13th May 2010
Danny Finkelstein wrote in yesterday's Times that this is a defining moment in British political history. Whether in retropect we shall see it as that depends on quite a number of factors. The most important of these is whether the subsidiary actors in the coalition really are signed up to the Cameron-Clegg vision of a new approach to government and are willing to make the necessary compromises. It seems to me the most important of these people is Vince Cable: if he stays onboard and, particularly, goes along with the Osborne-Laws programme of cuts, then the coalition could well succeed. There's no doubt that this time round the negotiations proceeded more smoothly than in 1974 and that this is probably due to the work of the senior civil servants, who seem to have played a valuable role.
What struck me most about the press conference in the garden of No 10 was the change in the nature of the language used by the two leaders. It was refreshing to hear Cameron admit that he had called Clegg 'a joke'. Brown would have made some ambiguous remark, and then afterwards would have had the spin doctors deny that he had ever said such a thing. Indeed, the contrast between the language used by Cameron-Clegg and that used by David Miliband in announcing that he would stand for the Labour leadership was striking. Miliband spoke in that rather pompous old NewLabourspeak and already sounded yesterday's man. Now that there has been what Matthew Parris today describes as a 'palpable lifting of the ghastliness of the past few years' (Times), Labour needs to find a decent communicator in the modern Cameron-Clegg style, and the only person I can see on the horizon who could do that is David Miliband's brother Ed.
The journalists, too, need to consider their attitude. Some of them have started on the usual 'You say your policy is X, but before the election you were saying Y' stuff. This traditional confrontational approach is pointless now because the election result, and the need for a coalition, changed everything. Of course some policies have had to be ditched and compromises have had to be made, and so there won't be the nice consistencies that they have come to demand.
11th May 2010
So, Brown resigns after his cabal of advisers had failed to do a deal with the LibDems. I note that, although it was being said (rightly) by Labour apologists that Brown should continue in office until another viable government had formed, nevertheless he actually resigned before the LibDems had approved the deal with the Conservatives.
I don't think that Brown will be greatly missed. Roy Hattersley said in today's Times that "History will be kinder to him than his contemporaries". I doubt this. History will see that all the talk of moral compasses was nothing more than spin. It will note that he supported the dreadful errors of the Blair years, including the attack on Iraq. It will conclude that his reputation as a good Chancellor was a myth, with overspending instead of the much vaunted prudence, selling gold reserves at the worst time, wrecking pension schemes, a poor decision over the 10p tax rate, and so on, and so on. It's hard to see the George & Vince team doing as poor a job.
10th May 2010
I wasn't clear, from Gordon Brown's statement that he would step down, whether, if a Lab/LibDem arrangement went ahead, he was suggesting that we would have him as PM for a few months and then another, new, Labour PM in September. It seems to me that if there's a Lab/LibDem coalition, the PM ought to be someone who is going to be PM in the long term, and that person ought to be leading the negotiations.
I'm getting quite hot under the collar about all this talk on PR. The LibDems are not demanding PR. They want STV.
Repeat after me:
STV is not PR
STV is not PR
STV is not PR
The Conservatives seem to be behaving really stupidly. It's clear that the LibDems want electoral reform. There are two ways this will happen. One is in a coalition with Labour and the other is in a coalition with the Conservatives. So the Conservatives will get electoral reform whatever happens, and it's not obvious that it will be to their disadvantage especially if they also address the West Lothian question. If they want power, it makes sense for them to accept the LibDem demand on this issue. Whether it's sensible to want power in the present circumstances is another matter. It seems to me that it is in no party's interest to have to administer a programme of real austerity (see earlier post, 29 April).
9th May 2010
I assume that all the talk about the LibDems not making electoral reform a priority is just spin to make it appear that they are being statesman-like, and are focusing on the major policy issues that confront the nation. However, they would be really stupid not to insist on electoral reform. This is their opportunity. Yes, it may be that they will suffer some short term unpopularity as a result, and may not do well at the next election as a consequence. But insisting on electoral reform is an investment for the future; they should be willing to make a short term sacrifice if necessary.
