Today, I’m starting with an appeal. Many of you who read this blog are Lib Dems, and so I’m hoping that some of you are part of, or know someone who’s involved in, the party’s social media campaign team because I’d like to get a message to them. To the person or people who were responsible for this, I’d like to say stop. Please, in the name of all that’s good and holy, stop. It’s not cool, it’s not clever and most importantly of all, it’s just not funny.

Talking of things that aren’t cool, clever or funny, what’s Michael Gove been up to today? If your answer to that was anything other than ‘turning up to Labour’s manifesto launch accompanied by a bunch of Tory activists in Nicola Sturgeon masks‘ then you’re wrong, but you deserve some points for imagining that a senior member of the Conservative Party would be doing something more constructive with his time. (Whatever it was you were imagining, it would surely be a better use of his time)

Let’s leave hardworking Michael Gove behind and instead turn our attention to the work of looking at Labour’s manifesto for working people. Sorry, it’s hard working to get rid of the working habit of putting the word work into as many working parts of your sentence as possible after the work of reading it. Now, there are many things within this manifesto, not least the crimes against grammar and comprehension one comes to expect from British politics, and there’ll be plenty of pieces elsewhere going through it in microscopic detail. Instead, I’m going to subject this (and the other) manifestos to what I shall call the Lightfoot Test, in tribute to the late Chris Lightfoot’s method of deciding how to vote:

Manifestos are long and policies are complicated. However, in this case it turns out that an even easier approach works: read each manifesto until you encounter something really offensive or stupid, then stop and reject that party. If you ever reach the end of a manifesto, then you should consider voting for that party. (In the unlikely event that you reach the end of more than one manifesto without gagging, then I’d suggest that your moral compass is out of order and you need to fix it.)

In this case, Labour get a Lightfoot Test score of 2, because it was on page 2 of the PDF version that I found a really stupid idea. As Page 1 was the front page, this really is impressive.

No, it wasn’t the Budget Responsibility Lock, which is mainly just silly and bad economics pandering to the media narrative about the deficit, but one of the policies linked to it:

We will legislate to require all major parties to have their manifesto commitments independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Now, I understand that Labour are smarting over the Chancellor banning the OBR from auditing their manifesto to prove how signed up to the ‘fiscal responsibility’ consensus they are, but this seems a dramatic overreaction to that. Rather than just allowing other parties to make use of the OBR, this will be the Government requiring the Opposition to put their plans through a scrutiny process they control. (The OBR is technically independent, but it’s run by people appointed by the Chancellor) The potential for a Government to abuse that process is huge, and what would be the sanction for parties that choose not to meet this requirement? Would their candidates have to have ‘not approved by OBR’ on the ballot paper?

The whole thing feels very like post-democracy in action, ensuring that parties are locked into a ruling consensus and made to alter their plans to fit the priorities and decisions of the bureaucracy. The idea that an arm of the Government would be required to pre-approve manifestos from those seeking to replace that Government is the sort of thing we’d heavily denounce if it was happening in other countries, and should Labour end up in power I hope this becomes a policy quietly dropped during coalition negotiations.

Quick question: after Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens, which group is standing the most candidates? That would be the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who have 132 candidates (according to Your Next MP) across the country. TUSC emerged from the ‘No2EU’ list Bob Crow and the RMT put together for the 2009 European elections and consider themselves the left-wing alternative to Labour. They are a coalition, not a party, expecting candidates to adhere only to their core policies, but free to run on their own priorities after that. It involves many of the usual suspects of the hard left including the Socialist Party (the one that used to be Militant, not the older SPGB) and everyone’s least-favourite cause-hijackers, the Socialist Workers Party. 132 candidates means £66,000 in deposits being paid to Returning Officers across the country, and I’d expect at least £60,000 of that to be doing its bit to relieve austerity by remaining in local council coffers after the election. The odd TUSC candidate may get success at a local level, but their Parliamentary breakthrough is probably about as far away as their dreams of uniting the Left.

Finally, something interesting but rather distasteful found through Election Leaflets: an anonymous ‘Silent Majority’ leaflet attacking ‘the LibLabCon’ that looks like it’s being delivered in Thanet South. It’s published by something called ‘The Political Reform Society’ which is based in a Northampton PO Box and while it’s not promoting any particular party or individual, the intent of it seems quite clear.

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You may remember how a couple of weeks ago I told you the story of Sajid and his sad addiction to knee-jerking. Well, I’ve found out some more about this story, and it’s not pretty.

