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And now, the end is near…


May 6, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, General, Hung Parliament, Labour, Liberal Democrat, TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

After a mamouth general election campaign and one of the closest political battles in years, we have finally arrived. Get your stats, maps, constituency guides and popcorn, settle down and enjoy a night of television made for the political junkies!

So what have been some of the highlights?

Undoubtedly the leaders debates have proved a hit with the voting electorate and will almost certainly be around for many general election campaigns to come.

The meteoric rise of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats is another of the major stories of the election. For the first time in a long time we have a genuine 3-horse race, and but for a cock-eyed electoral system the Liberal Democrats may well have been in a better position still.

The leaders personalities have been at the heart of this campaign. Is Cameron too policy light? Is Brown to heavy handed? Is Clegg the happy medium? Never before has an election campaign been so reliant on the man at the top.

And of course we have had the odd gaffe here and there. How much do you think Brown regrets his momentary lapse of concentration where he called a Rochdale grandma a ‘bigoted woman’ in the back of his car?

As we head into election night, the 2010 election will certainly be remembered. The polls seem to point towards a hung parliament, but with reported large turnout will we see a Conservative majority? Are the Liberal Democrats’ polling numbers holding firm? Or has there been a traditional swingback to the governing Labour party?

So many questions. Now it is time for the answers.

Sit back and enjoy!

Brown’s Huge Challenge


April 30, 2010 by Colin Byrne  | Category TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

“The TV debates have been a defining feature of the election, but not a game changer. There is almost a week to go for voters to focus on substance rather than style.”

Read Colin’s latest post in GQ

The final countdown begins… D-Day for Brown


April 29, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, Economy, Labour, Liberal Democrat, TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

Tonight sees the final leaders’ debate of this historic General Election campaign, and for each of the three main party leaders, this debate presents a different challenge.

Arguably the person with the most at stake is the PM Gordon Brown. Following his disastrous day yesterday where he was caught off camera but still with his microphone on calling a Rochdale granny “bigoted”, tonight possibly represents his final chance to turn his flagging campaign around ahead of polling day. This debate – which is focused on the economy – was originally meant to be the moment when the election finally turned in Brown’s favour. However his comments yesterday mean that the whole focus of the debate has changed. Having spent a great deal of time trying to persuade us that this election was one which would be defined by character, Brown’s momentary lapse of concentration which (rightly or wrongly) called his very character into question has meant that this debate has become even more critical for the PM. One might even question if his campaign is so ‘dead and buried’ that there is little if anything Brown can do tonight to turn it around.

For David Cameron, this debate is a prime opportunity to convince floating voters that the Conservatives can once again be trusted with the UK economy. If he is elected PM on 6th May, Cameron will be faced with the daunting and unenviable task of having to make some of the toughest economic decision any PM has faced in recent times. Having pledged to start cutting ‘waste’ immediately, Cameron will have to be on his best form to repel a double attack from the Lib Dems and Labour on this policy. Look out for Brown mentioning the £6billion cuts and 40,000 public sector job losses which will result from the Conservatives plans – I bet you he mentions it once or twice…!

Nick Clegg has undoubtedly been the major benefactor from the television debates so far. He grabbed the television spotlight and his assured performances catapulted the Lib Dem campaign into orbit. Though he continues to ride high in the polls, there remains a question over whether his party will be able to translate the poll numbers into actual votes. The Lib Dems arguably have the most widely respected economist in their ranks in the form of Vince Cable and I would expect Nick Clegg to look to drop his name into conversation as often as possible tonight. We already know this election is a three-horse race but another solid performance from Clegg and things really will begin to get interesting.

In my opinion, the debates have stoked up a type of interest in the election not seen in previous races. Though some argue that they have increasingly pushed us towards a more presidential system, I would argue that we are more or less already there. Yes, the system may be parliamentary, but it is the man (or woman) at the top who is becoming increasingly powerful. I am in no doubt that there are lots of people across the UK who base their vote not on their individual MP but on who they want to be prime minister and lead the country. Surely this is a presidential system when it comes to elections in all but name?