8th May 2010
One the the main Conservative objections to electoral reform seems to be based on a fear that under a new voting system they might never again have a majority, and all future governments would have to be coalitions. This may not be the case, but even if it is, it seems to me that there is a way round this fear. One of the issues that has exercised many people is the fact that Scottish and Welsh MPs have been able to vote in the Commons on matters that affect England, but that in Scotland and Wales many issues are devolved and are thus not decided in Parliament. Two birds could be killed with one stone here by having poltical reform that reserved legislation that just covered England to the English MPs (you could have it discussed in a specially constituted Commons committee) and introducing STV as the voting system. This would allow the possibility of clear majorities from time to time governing England, and might allay Conservative fears. Of course, this would be something of a fudge, I think it would be much better to face up to the need for a complete reform. A better system would be to have a properly federal system. This would allow proper devolution for each region, and would also solve the problem of the House of Lords, which would become the new 'Senate' for the federal system. A reform of this scale cannot be introduced quickly, however, wheareas it would be possible to introduce the other arrangement quickly, perhaps as a temporary fix.
I see the Chairman of the Electoral Commission is going round describing our current voting arrangements as 'Victorian'. It seems to me that this might be the opening shot in a campaign to move towards electronic systems. I think this would be a mistake. You only have to look at the experience in other countries, e.g. the USA, to see that such systems can be fraught with problems and are very susceptiple to fraud. The only thing wrong with the arrangements in this election is that in some constituencies they were incompetently administered. This is something that can easily be rectified. It is also clear that we must revise the absurd arrangements for postal voting introduced by Labour; they are an open invitation to fraudsters.
7th May 2010
Now that it's clear that the election result is unclear, there is a lot of discussion about what the LibDems would demand if they were to make a deal with one of the other parties. Inevitably the media have started talking about electoral reform and specifically proportional representation. This is entirely misleading. The LibDems did not advocate PR in their manifesto. They said they wanted a "more proportional" system and they advocate Single Transferable Vote. This is not a system of PR, though it will give a fairer result than the current system. STV is designed to allow the preferences of each individual, as between the various candidates standing (in a multi-member constituency), to be expressed as effectively as possible, and in particular it allows a voter's preferences to be taken into account even when their most preferred candidate has no chance of being elected. The number of seats per constituency isn't set in stone, but five might be a good number. However, the limiting case of STV - i.e. the same system applied, mutatis mutandis, to a single member constituency - is the Alternative Vote. The voting method is the same, but the Droop quota in a single member constituency reduces to 50%+1, and of course there is no redistribution of the winners excess vote because only one seat is being elected. It may be that in the negotiations on electoral reform betwen the parties results in a compromise - i.e. Alternative Vote. It's a system that some people in the Labour Party would be happy with and the Conservatives might think it's the least worst option.
No doubt at some point there will be voices in the Conservative Party criticising the nature of the campaign they fought. I think Cameron was in a very difficult situation. He fought a largely 'positive' campaign because he knew that if he had put a lot of emphasis on Labour's failures he would have been accused by the media of conducting a 'negative campaign' and the Conservatives would have suffered as a result. Yet to make the point that it's time for a change you do need to attack your opponents. I've never understood what people have against 'negative campaigning'. Clearly any campaign should be a mixture of saying what's wrong with your opponents and what's right with your own policies, and the Conservatives, and indeed the LibDems, did not do enough to rubbish Labour's record.
4th May 2010
Some general thoughts about the campaign:
My overriding feeling is that this has been a poor campaign, dominated by TV concerns with the leaders' debates and the polls. I think the latter have been accorded undue prominence, particularly given the fact that somewhere between 35% and 40 % of voters are still uncertain as to how they will vote. The debates were interesting in that they gave the LibDems an enormous boost, which is now fading a bit, and one can see why the SNP and Plaid were so upset to be excluded. I'm not sure that the format of the debates is quite right. Leaders had too little time in which to make a point and were often cut short before they had made their point effectively. This encouraged them to focus on short, sometimes rather empty, statements behind which lay more detailed policy implications that needed to be explored more fully.
