Cable needs to speak up and answer questions before he gets crowned as leader

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‘Can I put these back in the garage yet?’
I was once elected as a Liberal Democrat leader without a contest. Long term readers of this blog (I like to pretend there are some) or those few with memories of Colchester politics of more than four years will remember that I was leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the Borough Council in 2013-14, and when I was elected to that role it was without anyone else standing against me. It’s not an uncommon thing to happen in local politics (in all parties) as often senior positions within groups and councils are allocated on the basis of who has the time to do them, but it’s still uncommon in national politics. In recent years, only Michael Howard and Gordon Brown have become leader of a major Britain-wide party without facing any form of election, but now Vince Cable appears poised to join them as all his potential rivals for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats have now pulled out of the race.

Some people appear to be relieved that we’re not going to be having a leadership contest, but I’m not one of them. Not only does it mean that we as members aren’t going to have a say on the future direction of the party, but it also means that Cable’s going to become leader without any real scrutiny or examination of what he wants to do as party leader. Now I know several of you are now muttering about how the leader doesn’t run the party, Conference is sovereign, and all that but the leader has huge power to create the image of the party in the eyes of the public. They get the bulk of the party’s media appearances, the decision about which questions to ask at PMQs and the content of the leader’s speech, which is the only bit of Conference that gets any significant media coverage. Their formal power within the party’s structures may be low, but their informal power inside and outside the party is huge, which is why we put a lot more effort and attention into party leadership elections than other internal contests.

Which brings me back to my time as a leader. When I decided to put myself forward, I sent out a message to my fellow councillors explaining why and what I wanted to do in the role. At the group AGM before I was confirmed in the role I did a further speech to them and answered a bunch of questions before being confirmed, and I then wrote to all the local members and did press interviews on what I wanted to do. The point is that even I didn’t face an election, people ha da pretty clear idea on my aims priorities for the leadership (whether I was successful in those aims is a debate for another time).

The problem we have now is that we don’t have anything other than the vaguest idea about what a Vince Cable leadership will mean for the Liberal Democrats, yet we’re now in a position where it’s almost certain to happen. We had an ‘I’m standing for leader’ statement on LDV but nothing more since. As far as I can tell, there’s not even a ‘Vince for Leader’ website and his official website doesn’t even mention he’s an MP again, let alone his leadership bid. It’s not just that his ambivalence on keeping freedom of movement is a problem, it’s the issue of how he’ll deal with press questioning on it if – as he should as leader – he now speaks up for party policy in favour of it and remaining in the EU.

Beyond that, we need to know what his focus as leader would be. Would it be on building his and the party’s media profile? Developing policy (and in which direction)? Reforming the organisation of the party? Going out on the streets to campaign on the doorstep with members? Touring the country giving speeches? Working with other parties in Parliament to defeat the government? There are many different styles of leadership – and we’ve seen most of them in the Liberal Democrats – and we need to know what sort of leader he sees himself as being, how he’d strike the balance between all those different tasks that are required of a leader. If he is going to be appointed by acclamation by the MPs, we need to know how he sees the job so we have targets and promises to hold him to.

I’m not calling for an MP to be dragooned against their will into standing against Vince, and I understand the personal reasons that have been given for not standing, but if he is going to become leader of the party in a few weeks time, he needs to be out there now putting forward his vision for the future of the party and answering the many questions members have about the future direction of the party. Expecting people who hold power to be accountable is a key principle of liberalism, and we need to know that Cable understands that he’s accountable to the membership and needs to have their support before he’s crowned as leader. Waving through his coronation in the hope that it’ll all work out fine is just about the worst thing we could do right now.

We can’t have an election, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give the only candidate for the job a thorough interview and set out what we want to see him do in the role before giving it to him.

A tale of two leaders

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Flash back eight weeks to Easter weekend, and consider the position Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron were in then. One of them was an experienced and safe pair of hands, riding high in the polls and with a small, but solid majority in Parliament, while the other was an outsider who’d never run in an election before, let alone won one and while he was doing well, there were questions about how whether he could hold off a challenge from a surging left-wing candidate, and even if he could win, how could he ever hope to put together a coalition that would allow him to govern?

