Question: what is the closest to a election that a party has released its manifesto? Because I’m pretty sure that outside of snap elections called at breakneck pace, the SNP choosing today to launch theirs must be one of the latest. Indeed, judging from some of the comments I’ve sen, it may be a real first in a party delivering its manifesto after votes had started being cast – some places had their postal ballots arrive at the weekend. That’s something that could raise an interesting discussion – what if you cast a postal vote for a party and then they surprised you by putting something in their manifesto that you fundamentally disagreed with? Is the answer that you should’ve waited, that they should’ve published earlier, or some combination of both?

With it being the SNP’s day in the spotlight, it’s a chance for London-based journalists to start revealing just how little they know, and Bill Turnbull got off to a fine start on BBC Breakfast this morning. Turnbull was interviewing a somewhat bemused Stewart Hosie (SNP Deputy Leader) about Trident, and seemed to be labouring under the impression that if there was a minority Labour government, the SNP would have some magical power of veto over them. It does sadly show how much Tory propaganda has sunk in that it didn’t occur to someone with years of journalistic experience that if Trident renewal was up for debate in the Commons, there’d have to be quite an odd situation going on for the SNP to be voting with the Tories to get rid of it.

It’s not just Turbull, though. All across the spectrum, political journalists and commentators – the elite experts who are meant to be explaining these things to us – are falling over themselves to tell us it’ll all be far too complex. Just as we saw in the run up to the last election, when the idea of a coalition and a hung Parliament was getting closer, it’s becoming clear just how hard it is for some of our media class to think outside the box. But then, this is a country where the comments of someone who may or may not be running for US President next year were ranked above any mention that Finland had an election yesterday, and even when Germany or France have elections, there’s no danger of Dimbleby being brought out to anchor all-night coverage of it, or armies of reporters travelling all over them to tell us what the race looks like from Dusseldorf or Lyons. Too much of our coverage is based on the idea that elections have to have winners and losers, and can’t be expressions of opinion. Maybe we’ll get a result this time that shakes that consensus a little more.

On a related note, I’ve noticed a similar consensus in reports looking ahead to the post-election period that seem to be assuming that Liberal Democrat MPs can be easily added to the Tory pile when considering the potential deals. Andrew George’s comments on this aren’t outside the party mainstream, and I know very few people – online or off – who’d be enthusiastic about a second coalition with the Tories. I’m sure there are some in the leadership who’d prefer it, but they’re going to have to convince the party to go along with it, which is going to be a significant issue at all the stages of agreement the leadership would need (Parliamentary party, Federal Executive and Conference). A lot depends on the final outcome of the election and how the coalition maths end up, but there are significant swathes of opinion in the party who’d prefer no coalition or one with Labour to carrying on with the Tories.

A very interesting discovery on Election Leaflets today, of a letter from Michael Fallon, flagging him up as Secretary of State for Defence to voters in Barrow and Furness playing up the threat of a Labour government ‘propped up by the SNP’ not renewing Trident. This is real ‘all politics is local’ territory as Barrow is where Vickers/BAE carry out the maintenance of Trident submarines (if you ever go to Barrow, that’s what the giant buildings looming over the town are for) and the only time it’s not been held by Labour since WW2 was in the 80s, when Labour were either either in favour of disarmament or seen as weak on keeping it. Labour have a decent majority there (over 5,000 in 2010), but worries about losing jobs at Vickers drove those losses in the 80s and could be just as strong today. Might be worth adding Barrow to the list of seats to keep an eye on for interesting results on election night.

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Judging from some of the things I’ve been seeing on social media, this appears to be the point where the stress of campaigning is getting a bit much for some people, and levels of tetchiness are reaching dangerously high points. This is accompanied by its traditional cry of ‘I’ll report this to the returning officer!’ when confronted by anything from their opponents that seems even slightly dodgy, as though they have any power to intervene.

Something most people don’t understand about British elections is that the powers of the Returning Officer are pretty much constrained to organising the running of the election itself, not regulating any behaviour of candidates. While election law is a distinct field, it’s not separate from the criminal law and breaches of it are dealt with by the police, not the returning officer. There is not, as far as I know, a separate electoral crimes division within any of Britain’s police forces so any investigations are handled by regular officers. In the quest for TV novelty, someone may one day hit on the idea of an officer specialising in the field of electoral crimes, but no one seems quite that desperate yet.

