - but we're stuck with it here.

Can't decide whether to major on Twitter or the blog for this stuff. I think it'll have to be the blog for main observations and the Twitter for the occasional ludicrous observation. Or maybe it'll just all be ludicrous.

So strap y'selves in folks cos it's gonna be a bumpy ride out there...

05 May 2010

You're all clear kid, now let's blow this thing and go home.

Well, it's almost here. Tomorrow at approximately 12 noon I will walk down to the polling station (trying to avoid getting run over by any Tory 4x4 drivers who've taken exception to the giant Green Party poster in our front garden) and I will cast my vote for Green Party candidate James Abbott (whom I don't think is a relation of Russ, but I haven't checked to be honest).

We will then drive down to Mr Sandhurst's fortified compound in Oxfordshire where a 24-pack of beers (12 of which are mild) awaits us. And then it's my propensity for alcohol vs. the election's propensity for interest.

Polls in general this evening showed a slight uptick in the Tory lead with Tories now in the region of 35%-37%. Don't forget though that the large proportion of postal votes means that the polls are a moving window rather than something which closes in on a more and more accurate result. While the 2005 exit poll achieved the miraculous feat of forecasting the size of the Labour majority EXACTLY, I think that was a fluke - no particular reason to expect them to be that accurate in general, given that many of the voters aren't actually turning up to the polling station on polling day itself.

For my own part, I continue to enjoy the ritual of voting on the day itself where possible. Also, it allows changing one's mind right up to being in the polling booth (maybe not such a good thing, but I like that freedom).

My original election projection of 37% Tory, 34% Labour, with LDs on small change has been blown wide open by the Lib Dem upsurge. I think I will go with the YouGov poll from this morning (not the one which came out this evening with Labour vote falling again) - I'm now thinking maybe 35% Tory, 30% Labour, Lib Dems maybe 26% or so. Not sure if that'll be enough to keep Labour as the largest single party or not. Some factors to consider:

  • If that LibDem 26% is a very well-organised tactical vote it'll hit both main parties hard. A lot of the surveys of marginal seats by papers like the Telegraph have looked only at Lab-Con marginals, where the Tories are gonna make some big gains for sure. But they've then projected Tory total seat numbers completely ignoring Tory-Lib Dem marginals, where the Tories could take substantial losses if there is strong tactical voting by Labour voters combined with the overall Lib Dem bounce. I think the Lib Dems will be in the region of 100 seats even though their overall vote share will not be as high as they were hoping for when the Clegg bubble kicked in.
  • How much is the Ashcroft money really going to help the Tories in the marginals? Reports have been conflicting here, with some surveys suggesting a slight Tory uplift compared to the national swing, and others saying it's made pretty much no difference.
  • How much leakage from the Tories to UKIP, in particular? This had some negative impact on them in 2005 and I think we'll see a lot more of that this time. The format most pollsters use for the "who are you going to vote for" question gives you the choices "Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Other" and then a second stage if you choose "Other" where you get Green, UKIP, BNP etc. That's not the way it is on the ballot paper and I think the pollsters have been undercounting support for ALL the minor parties.
  • The regional distribution of the decline in the Labour vote. If Labour largely collapses in regions where it has few seats anyway - e.g. the South East outside London, and the South West - it will probably result in a lot of big Tory majorities becoming super-big but very few seats changing hands. Conversely, a big swing against Labour in the Midlands or the North could be pretty terminal.

A gut feeling (never something to be relied on in my experience, to be sure) tells me we may be about to pull a prime weirdie out of the bag tomorrow. With the polling all over the place, frankly, and seat assumptions mostly based on uniform swing assumptions that are a pile of doo-doo, who the hell has any idea what the count is likely to be? Apparently online betting agencies are offering 12-1 odds on Labour to be the largest single party. I'm not a betting person but if I was I'd certainly take that - sounds like a good outside bet to me. On the other hand we could easily be sitting here in 48 hours' time with DaveCam on a majority of 50 or so. It certainly can't fail to be interesting.

The format for election night itself will feature a mix of blog and twitter posts. My experience of 2005 was that it all got pretty f***ing crazy from about 2am onwards - in fact I may review my 2005 Voice of the Turtle blog posts tomorrow just to remind myself what the timeline was.

One other thing - the posts tomorrow will, mercifully, be much shorter. Some of these bloody things have been going on and on and it's just got to stop. Well, stop sooner, at least.

04 May 2010

Could it be a late negative surge for the LDs?

It's preposterous to make a lot out of one poll but the YouGov tracker shows Labour strengthening and the Lib Dems appearing to collapse to not much more than what they were at when "Cleggmania" started: Tory 35%, Lab 30, LibDem 24.