Now move forward over the next two months and notice how the fortunes of the two of them have had an inverse relationship over that time. May called an election to see off a seemingly weakened left-wing and give herself a massive majority in Parliament, but instead she’s lost her majority and found that the newly enlivened and surging left are snapping at her heels. Macron, by contrast, saw off the threat of Melenchon in the first round, then crushed Le Pen in the second to win the Presidency by a clear margin.

Since then, he’s barely put a foot wrong, while she’s bounced from unforced error to unforced error, and now both countries are having parliamentary elections within a few days of each other (the first round of France’s Presidential elections happen tomorrow). The leader who had a twenty-point poll lead in April and was being projected to win a massive majority failed to even protect her small one and is now scrabbling around looking for allies, while her trusted advisers have quit. On the other side of La Manche, April’s untested candidate with little infrastructure around him has put together a coalition of support, drawn in a wide range of trusted advisers and is projected to win a massive victory in tomorrow’s elections, possibly with a majority of over 200.

One keeps on sliding as the other rises higher, and it’s definitely not the way round we expected them to be two months ago.

2017 General Election: The things I got wrong

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I think it’s important, both as an academic and a politician, to look back at things and see where you went wrong in the hope you won’t make the same mistakes the next time around. It’s important to get rid of all those errors so you can make a whole set of brand new ones the next time around, rather than just repeating the same ones again and again. I’m lucky in that my chosen field within political science is parties and party systems which is related to and uses data from political behaviour and elections, but is much more about analysing things after the fact rather than trying to test theories by making predictions.

That’s why I wasn’t building a complex model to predict the election and didn’t really jump into making anything more than the vaguest predictions. However, that didn’t stop me being wrong about YouGov’s prediction which, along with the broadcasters’ exit poll, appears to have been the most accurate of all the models. I dismissed it because it didn’t match up with my expectations and perceptions, so I did the natural thing (as did so many other people) of sucking in through my teeth and muttering ‘dodgy methodology’ and ‘looking for headlines’, without thinking about why they might have come up with something that challenged my perceptions.

One importnt thing to learn is that big data crunching like this has a better perspective than you. From the bits of Colchester I’d seen and spoken to, I didn’t feel that Labour were in second place here, but until yesterday I’d never seen people queuing to vote in my local polling station either which was a clear sign of something unexpected going on. It does raise an issue I think we often elide in our discussions of voter behaviour where we assume that ‘the voters’ and ‘the non-voters’ are the same people at each election, and often neglect to consider movement between the two groups. We also – and this is something common to politicians and academics – forget that people don’t exist solely in terms of our labels. Just because we have someone down as a Tory, Labour or Lib Dem voter doesn’t mean that they consider themselves that in the same way and in some conditions – especially when the links between parties and voters are weak – they’re not going to behave in the way we expect.

I also missed the relative popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, though in my defence his election did seem to be following the same pattern as Miliband’s two years ago: the crazed revolutionary depicted in the right-wing media turning out to not be much like that when the public saw them, getting more confident as the election went on, but then a final onslaught of negative press burying them. Except this time Corbyn managed to keep that momentum up, and even if he didn’t shake it off to the extent that Blair did, he did achieve it better than Miliband.

I’ve only had a couple of hours sleep in the last thirty-six, so those are the errors that come to mind right now, but do feel free to go through my election posts in painstaking detail and point out anything else I got wrong in the comments. I’m still mulling over the questions of where we are and what comes next, but things aren’t unfolding with the same sense of post-election urgency that they did in 2010 and 2015 – possibly because everyone’s still shell-shocked from a bizarre night – so writing about that can wait until tomorrow when my brain’s capable of thinking in a bit more depth.

Tempted to call that next post Day 1 of the 2017 General Election v2, but I’ll probably resist that temptation when I’m better rested.

