BeebMaster's Election Diary 2010
Week 4

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5

26th April 2010
Day 21

Week 4 begins, and I'm getting bored now. This is becoming a single-issue general election. It's not even as if the issue is an important policy priority. The single issue is a hung Parliament. This is all the media are talking about because they can't understand that the people of Britain might not divide precisely along the lines indicated by the latest poll when polling day finally comes round.

The Conservatives have waded in (or should that be "wode"?) with their strongest warning yet against an indecisive election result. There's a new party political in the offing pillioring such a result, based around the spoof "Hung Parliament Party".

Nick Clegg flip-flops about every time he's asked. One minute he says he's not going to decide who's in government after the election, the next minute he says he definitely won't support Gordon Brown, and the third minute he says he might support Labour if they change the leader.

Gordon Brown says he wants to talk about policy, not the political process, but it's hard to take his position seriously when we see him every now and again in some supermarket or other asking people about the weather or their favourite football team.

The surge in Liberal support since the first TV debate has changed the whole dynamic of this election. The media are totally consumed by talk of the possibility of a hung Parliament, so it's not surprising that politicians have to engage with the idea since it's all they ever get asked about.

The Tories are hoping to profit from Labour's drop to third place. In the last few days, David Cameron has started campaigning in relatively safe Labour seats, such as Morley & Rothwell. If the Conservatives think that seats like these are winnable, then they are certainly thinking that a decent Conservative majority is within reach.

There's a second dimension, though, to the revised Tory strategy: David Cameron is also putting a bit more effort into LibDem marginals, such as Romsey where he's been today. A couple of weeks ago, Tory victories in these seats could have been taken for granted, but Cleggy's spurt could rob Cameron of some of his south-east targets.
27th April 2010
Day 22

I'm glad my appeal of yesterday has been heeded by the political class. Today has been much more of a day of traditional electioneering.

David Cameron started off this morning doing the vision thing, making a speech about his big society idea, and ended up being heckled on the streets by somebody or other who has been on every news programme ever since.

Gordon Brown went on a town-centre style walkabout, the first of the campaign apparently, up in Glasgow. A bit dangerous you might think, but as far as I can discern, he's survived.

And, true to form, the only thing the Liberals have been on about is, again, the tired, boring, dull old hung parliament question. Nick Clegg has sought to clarify the remarks he's been making over the last few days about who he could or couldn't support if nobody wins the election. Today he said that he didn't say that hadn't said he wouldn't work with Gordon Brown.

I think.

It doesn't really matter because it's not going to happen. The polls have settled down a bit with the Conservatives definitely, but only slightly, in the lead and the Lib Dems very even with Labour, and just edging ahead of them in some of the polls. It seems that very few commentators have latched onto the electoral effect of this rise in third-party support.

It's clear that the left-of-centre vote has been completely split and this is going to allow the Conservatives to mop up in the confusion. That's why David Cameron is now gunning for safe Labour seats: he knows that the more Labour votes leak to the Liberals, the more this benefits the Tories.

I've decided to treat you in the next diary entry to my prediction of the election result, so sleep tight and come back tomorrow!
28th April 2010
Day 23


I said yesterday that I felt that Gordon Brown had survived his first walkabout. Today he most definitely didn't!

There was the PM, pottering about in Oldham and then Rochdale, and he spoke to a lady voter, Mrs Duffy. He had a robust exchange of views with her about the economic situation, education and immigration. Good telly, probably the best thing the PM has done in the election campaign so far:

Gordon Brown engaging with the electorate, man of the people, getting his message across, the encounter ending very amicably with Mrs Duffy saying she would be voting Labour and hoping that Gordon Brown would remain in Downing Street for a long time.

Then he gets in the car and forgets he's on mic and starts saying the whole thing was a "disaster" and complaining about being thrust before a "bigoted woman"!

Oh dear! He then went off to speak to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 and suffered the ignominy of having the tape played back to him on live radio. The radio interview was filmed so we can see the actual moment:

Cyber ControllerGordon Brown

The most charitable thing I can say of the incident is how completely inept it makes Gordon Brown look. He didn't realise the mic was still picking him up, as soon as he got into the Prime Ministerial Jag and the door was shut, he started. Then he went into a radio booth in full view of the cameras looking like he was going to fall to pieces in front of our very eyes!

He's not very media savvy is he?

Many commentators are being much less charitable, making the argument that the private face of Gordon Brown has been revealed very publicly. The PM's detractors say that he doesn't like people who disagree with him. It certainly appears that he has shown a good deal of contempt for voters and his reading of the exchange with Mrs Duffy does seem to be bizarre - immediately calling it a "disaster" as soon as it ended, when any reasoned judgement of the event shows that he actually came off rather well.

Bad on-air day for the PM! He'll be chucking telephones and printers around again when he gets back home!
29th April 2010
Day 24

There were surreal scenes yesterday afternoon when the story about Gordon's gaffe just wouldn't go away. He tried 'phoning up Mrs Duffy to say he was sorry but that didn't work, so he got told to go round to her house and apologise in person.

The cameras weren't allowed in so we can only wonder what the PM talked about for 45 minutes. We might never know, because Mrs Duffy didn't want, as Gordon Brown had hoped, to come out and tell the nation she had accepted the apology.

I have to say it all looked like a mad scramble, the actions of the Labour Party and the Prime Minister becoming more and more desperate by the minute as they flailed around trying, as spin-speak puts it, to "close down" the story. There was a real sense that Labour had gone into panic and that the election campaign was disintegrating live on television.

It is important not to exaggerate the significance of a single incident in a general election campaign but equally yesterday's debacle did look like the moment that the wheels started to come off the Labour machine.

