BeebMaster's Election Diary 2010
Week 3

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5

19th April 2010
Day 14

The funnest comment of the campaign so far came during this evening's PM on BBC Radio 4, with one correspondent stuck in Stockholm due to the continuing transport chaos saying, "I feel like I've gone back in time - everyone is going by train and talking about the Liberals winning an election!"

The volcanic ash scenario has finally become a political issue today, five days after the closure of UK airspace. There was a glimpse of this yesterday after a ministerial meeting on the subject at Downing Street last night, but it wasn't until this morning that COBRA met to discuss the official response. Only then did things begin to happen - first the deployment of three Royal Navy ships to bring soldiers and holiday-makers home. Then the decision, purely coincidental I'm sure, by the aviation authorities that it's now safe to open the skies with effect from tomorrow morning. Hmmmm....

We've been told repeatedly since Friday morning that Labour and the Conservatives are "refocusing" their campaigns in view of the surge in apparent support for the Lib Dems. Reading between the volcanic ash lines, I hadn't seen much evidence of this - we've seen David Cameron and Gordon Brown on the stump over the weekend doing their thing just like they've been doing since the campaign kicked off.

Hadn't seen much evidence, that is, till this evening when I learnt that the Tories have cancelled their original party political attacking Labour and have instead gone for a David Cameron appeal to camera.

The blood will freeze in the veins of every Tory who can remember the 1997 election campaign when they dropped a planned broadcast in favour of John Major's infamous "don't bind my hands on Europe" speech to his party. For many, this was the point that it dawned on people that the wheels really were coming off the eighteen-year-old Tory bandwagon. Taking stock and responding to events is one thing, but panicking over polls is quite another.
20th April 2010
Day 15

It's 4pm, which means that nominations for the general election have just closed. If you haven't sent your papers to the returning officer by now, you won't be standing in the 2010 election! Voter registration also closes today, so if you haven't got yourself on the electoral roll you won't be voting either!

We're in the third week of the campaign - day 15 no less - and therefore it comes as a bit of a surprise that parties standing in the election are only just getting round to issuing their manifestos. Yesterday, it was the Democratic Unionist Party, today it was the Scottish Nationals.

The DUP may not feature very strongly in this election - on the mainland at least - but it is worth remembering that they go into this election as the fourth largest party in the old House of Commons. With 9 MPs they hold half of the seats in Northern Ireland, and you can just imagine David Cameron dreaming of being able to win half the seats in England!

The SNP's pitch comes across as a bit curious. They know they can't win the election and propel Alex Salmond into Downing Street because they aren't fielding candidates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Despite that, it always strikes me as singularly unambitious for any party to talk down their chances in an election to such an extent that they are hoping, even campaigning, for a hung parliament.

Surely the governing party in the Scottish Parliament has more to say on the politics of the United Kingdom than "vote for us, to make sure there is no government in London".

The surge in third-party support according to polls has brought a greater deal of attention to some of the smaller parties standing in 2010, and they don't always appear to be entirely comfortable with the extra media access.

"Have you actually read your party's manifesto?" is surely a question that no party leader would wish to have directed to him in this campaign, but that was the fate befalling UKIP Leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch last night.

He's so committed to getting across the gigantic costs of British membership of the common market that he seems to be a bit unfamiliar with some of his party's other policies, in particular UKIP's pledge to enlist retired police officers to act as wardens on housing estates to reduce crime.

His parting message to the people at conclusion of his appearance on last night's "Campaign Show"? "I'm off now to check up on policemen in car parks".

If Lord Pearson came a little unstuck last night then he will be pleased to know that he's not the only one - even the clunking fist himself has come off worst following a media encounter this morning. Gordon Brown, bizarrely it might be thought, let himself be quizzed by some real voters on BBC Radio and they had a good pop at him about expenses, including his own Parliamentary claims. He won't be doing that again!

This incident crystallised the election campaign so far for me. It spoke volumes for a very telling home-truth about this election. The people of this country are totally disgusted with the behaviour of the men and women they sent to Parliament last time round. The only issue for so very, very many voters is how to stop any of these people getting elected again.

The message from the voters is deafeningly clear: the politicians simply haven't done anything like enough to show they're sorry and that they've changed. Nobody is listening to politicians any more because they've done nothing to induce voters to tune back into to the old parties. If you're a political hopeful from one of the main parties, that's got to be deeply worrying.
21st April 2010
Day 16

Today is the Eighty-Fourth Birthday of Her Most Noble Gracious and Britannic Majesty The Queen. Spare a thought today, if you can, in the direction of our Sovereign Lady who may have to make a very difficult decision about who to invite to form Her Government on May 7th if the election result isn't as conclusive as might be hoped.