2017 General Election Diary Day 50: Far from golden

And so we come to the end. Seven weeks of electioneering enter their last few hours, and now we just have to wait for the people to go and vote (excluding all those who’ve done it by post already, of course). Several forests worth of leaflets have been delivered, millions of doors have been knocked (and some of them have even been opened), and thousands of carefully micro-targeted Facebook ads have been blindly scrolled past as people look for amusing things involving cats.

And what have we learned at the end of it all? On Brexit, the subject that the election was ostensibly called to settle, we know that Theresa May has a plan, but she won’t tell us what it is, and that Jeremy Corbyn would rather talk about anything but it, despite the fact that leaving the Single Market would likely lead to the Government having very little money with which to implement any of his ambitious plans. We know that other parties exist, but that they don’t really count as the media’s just too glad to be pretending that everything’s back to two-party politics again and all issues can be presented as arbitrarily binary. I have a feeling that this is going to be an election that we look back on in years to come and wonder just what we were thinking in not actually discussing important issues in any depth and allowing soundbites to no longer just describe a policy in simplistic terms but completely occupy the space that any policy would have fitted in.

But then, the other big news of the day is that Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of being behind a shooting in the parliament in Tehran, which coupled with the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar this week could lead to our general election being an amusing footnote in books about the war. Assuming there are historians around to write the books, and we don’t have to wait a thousand years for someone to uncover ‘strong and stable’ from the ashes and decide, as all bemused archaeologists usually do, that it was probably of some sort of ritual significance.

I don’t mean to sound angry and cynical about the whole process, but I am, so that’s the way it comes out.

Anyway, let’s look forward to tomorrow, when the media will be telling us that campaigning is over, and thousands of political activists will be saying they wish it was. They’ll be up at the crack of dawn to deliver leaflets, or sit on polling stations taking numbers, or drive voters to the polls, or phone people to remind them to vote, or lots of other things that make up the election day ritual. And at the end of that fifteen hour day, fuelled by cold sausage rolls and the last jaffa cake in the packet, a lot of them will be trying to make themselves look presentable to go to the count and experience the triumph or disaster that’s to be found there. Which is to say that if you do encounter an activist in the streets tomorrow, be nice to them because they’re doing this as a volunteer and they’re possibly not enjoying it but soldiering on regardless, just in case that little bit of effort might make the difference. And those people at polling stations asking for your polling number aren’t trying to use dark arts to determine how you voted, but just to know that you have so you won’t be disturbed for the rest of the day. A lot of them aren’t regular activists or even party members, so be nice to them, please.

So it’s time for our final Election Leaflet Of The Day, and people have suddenly decided to start putting lots of leaflets on the site which makes it hard to pick just one, especially as some were for elections that happened a while. I was getting excited that the Tories had a long-dead American TV star standing for them in Norfolk, but it turns out that Lorne Green has already been elected as their PCC. Then there’s this one, which hides some quite nasty views behind a jokey tone, and features ‘Note 1’ which should really be top of the list of things you don’t put on an election leaflet. However, our final leaflet of the day will have to be this one from Doktor Haze in Brighton Kemptown, who promises that we will be ‘stronger in chaos’ and that ‘in a world of horrors your country needs a ringmaster’. Finally a positive vision we cana all rally round and support.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow (if you haven’t already), and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about the results on Twitter and here on Friday. See you on the other side.

2017 General Election Diary Day 49: Too far gone to turn around

What we could have seen on election day, December 2010.
Seven weeks since this all started, and now just a couple of days to go. I’m pretty sure it was a nice day back in April when all this began, warm and full of sunshine. Now, the weather seems to be reflecting the mood of the country after nearly two months of election related nonsense. Everything’s very grey and it feels like there’s a quest to wash us all away or at least cleanse of us of our misdemeanours. Or maybe it’s just a weather system brought on by the collective wish of the population to have a day without any leaflets being delivered, and this is the easiest way to bring that about? I’m just remembering the absolute drenching I got on the referendum day last year, and hoping that doesn’t happen again, though it’s worth noting that after 2010 returned a hung Parliament, some in the Civil Service were apparently expecting another election later than year, and pencilled in an expected date. On that date in December, much of the country was under a heavy covering of snow, which would have made things very interesting…