There have been plenty of rumours of despondency within the Labour camp, and with the governing party struggling in third place in opinion polls, it's not surprising that differences emerge behind the scenes.

For me, the most telling sign of difficulties within the Labour campaign came when Harriet Harman told us that she hadn't spoken to Gordon Brown about his gaffe. This was the single most damaging incident in the entire election campaign and the Party Leader and his Deputy haven't even talked about it! Desperate times indeed!

I thought tonight's final leaders' debate, which has just finished, was much more heavy-going than the previous two. It left my head spinning a bit with facts and figures, claims and counter-claims flying all over the shop. I'll have more on the last debate and its aftermath tomorrow when I've mulled it all over.

For now, I want to let you have my prediction of the election result, which I was hoping to reveal yesterday if Gordon & Mrs Duffy hadn't intervened. I've had the BBC micro and second processor crackling away with the numbers and this is it:

UK Independence Party1+1
Ulster Parties18-
Nats & Others9-2
Con Maj38

A week today we'll know how close to the mark I am!
30th April 2010
Day 25

So who won the battle of the debates?

ITV of course. They got 9 million, Sky 4 million and last night's BBC effort 8 million.

These are very respectable viewing figures and there's no doubt that the debates have added a new dimension to this general election campaign. But I think the rules governing audience involvement were a mistake. There really was little point having an audience present at all, since they weren't permitted to react or ask follow-up questions.

It made the atmosphere of the debates seem all wrong and much of the time it resulted in rather awkward viewing. When we watch a gameshow or sitcom, the audience reaction is a prompt for us to respond at home, and without this there was something definite, but slightly intangible, missing from these programmes.

The actual questions posed were not challenging at all. They were phrased in such a catch-all manner that there was enormous scope for the leaders to fit their replies into the prepared statements and rehearsed lines they had all committed to memory and we'd all heard dozens of times before.

David Cameron was certainly playing it safe, not taking any risks. He wanted to sound authoritative and prime ministerial but he came across as unexciting and unengaging, afraid to speak out and show a bit of passion.

By the third debate, Nick Clegg had overplayed the "change candidate" card somewhat. Standing in the middle railing against the squabbling of the two other parties and promoting the virtues of the need for everyone to work together for peace, harmony and coca-cola began to grate after four-and-a-half hours. I'm afraid I found it all rather naive, conveniently dismissing the reality that our political system is adversarial.

That's why in the House of Commons we have Government benches and Opposition benches and not a set of soft cushions and beanbags. This wet-behind-the-ears idealism might take in first-time voters but I doubt the Great British Public will be swayed by it en masse.

Gordon Brown came off worst. He's no media performer but he should have been able to make up for these painfully obvious failings by bringing authority and substance to the argument. He seemed quite happy to rely on his record in office whilst being totally oblivious to the fact that his record as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister is pretty much precisely why Labour have sunk to third place in the opinion polls.

As the debates wore on, the PM became more and more negative. His closing address, in the final moments of the debate series, was unadulteratedly negative, scaremongering about the other two parties with nothing but nothing new and positive to offer.

With the cringe-inducing smile he's manufactured and the truly appalling jokes, he ended this week of campaigning looking like a clapped-out vaudeville comic at the end of a long and disappointing career.

There's a danger that these debates reduce political discourse to nothing more than a third-rate seaside town beauty pageant. I can say with some relief that largely these debates have avoided this obvious trap.

As the series progressed there was a little bit less attention given each time to how the leaders looked and sounded and a little more attention to the contents of what they were saying.

All along Gordon Brown has maintained that he wants to focus on substance, because he knows that's all he has to give. But that's a rather depressing thought. Would the likes of Gladstone, Palmerston, Disraeli, Churchill or Attlee have risen to lead our country if they had been subjected to this process?
1st May 2010
Day 26

It's the final weekend of the campaign and the papers are beginning to declare. The Grauniad and the Observer have come out for the Lib Dems whilst the Times has reverted to the Conservatives.

Mrs Duffy has declared too, in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, but she says she isn't voting for anyone and won't send in her postal ballot.

It's another blow for Gordon Brown who is now looking more accident prone by the minute. He was launching some new posters yesterday in a car park somewhere at the same moment as a car crash happened during a speech by Lord Mandy. Then he went to a school only to be embroiled in a row about a kid who had been sent home early in case he misbehaved whilst the PM was around.

Today he was throwing some metaphorical stones at the Tories in a glass factory and was heckled by an angry voter who was yanked out by Labour officials. It's all looking very unfortunate for Gordon Brown, and weekend polls won't help at all.

A CommRes poll puts the Tories 10 points ahead, just about the best since the debates began, on 38%, with Labour on 28% and the Libs a couple of points behind.

The party leaders all want us to believe that the election is still wide open, to keep us interested enough to remember to vote next Thursday. I rather fancy that the fate is already sealed.
2nd May 2010
Day 27

My word, it must be serious!

Really, really serious!

Here we are, the final Sunday of the campaign, and the three main party leaders are all wearing ties!

First up was David Cameron, appearing on the Andrew Marr show at 4 o'clock this morning, then Gordon Brown evangelising at a gospel church, then Cleggy as well, somewhere or other!

They are all promising the most intensive period of campaigning up to polling day ever seen before - well, that's as maybe but the only one of them saying anything we haven't heard ninety times before is David Cameron. He's come up with quite a good gimmick for the final push - his new "contract" with the voters.

It's anyone's guess whether it's going to inspire the electorate to swing behind the Conservatives in time for Thursday, but at least it is something different for the last few days.

It contrasts rather with Gordon Brown who has become unremittingly nasty and negative since the final leaders' debate - his last-ditch pitch is "the Cons will ruin everything so vote for me because, er um, well, er, I'm not the Cons".