Monthly Archives: April 2010

Jim Pickard

Ladbrokes is offering tempting odds on the viewing figures for tomorrow’s debate. It has 3/1 on an audience of 5m-9.99m and 5/4 on 10m-14.99m.

The former in particular seems like a very generous offer:the first debate got an audience of 9.4m on ITV and the second got 4m on Sky, reflecting the latter’s generally lower viewing figures.

I’m also putting a bet on the slightly higher range, just in case more people turn out for the grand spectactular on the BBC. (I’m not betting that they stay for the full 90 minutes, however). Read more

Jim Pickard

Before any politician starts getting too pompous about Gordon Brown’s gaffe it’s worth remembering the time that Nick Clegg was overheard on a plane dismissing a potential reshuffle with Danny Alexander, chief of staff. Read more

The FT’s expert election panel will occasionally be giving their thoughts on the big themes of the campaign. Today, they each write a memo to their leader giving advice for Thursday night’s debate and the remainder of the run-up to the polls.

Charles Lewington, former press secretary to John Major:
David, you have three tasks in the final days – rebutting Labour’s attack on your economic policies, continuing with the tedious but important process of warning about the dangers of hanging the parliament and taking the gloss off the freshly minted Liberal Democrat brand without attacking Clegg personally. Read more

Jim Pickard

What will damage Gordon Brown over today’s unfortunate encounter is that Mrs Duffy – it transpires – seems to be far from the ignorant “bigot” that Brown labelled her.

Bewildered by her encounter with the prime minister, she said that all she wanted to know was “why I was called a bigot.” Mrs Duffy, in her own dignified way, said that Mr Brown was an “educated person” who should have known better. Read more


Oh dear. First big gaffe of the campaign. Gordon Brown forgot to take his microphone off as he left a campaign event in his car. This is what was broadcast on Sky:

“That’s a disaster”

“You should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It’s Sue I think. It’s just ridiculous.”

His aide asks what was wrong with it.

“Everything. She’s just a sort of bigoted woman. Said she used to be Labour.”

The woman in question is Gillian Duffy, who raised the issue of immigration and her pension with the prime minister just before he entered his car.

UPDATE: We presume the Sue who organised the visit was Sue Nye, the prime minister’s long serving gatekeeper.

UPDATE 2: The irony of this is that Brown handled the encounter rather well. He is not the first politician to be caught out by an open mike, as Adam Boulton just noted on Sky. The classic is the Reagan quip over bombing Russia in five minutes.

 Read more

Jim Pickard

The problem with any plot involving Mandelson installing David Miliband into the Labour leadership is very familiar. It’s the sticking point which held back Brown’s enemies during the last three or four attempted coups against him.

It is this: the rules around Labour leadership elections are very complicated, especially if the incumbent refuses to step down. Even if Brown was to walk voluntarily there would still have to be a democratic election within Labour for his replacement.

You may remember that the Parliamentary Labour Party only has a third of the vote. Another third goes to the grassroots. The final third is the unions: and the barons are already unhappy at the idea of the Blairite wing of the party fixing the contest in advance. Read more

Jim Pickard

I couldn’t resist placing two bets on Thursday’s debate. Curiously, David Cameron is favourite to win, perhaps because (at least at first glance) he seemed to come out on top last time around. I’m not so certain.

Labour are confident that their man will emerge triumphant because the economy is his strong suit. I doubt it; Gordon Brown will be hugely vulnerable to accusations that he failed to see the crash coming (Clegg and Cameron will surely remind him of his hubristic phrase ‘no return to boom and bust’). Viewers may also be sceptical of his claims that the economy is at risk in any hands other than his own. Read more

Politics for the next five years will be dominated by painful public spending cuts. But in this election every time a politician speaks, it seem to be in order to protect one more benefit perk. So far, in terms of new spending guarantees vs new cuts, the campaign score is at least £25bn to 0.

Take the appearance of Liam Byrne and Philip Hammond on Newsnight last night, which turned into the most expensive interview of their political careers. Without blinking, the two would-be guardians of the public purse ruled out means testing child benefit.

Price tag? Around £5bn to ensure millionaires (in fact anyone family earning more than £25,000) can still pick up their benefit perk. That’s roughly the size of the defence equipment budget.

