BeebMaster's Election Diary 2010
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12th April 2010
|The most important news today is that, just before a quarter to twelve this morning, Her Majesty The Queen dissolved Parliament. There is currently no Parliament and there are no MPs, and writs are being issued to returning officers in each of the 650 constituencies to arrange for the election of a Member to be sent to Parliament. At this time writs are also issued to Peers to return to Parliament when the new Parliament first meets on 18th May 2010. The new government then has a week to write The Queen's Speech in time for Her Majesty to open Parliament on 25th May.|
Other than that, the Labour Party has launched its general election manifesto, which is a two-minute cartoon starring Little Miss Magic:
There's a paper version too, which is based on the Japanese Imperial Army's war flag:
Gordon Brown was a wee bit naughty this morning when he went to Edgbaston to launch the Labour manifesto in a brand-new hospital. It's against Cabinet Office rules for political meetings to be held on public premises, but Gordon says it's OK because it's still owned by the builders till the hospital opens later in the year. That's not what the Tories are saying, and they've written a letter of complaint to the Cabinet Secretary. Expect more on this in the hours and days to come!
It's probable that the row about the launch will drown out any message Labour were trying to get across on their manifesto day. It was pretty thin on content anyhow, and it looked to me like the assembled mass of Labour supporters listening to Gordon Brown were rather stony-faced, offering little more than polite applause at the requisite moments. Perhaps they were disappointed, perhaps they were bored, or perhaps they were just all freezing cold after standing about in a new hospital foyer without any heating for hours waiting for Gordon Brown.
12th April 2010
|The national outrage concerning Parliamentary expenses, which generated such fury amongst the normally politically passive people of this country, has resurfaced with something of a vengeance today. Despite hundreds of MPs being accused of cheating, lying and stealing from taxpayers, only three faced criminal charges. This afternoon it was revealed that those three - Elliot Morley, Jim Devine and David Chaytor - had applied for legal aid to fund their criminal defence.|
These three little pigs were hounded into spewing out weasel words, crocodile tears and flimsy explanations, attached to promises that they wouldn't stand again in this election, but they weren't content with bleeding the Parliamentary allowances system for every single penny they could screw the British taxpayer for: they've decided to exploit the legal aid system by thieving even more money from the public, forcing every taxpayer in this country to pay their legal fees for the court case.
Politicians have been falling over themselves of late to profess how much they've changed and how sorry they are, but now we know the truth. It's quite clear that without the sordid details of these widespread and eye-watering acts of robbery having been ripped out of these people by the press, not one of them would have apologised, resigned or paid a farthing back to taxpayers.
They're not sorry and they don't have a clue how much they've betrayed the people who trusted them. They've got nothing but contempt for the electors of this country, and we know this because if these parasites had any conscience, we wouldn't be hearing tonight that the three little pigs want more of our money.
Gordon Brown doesn't care - he ignored a reporter's question on the subject this afternoon; David Cameron sounds like he cares - but only because he thinks there are votes for him in it.
So how is this demonstrating A Future Fair For All?
13th April 2010
|The Tories' turn today and if it's all about location, location, location then there couldn't have been more of that elusive clear blue water between Lab & Con than their contrasting choices of venue for the manifesto launch.|
For Labour it was that brand-new hospital that isn't a hospital yet, for the Conservatives it was the disused, crumbling power station at Battersea. There is a similarity, though, which is that both places are in Labour marginals. Once again, Gordon Brown is trying to shore up disintegrating support in one of his unsafe seats at the same time as David Cameron is fighting for a Tory push to upend a sitting Labour candidate.
If Gordon Brown's audience yesterday displayed a little sign of ennui then it was a stoical effort from the Tory faithful today to try to remain interested as warm-up act after warm-up act postponed the moment when the star of their show would come out to speak. First it was William Hague, then it was George Osborne, then a video, then Teresa May, then Michael Gove, then a video, then Andrew Lansley, then Caroline Spelman, then a video, then Baroness Warsi. After 40 minutes of this, the nation had switched off even if the massed ranks of the Conservative Party tried to look as if they hadn't.
