2010 General Election Diary Day 24: The last week is the longest time in politics

You see, this is why more people should be reading my blog. As I noted on Tuesday, when I’d been at the opening of the postal votes here:

even if I had seen how people had voted, I’d be committing an offence by telling you how they did

So, if Kerry McCarthy had read my blog the other day, she might have thought twice before tweeting what she’d seen at her postal vote count.

The big question, though, hasn’t been asked. As James Graham noted, what idiot decided it was a good idea to waste the candidate’s time by sending them (or not stopping them going) to the postal vote opening? There’s an almost infinite number of things that a candidate could be doing that would be more useful to the campaign than that. Like Gordon Brown being in Rochdale yesterday – are they really running a campaign that thinks they can gain seats? – it’s down to a Labour candidate being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Just one link from me today – Mat’s latest post has a round-up of lots of things that are worth reading and seeing, so go see what he has to say today.

As for me, I’ve spent another day helping Stephen Robinson, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Chelmsford. It’s nice to be able to go and campaign somewhere else, just to help remember that this is a national campaign, if nothing else! There’s a really good atmosphere around Stephen’s campaign, and yet again, I’d advise anyone who is in Essex and looking to help elect a Liberal Democrat MP to get down there and help out. About 300 deliveries from me, as well as helping out the team in the office, takes my total up to 2,700 deliveries so far for the campaign…and I’m not going to start keeping count of the number of leaflets I’ve folded as well.

Still two hours to the final debate, and it’s already crowded out all other news from the TV. I’m almost tempted to watch The One Show in protest – especially as the BBC have wheeled out Quentin Letts from whatever pit of slime it is he normally lives in.

2010 General Election Diary Day 23: Somedays, you just can’t get rid of a bomb

I was struggling to think of a title for today’s post, then started flicking through the channels and discovered that the 60s Batman film was on FilmFour. It was very hard not to see Gordon Brown as the unluck sap running along a pier holding a giant comedy bomb while the presence of various babies in prams, marching bands, nuns, ducklings and other tabloid-friendly images prevent him from dumping it.

(Not that New Labour’s normally had much of a problem getting rid of bombs)

Obviously, the reason Armando Ianucci wasn’t available to direct the Tory election broadcast I referred to in my last post was because he’s now directing the entire election. Yet again, the broadcasters of Britain breathe a huge sigh of relief as they can now go for another day without talking about unimportant trivialities like policy and instead spend hours and hours dissecting the meaning of one comment. Sometime tomorrow, they’ll have to change their focus slightly to the final leaders’ debate, but they can frame that in terms of whether Gordon Brown will mutter something under his breath or if David Cameron will tell us that he too once met a bigoted woman, so with luck and a bit of manufactured post-debate nowtrage, the election coverage can stay entirely policy-free until the weekend.

The big question is this – is this the day Labour lost the election, or just the day the media will point to as the day Labour lost the election for which they’d already spent five years preparing the ground for their defeat?

Was listening to Radio 4’s PM this afternoon, which featured a Labour person saying that the campaign was going fine, and their canvass returns were showing that everything was fine. Of course, that’s always the response to any claims that things are going wrong – ‘we’re not hearing that on the doorstep’ – and it’s one of those things that I really wish the media would pick up on, by challenging people to put up that data to justify their claims. Never going to happen, of course.

Talking of canvass data, today I was out canvassing in an entirely new area – Chelmsford. A few of us from Colchester went down there to help out Stephen Robinson in his attempt to win there, and to show our thanks for all the times they’ve come out to help us here in Colchester – they’re one of the key reasons we won here in 1997, so we’re hoping that we can now repay the favour and get Essex’s second Liberal Democrat MP. If you’re in Essex and want to help out, then I know Stephen and his team will be grateful for all the help they can get.

Another 40 doors knocked on this afternoon, and then a traffic jam on the A12 meant I got back too late to do any tonight, so that takes the total up to 330. Tomorrow looks like it might be a big delivery day though.

The rise of the real nutters

For us politics junkies, The Thick Of It is essential watching and one of the treats of this election campaign has been Jesse Armstrong’s Malcolm Tucker columns for the Guardian (warning: contains language liable to offend the offendable).