We’re in the stage of the election when parties are starting to shift into ‘getting out the vote’ mode, which isn’t something that just happens on election day itself. Hard as it is for us politics obsessives to believe, a lot of people need to be reminded that the election is happening on Thursday and that they have to go and vote then. That’s why you start seeing a lot of leaflets now that stress that, and we’ve also recently seen the ‘make a plan to vote’ message appear in a lot more political literature as studies have shown that if people do that beforehand, they’re more likely to remember on the day itself.

Some people’s thoughts are turning to what happens after the election and that also includes Jeremy Corbyn telling us of his plan for his first day in Number 10. Frankly, I find it all rather unbelivable in that he doesn’t appear to have included at least an hour for just wandering around the place and saying ‘holy shit, how did I manage this?’ with additional time for any conversations with new Cabinet members saying the same thing. (it’s important to use expletives at key moments of history).

And a reminder for those of you waiting until the polls settle before making your predictions: they’re not going to settle, so you might as well just try your best guess in my election prediction contest now. And while Corbyn is wandering around swearing for one reason or another, I’ll be poring over the new political maps to work out just who the winner of that contest is, and if it’s possible to visit all the tripoints during the next Parliament. If you want something to shape your prediction on, then the Britain Elects Nowcast might be handy as it’s an actual map of the country so you can see what borders with where. However, as with almost all election maps and predictions, it doesn’t attempt to give any details for Northern Ireland.

The election in Northern Ireland has been one of the hidden parts of this general election, getting at best only occasional and cursory coverage from anyone dealing with the election, and with all debates there squeezed into the same framework that applies to the rest of the UK. The potential of parties to win seats is more often depicted in terms of what that might mean to any potential coalition or minority government deal-making than it does to the political future of Northern Ireland. It’s entirely possible that there might be a third election there this year if no deal on the new Assembly is possible given the current numbers. I’m just as guilty as anyone of not paying enough attention to what’s going on there, but the results there on Thursday will matter as more than just some slightly different colours appearing on the screen but as seeing what the political makeup of the only part of Britain with an EU land border will be.

And so for Election Leaflet Of The Day we shall have what I think is the first leaflet from Northern Ireland of this campaign which helps to give an idea of the different political language and issues that dominate elections there. It’s from Gemma Weir, Workers Party candidate for North Belfast, and if you want to comprehend the different nature of politics there, ask yourself how you would explain the slogan ‘no sectarian headcounts’ to someone from the rest of the UK. Then when you’ve explained that, try and explain how the Workers’ Party evolved from Sinn Fein and the difference between ‘Official’ and ‘Provisional’. Then apologise when they tell you they just wanted directions to the train station, not a discussion on Irish politics.

Fifty-three hours to the exit poll and the big decisions are yet to be made – BBC or ITV for election night coverage?

On the Economist’s ‘endorsement’ of the Lib Dems and the ‘radical centre’

There were varying degrees of excitement amongst Liberal Democrats that the Economist had recommended a vote for the party this Thursday. Some were ecstatic at the idea of any sort of publication that people have actually heard of endorsing the party, while others actually read the piece in question and saw that the endorsement was, at best, half-hearted:

No party passes with flying colours. But the closest is the Liberal Democrats. Brexit is the main task of the next government and they want membership of the single market and free movement. (Their second referendum would probably come to nothing, as most voters are reconciled to leaving the EU.) They are more honest than the Tories about the need to raise taxes for public services; and more sensible than Labour, spreading the burden rather than leaning only on high-earners. Unlike Labour they would reverse the Tories’ most regressive welfare cuts. They are on the right side of other issues: for devolution of power from London, reform of the voting system and the House of Lords, and regulation of markets for drugs and sex.
Like the other parties, they want to fiddle with markets by, say, giving tenants first dibs on buying their property. Their environmentalism is sometimes knee-jerk, as in their opposition to new runways and fracking. The true liberals in the party jostle with left-wingers, including Tim Farron, who is leading them to a dreadful result. But against a backward-looking Labour Party and an inward-looking Tory party about to compound its historic mistake over Brexit, they get our vote.