Any cuts to match that? Of course not. If you try our Deficit Buster online tool, you’ll see that means testing child benefit is one of the easiest of a horrible set of choices. The public surely deserve to know where the Tories and Labour will find that £5bn. Read more

Jim Pickard

Positive coverage for David Cameron in the morning papers over his appearance yesterday morning with Brooke Kinsella, the former Eastenders actress whose brother was stabbed to death in 2008. She made a moving speech as she accepted the role of Tory adviser over which anti-knife projects to support. Read more

Tories eye pact with smaller parties – The FT
Interactive graphic: Electoral reform explained - The FT
Analysis: Shrunken ambitions – Philip Stephens for the FT
Osborne fails to win over City bankers – The FT
Clegg needs a showstopper from Brown – The Times
Nick Clegg: I want to be prime minister – The Times
Left leaning voters’ paradox – The Guardian
The worst thing that can happen is a second general election – The Telegraph
Like it or not, an age of austerity beckons – The Independent

A plague on all your houses – Chris Giles in The FT
Deficit Buster cuts to the chase – The FT
Tell us the truth about cuts! – Jon Craig on Sky
Labour should forget about Clegg and pull itself together – The Times
Clegg puts party before country – Iain Dale
Tory plans for nurseries are something to shout about – The Guardian

Adam Boulton of Sky did a fantastic job of pressing Lord Mandelson today on where Labour would cut the budget. Reading out the list of illustrative cuts developed for the FT “deficit buster” online tool, Boulton asks what Labour would be able to avoid.

Mandelson’s answer? “When I last looked, neither the Institute for Fiscal Studies nor the Financial Times were standing in this election.” See Paul Waugh for the heckle of the day. Read more

The FT’s expert election panel will occasionally be giving their thoughts on the big news stories of the campaign. Below is Matthew Taylor’s take on how Labour can – and must- rejuvenate the policy agenda.

Matthew Taylor, former director of policy to Tony Blair:
If Labour trails in a bad third next week, a divided, demoralised and impoverished Party could easily go into a long term decline, becoming a Party whose highest realistic aspiration is to a be a minority partner in a future coalition.

Finally, today it looks like policy is on the agenda. Labour has to keep it there until the debate on Thursday and then hope that Gordon Brown can win on home territory (there are, after all, still many voters who do not warm to Brown but will on probing agree he is the best on experience and on protecting the interests of ordinary families). With a little wind in its sails Labour might yet breach the 30 per cent barrier within sight of being the largest party. This would change the dynamic of the last week. Read more

Here’s a couple of insights from developing our deficit buster tool. They both seem to chime with the Institute for Fiscal Studies report today, which concludes that tax rises will almost certainly be imposed alongside the deepest cuts since Thatcher:

1) The political incentive will be to go faster and deeper Read more

The podcasts, which are hosted by Robert Shrimsley, will be recorded every Monday and Friday for the duration of the campaign – see the full list in the UK election podcast archive.

Banal debates exposed deeply unimpressive candidates – The FT
First past post system will be tested to its limits - The FT
Labour comes to terms with an existential crisis – Rachel Sylvester in The Times
Mandelson backs Miliband as Labour civil war brews – The Mail
Clegg “clarifies” that he’ll deal with third place Labour – The Guardian
Clegg will make sure he is leader of the opposition – Martin Kettle, The Guardian
Alternative Vote will be no better – John Curtice in The Independent
Lib Dems storm Islington, home of New Labour – The Times
Watch out for a rogue poll - Political Betting

Gordon Brown’s big opportunity - Nick Robinson’s newslog
The final ten days – Adam Boulton on Sky
Alan Johnson positions himself to lead Labour coalition talks – The Times
The tories won’t stand for PR – Iain Martin in the Wall St Journal
The surge of young voters – Libby Brooks in The Guardian
Warning to Clegg: Don’t overreach yourself – Alistair Campbell

Jim Pickard

The Labour machine have just tried to rebut the Tory claims that 20 more of their seats are vulnerable to a blue surge.

They point out that the 20 include supersafe Houghton & Sunderland South, where the Tories would need a 20 per cent swing. They also claim that two of the seats – Coventry South and Sherwood – would have been required by the Tories to form a majority anyway. Am trying to check whether this is true. Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s fair to say that Alex will easily win our little contest if his Cardiff South (40:1) bet comes in on the Liberal Democrats. But it’s a long shot by definition. By contrast I’m sticking to a core strategy of going for unsurprising victories where the odds are better than they should be.

Harrow West, until 1997, was Tory through and through. In 1997 it was seized by Gareth Thomas, a likeable Labour MP who has served as a minister in DFID and the business department. He is looking seriously vulnerable, however, with a majority of only about 2,000. A swing of 9 per cent to the Tories and he is a goner. Read more

The FT’s expert election panel will occasionally be giving their thoughts on running themes of the campaign. Today, we asked each to describe their fantasy cabinet in a Government of National Unity.

Miranda Green, former press secretary to Paddy Ashdown:
My fantasy is a Government of National Unity to reform the finances and the political system. We can include talent from all parties – Brown out, and Cameron and George Osborne out, I’m afraid, as punishment for wasting their big electoral opportunity. A bit of Labour continuity and a lot of Lib Dem and Tory appointments, including:

Nick Clegg for prime minister and Alan Johnson for deputy prime minister working closely to keep it together (possibly rotating?). Alistair Darling stays as Chancellor, in the interests of stability, with Vince Cable is Business Secretary on a brief to tackle the banks. David Miliband at Home Office with Chris Huhne as Justice Secretary to protect civil liberties. Lord Adonis and Michael Gove forced to be joint at education and push through sensible reforms. Read more