I'll be rather pissed off if the Lib Dems do deflate to the low-to-mid 20s as I genuinely thought we were within inches of getting rid of the same old shitty electoral system and the same morons going round and round again ad infinitum. But if Labour does pick up several points of late support - while holding the Tories at 35 or below - I'll be pleased, I guess. It's better than majority Tory govt anyway.

It's hard to say at the moment as loads of people have already voted via postal vote, so the polls don't necessarily get more accurate as we get nearer the election date, even assuming that sampling is correct and that people are giving accurate responses. Postal voting also means that the much-vaunted exit polls aren't really that helpful either. The upshot of all this, kids, is that it's going to be unpredictable whatever forecast, simulation or divination method you use. You'll just have to tune in on the night itself.

I've mainly posted this as it gives me an opportunity to relate a story about the missing SDP/Alliance "late surge" of 1987. The Alliance claimed that in the 1983 election they'd had a sudden surge of support at the end of the campaign (maybe when Michael Foot's trestle table gave way?) which took them to 26%, almost overtaking Labour. In 1987 they were running a clear third but for the last two weeks of the campaign I can vividly remember Alliance politicians saying that there was bound to be a "late surge" of support. No reason was given for this other than "it happened last time, so you just wait and see." Hey guys, on that basis we don't even need to spend all this money on an election, because, y'know, it happened last time...

Of course this "late surge" turned out to be a load of Optrex eyewash and the poor bastards in the Alliance only polled 23% - down three. It didn't stop some wag writing into the Essex Chronicle the week after the election saying, "I've noticed that there are several Alliance posters still up in Chelmsford a week after the election. Could this be evidence of a 'late surge'"? They was tough times, but I still had to laugh at that one.

The other amusing story from the 1987 campaign is that the Alliance candidate in Chelmsford was called Stuart Mole. On some of the posters on the Baddow Road in Chelmsford, some cleverclogs (the same guy who wrote into the Chronicle maybe?) had used felt pen to draw a pair of glasses onto Mr Mole, and had crossed out "Stuart" and written "Adrian". Ah, the wit...

The nearest I came to any kind of name-altering comedy in the election was in 1992 as a student at Oxford where a leaflet went round saying "Vote Steve Hocking Conservative" and I changed it with blue pen and tippex to "Vote Steve Fucking Conservative". Well, it seemed funny at the time.

Any of you Smash robots out there got any other amusing election poster defacement stories? By all means send 'em in.

More on the "army of Noels"

I'd meant to put this in the previous post but forgot. You know DaveCam's "big society" shtick? I was wondering where he got the idea from and then last night I realised...


Any of you reptiles been unfortunate enough to watch "Noel's HQ" on Murdoch One? The basic idea of the program is that Noel recruits an army of ordinary people to help him sort out "problems" he has identified with the UK.

Have any of you ever seen DaveCam and Noel in the same room?

What about if they are, in fact, the same creature?

Ever had a funny feeling, when Noel was down and out and unable to get back on telly after the disintegration of "Noel's House Party" in the late 90s that you'd see the fucker again somewhere down the line? And then there was... Deal or No Deal.

Same with the Tory party. A bunch of no-hopers... finished for good... and then there was... DaveCam.

For sure, Noel Edmonds is calling the shots in this election campaign. I've finally sussed it.

If I'm right this blog won't last long... Noel will be coming for me very soon. Him and whose army? Oh yeah. Right. [aaaahhh]

Tightening polls... frightening trolls... army of Noels... etc.

Sorry kids, this is a really long one... Once again, in lieu of any real excitement in the last days of the campaign, I'm resorting to SOC (stream-of-consciousness) to try to make these posts interesting.

Apparently Gordon Brown delivered a barnstormer of a speech to London Citizens last night. Pity it wasn't televised. The Big Speech is, of course, Mr Brown's forte. Who can forget the great Labour Party Conference Blair/Brown double act with Mr Brown pretending to be "real Labour" on the Monday, followed by Mr Blair pretending to be a Tory (or did he even need to pretend?) on Tuesday. Good speeches are useful for energising the party workers but whether they cut it with floaters is another matter. Although Labour's 1983 campaign was marked by an incredible series of gaffes and a general feeling that the coordinator was one Mr Frank Spencer (e.g. Michael Foot sitting down at a trestle table to give the morning press conference, at which point said table promptly collapsed), it also featured a masterclass in rousing oratory from the late great Mr Foot. And the result was: Labour with 28 per cent of the vote. Remember that figure kids, because it's not clear whether Labour can exceed it this time.