And while it’s amusing to imagine just how the real-life Malcolms are dealing with the election, it’s a bit disturbing to discover they’re thinking on the same lines as the rest of us. Rebecca Front (the actress who plays Nicola Murray in The Thick Of It) tweeted this morning:

A very nice man approached me in the st & asked if I wanted to be in a Labour party broadcast. They want Nicola Murray in a ppb? …

Followed by this response from Armando Ianucci, the creator and director of the series:

@RebeccaFront. Saatchis contacted me and asked if I wanted to shoot the Tory Hung Parliament ppb. Offal heads.

At this point, life is no longer imitating art, it’s given up, stuck itself in a frame and demanded to be painted over. How long till someone attempts to get Chris Morris to direct a broadcast for them?

UPDATE: Turns out that they also attempted to get Charlie Brooker to appear in the Tory election broadcast. Satire may not be dead, but there’s someone out there trying to slaughter it in the most horrible ways imaginable. (thanks to James Graham for pointing it out)

2010 General Election Diary Day 22: Vote early, but vote just once

I have seen my first ballot papers of this election. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen the backs of them rather than how anyone voted – and even if I had seen how people had voted, I’d be committing an offence by telling you how they did. Yes, I was at the first day of opening the postal votes here in Colchester, making sure everything was fair and going OK, as well as getting a first indication of the postal vote turnout. In short, it was a couple of hours of watching people opening envelopes and putting postal ballot forms through scanners.

The point of today – and the next few days of working through the several thousand postal ballots they’re expecting from across the Borough – isn’t to count any votes but to verify them. By getting all that work done now, it means that the vast majority of the postal votes can be easily counted with the rest of the votes on election night, with only the votes that came in on polling day itself needing to be checked before being added to the count.

Elsewhere, we had some comedy injected into the campaign as UKIP put forward Christopher Monckton to answer the Guardian’s questions about their science policy. Their conclusion? “Woeful“. The only other party to be featured in the series so far is the Liberal Democrats, by the way. Lots in there if you’re looking for evidence-based policy, not much if you’re looking for laughs at the expense of swivel-eyed loons.

20 more doors knocked on this evening, taking the total up to 290, but the big box of stuff to deliver hasn’t been touched yet…and seems to have grown with a few more things since I last looked.

2010 General Election Diary Day 21: The Final Countdown

It had to happen eventually. The campaign was going so well, and everything in the election was going fine, but then the dark shadow from the past has risen to cast its pall over the whole affair. Yes, Jan Moir has risen from whatever pit of slime the Daily Mail store her in to launch a barrel of fiery error-strewn invective at the Clegg family, following the shocking news that Miriam Gonzalez not only wears underwear, but also buys it. No, I’m not linking to the Daily Mail piece, but Helen Duffett has more on it.

Meanwhile, the Tories have been telling people to vote for them to avoid a hung Parliament, but insisting that we must keep the current electoral system because it, unlike any other system, doesn’t deliver hung parliaments. As ever, the fact remains that electoral systems are entirely neutral on the question of hung, balanced, strong or any other kind of Parliament and it’s the voters who decide what sort of Parliament they get. Remember that only two weeks ago, David Cameron was issuing an ‘invitation to join the Government of Britain’ and now it turns out that not only is that invitation subject to the leader making up new policy off the cuff, but it clearly doesn’t include people who have the temerity to get themselves elected for parties that aren’t the Conservatives.

I am glad for the Tories pointing just how much Labour have clamped down on our civil liberties:

Greg Clark, the shadow climate change secretary, was first up as he announced that a Tory government would give people the power to plant a tree for every child born in Britain.

Yes, it would seem that either you don’t have the power to plant a tree – which must make anyone working for the Woodland Trust rather nervous – or the Tories have announced another non-policy.

Today’s things to read that you might find interesting: James Graham on the latest Labour hissy fit, FiveThirtyEight taking a different look at swing and why seat calculators might be getting it badly wrong and James Barlow (no relation, that I’m aware of) on why using stock images on their election publicity might end up costing the Green Party a lot.

A bit of polling news – while the rest of the (non-rogue) polls continue bumping around within the margin of error some interesting information from PinkNews about the Tory vote crashing amongst gay people.

Back to actual door-knocking this evening, rather than co-ordinating, and another 25 takes me up to 270. A few bits of delivery over the weekend as well, so we’ll call the total for that 2,400 so far.

