Monday, 3 May 2010

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes...

The most closely fought and unpredictable election of my voting life is now drawing to a fascinating denouement. Here's my take on the past few weeks' campaigning, starting with the losers. And, just to make me look even more silly after the count on Thursday night, I've also added my predictions.

Labour - Gordon Brown

Yes, I know we are all voting for candidates, not parties or leaders, but such is the way the campaigns have all been structured - particularly with the new leaders' TV debates - that UK elections are becoming ever more 'Presidential' in style. Which has been a massive blow for the incumbents, given that they have no personalities to push forward in a personality-driven environment.

Poor old Labour. Thirteen years after the heady days of 1997 when they rolled into Downing Street on a wave of euphoria, Labour are about to be unceremoniously kicked out, despite their achievements. The past 13 years have been a mixed bag, but there is no denying that Labour has done extraordinarily well with policies such as SureStart. Sadly for them, their party and campaign are led by Britain's most uncharismatic man. With the possible exception of Piers Morgan.

Staring defeat in the face, and unable to afford the sort of massively expensive campaign the Tories have been able to roll out, Labour are limping to the finish line with ever more desperate attempts to woo the wavering voters. Calling a potential supporter a 'bigot' was supposed to be a low point, but still they kept digging the hole ever deeper, culminating last week in the reappearance of Tony Blair. Surely they're playing to lose, now. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they've put a massive bet on themselves to get trounced, and thereby refill the party coffers in one fell swoop. I call this 'John Higgins' fundraising.)

Overseas readers of this blog - if there are any - may be amazed to find that Tony Blair is now considered to be a political liability. His popularity in the USA remains very high, but here in the UK we have this quaint old-fashioned thing where we still dislike politicians for lying - even though hating a politician for lying is rather like hating a dog for licking his own balls: it's unsightly, but it's an integral part of who he his. (And we all wish we could get away with it.)

Incredibly, given the massive unpopularity that is inevitable for the incumbent party after three terms and amid a crushing recession, Labour may not actually do too badly. Psephologists worldwide are no doubt scratching their heads as to how Labour can be polling 28% just two days before the vote, which is actually several points higher than they have been polling for most of the current Parliament. You've seen it here first, people - millions of votes earned purely out of sympathy for a dying animal. Labour are, in fact, the political wing of Jedward.

My prediction - 215 seats

Liberal Democrat - Nick Clegg

The LibDem campaign has been a game of two halves. Prior to the first leaders' debate, hardly anyone knew who Nick Clegg was, and the LibDems were still polling below 20%. To be fair to Clegg, I think a major reason why so many people were unaware of his existence was down to the almost total lack of coverage of the LibDems in much of the (Tory) press, but his strong performance in the debates earned him an instance bounce in the polls up to almost 30% - and, creditably, this is a position they appear to have sustained to date.

This brings me to the second half of the LibDems' campaign, and possibly the most surreal part of what has been a pretty topsy-turvy few weeks. Once it became apparent that Clegg was a real threat to the status quo, the press reaction was instant and vicious. What began with some mild digs about nobody knowing who Clegg was - patently no longer true after the first debate - quickly descended into more desperate obloquy and ad hominem attacks. Not surprisingly, this is my personal favourite:

How can anyone seriously try to get any laughs out of the LibDems when you're up against this calibre of comedy?

When the Daily "Hurrah For The Blackshirts" Mail starts falling foul of Godwin's Law, you know you must be doing something right. Unfortunately for Clegg, far beyond these pathetic attempts to scare the electorate, he is still hampered by the same ball and chain he always was - a vote for the LibDems is statistically worth around 10% of a vote for another party, in terms of seats gained. Unless they are able to overcome an electoral system strongly skewed against them, they will never get the chance to change it, and so they will remain effectively irrelevant.

So, Cleggy, it's back to "my home town Sheffield" for the public-school educated Eurocrat. But look on the bright side. You might still be irrelevant, but at least people know who you are now.

My prediction - 84 seats

Conservative - David Cameron

Anointed as the winner as long as two years ago, Cameron and his motley band of homophobes and Bullingdon chums are now limping across the line. If you had just arrived in the UK and read the papers today - mostly heavily biased toward the Tories, of course - you would think that Cameron has run a spectacularly successful campaign, and is about to win a resounding mandate from the British people.

What seems to have been forgotten is that, just one year ago, the Conservatives were polling consistently over 40% (now seemingly stuck in the mid-30s), and had a lead over Labour of over 20%. Months of 'articles' like this...

3 Sep 2009 ... DAVID Cameron is on course to win a sensational landslide general election victory next May, an exclusive Sun poll reveals tonight.

27 Jul 2009 ... Get ready for a Tory landslide. That is the prediction of a new and sophisticated electoral forecasting tool...

Stephens Scown snap poll predicts Tory landslide ... David Cameron's Tory party will sweep to power with a massive 64% of the vote...

... have been quietly shelved in favour of bizarre attacks on the opposition parties, and (unwittingly) hilarious puff pieces about Dave the normal bloke. Meanwhile, the Tories are stuck on the level of support they had when Michael Howard royally buggered up the 2005 election.

For the immensely wealthy banker's son, educated at Eton and married into aristocracy, trying to come across as a regular member of the human race must be a massive task. So I suppose Dave deserves some credit for success in this regard, in that at least fewer than 50% of the electorate believe he breathes with the use of gills. (Note: this result was obtained from a non-scientifically conducted poll, and may not be an accurate reflection of public opinion.) Nevertheless, no matter how it is spun, this election is almost certain to end up as a failure for the Tory party, even if they do form the next Government.

Some of the best entertainment in the election campaign - despite Gordon Brown's best efforts to insult his way to the top - have come from Dave. His appearances on the leaders' TV debates have been must-watch stuff: from the rabbit in the headlights in the first debate, through to the more confident (but still appearing to look like a face drawn on a thumb) in the final debate. Cameron and his would-be ministers, particularly the hard drinking Billy Hague, have been zooming around the country in private jets kindly loaned by their 'ordinary hard-working family' friends to marginal constituencies flooded in leaflets by their 'ordinary hard-working' non-domiciled tax exile friends, in a chaotic attempt to achieve the victory they all thought was absolutely guaranteed.

The tactics have been brilliantly awful. Remember promising to give tax breaks to married couples, only to withdraw the policy, and then resurrect it in a form that punishes widows of military casualties while simultaneously pretending that £2.88 a week is going to make the blindest bit of difference to anyone's marital status? Remember the "great ignored" and the "big society", just two of their bizarre poli-speak anodyne slogans which vanished as quickly as they appeared? In any other year these would rightly be seen as the shambles they are, but somehow these people are going to be running our country for the next five years.

God help us all.

Prediction - 317 seats, one term of Government, three summers of civil unrest and the total destruction of the country