But I hope they can, because "worst election result since 1983" sounds a whole lot better than "worst election result since 1922" or whatever: and there is some sign of a slow recovery in the polls for Labour. For example, Opinium, Comres and YouGov all have Labour at 28-29% now - level pegging or ahead of the Lib Dems, who are gradually slipping back after reaching the mid-30s in some polls in the wake of that first debate.

Nonetheless, the increase in the Tory vote into the high 30s which many conservative (actually Conservative) commentators had expected this weekend has simply not happened in most polls. I still think they will get 34% or so, with Labour and the Lib Dems on about 28% each.

I still get post-traumatic stress disorder when I think about the final poll movements in the 1992 campaign - a kind of gigantic bowel movement by the British collective. Kinnock's Labour party (affectionately referred to by the long-gone USA Today newspaper as the "Labor party" was around 2-3% points in front for the whole campaign, bar the odd rogue poll; then, the day before polling day, it started to shift to level pegging. Even so, I still thought that a hung parliament with "Labor" as the largest single party was the very worst we could hope for.

I remember the election night party at a fortified compound in a small Essex village on the Dengie peninsula; the newspapers stacked high for safety, despite being labelled a "fire hazard" by one particularly uncouth visitor. A small, elderly Jack Russell terrier, named Fizzypop, almost dead but holding out hope for this greatest socialist victory. Waiting for the election special, watching "The Big One", featuring large US comedian Mike McShane, with a can of "Jaguar" lager (approximately 30p a can from Asda, or something - rancid stuff) in hand. And then the excitement of the exit poll, showing Labour as the largest party in a hung parliament.

And then the Basildon result - David Amess, still 4 years from Brasseye and the cake incident, his smug face saying "you've lost, old sport".

My life Amess from that moment onwards - or at least for the 48 hours it took to get out of bed after that shocker. "Wave after wave of demented avengers march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream"... although Pink Floyd's Roger Waters wrote that in 1977, it never really applied until 15 years later.

This time I'm a wiser, more decrepit head, and I'm Ready. If the Tories win on Thursday... water off a duck's back. It's like they said at the end of Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica: "what do we do now?" "Fight them until we can't". I don't mean literally - although the militia group option remains open until further notice - but after fighting the faux Tories in New Labour for so long, it will be nice to have the real deal back. Genuine wankers that you don't need to hold back from criticising - that smarmy cheap punk Gove, for instance. And "Gideon" Osborne - the Trust Fund Kid. In a way, I love these guys. They make being a socialist easy.

So why not a psychological depression on the scale of 1992? Context, friends. The difference this time is that I expected a Labour wipeout, not a close win - so a small Tory majority, while annoying, wouldn't actually be that bad.

If the Tories don't even get a majority and have to undertake a minority govt - that could be the best outcome of all. Deeply vulnerable to a No Confidence Vote and having to push through huge cuts to satisfy the markets. It's unlikely to end well for them.

In some ways, a shock Labour victory - if they emerge clearly ahead of the Tories seats - may be the most dangerous result of all. Because Labour (and the Lib Dems, if in coalition) would then be having to make the savage cuts with the Tories lying in wait for them. Probably very few readers will remember 1931, but it's exactly this kind of dangerous situation that destroyed Labour as an electoral force for 15 years. And also, a Labour victory (or "victory", really, as there's no way these guys are gonna come out first in terms of vote share) would mean Brown stayed on. Can we really face that? Is this guy really going to lead a spectacular recovery in the Labour vote?

No, I think I'd prefer the Tories in a minority govt - but with as few seats as possible. If they came out, like, one or two seats ahead of Labour - that would be the real deal.

03 May 2010

On Thursday, "Hal will be ready for some election."

I like Sundays before Bank Holiday Mondays as no-one finds it in the least bit odd if you stay up late. So, let me tell you about my planned arrangements for Thursday night's election party.

As with 2005, the plan is to decamp to a fortified compound in Oxfordshire visiting my friend codenamed "Juniper Sandhurst". 24 St Peters brewery beers, and a matching baseball cap, have been delivered to the compound. Up to 1997 or so, it would have been possible to drink one of those beers for every Lib Dem (or prior to that, SDP Liberal Alliance, or just plain Liberal) seat won or retained, and still have some left. But this time, that particular drinking game would leave you running out of beers probably by about 3am. And comatose. Never mind.

