In the days immediately after the election the political class was treated to the sight of Sir John Major popping up to argue the case for a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition.
It reminded me of the cinema advertisements at the time The Sting was first released as a movie. The film marked the reunion of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in their first collaboration since the hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That first movie concluded with the two stars’ demise and the trailer for the Sting ended with the words: “Maybe this time they’ll get away with it.”
For a Con-Lib alliance would, to all extent and purposes, be a re-run of the doomed 1992-97 Major government. As is often noted all political parties are coalitions anyway. John Major’s turned out to be the loosest kind. Read more
No political party wants to give up power. They are, after all, in the business of trying to govern. But the voices urging Labour to eschew a grand deal with the Liberal Democrats and regroup in opposition may have learned a valuable historic lesson.
In 1992, John Major surprised everyone by winning the election; some commentators went so far as to predict we would never again see another Labour government. Yet after the ERM crisis and umpteen sleaze allegations it was the Tories who were out of power for a generation. Had the Conservatives lost the 1992 election it would have been Labour which inherited the crisis and the Tories might well have returned to office at the next election. Instead they lost their reputation for economic competence and became hated. Read more
So the election has left us in the middle section of a Jane Austen novel. Gruff Gordon and Dashing Dave are competing for the affections of Nubile Nick, a comely young thing, sadly living in somewhat reduced circumstances. Much of his estate is now entailed but by gosh he’s full of brio. And we don’t yet know if Nick is the “consent and supply” type.
But instead of secret billets-doux and private meetings, we are seeing the negotiations played out in public with all emotion laid bare rather than remaining satisfyingly buttoned-up. Of course if this were an Austen romance, we know the Lib Dem leader would end up choosing the gruff stand-offish suitor, having been led a merry and disappointing dance by the more polished Conservative leader. Read more
So after a long night which rewarded those like me who stuck with it all the way through by delivering almost exactly the result predicted by the exit polls at 10pm, we now know that Nick Clegg will give David Cameron the first shot at forming a government.
Clegg’s decision to all but offer the keys to Number 10 to David Cameron is very interesting indeed. The Liberal Democrat leader must be bitterly disappointed this morning – in the end it was almost as if the debates that projected him to the electoral stratosphere never happened. He woke up and it was all a dream, which made it far harder for him to swagger around playing kingmaker. However, the decision effectively to cut Gordon Brown off at the knees so early is a surprising tactical move. Read more
Gordon Brown’s impassioned speech to the Citizens’ UK meeting on Monday has been widely and rightly praised – he showed us a leader worth electing, a leader capable of inspiring. He also showed Labour activists a leader worth getting the vote out for. It reminded me of a speech he gave back in 1994 to a Labour regional conference when the party leadership had already all but slipped away from him – a gutteral, almost political scream, who showed Gordon the radical, the idealist. But again it came only when he already sensed he had nothing to lose. It makes one wonder what kind of leader he might have been had his innate caution not always held him back.
(As an aside it is extraordinary that he was moved to such an animated performance by the tearful intervention of a young woman detailing the financial travails of her mum who worked as a cleaner at the Treasury. This was after all the department Mr Brown ran for 11 years.)
In our election podcast, Charles Lewington points out that John Major also seemed to find a moment of release in the last days of the 1997 election campaign.
There is something terribly sad about modern politics that the political class finds candidates who seem to embody what we admire in raw form and spend the next years stripping out everything that made them admirable in the first place. Some might argue that David Cameron took this process to its logical conclusion by doing the work for us in advance. Read more
“We are fighting to save tax credits”; seven words that sum up everything that has gone wrong for Gordon Brown in both this election and his premiership. I first noticed this, or a variation of it, in a radio news clip on Friday night; I then heard it again on Saturday and today. I’m fairly sure he’s said it in the debates but for some reason it only struck me this weekend.
You don’t fight for tax credits – you fight for hard-working families, you fight for the less privileged. Tax credits aren’t something you fight for, they are a mechanism. Only Mr Brown can elevate them into something worth fighting for in their own right. Tony Blair would never have made such a basic mistake.