Two firsts for this election for me today. First I went out and did some deliveries for a friend, then then this afternoon had something that hasn’t happened for several years and actually had a canvasser knocking on my door. It was an interesting, but somewhat awkward experience as it turned out they didn’t quite know the area they were in and their canvass cards didn’t have basic information on them like ‘by the way, one of the people at this address is a local councillor’. Of course, if it happens again, I might not be so forward about my status, just to find out what they’re saying about me.

Question of the day: after planning to sell houses off at less than the market price, Tories now want to sell Lloyds shares off at a discount too. For the party that keeps telling us that they know business, it’s a bit weird that they keep selling things off for less than they’re worth, as that’s not what successful businesses do.

A couple of articles that may be of interest. May 2015 look at post-election coalition scenarios and how things seem to stack up a lot better for a Miliband government than a Cameron one. I think their scenarios tend to overplay how keen the Liberal Democrat membership would be to agree a second coalition – the leadership might be, but the decision’s not in their hands. Meanwhile, and fitting with my earlier talk of door-knocking, the Economist looks at campaigning on the ground, and how Labour’s better organisation is giving them a distinct edge there. In close races, having a better ground team – especially on election day – can make a big difference.

Moving down the party list, we find a regionalist party that’s probably not going to swing this election but could represent interesting trends in years to come: Yorkshire First. They’re not tied to many specific policies but rather to their ‘Yorkshire Pledge‘, calling for Yorkshire to have decision making powers of its own. It’s something that could be of interest in the next Parliament as devolution – particularly city regions – seem set to go ahead whoever is in power, and the debate over the geography of devolution, not just the powers, could be an interesting one to follow. Will Yorkshire be treated as a whole, or broken into city regions?

Nothing too interesting on the leaflet watch for today, but there is a UKIP candidate who seems to have misunderstood ‘sea change’ as ‘sea of change’ and run with that motif for his leaflets.. As he’s standing in Battersea, I’m not sure people there would welcome the prospect of the sea rushing in, as it would mean the Thames Barrier had failed.

Eighteen days to go, and if you want to do something positive before the election starts you can sign Save The Children’s Restart The Rescue petition to get EU action to save lives in the Mediterranean.

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Midnight has passed, and we’re on the run in to election day, with more than half of the campaign done. There’s probably someone out there wishing the campaign was longer, but I suspect we’re all glad that the end is starting to come into sight, aren’t we? I’m beginning to understand that one of the appeals of the postal vote is being able to cast your vote early and see it all over and done with, and not feel the need to pay any more attention.

But I’ve done this for twenty days now, and I’m going to see it through to the end, even if the last week becomes a death march.

Saturdays are pretty much the day off for the national campaign in an election. All the big launches and speeches tend to take place in the week, because that’s when people are watching and paying attention to the news, and big stories get held over until later in the day so they can be front pages in the Sunday papers. Meanwhile, volunteers who have to work during the week are flooding into local election HQs, which makes it a good time for the VIPs to visit them rather than touring the TV studios. Others can just use it to get themselves ready for being lobbed a few softballs by Andrew Marr, or perhaps having a slightly more in depth appearance on one of the other shows.

There’ll be polls coming out through the evening too, as the Sundays come out and announce their findings. The amusing thing with some of those will be giving us the up and down from their poll last Sunday, or a few weeks ago, as if all the other polls never happened. The sheer frequency of polling in this election is a new thing, thanks to the advent of internet polling making it a lot easier for companies to deliver multiple polls in a week. Even back when I started blogging, and during the 2005 campaign, polls were comparatively rare (especially outside an election period) and constituency-level polls unheard of. This time, of course, we have lots of polls telling us that not much is happening and if this election has a memorable phrase so far, it’s ‘variations within the margin of error (except for voters in Scotland).’

Looking down the list of parties, the next minor one in line is the Christian People’s Alliance, but I talked about them all the way back on Day 2 on discovering they had a candidate in Colchester. So, next we find that most venerable and persistent of the fringe parties, losing deposits all over the country for decades: the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. They’re also firmly in the tradition of British humour and eccentrics, gleefully flogging the same old joke again and again regardless of how few people laugh along with.