Just ten days to go now, and a whole lot more paper to distribute (there’s a box full of it taunting me now) and doorbells to ring.

2010 General Election Diary Day 20: Jai Ho

So, the team in blue were leading throughout most of the campaign and seemed set to coast home easily. The red team, the defending champions, really didn’t live up to expectations but a flurry of activity helped them out in a close close finish, though they still ended up in third place, with the final battle between the seemingly-unbeatable blues and the yellows, who’d got there on the back of some great performances by their leader. When it came down to it, though, the blues just couldn’t seal the deal and the yellows won comfortably.

But this is a General Election post, so why I’m talking about today’s Indian Premier League final, where the Chennai Super Kings beat the heavily-tipped Mumbai Indians to take the title, I don’t know.

Today was another day of playing sorting office, and working through several boxes of letters in the office to check they were all arranged correctly and ready to be delivered. Not quite a dirty job – the advantage of dealing with stuff in envelopes is that you don’t get your hands covered in printer’s ink – but a rather boring one that someone has to do.

Meanwhile, the Labour campaign is convulsed with rows over the appearance of an Elvis impersonator at a campaign event, and as a result, Armando Ianucci and the team behind The Thick Of It are have probably thrown out all their planned scripts for the next series because they’re just not silly enough to be realistic.

It’s been a quiet electoral weekend for me, but we’re about to head into the final sprint for the finish, now we’ve got two-thirds of the campaign behind us. In a fortnight’s time, it’ll all be over. For this election anyway.

2010 General Election Diary Day 19: What’s the worst that could happen?

Bad ideas for party election broadcasts, number 1 in a hopefully very infrequent series: Borrowing the concept of Dr. Pepper adverts, we go for ‘vote Liberal Democrat – what’s the worst that could happen?’

I guess we need to wait till the final week for the Daily Mail to do their ‘welcome to Nick Clegg’s Britain’ fantasy to find the answer, but I expect it to be one of the so-bad-it’s-good classics. I’m predicting starring roles for Lembit Opik and Evan Harris as Chancellor and Secretary of State for Destroying Everything Britain Stands For, while Buckingham Palace probably gets closed down and moved to a field outside Brussels to serve as Herman von Rompuy’s holiday home.

So, the first votes of the election have been cast and are now sitting in post boxes, delivery vans and sorting offices waiting to be delivered. I still vote in person, mainly because I live very close to my polling station and thus always seem to be the person who gets volunteered to do the first hour or two of telling there, which means I can normally be the first person to vote there too. There’s something about the experience of going into a polling station and putting my cross on a piece of paper or two that makes me think ‘is that it? Next time I vote, I want to be using a decent electoral system.’

Still, at least I won’t be trying to place a cross on the ballot paper while holding my nose, unlike Polly Toynbee, who’s doing her bit for the environment by recycling ideas from 2005. I have the feeling that if the Government depicted in Torchwood: Children of Earth was a Labour one, Polly Toynbee would still be arguing that they needed to be supported. Yes, they may have wanted to hand over 10% of the country’s children to the 456, but that at least helped to create more vacancies at Sure Start centres. Anyway, James Graham said everything I wanted to say on this without introducing drug-addicted aliens into the argument.

Meanwhile, today’s ‘Really? Wow! Thank God you mentioned that, we’d never have thought of it ourselves’ award goes to Sunny Hundal for this piece of advice to the Liberal Democrats:

Identifying Lib Dem pockets of voters and organising activists to start knocking on doors on polling day to get them out would be another strategy Cowley Street is or should be thinking about.

Yes, fellow Lib Dems, we’re going to have to stop spending our election days sitting on the sofa drinking beer and catching up with all the exciting developments we’ve missed on Doctors during the campaign. Apparently – and I know this will be news to all of you out there – if we had some way of finding out which voters were likely to support us, we could then spend polling day making sure we get them to go out and vote. I’ll be sure to mention this brand new idea to the campaign team at the nest meeting.

For today’s campaigning, we got to pretend to be postmen in a sorting office, taking the large numbers of letters that have been addressed and stuffed over the past few weeks and arranging them ready for delivery. Another of those dull jobs that doesn’t get reported on as part of campaigning, but helps get a lot of people voting.