The manifesto document itself was a bit more traditional than the effort Labour's bright sparks had come up with.
It's a dictionary.
The message is very traditional, too: the state to do much less under the Tories, with continuing reliance on the old Tory mantra that politicians and Whitehall don't always know best. It's been packaged in rather a new way, though, being heavily promoted as empowering people to take control of their daily lives and the public services they experience all around them.
The Tory approach hasn't been well-received by the electorate in the last three elections, so the Conservarazzi will be hoping that the new packaging around the old message - with a hefty dollop of opportunist populism shovelled in - wins through this time.
Only time is going to tell whether this invitation to join the government is just a recipe for nutters, do-gooders and busibodies to start frothing at the mouth.
14th April 2010
|Labour on Monday, Tories on Tuesday, so it must be Liberals on Wednesday, and you would be entitled to feel a little bit of disappointment after the pazzazz of the earlier manifesto launches. It was press conferences as usual for the Lib Dems this morning, a good couple of hours earlier, by the way, than the other two parties, the only difference being a change of venue.|
Nick Clegg took Vince Cable to the City of London for their manifesto launch today, but to be honest, even the most discerning elector would have been hard pressed to tell it apart from the news room at their Cowley Street headquarters.
Perhaps this is the Liberals attempting to show how serious they are, or perhaps it just shows that they haven't got the means to splash the spondulicks on these occasions like Labs & Cons can.
We've had a cartoon and a dictionary so far, but this time we got a colour chart:
What was it all about, then? Well, a hundred pages of policy by prescription seems to sum it up. They've done what political parties always do, except that Gordon Brown and David Cameron haven't this time. The Lib Dems have set out a detailed set of pledges of how they would micro-manage every area of British life. It does appear to contrast rather sharply with what the Tories were offering yesterday, which was all about hands-off government and giving control to the people.
Nick Clegg is hoping this will give his party a boost in the polls ahead of tomorrow's first leaders' debate, but it's hard to think of it as anything more than the same old same old.
The three biggest parties can be assured of detailed media coverage of their manifesto launches and their campaigning generally, but it hasn't gone unnoticed here that this week has seen the publication of election manifestos from a number of small parties, including the United Kingdom Independence Party. They have a reasonable claim to call themselves the fourth party in this election after their very strong showing in last year's common market assembly election. It was, after all, the last national test of public opinion and they did come second, beating the governing Labour party into third place.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch admits that he gets in a muddle with all the "squillions and trillions" of pounds but surely they should be given some credit for the funniest campaign poster so far:
There's a serious message behind the big-party-bashing and many Conservative supporters would find it difficult to disagree with a lot of the pledges in the UKIP manifesto: it's certainly more old-style Tory than the fluffy-bunny Cameroons, but the real question is whether UKIP will be seen as a credible way for electors to spend their vote this time round.
Not much excitement, you might think, in yesterday's UKIP launch, but they are promising the most exciting and fascinating individual contest of this general election: keep your eyes on Buckingham, where former leader Nigel Farage is trying to unseat John Bercow, the Speaker, who, fairly or unfairly, is the symbolic representation of everything which is wrong presently with our political system. The Tories hate John Bercow with a passion, and many of them in Buckingham will be sorely tempted to punt for UKIP on May 6th.
Unless there are any stupendously urgent developments in the interim, I'm signing off now until after the first debate tomorrow evening - come back after it's over for the BeebMaster election diary reaction!
15th April 2010
|Well, what a dilemma for the news editors today! I switched on the set first thing, expecting wall-to-wall leaders' debate build-up frenzy for at least 8 hours, only to find that the biggest human interest story for years had broken overnight. A volcano has gone off in Iceland and spouted out a load of ash which is floating its way over these shores and it's had the effect of shutting down British airspace till this danger to aviation passes.|
Iceland has a lot to answer for - first of all their banking collapse bankrupted half of the local authorities and charities in this country and then they wouldn't give us our money back, and now they've set off a volcano which has grounded all our aeroplanes.
