Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Eve of Poll

The finishing post is now in sight. I've spent the day mulling over the campaign and reading the electoral runes via email with Lib Dem colleagues around the country.

The general mood can be described as follows:

- everyone is very excited
- there is a genuine feeling that we're poised to make big gains , BUT ...
- we're all too aware of FPTP, and
- we're unsure what effect the increase in postal votes and the immigration Dog Whistle will have

All the signs are that our old friend the Dead Russian (Late Surge) is emerging from his slumber. Tracker polls from Populus and the BES show Tory fortunes diving and ours rising. The trends from the main pollsters on the BBC website show similar effects, with steadily rising support for us and drops for the Tories.

Given all this, its hard to see what Labour's strategy is. Presumably, it's "We've killed off the Tories but are worried that we could haemorrhage support to the Lib Dems so lets put the boot in there too." Too little too late, I hope.

Given all the variables, we could garner anything from 40 to 120 seats with very similar vote-shares. There are a lot of undecideds still, and if they break towards us we could be on for a spectacular night. The prevailing mood seems to be "A plague on both your houses", but it remains to be seen whether the apathy party will win.

Some last predictions.

We will win:

- Cambridge
- Wells
- Cardiff Central

We will come close and might take:

- Harborough
- Devon East
- Wiltshire North

We will lose:

- Hereford


Now, off to do my final leaflet round and look forward to the long night ahead. For anyone who's followed me thusfar, thanks for your support. I'll be back after the election with a debrief.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Battle of Central Avenue

Saturday sees all the parties on the main shopping street of West Bridgford, a suburb of Nottingham and the largest part of the Rushcliffe constituency.

There is a lot of apathy on display by the public, which I expect. But also some fire. We hand out mini-manifestos and get rid of the lot. One man, of mature years, casually dressed and balding, refuses his copy thus:

"I'm life long Labour"
"Thought about changing your mind?"
"No - last time you lot were in power we had the General Strike!"

He isn't representative. Many more ex-Labour voters come up to me to tell me they've already voted for us, in one case "After 30 years of voting Labour and a lot of soul-searching."

I chat to the UKIP candidate - he is wildly optimistic. "Expect an upset!" he enthuses. Privately I hope it favours us. I also opine internally that a good showing for UKIP has to be bad for the Tories, given Ken Clarke's views.

I gently point out to one racist old lady, complaining about our (Asian) candidate, that 40% of the staff in the health service she uses are from overseas. She departs, non-plussed.

Ken Clarke appears, slowly moving up and down the street, working the crowd like the old professional he is. He stops to shake hands with me so I take the opportunity to ask him when he'll accept the inevitable and come and join us. He deflects the question with a smile and a typical politician's non-answer. Perhaps I've given him food for thought? Regardless, my suspision is he has little to worry about.

As we enter the final week, our mood is upbeat. We have had a good response and look set to meet the targets we've set for the election. My feeling is that the Labour vote will be reduced here; it remains to be seen how much by. We are fighting hard in out target County seats andbelieve we're in with a shot.

All that remains now is to leaflet, leaflet, leaflet until polling day ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Faithless

An emotional roller-coaster of a day (thanks to Helen of the pink hair), rounded off by a trip to the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham for an evening in the company of Maxi Jazz, Sister Bliss, Rollo, friends, and about 5000 rapturous fans.

In the week where the war in Iraq has finally surfaced I reproduce below some of Maxi Jazz's lyrics to "Mass Destruction":

"Whether long range weapon or suicide bomber
Wicked mind is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether you're soar away Sun or BBC 1
Disinformation is a weapon of mass destruction
You could be a Caucasian or a poor Asian
Racism is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether inflation or globalization
Fear is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether Halliburton or Enron or anyone
Greed is a weapon of mass destruction
We need to find courage, overcome
Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction "

Not a bad creed to take into this election, really.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The "Dead Russian"

A feature of most campaigns past has been the appearance in the final week or so of the "Late Surge" in Liberal support (the "late Serge" being the Russian of the title). There has been much speculation over this phenomenon, as to whether it will occur in this election at all, and if so when the signs will appear.

One school of though has it that the increase in support traditionally comes from the extra exposure the broadcasting rules give to the Lib Dems that is denied outside of elections. The argument is, that with the party already in the low 20s where its been since April 2003 (Iraq) the surge no longer applies - the public are already familiar with us. Some even argue that as we have a higher profile, our policies will come under greater scrutiny and be tested to destruction, possibly leading to a tailing off in support towards polling day.

On the other hand, we have some pollsters and pundits indicating that up to a third of the electorate is undecided. This chunk of voters could break any number of ways. If it stays at home, the Tories do porportionately better. If it goes to Labour or the Lib Dems, they don't. We hope that it breaks for us, naturally.

Today's YouGov poll in the Telegraph has us at 24% for the first time in the campaign, after a general but gentle upwards drift over the last 3 weeks. YouGov get their results together quicker, as an internet pollster, and are more indicative of current moods. If this trend is reinforced in the next few polls, our famous Russian may be starting to show himself just in time.

John has reported in his blog that the electorate seem to be more sophisticated as to their local situation these days, and higher poll-ratings should represent a good concentration of support for us. I hope my bet of 70-85 seats doesn't prove to be a bad judgement!