2010 General Election Diary Day 18: Some days, the board runs you

Been somewhat out of the national election loop today, as I’ve been concentrating on working here on the campaign here in Colchester. Been glancing at Twitter on and off during the day, which has provided an interesting way of skimming the election news through an odd filter. This has included the rather odd news that Nick Clegg is not only aware of the whole #nickcleggsfault phenomenon, but regards it as one of his favourite parts of the campaign. I find myself imagining Nick Clegg being summoned to Buckingham Palace after the election, just for the Queen to tell him it’s all his fault.

Anyway, #nickcleggsfault is now so April 22nd. All the cool Tweeters are on #disobeymurdoch now. (And the really cool are on #SendUsMoney)

Meanwhile, today’s news is that there’s been a sudden surge in hysterical (in every sense of the word) bigotry. I also caught the English Democrats’ election broadcast (not intentionally, but it was stuck between Newsnight and Newsnight Review) but as it didn’t contain Steven Uncles on his knees, begging the forgiveness of the world for what he said about Chris Lightfoot’s death, I find no reason to pay them any attention at all. Except to point out that Mr Uncles is standing in Gravesham, and I hope Anna Arrowsmith beats him soundly.

Anyway, I spent most of today out running canvassing teams here in Colchester. While you don’t get to knock on any doors yourself while you’re co-ordinating it, it’s an interesting experience to be co-ordinating a group of others as they head to the doorstep and dealing with the variety of responses you can get from a single street. We also had some new people out with us tonight, and it’s fun watching someone learn the art of canvassing to the point when they’re willing and ready to go and knock on doors all by themselves. But, even though we got through a few hundred doors in those sessions, I didn’t knock on any or do any deliveries today, so no advance on the totals for now.

2010 General Election Diary Day 17: It’s all #nickcleggsfault

I’m still not quite sure what part of today I’ve found the strangest – the news that Marmite are suing the BNP over a Party Political Broadcast, that Iain Dale wrote a post deploring the personal attacks on Nick Clegg, or the fact that a brief conversation between me and Justin on Twitter spawned a globe-spanning meme. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time a first-thing-in-the-morning off-hand comment of mine has ended up inspiring a song.

Before I forget to recommend it, some other stuff worth reading out there on the internets from Steph Ashley and Alix Mortimer.

I suppose today is the day where I can excuse my lack of activity on the local campaign by claiming I was focusing on the national/internet campaign. What I’ve found interesting during this campaign is that the party do seem to have finally understood internet campaigning and not tried to interfere with spontaneous internet uprisings. For example the people who created and turned the Rage Against The Machine Facebook group into such a phenomenon (it now has a membership almost double the party’s) have been allowed to get on with it in their own way. They’ve been given advice and support from the party when it’s been asked for – though even that’s mostly been crowdsourced – but there’s been no one from Cowley Street trying to muscle in and insist that they must do it a certain way.

There’s definitely something happening during this election as the rules change around us. Someone mentioned to me this morning that they’d heard someone – we think it was UKIP or the English Democrats – travelling around the streets in a car with a PA on it. That’s something that probably seemed like an incredible innovation 80 or 90 years, was a staple of campaigning in the 70s, but is now almost entirely gone from campaigns. Could elections in 10 or 20 years time see all the attention paid to Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups while everyone wonders why they don’t get scores of leaflets through their doors anymore?

(Quick thought: I wonder if anyone’s studied what happens to domestic paper recycling rates and amounts during election campaigns?)

On that note, I can’t remember if I’ve linked to David Yelland’s excellent Guardian article yet: Nick Clegg’s rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics. If you want to know why certain parts of the press are going so over-the-top in their attacks on Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, it’s a good start in explaining why, as is this Michael Wollf piece. Plus, Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News speculates about just what senior News International executives were doing in the office block that the Independent shares with the Daily Mail.

Back to party politics, though, and I wonder if this decentralisation of campaigning might lead to a whole new way of organising political parties in the UK? Does the traditional membership model really work when you don’t need to jump through committee hoops to run your campaign, you just need to start a Facebook group or come up with a Twitter hashtag and see who rallies around. Ken MacLeod discussed some of these changes in his Morning Star interview this week, and even though he’s coming at it from the perspective of the Left, there are similarities:

MacLeod’s analysis of far-left movements is far from uncritical. He points out that left-wing movements have been slow to embrace new technologies, in part because the internet “challenges a set of Leninist assumptions that a lot of far-left groups had about how discussions must and should be conducted.