Indeed this was a characteristic of the whole campaign. Vince Cable spoke of the 'elephant in the room', and my feeling is that there was a herd of elephants in the room. Foreign policy received very little attention. There was very little discussion on whether the best way of combating terrorism is to wage wars abroad, or to spend the resources on security measures at home. Climate change perhaps received little attention because people are now somewhat uncertain about the scientific status of the underlying evidence, but one could have expected more discussion about energy efficiency and future energy provision. Then there's the issue of the non-existent spending review. One could go on. The problem has been that although issues were mentioned, they were not really discussed effectively. The consequence of this is that voters have very little idea what will happen after the election. They may have a vague concept of changes that might happen in education, say, but they are not really prepared for the stringent economic measures that commentators say are inevitable. This is likely to lead to considerable public unhappiness, no doubt encouraged by the Labour Party should the Conservatives win. It is perhaps unlikely that there will be public outbursts as serious as we have seen in Greece, but there is no doubt that the governing party will become deeply unpopular, unless it can offer leadership of a kind we have not seen in recent times. Indeed, the modern mass media make effective leadership almost impossible.
Another point I would make about the last three weeks is how accident-prone Labour's campaign has been. I thought 'bigot-gate' was to be the nadir. Having had his fingers burned while meeting the public, Gordon Brown seemed to retreat to the safety of addressing only the party faithful. But the faithful turned out not to be entirely reliable, and today we have a Labour candidate in Norfolk NW giving TV interviews saying that Gordon Brown is the worst Prime Minister in his lifetime. While there may be truth in this, it's not a view you expect to hear from a Labour candidate two days before a general election. That desperation has set in is shown by the fact that two cabinet members are now, against party rules, encouraging Labour voters to vote LibDem in some constituencies.
So what will happen? Much depends on how the 30-40% of 'don't knows' splits. I can't see the Labour Party getting a major share of these votes. My guess is that the bulk of them will divide between Conservative and LibDem, with the Conservatives having the larger share, though obviously with local variations. I'm not convinced that seat projections on the basis of uniform swing, even if modified to take broadly regional conditions into account, are much of a guide. I would expect considerable variations of swing among the marginal constituencies, and variations in turnout among constituencies generally. I think a lot of people think it's time for a change, and while some will opt for the LibDems where they might win the seat, I think the Conservatives will be the main beneficiaries, and I expect a small Conservative majority, or at least for them to be the largest party. There would be considerable outrage if the Labour Party were to get the largest number of seats, yet come third in terms of popular votes.
3rd May 2010
Having spent most of the last year or so complaining that the Conservatives have not been giving enough detail, the media now seem to be complaining that by giving more detail of what Cameron intends to do immediately if elected, he is being presumptuous. Telling people what you intent to do is what electoral campaigns are about.
I'm not sure what to make of the statement that has been made several times by reporters (e.g. Michael Crick) that David Cameron's 33% in the polls is the same as that achieved by Michael Howard (the implication being that Cameron has made no headway since). Actually, if you're going to round the figures, Howard got 32%, but what they don't say is that while Howard was busy getting 32%, Labour got 35%; yet the polls that give the Conservatives 33% now, give Labour 28% now. So it's not clear what sort of analogy Crick and others are trying to draw, especially as 36% of people in marginal constituencies seem not to have made their minds up yet, and the Howard figure is what he actually got in the ballot itself. Maybe it isn't an analogy so much as a sneer.
29th April 2010
The Governor of the Bank of England has said that whoever wins the election will have to implement an economic policy so austere that they will lose the following election, and be out of power for a generation. I'm surprised that this hasn't been more of a topic in the campaign. I've been saying this for a while. Why should anyone want to win?
Pretty much the only way to avoid this would be for a short term 'national coalition', that included all three parties, to be created to implement the cuts. However, I can't see the three parties agreeing to that. Each has more to gain from not being in the next government.
Tonight's debate seemed pretty close again, with Gordon Brown giving his best performance, David Cameron was more passionate than in previous debates, although the content of what he said was not specific enough, and Nick Clegg continued to perform much as before. On balance, I felt that Brown was marginally the winner, but I have no idea whether this will translate into a revival in the polls. Having written that, I've just seen ITV's poll, which suggested that Cameron won, and Brown came a poor third. Perhaps Brown is suffering from many months of terminally adverse publicity. On the whole, I doubt if the public learned very much.