There’s not much point in probing the depths of their policy positions – though they have apparently released a manifesto that talks about unicorns – but one thing about their strategy this year is of interest. In previous years, the sight of a Loony at the declaration of the Prime Minister’s result was a fixture of election night, but this year then isn’t a Loony standing in Witney. There is one Nick The Flying Brick contesting Doncaster North with Ed Miliband, but the party’s leader – Howling Lord Hope – has chosen to stand in Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, perhaps to have a contest for ‘silliest looking person on the stage’ with him.

jpfloruNo weird candidates on Election Leaflets today, but we do have an odd candidate picture. The picture on this leaflet for JP Floru, the Conservative candidate standing against Simon Hughes in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, doesn’t seem to have the same professional pose and poise one might see on other Tory election leaflets, but instead has an air of a candidate being told he needed to submit a photo within five minutes, regardless of where he was. This may well be the first election leaflet to be adorned with a selfie, but what I really want to know is who is the woman with her back to the camera, and does she know she’s being seen by thousands of voters in South London?

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Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher

Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher

I’m not a Sun reader. You’re not shocked to discover that if you’ve ever had any dealings with me before, of course. Usually, I’m happy to let it carry on doing whatever it wants to do and let us coexist in our separate spheres, but sometimes it crosses a line. This time, though, it’s published something that even by its normal standards is absolutely horrific:

Katie Hopkins’ job is, like so many tabloid columnists, to be offensive and get people’s backs up so she and the paper can feed off their indignation. This, though, isn’t just the usual outrage-for-clicks that characterises a Sun column, this is pure hate speech: ‘spreading like norovirus’, ‘plague of feral humans’, ‘cockroaches’. It’s calling for the death of people she regards as somehow less than human, and then revelling in the prospect of death and suffering.

What’s important here, though, is that the reason we’re seeing these words isn’t just because of Hopkins. She’s been commissioned and paid for them by the Sun. At least one editor would have looked over that column and approved it for publishing, a sub would have checked it over, designers would have put that page together and printers would have produced the final version. This isn’t some random troll shouting on the internet, desperate for attention, this is the considered and published view of one of Britain’s best-selling newspapers.

In a couple of weeks time that same newspaper – and some of the same people who worked on the Hopkins column will be involved – will tell its readers how to vote in the election, and given what they’ve published recently about Ed Miliband, we can expect they’ll advise a vote for David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Norovirus. Feral. Cockroaches. A paper that used those words to describe human beings and wish for their death will endorse the Conservative Party, and the leader of the Conservative Party – the Prime Minister of this country – will welcome that endorsement. If David Cameron – if anyone in the Tory Party – had a shred of decency or dignity, he’d reject that endorsement and refuse to accept it. Do you think he will?

When The Sun makes its endorsement, other journalists – those who work for outlets that don’t brand other humans as norovirus, feral or cockroaches – should ask David Cameron if he’s happy to accept that. And not just him – there are hundreds of Tory candidates all over the country, standing for Parliament and in the local elections, who’ll benefit from that endorsement. They’ll happily accept the backing of a newspaper that regards some people as less than human and deserving to die, expecting that no one will challenge them on it. So let’s make sure they’re asked about it and let us know what their position is on being backed by a paper that’s fuelled by such hate.

(And if you want to do something constructive, go sign Save The Children’s Restart The Rescue petition)

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We’re almost halfway through the campaign – there’s no official midway day, with the same number of days gone as to come, but today we’re in the 19th day of it with 20 more to come, and tomorrow it’ll be the 20th day with nineteen more to come. If you’re still up at midnight tonight, that’ll be the moment we finally go over the top of the campaigning hill and start heading towards the bottom.

We’re also approaching the point when votes will start to be cast. From what I can tell, nowhere seems to have sent their postal votes out yet, which isn’t too suprising as they could only start printing them last week, but they should be heading out soon with people voting early next week, just around the same time as the deadline for registering to vote. Apparently, that’s also when the SNP will be launching their manifesto, and if this trend for late release of manifestos continues into the next election, someone will end up doing it on polling day. Indeed, if I was running the Monster Raving Loonies, I’d have a big event to announce we’d be launching it the day after polling day, to ensure that we only put policies in there that had proven popular at the ballot box.