“A lot of the formal rules of the left are still based on 19th-century communications technology – the idea that revolutionary politics are built around a top-level party line set down by a newspaper, which everyone has to agree with. The internet negates that process,” he says, adding hastily that “the Star has a head start, in that it allows in voices from outside the party.”

Probably something for more thought after the election, though.

One other thing that’s been on my mind today is A Very British Coup. I caught a bit of it a few weeks ago when Yesterday were repeating it, and am glad to discover that Channel 4 have made the whole thing available on YouTube and 4OD. In AVBC, the establishment and the press attempt to bring down a radical Prime Minister who rises to power after a major scandal in the City, and I’m wondering if Chris Mullin was being optimistic in assuming the press would wait until after Harry Perkins was in office.

Right, that’s all for now – did deliver 40 letters for the campaign this morning, taking the total there to 2,410, and am down to quite a bit of canvassing tomorrow to boost the figure there quite a lot. More commentary after tonight’s debate, when I’m fully expecting Gordon Brown to tell us he’s been reading the Twitter and discovered it’s all Nick Clegg’s fault.

2010 General Election Diary Day 16: There’s less to go than has already gone

Labour’s latest election broadcast teams up Peter Davison and David Tennant to tell us everything is going to be fine in the future. I was expecting them to tell us that there’s a hole in the economy the exact size of Belgium, but as they didn’t I think we can all agree that this is not a canon Doctor Who adventure. This may change if the next Labour broadcast features Gordon Brown meeting Clement Attlee and declaring ‘you were my Prime Minister.’

The current great irony of British politics is that Liberal Democrats tend to be Doctor Who fans, but the Doctors themselves are Labour voters. This may be why people think Eddie Izzard should play them Doctor, but meanwhile, I await Sylvester McCoy’s Labourrrrrr election broadcast.

Anyway, back to the real meat of the election campaign, and as Stephen Tall points out we’re very definitely in the ‘fight you’ stage of ‘first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’. Of course, Gandhi lived in an age before there was Dermot O’Leary to ask him which British leader he’d prefer to share a bed with, but the principle remains that if you’re annoying the Mail, the Sun, the Spectator and Toby Young so much, you’re probably doing something right.

We’re now past halfway in this campaign – it all started two weeks last Tuesday, and two weeks tomorrow it’ll all be over and the last few votes will be being cast, as tired activists knock on their final doors and drag people who were just settling down to watch Have I Got News For You and Outnumbered out to vote instead. And to anyone I do disturb on election night, I’m sorry, but I have seen elections determined by those few extra people you do get out to vote at the death, and so yes, your vote may well be crucial.

I was thinking earlier that the polls appear to be settling into a new pattern, just in time for the next debate to mess them all up. Broadly, the Tories seem to be around 32-33%, the Liberal Democrats around 30% and Labour around 27-28% with most polls coming out pretty much within the margin of error of those numbers. I’m trying to work out how much effect tomorrow’s debate might have, given that it likely won’t be watched by as many people, but we just don’t know whether tomorrow will be the day when Brown gets possessed by the oratorical spirit of Cicero, while Clegg responds to every question with a shrug and ‘I dunno’, and Cameron gets so confused he thinks he’s responding to a LiveJournal meme where every question has to be answered entirely with Beatles lyrics.

One thing I forgot to mention from yesterday’s complaining was that it was the first time I got some outright abuse on the doorstep. Not for being a Liberal Democrat specifically but because ‘I don’t vote for scum, all you politicians are scum, and you should all be lined up against a wall and shot.’ I was tempted to respond by asking him who’d organise this mass shooting if there were no politicians around, but decided to go for ‘OK, sorry for bothering you’ and heading back up the driveway instead.

Today saw me back on the delivering trail, with about 300 shoved through various letterboxes and the total for the campaign up to 2,370, followed by a quick session of canvassing tonight where I knocked on 25 doors, so the total there’s up to 245. Next time, I’m getting a pedometer for the campaign to work out just how far I walk doing all this.