It’s not a vote for the Liberal Democrats as they are, more for some ideal version of the party and liberalism that exists in the head of an Economist leader writer. It’s the same thing that had people a couple of years ago claiming that Tim Farron isn’t a ‘strong liberal voice’ and is a shibboleth amongst certain people in and out of the party. The ‘true liberalism’ they speak of (and never trust anyone who claims they know what ‘true’ liberalism is, as thought the whole history of liberalism wasn’t a story of resisting absolute dogmas) is a vision that only appeals to a small number of people of whom a disproportionate number are writers for the Economist and newspaper comment sections. It’s a liberalism of ‘my life’s quite nice but not perfect, and I went to a same-sex marriage once, so why should I have to pay more taxes to help anyone else out?’ not one that wants to challenge or change the system.

Further, they’re not really asking people to vote for the Liberal Democrats, but rather vote against the Tories and Labour and in faovur of some new nebulous centre party:

We know that this year the Lib Dems are going nowhere. But the whirlwind unleashed by Brexit is unpredictable. Labour has been on the brink of breaking up since Mr Corbyn took over. If Mrs May polls badly or messes up Brexit, the Tories may split, too. Many moderate Conservative and Labour MPs could join a new liberal centre party—just as parts of the left and right have recently in France. So consider a vote for the Lib Dems as a down-payment for the future. Our hope is that they become one element of a party of the radical centre, essential for a thriving, prosperous Britain.

(As an aside, out of the many explanations of voting behaviour a vote as ‘a down-payment for the future’ is a new one on me)

Here, they’re doing what many others have wistfully done over the past couple of months in looking wistfully over the Channel towards Emmanuel Macron and thinking ‘if only…’ but if your plan for resurrecting the British centre is nothing more than hoping for a Macron then you don’t have a plan, you just have political fanfiction. They’re hoping for ‘a new liberal centre party’ or ‘a party of the radical centre’ to miraculously emerge and subsume the Liberal Democrats as ‘one element’ of it. They always put ‘radical’ in front of ‘centre’ when describing this type of hypothetical party, but it’s a doth-protest-too-much move as the vision is anything but radical as it’s about those who’ve always had power in some form or another – and for whom the Economist is the in-house journal – wanting to ensure that no one scares the horses or damages their position. What liberalism there is in there is entirely coincidental to the cause and described with the smallest ‘l’ possible. When proponents of this form of centrism look towards the Liberal Democrats it’s not with any misty-eyed fondness for the party’s radical past or with any acknowledgement that’s what now consensus had to be fought for and won, over and over again, but rather with the eye of a predator wondering which parts of the party can be cannibalised and repurposed into a quick-fit infrastructure for the new ‘radical centre’.

All votes count the same in the ballot box, of course, and no one can tell which were cast for this election and which were down-payments on a future, but even in a time when praise for the Liberal Democrats is rare, we should be wary of the motives behind some of it.

2017 General Election Diary Day 45: The home stretch

It’s odd to think after so many weeks of uncertainty that this time next week we’ll finally know something for sure. The people will have spoken, and then we can try and work out exactly what it is they’ve said. Or we can just accept that it was another poll and even though there was a very large sample size, it was self-selecting and so doesn’t provide an accurate representation of public opinion, so is really just one more data point to be added to the model. It’ll be a slightly less scary version of Die Lösung, in which the people are not dissolved, but merely accept that all they can ever achieve is at best to be an emulation of the important findings of a statistical model, which will obviously be much more accurate than they can be.