One imagines a Brown variation on Winston Churchill: “We shall fight them to maintain a consistent quality of sand on the beaches, especially near the volleyball nets; we shall fight them on the landing grounds where they might seek to park in the bays otherwise reserved for the disabled and mothers with young children”. Read more
The FT’s Robert Shrimsley joined Clive Anderson for the BBC’s weekly election show, The Heckler. Click here for a link to the broadcast, which is a quirky, irreverent guide to this week’s events in the general election campaign. What the politicians really think of the voters they have to woo and flatter, and if we do get a hung parliament, will our leaders be simply too exhausted by all that campaigning to thrash out a deal to run the country?
Oh no, no no no. My innards are shrivelling up even as I watch it. It just goes to show the parties are right to keep their leaders away from voters.
Just to recap on the facts:
1) Gordon Brown on a visit to Rochdale, has a perfectly civil ding-dong with a Gracie Fields type who tongue-lashes him over a range of issues including immigration Read more
The FT’s Robert Shrimsley joined Clive Anderson for the BBC’s weekly election show, The Heckler. Click here for a link to the broadcast, which is a quirky, irreverent guide to this week’s events in the general election campaign. Is positive the new negative? How have all the main parties taken to rebuking the others for “squabbling” – or debating policy, as it used to be called?
OK. A contentious proposition. The TV debates with which we are all enthralled are not setting the agenda of this election; they are simply confirming it. This is not to underplay their significance but it is important to understand their limits.
When the Conservatives conduct their post-mortems on this general election, many will conclude that his poor performance in the first debate and his agreement to Nick Clegg’s inclusion is what cost him victory. (Obviously, this is one of those posts that presumes he is not headed for an outright victory.) Read more
It’s 45 minutes since the debate ended so here’s a first settled view
Nick Clegg had another good debate. Perhaps not as stellar as last time but again he was very strong and there were real touches of Obama in his peroration and call for a politics that could be different and he ended witha real flourish. He did seem a little flustered at one point when the other two ganged up on him but ironically their aggression may work for him. He was particularly effective when dealing with his weakest subjects. He was very good in the immigration round but it is hard to know if his debating talents will compensate for the fact that he is pushing an unpopular policy – an amnesty for illegal immigrants. It is hard to see him losing much ground on this. There was nothing to stop his momentum and if anything he may have cemented his position. he will be pretty pleased tonight. Read more
Remember the Swift Boat Veterans who helped destroy John Kerry’s presidential bid? They were a group of guys who rubbished his war record turning his time in ‘nam against him even though he was running against George W Bush who wriggled out of going altogether. The great thing about the veterans is that they were at arms length and George Bush had deniability over their output.
Well look at this from ConservativeHome. It’s a pretty effective attack video rubbishing Nick Clegg’s record’s on expenses and it is being tweeted out by sympathisers. Read more
In last night’s episode:
Gordon declared his love for Nick; but Nick doesn’t love Gordon and remembers that when he did love Gordon, Gordon didn’t love him. But Nick is quietly flirting with David Miliband and Alan Johnson, who’ve always liked him a bit more, while trying not to make it too obvious what he is up to in case all the people who like him at the moment stop liking him once they find out what he is up to. Also we’re not really that sure that Gordon does love Nick; we think he doesn’t really. Read more
David Cameron is often accused of trying to steal too heavily from the Tony Blair playbook but he’s not the only one harking back to 1997. In that election, the then Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney hired an actor to dress up in chicken suit and follow Tony Blair around to highlight his refusal to take part in a leader’s debate. The confrontation ended when the Daily Mirror hired an actor to dress as a wolf and attack the Tory chicken during one such walkabout. Who says politics has got more juvenile in the last decade?