Back in the campaigning world, it's been the day of three gaffes, and very even-handedly they have landed too, one each for the main parties.

All the best gaffes come about due to something totally out of your own control, and that's how today's tripligaffe turned out.

Gordon Brown came first, and we've known for a couple of days that the unemployment figures were due out today. This moment comes during every election campaign, so 2010 is no different in that regard, but the figures were supposed to be good, cementing Gordon Brown's claims that his steady stewardship of the economy is bearing fruit.

They weren't. Unemployment went up by 43,000 which was a bit of a shame for 43,001 people, including the beleagured PM.

Second up was David Cameron who went to Cornwall today to campaign and found himself on the receiving end of an egg, the first of the campaign. It's reassuring to know, of course, that some things never change and I do admit to being greatly heartened.

Nick Clegg, too, has confirmed his elevation into the top flight of British politics by embroiling himself in a lost-dossier gaffe after one of his aides accidentally left the Lib-Dems' secret briefing notes on tomorrow's debate in the back of a taxi. Just like senior civil servants do with confidential military secrets every week!

Tomorrow's debate? Well, yes, they're doing it all again tomorrow. It's Sky's turn this week, and don't fret if you're one of the 40 million people in this country who don't get Sky, it's on the Beeb as well! Such magnanimity, not like Granada last week who wouldn't let anyone else carry their show live!

I said last week that the polls would soon settle down back to normality. It's taken a bit longer than I thought, but there is some evidence tonight that the Clegg effect is wearing off. After two polls showing a shy lead for the Lib Dems, the Conservatives are now consistently back in front, still narrowly, in all the latest polls. Even more fascinating, they all show that Labour are in third place.

It all makes for an interesting backdrop to tomorrow's leaders' bunfight.
22nd April 2010
Day 17

Some statistics:

90 minutes
3 leaders
150 voters in the audience

So far, so good.

250 journalists.

Yes, really, more journalists have descended on the Arnolfini Centre in Bristol for the second leaders' debate than the number of people in the audience.

This is the measure of the 2010 general election campaign. I said last week that the media likes nothing more than a media event and once again, as with Manchester last week, the entire Westminster village media bubble has transplanted itself to Bristol tonight. I detect a real sense that the leaders' debates are playing to an audience, but that audience is the massed ranks of the political media and not the general public.

These debates are fascinating because they're a whole new element to the British general election which has been talked about so many times before but has never happened until now. It's only right that journalists are energised by this, but I'm not getting similar vibes that the electorate are energised. Part of the problem is that we're not learning anything from these debates, because they're not debates.

Anybody who has been involved with a School or University debating society, or watched the House of Commons when they are debating a bill, knows that what we've seen tonight isn't a debate.

A debate centres around a motion where an argument is made in favour of the motion and then an argument is made against the motion, and then a vote is taken on who put the strongest case. What we've been having is a question-and-answer session, which is a very different thing.

OK, so that's the semantics out of the way, but the difficulty with these TV programmes is just how little opportunity there is for an exchange of views. I think the rule-book is to blame here. Just in case you didn't tune in, here's how it works.

There's a question from somebody in the audience, then each of the leaders gets 60 seconds to talk about it and they then get 60 seconds each to comment on the initial responses. The audience can't intervene and the leaders can't talk across each other, they can only glare and tut.

After this bit, there is a couple of minutes for a free-for-all but it's clear in practice that the leaders remain pretty reticent in going for each other and trying to hold each other to account, because they still feel constrained by the non-interrupting rule that applied for the previous 6 minutes.

The audience still can't say anything. No follow-up by the questioner to press a point, supplementary interventions from elsewhere or any noise at all is allowed from the audience.

It's no wonder the leaders look and sound nervous, they're fretting about contravening all these silly rules! Unfortunately, it makes the whole event appear very uneasy and artificial.

There's very little opportunity in this format for a "big hit" or a "direct blow" which would set apart one of the leaders from the others. This is why last week I said that it didn't feel like there was a clear winner or loser at the conclusion of the debate. I've come away with exactly the same impression today.