Six days is still a lot of time for things to change, though, and there are lots of factors out there that just might influence people’s vote next week. One simple one is the weather. If something similar to the thunderstorm currently happening outside as I write this post happens at the right time next Thursday, it could depress turnout in key seats at key times as people decide not to vote, or just don’t get the knock on the door from their local campaigners telling them that they need to go out and vote. (Trust me, the number of people who intend to vote but don’t realise they have to do it on that particular day before 10pm will surprise you – why not go out campaigning next Thursday and see for yourself?) Who knows what effects the massive storms in south eastern England had on the referendum result last year?

Two things that might have an effect have happened in the last twenty four hours. First we had the spectacle of Trump declaring the US will be pulling out of the Paris Accord on climate change because he thinks that it might somehow affect Americans’ God-given right to make as much money as they want. The reaction from the rest of the world was a giant rolling of the eyes and yet more joint action from the main European powers who rushed out a joint statement critical of the move. Those main powers were of course Germany, France and Italy, a reminder that the big four powers of the European Union are now the big three, and Britain’s saddled itself clinging to a special relationship with a country run by someone who believes money is more important and more real than the planet. That’s probably priced into a lot of voters’ beliefs anyway, but for others the reminder that Theresa May – who told Trump’s Republicans she “believes in the same principles that underpin the agenda of your party” – has aligned herself very closely with a man who’s very cavalier about melting glaciers for someone who owns a lot of sea-level properties.

Meanwhile in Kent, everyone’s favourite hashtag #toryelectionfraud has been brought back into life by the announcement that the Craig Mackinlay, who won Thanet South for the Tories in 2015, has been charged with a number of offences under the Representation of the People Act relating to that campaign. It’s not top of the list of things you want to happen six days before an election happens, is it? The question is how much attention it will get both within Thanet and without, and how many votes it might swing. There’s also the question of how over-excited certain more clickbaity sites might get in reporting this and if any of them might foind themselves up on charges themselves and discovering ‘ but it got thousands of shares on Facebook’ isn’t a legitimate defence when accused of contempt of court. Which is my way of saying I’m not going to make any comment on the detail of the charges.

And as we get closer to election day, the deluge of leaflets intensifies across the country giving us much more choice for Election Leaflet Of The Day, which today features my favourite election slogan of the campaign so far: Ability, Bees, Community. That’s the slogan of Jandy Spurway, an independent candidate for the Stratford-on-Avon constituency. Her leaflet reveals she’s had an interesting life and is interested in ‘changing the way we do things’ and I’m not sure if the bees link into that, or she just wants to remind people that she keeps them, though I suppose candidates have to be careful when mentioning their stocks of honey in case it’s seen as treating the voters.

With that, we shall close for another day and wait for the next hundred and forty-eight and a half hours to pass until we can all be surprised by the exit poll, because whatever it says it’s going to be a surprise, isn’t it?

2017 General Election Diary Day 43: And now it gets interesting

You know when you’re trying to think of a way to describe how things are going in the election as things turn a little weird and then someone hits the perfect metaphor? That:

I know I promised back at the start of this diary, all those weeks ago, that I wouldn’t spend it following 2015 into the dark corners of polling obsessions but YouGov threw out a little hand grenade of a projection last night, suggesting that things might be about to get weird on us. Rather than putting the Tory majority in the ‘how far back do we have to go to find a comparison?’ range, it instead suggested they might lose seats (and their majority) while Labour would gain to put us firmly in hung Parliament territory. The interesting thing about this was that it wasn’t based on applying a uniform national swing across constituencies but instead looking at how different demographics have said they would vote and then working that out constituency by constituency. It’s a controversial method, that didn’t come up with the right projection for the US Presidential election in the elecoral college last year, but it would be something that produced contrary results to other pollsters if this is a realigning election where there’s mass movement of voters between parties. If that happens, then it will make election night very interesting as results won’t be easily predictable by extrapolating from the first few.

It also offers up the joyous prospect of the Tories gaining votes while losing seats. If any of them were to then complain about this as being an injustice and the voters not being properly represented, I may well die laughing.