After all the excitement of last night, I haven’t been paying too much attention to the campaign as I’ve been doing Masters dissertation reading of much of Peter Mair‘s work. Mair, who sadly died in 2011, was a political scientist who was very interested in the comparative study of party systems in Europe, and it would have been fascinating to know what he would have made of this election, as it looks like it’ll be a very interesting example of party system change. If you can get hold of a copy of The Oxford Handbook of British Politics, his essay on the British party system is very good and On Parties, Party Systems and Democracy is a good collection of some of his work.

But I think today is a bit of a cagey day for everyone, as we’re yet again waiting to see if the debate has shifted the polls at all, or if the story of this election will continue to be fluctuations within the margin of error. We likely won’t see the full picture of any debate effect until Monday, but this weekend’s polls could decide the tone of the coverage for the rest of the campaign. Then again, it’s the weekend after a debate when Miliband and Sturgeon did well, so it could just as easily be dominated by whatever nonsense scandals the tabloids decide to fill their front pages with.

While we wait to find out what we think, let’s take a look at another of the parties contesting this election that you might not have heard much about. Next on the list, standing 32 candidates in total, is the new Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol party. It’s an interesting campaign because it seems to be reversing the general trend for single issue campaigners, which is to build up to running in the General Election and then disappear from view after. From their website, they appear to be using the election as a launchpad for a wider campaign, and they certainly seem to have the funding for it, with their main backer being Paul Birch, who was one of the founders of Bebo. They’re standing four candidates in Northern Ireland, which is enough to get them a party election broadcast there, and also an interview with Slugger O’Toole.

I suspect the end result of this election for them will be 32 lost deposits, but it will be interesting to see where their campaign goes from here. There’s strong evidence internationally that decriminalization and/or legalization of cannabis is a better policy than the current criminalization, but the question is how that debate can jump into the mainstream here, as it has in other countries.

labourbadgerMy favourite discovery on Election Leaflets today is this one, but sadly it doesn’t mean that Labour are standing an actual badger as a candidate anywhere, just that David Drew really wants to protect them. Now, if one of the other candidates in Stroud could put out a leaflet with a baboon on it, we might be able to put Popbitch’s question to an electoral test…

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Two and a half weeks in, three weeks to go and it feels to me that we might have had the first big moment of the election tonight. There’d been a lot of pre-event discounting of tonight’s debate: Farage was guaranteed to win as the only right-wing voice, everyone would gang up on Miliband, Cameron would look good for staying out of the fray and much more. Instead, it felt like everyone had made a similar calculation: why go for Miliband when he’s there and can fight back when you could take as many free hits at David Cameron as you wanted?

Sure, Miliband had a few clashes with the others but note how many of those were based on ‘if you were Prime Minister’-style questions and except for the clash at the end with Nicola Sturgeon, how he responded pretty well to them all. He got to stand there, look calm, collected, human and Prime Ministerial while David Cameron sat at home, probably gritting his teeth more and more as the night went on. The polling bears it out too – Miliband seems not only to have ‘won’ the debate, but amongst people who watched the debate appears to have edged ahead of Cameron on the preferred Prime Minister question.

The Tory strategy, which seems to have imagined that Ed Miliband would do what he hasn’t done for the past four or more years and fall apart under pressure, is looking worse and worse every day. I mean, Ed Miliband might suddenly collapse into a gibbering wreck in an interview tomorrow, but it’s seeming increasingly unlikely, and probably less likely than the rage that seems to seethe under David Cameron whenever anyone criticises him finally bursting to the surface.

Of course, we now need to see what gets picked up and played on more over the next few days. So far, there seems to be a rather muted response to Miliband’s request to Cameron for a head-to-head debate, but Labour could keep the pressure up on that, as they likely know there’s no way it could actually happen, even if Cameron were to say yes. There’s also the question of how Farage blowing up and insulting the audience is going to be taken up, because it was a moment where he looked like he’d finally realised that he wasn’t speaking for the majority and instead looked like the pub bore challenging someone to a fight. Still, we now know what two hundred people simultaneously having a sharp intake of breath sounds like.