I wasn't all that impressed with the BBC's presentation of the debate. The selection of questions seemed rather weak, and David Dimbleby seemed to intervene too much; he kept wasting time by repeating each question a number of times. Also, they had an irritating background that constantly changed colour. The pictures below show Clegg during his closing statement.
The other thing I found odd was the way that each time Cameron spoke the director cut away from him to show Brown shaking his head, while Brown and Clegg were not treated similarly. According to Newsnight, Labour made five complaints to the moderator during the programme. I can't think what they could be about.
28th April 2010
Today, nothing got discussed, except Gordon Brown's encounter with a real voter in Rochdale. The TV offered wall-to-wall bigotry. I suppose they are just waiting for the last of the debates, which seem to be the only thing the media are interested in.
After calling Gillian Duffy 'a bigot', Brown compounded the problem by going to visit her. He spent 45 minutes in her house, and then emerged to announce that he was a 'penitent sinner'. Below is a picture of him doing it, and one of him listening to the recording of what he said.
People have tried to draw a parallel with the time when John Prescott punched a voter (left) and have suggested that Brown might gain from the event. I doubt this. The Sun's 'Brown Toast' is probably nearer the mark. I rather object to labour apologists like Peter Kellner coming on the TV and saying "we've all done this". This may be normal behaviour for the Labour Party, but not for the rest of us. One side effect of this is that Clegg and Cameron have had very little coverage today. No publicity may well be worse than bad publicity. How this fits into the requirement for balanced reporting in the campaign, I'm not sure.
One issue that the government seems to have got away with so far is why they didn't hold a spending review before the election. It is this that has been the primary reason that the economic debate has been so poor, and why voters are so confused about what will happen. On the few occasions when this has come up, government spokesmen have replied that they didn't hold the review because the economic situation was too uncertain. Yet no one seems to demand an explanation as to precisely what they expect to have changed between, say, the beginning of the year and the time (after the election) when they actually do hold it, assuming they are still in government. And what will they do if the uncertainty that has prevented them from having the review persists long into the future? It would be instructive if this issue were to be addressed in the next debate.
27th April 2010
The problem with all this discussion of the leaders' debates, opinion polls, and hung Parliaments, is that the issues are not really being discussed. Last week's crime figures and the growth figures were hardly discussed.
22nd April 2010
I thought that there was not a lot between the three party leaders in today's debate. In footballing terms, it was just about a score draw. Perhaps Clegg and Cameron were slightly better than Brown. This is reflected in the instant polls which differ on the winner (both Clegg and Cameron being said to have won). Gordon Brown might regret his lie about not having authorised campaign literature that claims the Conservatives will do away with free TV licences, free bus passes and other benefits, and it was rather amusing to see Alex Salmond produce a similar leaflet from Gordon Brown's own constituency (which he must have authorised) immediately after the debate.
21st April 2010
If Cameron does reasonably well and Brown does poorly in the next TV debate, and if Clegg continues his success, we could be looking at a significant re-alignment of the party system, with Labour becoming the underdogs. Clegg, however, will have some tricky questions to deal with, including his approach to the EU, and to Trident. With the EU, he is potentially out of step with public opinion, though the possibility of having a referendum might appeal to people.
It's quite bizarre that the BBC won't be broadcasting the Leaders' Debate live on BBC1 or BBC2. What part of "Public Service Broadcasting" does Mark Thompson not understand? I've thought for a long time that he's not suitable to be Director-General of the BBC.
It seems somewhat unfair that Brown will have advanced notice of the next set of growth figures before the debate and the other two leaders will not. It's not clear to me why anyone should have advanced notice. Why can't they just be published at a particular time for everyone? The way official information is handled has got out of hand, with advanced, often embargoed, copies of reports being sent out. Material is frequently leaked, or the main information deliberately trailed beforehand for political advantage. The only time anyone should have advanced notice of a report is when they need to take a decision, that depends on the content of the report, at the same time as the report is released. It seems to me that government, and indeed journalists, should have to react to the publication of information just like the rest of us.
I don't know who is trying to tell me what, but today I received a Conservative Party leaflet inside which was a Labour Party leaflet.