One of the precursors to knee-jerking is often a substance that addicts know as ‘research’. However, it’s important to stress that this ‘research’ often bears little resemblance to what you or I might term as research. It’s often of poor quality, comes from unknown sources and has often been cut with self-selecting samples and unweighted data. We’re all aware that even the highest quality research can be misused, so imagine what this poor-quality ‘research’ might be like in the hands of a committed knee-jerker.

You don’t need to imagine, as it turns out that Sajid’s latest knee-jerk was based on some very poor-quality ‘research’. It’s now “a remarkably effective operation” able to turn ‘research’ into a full knee-jerk policy within the space of a morning, and thanks to the internet, that policy can be distributed to hundreds of hungry distributors (often called ‘journalists’ in the knee-jerk trade) to force onto an unsuspecting public, telling them that it’s proper and reliable policy but not of its shady origins.

‘Research’ is clearly a vital precursor to knee-jerking, and perhaps by stemming the flow of it we might be able to begin to win the battle against the knee-jerk policy that’s flooding the country right now. Perhaps one way to start would be to educate politicians and other knee-jerkers about how to recognise the signs of poor quality ‘research’ and to ask questions of their suppliers before using it. Maybe then our streets won’t be flooded with poor-quality policies.

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A late post today because I’ve been out for most of it (in London seeing The Commitments, if you want to know) so perhaps not been given the election my full and undivided attention.

We’ll start with today’s dip into Election Leaflets which also gives us the first (and no doubt last) instance of a new feature: Candidate Nominative Determinism Of The Day. This is won by the Conservative candidate in the Highland constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, one Edward Mountain. I expect the ‘Winner Climbs Mountain’ headlines are already drafted for the post-election coverage.

Further south, long term followers of British political blogging may like to note that the original blogging Tory Boy, Peter Cuthbertson, is now the Conservative candidate for Darlington.

Elsewhere, we find that David Cameron is continuing to prepare for the debate he won’t be having with Ed Miliband, by becoming the only party leader who won’t meet with Joey Essex. It’s starting to feel like Alastair Campbell may actually be right for once when he asks if Cameron’s heart really is in it. I do worry if his equivalent of Liam Byrne’s letter is already written, only this time there really is no money – or anything else – left.

Some useful information now available on Your Next MP, including this very interesting list of the number of candidates being stood by each of the parties. There are a couple of glitches in it, but plenty of interesting parties standing across the country, and definitely some stuff there to write about. Hopefully, I’ll have the time to feature a minor party of the day in these roundups after today. The list also has details of all the parties registered with the Electoral Commission who aren’t standing candidates, containing everyone from 2015 Constitutionalists UK to Yourvoice, the latter of whom are probably still smarting from the £5000 deposit they lost after getting a little more than 0.1% of the South East vote in the European Parliament election last year.

Finally, not a good day for Tories being asked questions. George Osborne doesn’t seem to know where the money to fund his pledges is coming from, while here in Colchester an attempt to get a straight answer about a dogwhistling pledge from the Tory candidate to replace me on the Council got a rather obfuscating response. That sort of response doesn’t really work round here, and so we discovered that our local Tory candidate is fully supportive of his local friends’ rather nasty promises.

Starting tomorrow, we finally get the parties remembering that they ought to publish their manifestos sometime before people start voting, and with postal votes going out soon they can put it off no longer. I’m not expecting to find out too much new when they do come out as the big headline announcement about Labour’s is that they’re now ‘a party of fiscal responsibility’. You can see why people are more excited by Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she’s running for President than anything that’s going on in our election campaign.

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After lamenting the lack of public engagement in the campaign yesterday, I should start this post with some praise for our local Greens who have held a public meeting for people to meet and question their candidates. If you want to know what happened there…you’ll have to check out the Colchester Chronicle who’ve been live-tweeting from it. They’ve called it ‘Grill The Greens’, and the pedant in me would like to point out that one needs to steam your greens to get the best taste and nutrition from them.

Here’s a thought: given that we’ve known the date of this election and the start of the campaign for several years, why have none of the major party manifestos been launched yet? We’ve had campaigning and press events since launch, we had the official start of the ‘short campaign’ last Monday, I’ve been writing these blog posts for 13 days so far, and yet still no one has come out with the official list of the policies they want to implement in Government. We’re told they’ll likely come out next week – though I expect someone at Tory HQ is frantically rewriting it to include the new pledges they’ve come up with over the last couple of days – but there’s no reason they couldn’t have been launched back when the campaign started. (That way, of course, we’d also know which of this week’s policies were always planned, and which were scribbled on the back of an envelope)

Polling is now discovering important information about voters in Britain, with the revelation that people called Tim are more likely to vote Lib Dem than anyone else. Many in the Lib Dems may question the validity of the research when they note that Lynne is the third least Liberal Democrat-supporting name. I can think of at least two who’d disagree. But at least we know that ‘come on Tim’ is a proper Lib Dem rallying cry.