Anyway, despite the lower number of viewers who watched the second debate (4m as opposed to the 10m who tuned into the first debate), I suspect these numbers may rise again following Brown’s gaffe yesterday. I for one am certainly looking forward to seeing what happens.

To spin or not to spin?


April 26, 2010 by David Swaden  | Category Conservative, General, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Media, TV Debates, celebrity  |  0 Comments »

As an aside, I was thinking over the weekend how the public clamour for a particular style of leadership has gone full circle over 13 years. In 1997, Labour seized upon people’s fatigue from having a serious, policy-heavy grey-man of a leader with little charisma – enter Tony Blair.

Next, the public tired of the smiling, well-spun, squeaky clean approach of Blair and reverted to a serious, straightforward and somewhat grey-man option – enter Gordon Brown.

Now, taking into account that Nick Clegg will not be Prime Minister, we have Cameron trying to play the Blair card but with an austere side, while Brown is unashamedly championing the grey-man image, albeit with a more than slightly eerie grin thrown into the mix.

Which way will the public now turn?

Boris’ bet


April 26, 2010 by David Swaden  | Category Conservative, Hung Parliament, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Media, TV Debates, celebrity  |  0 Comments »

A slightly less star-studded morning than last-Friday, but musing over something from last week.

Harking back to Boris’ great interview (which you can still watch somewhere below), he said he was confident of a 40-plus Tory majority.

Today’s YouGov poll, which puts the Tories on  34% to Labour’s 29%, which according to our Rallings and Thrasher data leaves the blues as the opposition party in a hung parliament, with Labour 48 seats short of a majority.

Looking at the various predictors, the Tories need to pick up by about 5% points for that, and Labour need to drop by 4%.

Given that we’re only 10 days away from the election, and the public has now had two chances to be wooed by Cameron in live debate, that’s quite a mountain.

Little wonder then that the Tories are today going into overdrive to campaign against a hung parliament, with a dire warning  on the subject currently taking place.

This, from the party who argued against scaremongering just last week, feels like something of a political own-goal on first viewing.

From own-goals to golden-goals, all eyes on Thursday’s live debate .

It seems that, to have a chance of the dramatic turnaround Boris spoke about, Cameron must take this final leaders’ battle by a clear margin, pinning Brown to his culpability as incumbent leader and former Chancellor, as well as asserting himself as more feasible and heavyweight on  the issue than Nick Clegg.

18 months ago, IPSOS MORI produced a poll that saw the Tories on 52%, 28 points ahead of Labour and with a notional majority of well over 300. Whatever happens between now and polling day, it would do well to be as dramatic a turnaround as then and now.

The wonder of you / Tory Toddlers Tax


April 26, 2010 by Jo-ann Robertson  | Category Conservative, General, Labour, celebrity  |  1 Comment »

It was a fascinating weekend at Labour HQ. The social media sites went into overdrive when it was announced that Labour would have a megastar at their rally on the NHS on Saturday. When that megastar turned out to be an Elvis impersonator – there was a bit of a slow groan from everyone who had got excited, but a lot of laughter too!

This raises some interesting questions about the use of celebrities during the election campaign. How effective are they? Do they really swing votes one way or the other? In all honesty, would the media coverage really have been any different if Labour had used Cheryl Tweedy? (maybe a little) At the end of the day Labour were top of the news agenda talking about the NHS, job done really. The real tragedy about this election campaign is that the media are finding celebrities more interesting than policy proposals! 