20th April 2010
It's beginning to look as though the government might not come out of the volcanic ash issue too well. For one thing, it's beginning to emerge that the UK is being overly cautious about when it's safe to fly - rather like the reaction over swine 'flu, which some of us thought at the time wasn't all that serious. Another problem is that the government's response in providing assistance to stranded people seems a bit haphazard.
It could be that, as LibDem policies come under greater scrutiny and the question arises as to what their negotiating position would be in a hung Parliament, electoral reform could become a significant issue in the election. There is also the possibility that Labour could get a smaller percentage of the votes than each of the other two parties and yet win the most seats. It would be interesting to see which party the LibDems would support in that situation. Perhaps that is when they might try to force a change in the Labour leadership, on the ground that the electorate had clearly rejected Brown. Perhaps in the ensuing debate there might also be some criticism of the Boundary Commissions, who don't seem to me to have been doing a very good job. Why on earth would we want to increase the number of constituencies? Parliament is far too large by about 200 seats. The Labour Party still seems to have a built-in advantage.
On Channel 4 this evening, Jon Snow seemed to be doing his best to keep the embers of the class war alight by asking of the Conservative candidate for Somerset NE "Is Jacob Rees-Mogg too posh to be elected?" Some journalists just can't resist letting their personal ideologies intrude into their reporting.
15th April 2010
The consensus seems to be that Nick Clegg clearly won the first of the leaders' debates. I agree with this. Clegg was the most natural, the most fluent, and gave the most direct answers. Gordon Brown was ... well ... Gordon Brown , though he seemed to smirk a lot, which is unusual and not necessarily advantageous for him (and once or twice reminded me of George W Bush), and made a point of nodding vigorously in agreement if the others made a point that might go down well with the voters, even if it wasn't a feature of Labour policy.
The conventional wisdom is that David Cameron performs well on television, but actually he seemed nervous. He also almost never looked at the camera when he spoke, and so never seemed to be speaking to the viewers. He was more formal in his manner than I expected, and he seemed more inclined to abide by the rules of the debate than the other two. Brown, particularly, persisted in speaking after the moderator asked him to stop, while Cameron was cut short in the middle of making a point on a number of occasions. Cameron also didn't use his time as effectively as he might have done, giving rather bland responses and taking some time to get to the point. His best period was when talking about the NHS, though his closing speech was also effective.
What will be interesting is whether the LibDems can capitalise on this very good performance. If they can, and if Clegg wins the other debates too, there is no reason why there shouldn't be a massive switch in what is a very fragile body of public opinion, perhaps mainly at Labour's expense.
Clearly these debates will become a permanent feature of elections. I'm not sure that the format is quite right yet. I would like to see them being allowed to finish their points without being cut off. No doubt the backroom staff with stopwatches will tell us how it panned out, but my subjective feeling was that Brown and Clegg had slightly more time than Cameron because of this.
14th April 2010
There are limits on how early in the morning I'm willing to start watching TV: first I read the papers in peace. So I didn't see the launch of the LibDem manifesto at 9.30am. Subsequent coverage seemed fairly sympathetic, but less extensive than for the other two parties. But why is it that they can't get their backgrounds in focus?
Brown's admission that he got bank regulation wrong seems a pretty risky strategy, given that he's been denying it for so long. I can only assume that it's a sort of pre-emptive strategy to sideline criticisms on that issue in the leaders' debates. In the first debate one would expect Labour and the Libdems both to focus on attacking the Conservatives. If the latter emerge as 'the winners' it will be very hard for either Labour or the LibDems to make much headway subsequently.
13th April 2010
Compared to Labour's somewhat stalinist design, the Conservative manifesto cover is distinctly minimalist, and indeed dull. The launch was set in, of all places, Battersea Power station and started, I felt, rather weakly. There was a series of rather tedious and lengthy speeches by members of the Shadow Cabinet, and some video footage that we couldn't really see on TV, but which also sounded dull. At least it served to make the point that the Conservatives had a team. Things only really picked up when David Cameron answered questions from the press, something he's quite good at, which suggests he might do well in the TV debates.
At least there weren't any technical errors: the presentation seemed well done, and the Conservative organisers persisted with their stunts for the helicopter cameras.