The debate still happened - it's just finished - the three leaders were in the North-West overnight so they didn't get caught up in any transport problems like 50,000 airport passengers did.
Was it the television event of the year? Will it swing the election? Will it change Britain forever?
Nah! We didn't learn anything new tonight, we heard a lot of the same lines we've been hearing all week, sometimes more than once, and there wasn't that much of the promised "debate". At times it looked very stagy and there was very little opportunity for the three leaders to really challenge one another and call each other to account as their opportunity to speak and respond was controlled so very tightly in tiny bursts.
In this country, we're used to these three chaps having a jolly good row every Wednesday lunchtime in the chamber of the House of Commons, so whilst it was something slightly refreshing to see them each making their own points surrounded by silence and, on the whole, treating each other in a pretty good-natured way, it wasn't what we were expecting, so it came as a little bit of a disappointment.
There's no doubt that the old format used in previous election campaigns, with the leaders each appearing separately before a studio audience, was much more suited to putting our leaders on the spot and really testing their positions in detail over a sustained period. None of that tonight, 30-second answers only, and flitting from each of the candidates one after the other with no audience reaction permitted.
Each of the leaders got a minute at the beginning and another minute-and-a-half at the end, but this came across like one of the party politicals of old, with the party leader babbling at the nation from on high. David Cameron was given the last word, but I expect each of the others will have their last word on one of the other debates.
Even before this event, endless speculation has been given to the body language of the leaders and how much the way they hold themselves might influence how people vote. I don't think we learnt anything tonight by observing these three men, just as we didn't really learn anything from listening to them. They looked exactly the same as we expected them to look, same outfits, same hair-dos, same facial expressions.
This evening's TV spectacle will have the ITV accountants tearing their hair out pondering how they can recover from a whole ninety minutes of lost advertising revenue. The latest incarnation of ITN's ten o'clock news bulletin followed the debate, and they couldn't even bring themselves to make their main evening news story the British political history they had just made, instead leading with the air travel chaos following the flight ban.
I know for certain what Thursday 15th April 2010 will be remembered for: the volcano.
16th April 2010
|By all accounts it looks to have been a fairly quiet day of actual campaigning for the three main party leaders today, presumably they are recuperating a little after last night's ordeal and taking stock of the outcome. I say "by all accounts" because the volcano is still occupying a large part of the headlines, as is analysis of the TV debate, so we're not privy to much of what is happening on the campaign trail today.|
There's nothing the media like more than a media storm, and certainly they've whipped one up about the debate, with the general consensus that Nick Clegg "won" the debate by a mile. We've been introduced to a new phenomenon since the debate ended at ten o'clock last night - the "instant poll", which has awarded the accolade of most effective performer in the debate very firmly to the Lib Dem leader, scoring up to 61% per cent in the rash of polls which came out before midnight last night.
These polls also appeared to suggest that Gordon Brown came off worst and that people still think that David Cameron would be the best man to be Prime Minister out of the three, so taking a bit of a closer look behind the immediate headlines does present something of a slightly mixed message.
For now, it remains to be seen whether the opinion poll rating of the Liberal party itself shoots up as a result of Cleggy's apparently super-strong performance. There'll be plenty of talk of polls over the weekend for sure.
I'm beginning to feel like something of an outsider to this election campaign for the first time, because yesterday's posting will have shown that I didn't come away with a definite feeling that Nick Clegg had triumphed, and that I found the thing pretty boring. I can only say again that nobody last night said anything new that we hadn't heard earlier in the week at the parties' manifesto launches.
If the media had forgotten by Thursday what Brown, Cameron & Clegg were saying on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and if the people of this country hadn't even heard it before, then there isn't much I can do except to recommend that everyone pays closer attention to my Election Diary.
I reckon I'm more wary now than ever before of making predictions but I would venture to suggest one certainty to flow from the whip of hysteria surrounding Nick Clegg after the first party leaders' television debate: Brown & Cameron won't let it happen again.