Of course, this is the point in election campaigns where people can get over-excited and all sorts of wild speculation can break out. It’s where people spend time debating whether the Edstone will need planning permission to be erected in the Number 10 garden, where we wonder which Liberal Democrat candidates might be able to be appointed straight to ministerial office in the Clegg government or any other number of scenarios that seem likely in the heated air of an election campaign, then afterwards are forgotten about as everyone remembers that the result was the one they predicted and expected all along. It’s a national outbreak of candidatitis, sweeping out from party activists to infect the whole country, then disappearing some time around 10pm next Thursday.

And if a wild projection wasn’t enough to excite you, the country – or that bit of it that obsesses over politics on social media, at least – has got debate fever. Yes, tonight is the BBC election debate, which has been suddenly made an event of interest by Jeremy Corbyn today announcing that he would appear in it having previously said he wouldn’t. This means the Conservatives will now be the only party there without a leader representing them as Amber Rudd will be standing in for Theresa May while the Prime Minister goes off to speak to a small rally of Tory activists in a carefully sanitised warehouse somewhere off the M4. Sorry, I meant campaign and ‘meet the people’ because luckily, she’s not campaigning for a job that occasionally requires you to meet in public and debate with other people.

It’s a clever move by Corbyn, as he does have the momentum in the head to head battle and unless he breaks down and declares ‘all power to the Soviets!’ in the middle of the debate (not that quoting Lenin is necessarily harmful nowadays) he can continue to disarm the Tory strategy against him. They’ve been painting him as a crazed Marxist revolutionary wanting to bring down the system, but his recent appearances (especially against Paxman) have been more sardonic history teacher who the students love because he keeps going off on tangents in lessons and never sets any homework. Everyone’s now frantically re-preparing their tactics and points for tonight, which might even make it interesting. That’s why I’m writing this beforehand, when it might still be interesting, rather than afterwards when the reality sets in and commentators intone ‘we are all Ruddites now’.

As ever, we shall conclude with Election Leaflet Of The Day which today comes from an interesting independent – Tim Lord, standing in Cities of London and Westminster. Like many independents he has one big issue he’s standing on but his is an interesting case of the national becoming local in a distinct constituency. ‘Voted Remain? Vote for Tim.’ is his message, pointing out that the Cities’ current MP, Mark Field, is signed up to May’s Brexit strategy, and as it’s a place with lots of interests in maintaining close ties with the EU, he’s hoping that will motivate them to switch to him. (This article spells it out in more depth) It could be an interesting tactic that delivers a shock, it could be yet another damp squib, but it makes a usually safe seat somewhat interesting.

Eight days left until activists who’ve been up since the crack of dawn gird themselves for a push at reminding people getting home from work that it’s time to go vote.

2017 General Election Diary Day 42: There are no answers here

The more I think about it, the more I’m jealous of them back in 1974. Not for the fashions, the power cuts, the endemic racism and sexism and the three day week, but for the fact they got the general election campaign over and done with in three weeks from it being called. We could have done it twice over in that time, and yet here we are with still more than another week to go.

For those of us who’ve been obsessing over it, the election has been on for ages, but for a lot of people it’s only just begun as it’s not until now that people start paying real attention to what’s going on. Part of that’s because we’re now getting a couple of the big events of the campaign: Channel 4’s ‘get shouted at by Jeremy Paxman’ special last night and the BBC’s some-but-not-all of the leaders’ debate tomorrow (different from ITV’s leaders debate in that those who choose not to turn up get to send a substitute rather than just being ignored).

Last night was billed as May vs Corbyn, though it was a bizarre contest in that it appeared to have been stage managed to ensure that they never actually met so it was more a case of trying to settle a havyweight championship fight by observing the two fighters shadow boxing in separate rings. Both rings featured a sneering and hectoring Jeremy Paxman for them to shape up against but only for twenty minutes, half of which were taking up with him repeatedly barking the same question after he initially asked it. As is so often the case, it was the sort of interview that was more concerned with delivering a gotcha moment for the headlines to bother with probing and exposing its subject. It feels to me that its time for interviewing to take a step back from this model and try something different, because at the moment its playing into the politicians’ game of looking for that big moment and trying to force it into being rather than waiting and letting the story develop.