One thing that surprises me about the campaign so far is that, given the parlous nature of our finances and the need for significant public sector cuts, nobody seems to be making the connection with Afghanistan and to be arguing that we cannot afford such a foreign adventure. Only Plaid Cymru has so far explicitly called for a withdrawal, and even that position is based on moral grounds and not on whether we should be spending money on an unpopular war when we're in such a dire financial position.
12th April 2010
You can judge how exciting Labour's manifesto launch was from the picture. Not that everyone was unhappy. Sky's Kay Burley, having chosen a white outfit against a white background appeared as a disembodied head trying to interview ministers as they arrived for the launch. Told by Peter Hain that they had the manifesto on their memory sticks, the breathlessly excited Burley replied with her usual professionalism "Fantastic: that's great."
The speech by Gordon Brown was preceded by a bizarre cartoon that left one with the feeling that Labour has a death wish. Were it not for the polls, one might be excused for feeling that a Conservative landslide was on the cards. It really isn't clear which part of society they are targeting, and the clunky old-fashioned cover for the manifesto (kindly called 'retro' by some) doesn't help. And we can expect many revisions on the internet, perhaps along the lines of:
Gordon Brown's interview with Channel 4's Jon Snow was yet another example of neither side having much interest in criteria of relevance. Jon Snow tried to ask challenging questions. Gordon Brown showed no interest in providing relevant answers, and Jon Snow was not bold enough to try to elicit responses that were relevant answers to the questions.
I suppose, given the state of Labour's finances, the launch was done on the cheap, but if you are doing things on the cheap you have to downsize accordingly. In fact they opted for a backdrop for the launch that was technically dreadful. On TV, which is how most people would see it, the backdrop induced awful artefacts making the whole thing look amateur.
Labour spokesmen have been going on about being middle class and helping people on 'lower and modest incomes'. So, have they abandoned the poor?
11th April 2010
In some election campaigns issues come and go, but in this one the issues of cuts in public expenditure is likely to run throughout the campaign. The problem for the opposition parties is that, unlike the government, they are not in a position to be able to say with precision what cuts will be made and what exactly the consequences will be. They can only offer relatively general, broadly costed, principles that they think should lie behind policy. Only the government can say with any certainty whether Joe Bloggs will lose his job. The government could, if it wished, lay out quite detailed proposals for cuts. So far, the media have not pushed the government on this, and have accepted that their details can wait until after the election. Yet they expect opposition parties to provide a level of detail that the journalists know none of them can provide.
There's something odd about Nick Clegg arguing that a hung Parliament could result in social unrest. Voting LibDem increases the likelihood of a hung Parliament. So, should Nick Clegg be going around encouraging people to engage in activity that he believes is likely to result in social unrest?
8th April 2010
A question that bothers me is how one should judge the progress of the election campaign. In earlier elections, say in the '60s and '70s, it was possible to form an accurate judgement on the basis of how the relative parties advanced their arguments and how these were covered by the mass media. I even remember winning the Departmental sweepstake predicting the outcome in 1964 on this basis. Perhaps this is still possible. We shall see. But my confidence in doing this has been somewhat undermined recently by the fact that the polls have reported a narrowing in the Conservative lead at times when the Conservatives have seemed to me to be having the better of the campaign.
Perhaps there are three possibilities here. One might be that the methodology of the polls is suspect, and that they are just painting the wrong picture. I think this is highly unlikely; opinion polling is now much more sophisticated than it used to be, and much thought has been put into how surveys should be conducted and analysed. A second possibility is that interviewees are not giving the pollsters an honest response, and so this leads to a misleading result. This might be true - I suspect that a lot of people haven't really made their minds up yet, a view that is quite widely shared among commentators.