17th April 2010
|At last, the voice of sanity has broken through, but you had to be watching Sky News Press Review just a few minutes ago to have heard media expert and newly-crowned election sage Vince Graff posing a question which has been on my mind since Thursday evening: was I the only man, pondereth his sagacity, to think that Nick Clegg didn't win the debate by a mile and looked creepy when he kept looking directly into camera?|
Sadly, his appears to be a lone voice in the maelstrom which has otherwise declared Nick Clegg the best thing since sliced Parliament. The polls, too, have shown a degree of volatility never seen before, projecting Lib Dem voting intention to second place, with the best poll from their point of view giving them 35% to the Tories' 36% with Labour slipping into third on 24%. Good news for Clegg, bad news for Cameron & Brown.
Bad news also for continued faith in humanity, I think. What are we to conclude if public opinion is so fickle that it can be so seizmically transformed after just an hour and a bit of drab telly?
Nick Clegg's runaway success is becoming a news story in its own right. The sight of additional cameramen and sound recordists following Cleggy around is fuelling the hype of increased credibility and perception of winnability which the debate has engendered.
Whilst that may play very nicely into Lib Dem hands, the downside for them is that the more seriously the Liberals are taken by media and political opponents alike, the more scrutiny their platform will receive. Publicly they say they welcome it. Privately I bet they don't.
Man of the moment, they say, with the Sunday Times going just a little bit further, saying that Nick Clegg is nearly as popular as all-time greatest ever British commoner Sir Winston Churchill. A bit far-fetched you might think, but until they start putting him up there with the Beatles, Marmite or the Daleks, there's no need to worry. It's a flash-in-the-pan and normal opinion polling service will be resumed by Tuesday. Trust me - I'm not a politician.
18th April 2010
|The story of the election on the eve of the third week is still Nick Clegg and a new dimension has opened over this weekend as he's gone ahead in the polls. The Liberals are being given a very slight lead over the Conservatives with Labour having slipped into third place.|
In all the excitement, any pretence of responsible journalism has been abandoned: the usual caveat about opinion polls seems to have dropped out of this election entirely - the old "margin of error" formula. Each poll has a margin of error of 2 or 3 percentage points, so with these latest rash of polls appearing to be so close, it's anybody's guess who is really in the lead.
It might make good copy for the newspapers to splash these inconclusive results but all it generates is confusion and there has never been a more important moment in this country when certainty is required. This is why I always feel so uneasy whenever I hear mention of a hung Parliament.
It's about time some home truths were told about this particular political phenomenon, as I feel that the facts are being emasculated by the froth.
OK. Start taking notes. The last general election which resulted in a hung parliament (ie. no single party achieving a majority of seats in the new House of Commons) was February 1974. That's THIRTY-SIX years ago, and the Parliament lasted barely six months with a second general election taking place in October 1974 which did result in a single-party majority, although it was very small.
The time before was 1929. That's EIGHTY-ONE years ago.
The 2010 General Election will be the EIGHTEENTH General Election since the Second World War and number of hung Parliaments resulting is ONE.
If it happens so rarely, then, why is there invariably talk of hung parliaments at every general election? Well, firstly it's a cynical ploy by the news media to project a story out of nothing. By talking up the prospect of no party winning the election, they open up a welter of speculative scenarios which they can exploit in interminable column inches and news minutes.
Secondly, it's a desperate ploy by the Liberals and certain other small parties to stop themselves being squeezed out of the debate completely, claiming that they can act as power-brokers, king-makers, vehicles for change, or any other convenient subsitute buzz-phrase they want to affix to themselves.
Well, there isn't much I can do about mass-media and small-party tactics but I can say that, as with every other general election I've observed in this country, I'm not taken in by the latest attempt to predict a hung parliament. There's no doubt that this talk is much more intense than I've encountered before, but I remain confident that all the chatter will dissolve into the distance by polling day.