My approach is - as with most things election-toned - heavily influenced by the late, irate political journalist Hunter S Thompson. Now Hey Rube: Blood Sport, The Bush Doctrine and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness (2004), while it has one of Mr Thompson's greatest ever titles, is not, by a long stretch, classic work (although it's still good compared with 95% of stuff you'll read). It's a collection of his columns for the ESPN sports website, most of which seem to have been dashed off in between gunshots and quadruple whiskys at 4.30am. However, the foreword by one John A Walsh (whom Google tells me is Senior Editor and Exec VP of ESPN) is a classic. Mr Walsh describes Hunter creating a suitable environment for the big event as only he could:

Hunter visited Washington in the fall of 1978 and invited me to a Sunday football feast at his Hyatt Regency hotel suite. Before the first kickoff, Hunter, the always gracious host, ordered room service for the game. "I'd like a fifth of Chivas Regal, a half dozen bloody marys, and everything chocolate on the menu"... One hour later, two waiters delivered the order with looks only a camera could capture. The chocolate tray included a German chocolate cake, a vat of Breyer's chocolate ice cream, a half dozen chocolate cupcakes, a plate of chocolate cookies, one chocolate sundae, two chocolate cream pies, and a buffet of various chocolate pastries. And of course, the requisite postprandial chocolate bonbons.

Hunter was ready for some football.

Diminish the chocolate and augment the alcohol content somewhat and you have suitable conditions for the Juniper Sandhurst election night party. We have chosen to name the compound that has been sourced for this little event "Renaissance Democrats HQ" in honour of the lowest scoring candidate at the 1997 election, a Mr D Vanbraam of the Renaissance Democrats, who secured 7 [seven] votes. (It was in Putney, where the late Jimmy Goldsmith of the Referendum Party did a little better, but not much).

But kids, I'm ready. So, as Wendy Alexander once said, Bring It On.

02 May 2010

Getting slightly bored now... waffle waffle, extra maple syrup pls.

It strikes me the election campaign should be three and a half weeks rather than 4 and a half. Any excitement left in the campaign seems to have evaporated and the parties just seem to be grinding it out. An Observer interview with Gordon Brown in which he accuses the Lib Dems of having made up their policies one lunchtime in the pub is symptomatic. (How come, then, the IFS said that while all the parties weren't giving the voters the whole picture - particularly on spending cuts - the Lib Dems were the best of a bad bunch in this regard?)

Polls in the main show Tories now at around 34-35% although there is a rogue poll from ComRes showing them at 38%. I think it's going to be Tories on about 34%, with Labour and the Lib Dems at about the 28% mark each. So the Tory advance will be largely due to falls in Labour support rather than Cameron picking up much in the way of extra votes. When you compare it with the 44% that Thatcher secured in 1979 or the 46% that Heath secured in 1970, it's pathetic really. But then, so was 35% for Blair in 2005. This fucking stupid electoral system... mark "damaged" and return for repair at the first opportunity.

Using the BBC election calculator, putting in 34% for the Tories and 28% for the other two parties gives Labour and the Tories almost the same number of seats. So if it really does stay like that, a Lib-Lab coalition for electoral reform is still possible. But Clegg would insist that Brown vacates Number 10, Brown won't want to move, and so I can't see it happening unless they put Clegg in as PM. Are Labour MPs gonna swallow that? Probably not. In any case, I think the Tories will actually do slightly better than that in the marginals... probably they'll come away with about 290 seats. And then we will get a minority Tory govt... hopefully the most hapless administration in recent history. Certainly they have the raw material to make a right pig's ear of things.

On the other hand, a really clear tactical vote with the anti-Tory voters splitting between Labour and the Lib Dems in key marginals could really stuff the Tories. So it's an extremely difficult call. But having analysed, cross analysed and over analysed these goddamn polls, I'm just waiting for the polling stations to actually open so we can get this thing out of the way. What was that thing the seventies Elvis did... put himself to sleep for about 3 days with anaesthetic, sustained by an intravenous drip of papaya juice. It was a weight-losing measure, but of course, because the juice had calories in it, he'd actually gained weight when he woke up. I'll have that drip please... with mild, rather than juice. 72 hours and then a crate of 24 for the count. Actually if DaveCam wins a big majority you can leave that drip on... I won't be needing the next 5 years.

In terms of Labour's medium term future, I'm actually hoping for a Tory minority administration and the resignation of Brown... because I can't bear putting this guy through another administration, or another election, as Labour leader. It's like Frank Field said (an assent which I don't often indicate in relation to Mr Field): Brown hates the job, he's only really there out of sheer obstinacy, and it's bloody painful to watch. Give it to someone who really wants it, please.

Who should the next leader be? As you might expect, I've got a longer list of people whom it definitely SHOULDN'T be than whom it should. Not Mandelson; not Harman; probably not Dave Miliband. Not Ed Balls - although I don't think that Ed is as bad as many people say, I just don't think he can win an election. Not any of the Blairites who have fortunately departed the scene anyway. I think Ed Miliband could do a very good job - the danger is that he won't stand if his brother stands. Alan Johnson and Jon Cruddas would be other good options. Anyway, that will be some entertainment for the summer/autumn.