The problem with these short formats is that it only means that politicians have to survive a short encounter, and as long as they do that without swallowing their own tongue or inadvertently shouting ‘Hail Hydra!’ in the middle of it, they’ll be dubbed to have at least met expectations, and nothing much will change.

So, let’s instead look at our Election Leaflet Of The Day, which this time is a dispatch from the Highlands where the Something New party are standing one of their two candidates (the other is right at the other end of the UK in Horsham). The ‘something new’ in this case appears to be the internet which will apparently ‘connect us all’ and allow them to deliver their manifesto promises of nice things for everyone. They’re also offering ‘representation, not party politics’ which despite being delivered by an organised group campaigning on a manifesto in an election isn’t causing the whole thing to collapse in on itself in the usual paradox of party politicians declaring that what they’re doing isn’t somehow party politics. They don’t quite utter the dread words of ‘let’s all agree with me take the politics out of this’ but it’s close enough.

Nine days to go…that’s single figures and counting.

2017 General Election Diary Day 38: Three scenarios in search of an election

And we’re back.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about with this election is whether there are any other elections it resembles and if those give us a clue to what the final result would be. Political scientists like finding things that are broadly comparable for two reasons: first, we can use different outcomes to measure the effects of small changes in other variables, and second, we get to pretend that all that reading about previous elections that we’ve done was of important academic significance, not just indulging in a psephological hobby. So, here are three other elections that this one may or may not resemble. Bonus points for guessing which one it’s most like before we get to see the answers of June 9th.

(And a reminder that the prediction competition is still open, if you’re interested in scoring meaningless points)

My favourite Liberal slogan made its appearance in 1974.
February 1974: Never ask the electorate a question you don’t already know the answer to

This was the last time a Prime Minister decided to call a snap election, and unlike this one, Edward Heath went for a very quick one with just three weeks between him telegraphing the Queen (she was in New Zealand) to ask for a dissolution of Parliament and the election date. Heath called the election in the midst of a series of industrial disputes and the three-day week to ask the electorate to decide ‘who governs Britain?’ He wanted a strong majority and electoral mandate to take on the unions and thought he could get the people to rally round him. When it came to the crunch the electorate’s answer to the question was more on the lines of ‘not sure, but probably not you’. Heath had over a year left before he had to call an election, but wanted to get a new mandate to take on a difficult task – will May’s search for one lead to the same result.

1983: The closest thing to khaki

An economy coming out of recession. An election a year after the UK was at the centre of a major world event. A female Conservative Prime Minister ready to decisively shift her party in a new direction versus a Labour Party led by a veteran left-winger despised by the press. So far, so similar, except for the bit that’s missing. This time we didn’t get the proclaimed moderate wing of the Labour Party splitting off under a leader recently returned from a high-profile foreign role, and the Labour Party has remained vaguely united and on-message during the campaign. (There has been some sniping, but it’s equivalent to the attacks from within May faced over the dementia tax) It’s not identical to 1983, but is the best chance we’re going to get to have an idea of what might have happened there without the SDP? When things look like they’re shaping up into a classic two-party fight, what happens to the centrist voters when they’re the ones who get squeezed?

2004: The blame game

Not a British election this time, but one in Spain, which was the last time a major terrorist incident (the Atocha bombings) happened during a European election campaign. Before the bombings, the incumbent right-wing government had a comfortable polling lead over their left-wing opponents but by the time the election came around three days later, they were defeated and the left won a surprise victory. One of the principal factors behind that was the Aznar government completely mishandling the response to the bombings, by insisting the Basque separatist movement ETA was behind it when it was eventually revealed to have been done by Islamists. However, it does show that the electorate won’t necessarily rally round the government in a time of crisis, and the shift in voting behaviour caused by a major event isn’t easily predictable.

So, three previous elections, three possible scenarios that we could be playing out right now, or something entirely new and different might be happening. Thirteen days till we find out.