Nobody made a gaffe or looked all wrong or evaded the issue. But equally nobody really electrified the audience or stole the show. You'd expect these three men to be pretty good at what they do, they're all main party leaders with years of experience, so it's not surprising that it's hard to separate them if it's necessary to distinguish an outright "winner" in the debate.

Last week I must have been wrong, because the media told the nation and the world that Cleggy was the runaway victor. Maybe I'm wrong again this week. I'll let you know tomorrow when I've had chance to be told what I should have thought by the Westminster villagers.
23rd April 2010
Day 18

Well, I reckon I was about right. I think there have been four or five of these "instant polls" which come out after the debate and there isn't much to separate David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The only certainty is that Gordon Brown came third in them all, which must be a bit worrying for the Labour strategists as they're now third in the opinion polls and their leader is well behind in the debates.

The viewing figures were well down on last week. The Granada debate, which followed Corrie, got 10 million viewers. Last night's Sky effort only achieved an audience of 4 million, so it's going to be a bit of a miracle if anybody tunes in for the Beeb's turn next week.

On the other hand, we know that next Thursday will see the last leaders' debate of the election campaign, so that might gee up the audience figures a bit. There is also a burgeoning expectation that something a bit more spectacular is going to happen next time. There appear to be two main reasons fuelling this new bout of hype.

First, there's a growing sense that one of the leaders needs a knockout punch to claim the crown of debate winner overall. Secondly, the leaders are much more likely in their final appearance to throw caution to the stifling regulations because they can't really be penalised for breaking the rules since it's the last in the series.

There's an outside chance, then, that the final programme could actually be interesting.

Here's hoping.
24th April 2010
Day 19

Slowly the polls are returning to type. I think the impact of these election leaders' debates is wearing off a bit now. The big day is approaching, too, which is always important for focusing the collective mind of the British electorate. The Conservatives have re-established the top slot in the polls, with Labour and the Liberals still fighting it out for second place.

The Labour Party must be reaching a state of mild panic by now, as it's a desperate position for the governing party to be in with just a week and a half to go. Although the Tories are in the lead, it's still tight, only in front by 4 or 5 percentage points and we all know that a poll rating of 34-35% isn't enough on the whole to translate itself into an overall majority in the House of Commons.

Political journalists are falling over themselves to talk the most about the dreaded hung Parliament. I've said earlier in this diary that every election campaign involves some media speculation about the probability of no outright winner, but there's no doubt that the 2010 election has generated more of this talk than usual.

I think it's a bit premature since not a single ballot has yet been cast, and endless conjecture about what deals might need to be done the morning after the night before overlooks two very important points.

In the first place, a snapshot of opinion doesn't necessarily bear any relation to the final outcome. Absolutely anything can happen prior to polling day and so it can be a little bit dangerous to make assumptions about how the voters will vote before they've voted. Interpreting polling evidence is something which should only be attempted with caution.

Secondly, the disappointingly widespread practice of extrapolating the parties' opinion poll ratings to predict the shape of the next House of Commons is a very inexact science. Voting patterns do not fall uniformly all over the country.

For instance, we know for a fact that the Conservatives are doing very well in the Labour marginals, due at at least in part to a massive influx of funds from everyone's favourite non-domicile tax avoider, Lord Ashcroft of Belize.

It's getting more and more difficult to conceive of any outcome to this general election other than an inconclusive result, but I've never been swayed by the conventional wisdom. Mark my words, in 2010 there will be clear winner. Just like there was in 2005, 2001, 1997, 1992, 1987, 1983 and 1979.
25th April 2010
Day 20

It's the end of the third week of this election campaign, and on Sundays, politicians are given special dispensation to leave off the tie.

Clegg, of the early-rising Liberals, was first to surface this morning, turning up on the Andrew Marr show. However, he eschewed his Sunday mufti and turned up in the full works. Well, he's the man of the moment, remember, and has to try to look a bit prime ministerial before all the glory wears off completely.

David Cameron went for the open-necked look at an event in West Yorkshire talking about schools, and Gordon Brown tried to look relaxed as well, but unfortunately he also put on his full suit and some cufflinks, so leaving the necktie at Number 10 didn't really seem to work. The message too, from Labour, didn't exactly fit either.

Practically the only thing these three can agree on is that we're in the worst economic crisis since the previous worst economic crisis. So, you might question whether the PM talking about gerrymandering the voting system and playing about with Parliamentary procedure and the composition of the House of Lords has any relevance to people's priorities as polling day approaches.

Gordon will know full well on May 6th whether he's in step or out of step with the public mood.

Can't wait.