Today’s news from Election Leaflets is that the SDP is still with us, and standing a candidate in Kent. Unfortunately, not against Farage in Thanet South, but over in Gillingham and Rainham (though while his leaflets say SDP, the official statement of persons nominated has him with no description). There have been some lingering continuing SDP candidates since David Owen’s original continuing SDP was wound up in 1990 with one of their last councillors dying last year.

However, I would question if this candidate is actually part of the official SDP or a chancer borrowing the name, especially given the lack of a party description on the official list (you can only use a party name as a description if your nomination is supported by that party’s Designated Nominating Officer). It’s true that micro parties can go through some odd changes in ideology (the continuity Liberals stood as part of the hard left No2EU slate for the 2009 European elections) but here the SDP name appears to have been appropriated by a right-wing political gadfly and previous English Democrats candidate who uses this leaflet to complain about various other parties he’s been involved in and rant about immigration.

Whether he is official SDP or not is hard to tell as the only website for the party I can find is a bizarre string of rants and conspiracy theories that doesn’t seem to have much relationship to anyone standing for election. However, this is the rather odd world of fringe and micro parties in British politics where many odd people tend to gather and then fall out each with each other. (Major party politics is where odd people gather, grit their teeth, and pretend to get on with each other)

We’re a third of the way through the election campaign – 13 days gone, 26 to go until election day. However, voting will be starting much sooner than that as the postal ballots will start going out within the next week and at least one reporter is taking up a suggestion I made last time and trying to find the first voter in the country:

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johnmajorsoapboxAnother day, another series of set-piece speeches and photo opportunities. Marina Hyde in the Guardian does a very good job of catching the sterility of this election campaign, where the general public are being kept as far away from it as possible as battlebuses flit from one business park to another, hi-vis jackets are donned and removed, things are pointed at, activists wave signs and everyone leaves with the feeling that this wasn’t why they got involved in politics, journalism or even coach driving.

The Guardian also reports that many local campaigns are dreading the prospect of a visit from a party VIP, and I know exactly why. From my experience, there are two types of VIP visit during an election campaign. The best is when someone turns up with a few other people in tow, gives a quick speech at the election HQ, poses for a few photos with whatever national and local candidates are around, then asks ‘right, where are we going to canvass?’ You get the benefit of everyone feeling happy because they’ve been praised (elections rely on volunteers giving up lots of time to do very dull clerical tasks at the HQ), but you also get a bunch of people out knocking on doors, which means you get loads of data and people get to learn from watching an experienced campaigner at work on the doorstep.

The other kind are when you have to organise a media event like the ones Marina Hyde discusses in her piece. This normally involves getting lots of people to stand around waiting for the VIP to appear while you silently lament the number of leaflets that could be delivered or doors that could be knocked on in that time, before someone delivers a speech, takes a couple of questions from journalists, shakes a few hands and then disappears off to the next photo, normally surrounded by various people whose exact role is never clear except that ‘they’re from HQ’. Suggesting to these people that they might want to use some of their time helping out with the local campaign will be meant by a look of utter dread at the idea of knocking on a door, followed by them remembering an urgent phone call they have to make.

Offer a campaign a lot of the first type of visit and they’ll be happy. Offer them one of the latter and they’ll be fine with it because of the local headlines it’ll generate. Offer them a few and they’ll really start grumbling about how much of their time is being wasted on media stunts when they could be doing something much more important. The door knocking and leaflet delivery will rarely get much coverage on the news – and when it does, it’s usually just as a bit of filler imagery – but there are lots of constituencies (and hundreds of council wards) where that will decide who wins the seat, not who happened to stop by for a few minutes.

There’s a chance that someone will respond to the claims of lack of authenticity in the campaign and ‘spontaneously’ discover a soapbox to stand on and do some campaigning in a busy town centre, but I suspect even that will find itself sterilised of all meaning and contact with regular people.