I’ll probably look back on this in three weeks time and wonder ‘what was I thinking?’ but things seem to have become interesting at last. That probably means we’ll see everything derailed by ridiculous tabloid claims over the weekend, but for now things might just have taken flight.

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We’re two and a half weeks into the Campaign That Never Ends and we’ve finally got the manifestos from the five main parties all published. As I’ve said before, given that the election date was known a long time ago, there’s no real reason why they couldn’t have been released before now, but I’m not a well-paid political consultant who’ll have explained to the party leaderships exactly why it was a good idea to wait this long before releasing their plans for the next five years to the public.

The combined manifestos come to nearly 500 pages in total but the biggest of them by far is the Liberal Democrat one. While the others are all somewhere around 80 pages in different font sizes and designs, this drops in at a quite massive 158 pages, and it’s not using a large font size to achieve that feat. Unfortunately, while it has got lots of good ideas in there, it only gets a Lightfoot Test score of 1 from me, because the policies on the cover annoy me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of extra spending on schools and mental health, as well as the idea of paying less tax – after all, who doesn’t like a government that promises to spend more and tax less? – but when those are coupled with balancing the budget, you’re straying towards the La La Land section of Flip Chart Rick‘s Venn diagram of public spending. Saying ‘cut less than the Conservatives’ shouldn’t be a boast, it’s the minimum commitment for a party that doesn’t want to dismember the state, and these front cover priorities would see other areas cut well beyond the bone to deliver them.

Despite the size, I find myself in the same camp as David Boyle and Ian Dunt in finding it a disappointment. It’s a manifesto of centrist managerialism rather than a liberalism with vision and purpose. The sheer number of policies is impressive – it feels like someone’s trawled through every policy Conference has ever passed – but there’s no vision to link them all together. As David says:

It is a document written to be used in coalition negotiations, and as such it works very well. But it is so hard-headed a document that people may not feel like spending too long in the company of the party which drafted it, for fear that they will start spouting statistics at them.

One wouldn’t want to spend much time in the company of today’s other manifesto, mainly because you’d get very weary of every conversation being steered towards the European Union, regardless of where it started. Yes, it’s the UKIP manifesto, and you’ll not be surprised to find it too scores 1 on the Lightfoot Test, regardless of where you choose to define it as starting to talk about policy. Every page of it is littered with something either stupid or offensive – Paul Nuttall’s photoshopped library on page 28 is a particular favourite in the silly stakes – but I think the most interesting part of UKIP will be watching their reaction after the election. A large number of supporters will be spinning conspiracy theories about how the election was fixed to keep them from winning, while the party’s various factions will finally have the space to coalesce and turn on each other. It’s particularly interesting to note that neither Douglas Carswell nor Mark Reckless were at the manifesto launch today.

Still, there are elements in the manifesto for political theorists to get excited about. The slogan ‘Believe in Britain’ prompts discussion of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and asks if the country goes away if we stop believing it. Meanwhile, their proposed question for a Brexit referendum – Do you wish Britain to be a free, independent, sovereign democracy? – could spawn thousands and thousands of words attempting to define the concepts of freedom, independence, sovereignty and democracy in Britain, the world and the 21st century.

Today’s amusing candidate found on Election Leaflets is South Dorset’s Andy Kirkwood, standing for the Movement for Active Democracy. He’s keen to overthrow the modern system of corporate feudalism, and the large number of pyramid images on his leaflet suggests he’s an Illuminati conspiracy theorist. Or maybe he’s actually an Illuminati agent using his slightly odd leaflet with it’s not-quite Comic Sans typeface to discredit those standing against Illuminati control of the world.

As ever, I’ve had a good idea far too late, but maybe for 2020 (or a second election this year) we can form a Discordian Party who won’t actually stand candidates, but merely declare themselves to be MPs in the style of Emperor Norton. ‘We’ve Already Voted For You’ might make a decent slogan, or distributing leaflets with just the word ‘fnord‘ on them and nothing else.

This time tomorrow General Election Leadershout 2 will be coming to an end, and I might have found an answer to the most pressing question: we all know why Cameron’s avoided it, but what does Clegg gain from not being there?

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