Anyway Mr Cameron – who probably wishes he had dodged the debate – is now being followed by a Mirror chicken apparently chasing him over unanswered questions. Mr Cameron today finally lost patience with the chicken although in a reasonably controlled and good-humoured way, decapitating the bird or at least ripping off its mask. More amusingly he then challenged the chicken to ask its questions; but of course, the chicken is just some poor bloke in a suit – it didn’t have any questions and looked around rather desperately for its Mirror minder. Read more
David Cameron’s new election broadcast is on the Conservative website. Apparently this was rushed into production and the old one junked so that his Daveness could project a more positive message and reclaim the mantle of the candidate for change.
There’s a touch of a Richard Curtis movie about the clip. There’s Mr Cameron looking unruffled and charming in his Notting Hill back garden. The grass is lush, the sun is shining and there’s a simply super kid’s play area at the back of the shot. I didn’t see Hugh Grant in the background but you feel he was probably inside helping himself to the last brownie. There’s no soundtrack by Wet,Wet, Wet, but Take That’s Gary Barlow was in an earlier Cameron movie. Read more
Nick Clegg has a problem but it’s a nice kind of problem. The Lib Dem leader is enjoying a remarkable poll surge which he needs to defend and enhance. He is unlikely to be troubled by most of the attacks other parties are likely to launch on him, which will seem only to prove his point that the other two are just the two old relics defending the status quo.
But one attack does cause him difficulties and it is no surprise therefore that the Tories are pressing it hard. The “Vote Clegg, Get Brown” line is effective for two reasons. The first is that it could shore up wavering Conservatives and the second is that if it takes root it can undermine the Lib Dem claim to be the true party of change. As I wrote yesterday, the change mantle is the one David Cameron needs to reclaim if he is to win and it is the one he foolishly ceded to Nick Clegg in the debate. The claim that a Lib Dem surge could sustain Mr Brown unless the Labour vote collapses entirely has the added advantage of being true. Read more
As my Alphaville colleagues would say, it’s tin hat time for the Conservatives. You don’t have to believe the huge Lib Dem poll surge in its entirety to know both parties have a big problem. Labour is counting on the Clegg boost doing enough to deny the Tories a majority (and possibly even the largest number of seats) but not becoming so strong as to do real damage to Mr Brown. It is also enjoying the Conservative discomfort and counting on the Cameron campaign self-destructing. This seems understandable but very risky. The Lib Dem surge could leave Mr Brown hanging on but it is surely not something around which to build a strategy.
Mr Cameron has a more fundamental problem. Unlike Mr Brown he was in control of his destiny and needs to be so again if he is to win. He had a simple plan – to persuade voters that he was the change they so desperately want But he has allowed himself to be sidetracked from that message (bleating on about a national insurance contributions rise few understand) and in the TV debate the change mantle was seized by Mr Clegg. Mr Cameron’s team have made the schoolboy error of thinking that winning a media war on NI contributions was the same as winning round voters. It wasn’t. Read more
The FT’s Robert Shrimsley joined Clive Anderson for the BBC’s weekly election show, The Heckler. Click here for a link to the broadcast, which is a quirky, irreverent guide to this week’s events in the general election campaign, including the first prime ministerial TV debate and the manifesto launches.
There is near unanimity that Nick Clegg won the first leaders’ debate – watched by more than 9m people most of whom seemed to stick with it all the way through. Rather harder to gauge is what that victory will mean and how it will alter the dynamic and outcome of the election.
The FT election panel podcast discussed this at length and these are their conclusions:
Some things appear clear still. Gordon Brown had a bad debate. Most polls place him a poor third and his aggressive style didn’t do serious damage to David Cameron but made Mr Brown himself look bad. His contempt for David Cameron was far too visible and did not look attractive. Read more
First thoughts on the debate which was much more lively than many expected:
1) Nick Clegg dominated proceedings and must be held to have been the clear winner in the actual contest. He always had the easiest task and it is no surprise he came out well but I never expected him to be quite such a commanding figure. He was clear, articulate, forceful without being overly aggressive. He seemed relaxed (possibly too much so – I wondered about the hands in the pocket stance) and always spoke directly to the camera. Read more