Blair's Fair-Votes Failure

A few days ago Tony Blair made a speech appealing to voters to think carefully about their vote. He stated that he was looking for as many votes as possible, and that "[the election] could still be decided by a few hundred votes in marginal constituencies".

Think back to the run up to the 1997 General Election. Installed in Labour's manifesto was a newly-minted pledge to set up a review and referendum on the introduction of a proportional voting system for Westminster. I'm sure many Liberal Democrats took that on board when casting their Tactical Votes for Labour.

Yet Blair squandered this golden opportunity, reinforced by another thumping majority in 2001, to remove our anachronistic and capricious voting system. In so-doing he has sowed the seeds of his own downfall twice over. Firstly, by permitting the hubris that a 160-seat majority allows to take him to war in Iraq, and secondly, by perpetuating the possibility that the progressive majority in this country can be made to suffer further bouts of untrammelled Tory rule.

At this point in the campaign it looks unlikely that he will lose his majority in this election; but go it will, eventually, and if the Tories return we will all be the worse for it. Were this to happen, underneath my depression and frustration will be a smattering of Schadenfreude. as he will have been undone by the system he failed to reform.

Shame on you, Mr Blair.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Telephone Canvassing

Surprisingly, my first experience of telephone canvassing hasn't been half as bad as I expected. We only contact people who aren't signed up to the TPS (unlike Labour and the Tories), so that may have had somethign to do with it. No-one put the phone down on me, and most people were polite, with the exception of the following conversation:

"Good evening, I'm calling on behalf of Jill Hope, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Harborough. Will you be supporting her in the forthcoming General Election?"

"I don't support you bloody lot usually, and definitely not now you've phoned in the middle of the football!"

"My apologies sir - thanks you for your time!"

Funnilly enough, he went down as an anti!

My overall impression gained so far is that what Labour vote there is here is soft. Often the answer on the "who will you vote for" question was "Definitely not that Blair!" There are an awful lot of undecideds, too. And as the Tories seem pretty up front about admitting it, I think many of them are genuine undecideds.

All still to play for in Harborough it seems ...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Obsessives Rule, OK!

I have a pet theory that the world can be divided into two types of person: Obsessives and Generalists. Obsessives pursue one particular passion to the exclusion of all others; Generalists spread themselves over a broad range of interests and occupations.

Unfortunately for me, I fall squarely into the latter camp. I say unfortunately, because the world is run by, and therefore organised for the benefit of, Obsessives. Who is it that rises to the top in any profession? The Obsessive – for it is they who will be the workaholic who pursues one thing single-mindedly to the exclusion of everything else. The Obsessive then makes sure that obsessive behaviour is the only sort that is rewarded, which makes life very difficult for the Generalist – your behaviour is seen as dilettante, and lacking in commitment, and you are never likely to rise far.

It was whilst taking a break away from election campaigning this weekend, at the behest of my wife, that I was reminded again of my dictum. On first becoming politically active I was struck at how unusual I appeared to be – a 30-something with two small children. Most of my new colleagues were in their fifties or older, leavened with a smattering of 20-somethings. The key factor uniting them was their relative lack of other commitments.

Yet even the most obsessive Obsessive will be pressured towards Generalist behaviour when they have a young family and a home life to maintain. For a natural Generalist who doesn’t want to end up in the divorce courts, political activity will always have to be part of a “balanced portfolio”. And thus it was that I enjoyed my time away from the fray, engaging in various types of domestic activity and my first trip rowing on the river for over a month

Striking a balance is no bad thing – and it sustains me when the juggling act becomes particularly precarious. Life in this country would be a lot better for many people if the Generalists were in charge. We can’t afford to leave everything to the Obsessives, particularly not Politics.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A Grand Day Out

I undertook a circular trip from Nottingham to Manchester today, travelling out and back via different routes. I have a low boredom threshold, so when a closed road took me off the A50 and onto the A34 North from Stoke, I grasped the opportunity to meander through some of England's finest countryside. It also afforded me a chance to assess the impact made by the election thusfar since Tuesday.

This route into Manchester takes you through three safe Tory seats: Congleton, Macclesfield, and Tatton (dear to John Harris' heart). The A34 is a main road and as such you would expect that it would be a natural poster site. I spied not a single poster or stakeboard of any party.

I had a quick tour round my former stamping grounds in South Manchester: Didsbury and Withington. Two very prominent Lib Dem advertising hoardings in this target seat. They feature Charles Kennedy prominently, and one of the party's ten promises. Very clearly an election poster.

My trip home took me out via East Manchester, through the Gorton constituency, where the Lib Dems now have a strong council presence. More Lib Dem advertising hoardings. However I have seen no stakeboards or window posters of any party yet. And nor did I driving through Hazel Grove, which I recalled as having been a sea of yellow diamonds in 1997, although I finally saw a Tory hoarding. Eventually.

The poster is black text on a white background, and does not immediately strike you as being an election poster. Perhaps this is intentional. This particular example carried the "It's not racist to want limits to immigration." tagline, with the subtext "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" At a reasonable speed you don't have time to pick this message up (which, to be honest, is a good thing - I find this campaign disturbing). I hope they're wasting their money.

The sun finally broke through as I took myself back via Hope (a portent?). Dropping off the Penines into Chesterfield I finally saw two stakeboards, both for Paul Holmes (the Lib Dem MP for the town).

It looks like the nation is yet to wake up to the election.