A third, and perhaps more likely, possibility is that the sorts of criteria by which one should judge a campaign are quite different now from 30 or 40 years ago. Then, politicians' answers to media questions were more straightforward. You got clearer answers from Barbara Castle, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Iain Macleod, Keith Joseph, and Peter Walker, et al., than you do from modern politicians. An evasive politician was seen as weak. Nowadays, evasion is the norm. The Labour Party in particular has, since 1997, perfected the art of being interviewed on TV without answering any of the questions directly, thus making it very hard for the truth to be discovered and for genuine criticism to stick. This approach has become the norm and it is what voters expect from government ministers. This has gone hand in hand with evasion from the opposition, though for different reasons. They have often avoided making their positions clear, partly because they worry that if they show their hand too soon any advantage a policy might give them will be nullified by the government simply adopting that policy themselves. They are also in a much weaker position to formulate policy in detail, because they don't have access to all the data that the government has, nor do they have an army of civil servants at their command. Thus, they too tend to be evasive. There has been a kind of inevitability in all this, given the move away from ideologically-based politics. In the '60s, the policies of the two main parties could be seen as part of a battle between two quite different competing ideologies. Now, any policy that might help maximise the vote is considered acceptable by both main parties, and evasion on the details helps to avoid losing votes.
The effect of this has been for the electorate to become used to making its judgement, not on the basis of the arguments and the clarity with which politicians present them, but rather on the basis of less tangible factors. 'Image' and 'feel' now seem more important, and TV reporting plays an important part in creating these intangibles. This will continue unless TV coverage changes. The sycophantic kind of interview such as Garry Gibbon conducted with Brown and Mandelson on Channel 4 News this evening only serves to create 'image'. The discovery of the truth, which Nick Robinson said on the BBC this evening was the purpose of the four weeks of campaigning, requires really detailed analytical reporting. The problem is that detailed, intelligent, reporting and analysis of politics is not thought to be 'good television' by TV producers, who only seem to deal in generalities. For example, focussing on the lack of specificity of opposition proposals on cuts, even though government proposals are also unclear, just gives a general impression to the voter that the opposition doesn't have sensible policies. There are some exceptions: Channel 4's Factcheck is an attempt in the right direction. But one is left with a feeling that the process of political communication is now essentially one of the promotion of political parties' PR agendas, and with a broadly left-oriented group of producers and journalists the Labour image seems to get polished slightly more assiduously.
6th April 2010
I don't suppose the next four weeks will seem much different from the last, but the official campaigns started today. The respective party campaign launches couldn't have been more different. Gordon Brown made a wooden speech outside 10 Downing Street backed by, mostly grim-faced, members of the Cabinet. I can't understand why Labour strategists allow him to come out with such breathtakingly plodding phrases such as "I'm not a team of one" but "one of a team". It comes from a similar school of thought to Blair's "I feel the hand of history on my shoulder". And saying "I know where I come from" makes him sound a bit dumb. Maybe he writes all this stuff himself; however, speaking naturally would make a better impression.
Clegg made a worthy but dull speech somewhere, with Vince Cable standing next to him, looking bored stiff. Only Cameron seemed to show any spark of life, and spoke naturally and with passion.
The Conservative organisation also seems to be keen to take advantage of every opportunity. As Brown approached the Palace, a group could be seen from a news helicopter holding placards saying "Vote for Change" so that they would be seen from above.
3rd April 2010
This last week has seen an interesting shift in the campaign. Until this week the Conservatives have seemed to be somewhat on the back foot, but the mood has changed. Several things happened. Firstly, George Osborne came out of the debate of the chancellors with an enhanced reputation, which he then further enhanced by announcing that Labour's plans to increase national insurance contributions would be scrapped after the election. Although this was greeted with some scepticism at first, the Conservative position was greatly strengthened when 23 major business figures publicly backed the move. Labour's attempt to play this down by branding the group as Conservative supporters failed when a further group of business figures, including former Labour donors, also backed the proposal. We also started to see some more punchy election posters from the Conservatives after they brought in M&C Saatchi to work on their advertising. Finally, we saw the strange sight of the Labour Party making immigration a campaign issue, but rather making a mess of it when Gordon Brown got his statistics wrong. It is clear that Labour only did this because they have found that immigration is a major issue 'on the doorstep', but it seems to me that they are unlikely to be able to turn this issue to their advantage, and that the parties of the right are most likely to make headway with it.
1st April 2010
I quite like Anish Kapoor's tower for the Olympic games, announced by Mayor Boris Johnson. I gather it is supposed to rival the Eiffel tower. Perhaps it should be called the Pfeffel tower ;-)