I’ve spent most of today in the University library (but it’s the University of Essex, so you can only criticise me for looking at the election from high up in a concrete tower, not an ivory one) but a discussion elsewhere does prompt me to ask a question: what is Cameronism? Or in more basic terms, why does David Cameron want to be Prime Minister for another five years? What does he want to do in that time? He’s been in Downing Street for five years, and I’m still none the wiser as to what he stands for other than a Conservative-tinged brand of managerialism (‘a long term plan’, ‘living within our means’ and the like) but no great vision for what he wants the country to be. I know conservatism is generally resistant to ideology, but this is taking it to an extreme, and I think it’s why the Tory campaign in this election seems aimless. Last time he could get by (but still not actually win) by being not-Gordon Brown, but right now I feel I could make a better shot at defining Milibandism (and Robert Peston’s comparison of him with Thatcher’s pre-1979 election position is interesting) than I could at trying to justify the existence of any kind of Cameronism.

Or maybe I’ve missed something? Outraged Tories eager to tell me the finer details of Cameronist thought can feel free to use the comments box to begin educational process.

Leaflet of the day doesn’t come from this campaign, but this fine specimen of the 1950 Liberal campaign I discovered through Twitter:


Truly, a different era of campaigning, though anyone who’s ever edited leaflets for candidates will know that some of them still think a thousand-plus words treatise explaining the finer details of their dispute with someone is just what voters are waiting to see on their doorstep.

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changethetuneThe Green Party’s ‘Change The Tune’ election broadcast has generated quite a response since it was first released on Wednesday. Most of that reaction – and I include my initial ones – to it was pretty derisory, with lots of political types on Twitter saying it was the worst election broadcast they’ve ever seen, what a terrible idea it was, why didn’t it feature Caroline Lucas talking about policy etc etc

What we didn’t consider was that it wasn’t aimed at us, and indeed wasn’t really aiming to be the traditional election broadcast. How many of them get reported by MTV?


Consider how many people have learnt about it just from that tweet (MTV UK have 1.5m Twitter followers, by the way, much more than all the political parties combined) and look at how many people are talking about it on social media. This is a broadcast that’s succeded on two fronts – it’s got lots of traditional media coverage, but perhaps more importantly, it’s reaching an audience who wouldn’t normally pay any attention to party election broadcasts.

I wrote the other week about John Zaller’s model of how public opinion forms, and this is an important illustration of part of that. One of the important ideas in Zaller is the difference between ‘high information’ and ‘low information’ voters. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re most likely a ‘high information’ voter – that’s not back slapping, just a fact that the sort of person who reads political blogs is someone who’s probably accessing lots of information about the election, has well-formed opinions on many issues but because they have so much information is unlikely to change their views or who they vote for. On the other hand, low information voters aren’t paying much, if any, attention to the election and don’t have many opinions on political issues. However, they’re also likely to be very resistant to political messages delivered in a traditional way even if they see them. They’ll ignore PEBs on TV, won’t be following politicians or parties on social media and will likely ignore political messages they see, especially if they’re from a source they don’t know or trust.

This Green Party video, however, isn’t getting shared by the traditional channels. Sure, it’s being shared and discussed by high-information politicos on Twitter and blogs, but that’s incidental. Because we’re high-information, we’re going to pay attention to things like that, even if it’s very unlikely to change our minds. The problem for most election broadcasts is that’s pretty much the only audience they reach after they’ve been shown on TV. Most people won’t see them on TV, won’t notice them even if one of the few shares of them makes it to their social media streams and will be blissfully unaware that they even exist. The Green video, though, has effectively gone viral with people beyond the usual political suspects sharing it and saying ‘you need to watch this’. Going back to Zaller’s model, this is how it’s reached the Accept stage of opinion formation: because it’s recommended by someone they trust, people will choose to watch it and, crucially, pay attention to the messages in it.

It’s not going to have such an affect as to sweep the Green Party to an unexpected or even a surge in the polls, but it’s got their message out to a lot of people who wouldn’t normally take on political messages. That doesn’t make them more likely to vote, but if they do vote, it’s more likely that they’ll think of voting Green.

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colchesternominatedThe Colchester nomination list was published about a minute after I published that last post, and it confirmed that there’d be six candidates (austerity bites with a 33% cut in the number of candidates), but also something else I’ve mentioned before.

In 2010, there were nine candidates for the constituency. Five of them haven’t returned for another go this time, but four of them have, which means we’ll have the same Liberal Democrat (Bob Russell), Conservative (Will Quince), Labour (Jordan Newell) and UKIP (John Pitts) candidates we had in 2010. (Bob Russell has added a ‘Sir’ since then, but that’s not mentioned on the list of candidates)

What this makes me wonder is whether there’s any other constituency with four candidates the same as they were in 2010? I’ll be keeping an eye out for any, but please let me know if you spot one.