So far there has been very limited scrutiny of each of the parties policy proposals. In fact, Labour have been trying to get the Liberals and Tories to sign this letter to the broadcasters: http://www.politicshome.com/uk/article/8359/news_from_labour_tories_%26_lib_dems_want_to_keep_their_policies_under_wraps.html 

The question has to be what are they so scared of that they can’t get behind this? With 10 days until election day, let’s get back to the serious issues that matter to the families of Britain. One such issue is that of free nursery places for three and four year olds – Labour will extend it, the Tories want to introduce top-up-fees. The Observer yesterday reported:

“The party has kept the policy out of its election manifesto. But in a letter seen by the Observer, shadow ministers have assured nursery providers that under a Conservative government they will be allowed to charge top-up fees – at least temporarily. The move, which is designed to help struggling nurseries to survive, will require the party to suspend a code of practice put in place in 2006 that ruled out any additional fees.”

A toddlers tax is a step too far surely, even for the Conservative Party.

Brown and Cameron improve, Clegg still nicks it


April 23, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

There were a number of questions heading into last night’s second leader’s debate. Could Nick Clegg score another resounding victory? Could David Cameron put his obvious presentation skills to better use? Would Gordon Brown be able to demonstrate he was not just about substance, but he had some style as well?

In my opinion, I thought Nick Clegg was again the best performer of the night. Not as much of a resounding victory as we had seen in the opening round, but a victory nonetheless. Following his meteoric rise in the polls this week, the media spotlight had been turned on the Liberal Democrats. With Mr Clegg’s own expenses dominating the front page of the Daily Telegraph yesterday, there was a very real danger that the bubble could burst and the hopes of Liberal Democrat supporters could come crashing down around him. But crash he did not, and whilst he may not see the same boost in the polls numbers he received this time last week, he remained solid in his performance and – though he wobbled a bit on the issue of the Trident renewal – avoid making any major mistakes. His tactic of continuing to group the Conservatives and Labour as “the old parties” will strike a resonance with the electorate, and his willingness to engage with them in argument and debate will further reinforce the fact that this is election is now most definitely a three-horse race.

David Cameron badly needed to have a good night after last week. Though clearly much improved, for me he is still struggling somewhat. His answers remain too staged and he seems to lack a certain authenticity in his demeanour. Cameron has a bit of a problem. Though he continued (and will no doubt continue) to insert the word ‘change’ into every other sentence he utters, it seems as though he is rapidly losing his position as the standard-bearer of the change camp to a certain Mr Clegg. Perhaps this is why he looked to insert the phrase “If I was your Prime Minister” into as many of his answers as possible to reinforce the message that real change and a clean break on 7th May means you need a Conservative government. Cameron did win the award for one of the stand-out lines of the night, actually uttering the words “I agree with Gordon” during the discussion about the renewal of Trident, and certainly did OK on issues like immigration (he is the Conservative leader after all). But for me the bar was set so high ahead of the first debate in terms of his expected performance that it will take a massive effort for him to exceed people’s expectations. Overall better, but still lots of work still to do.

The most improved performance of the evening, however, goes to Gordon Brown. I thought he was more passionate, more articulate, and had better stage presence in terms of his interaction with the watching television audience than he did in the first debate. When he spoke about his values and his ideas for society, particularly during his closing statement, he looked and sounded prime ministerial (undoubtedly made easier by the fact he actually is the Prime Minister!), and he certainly seemed more comfortable in his surroundings. Whereas last week, Brown’s strategy was to demonstrate the closeness of himself and Clegg, this week given the movement in the polls the strategy was clearly aimed at showing the dividing lines between the parties. Hence the strong attacks on both Clegg (“Get real Nick” when attacking the Liberal Democrat’s policy on Trident) and Cameron (“Big Society at home, Little Britain abroad” when attacking the Conservative’s domestic plans), plus his repeated highlighting of what life is actually like as the Prime Minister. Definitely a marked improvement.

So there you go. Some of my initial thoughts. Though less historic than last week, this debate was more combative, more enjoyable, and actually more interesting in terms of strategic insight than the first. Final scoreboard: (1) Clegg, (2) Brown and (3) Cameron.

Two round down. Bring on round three!

The First ‘Real’ Debate


April 23, 2010 by Colin Byrne  | Category Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat  |  0 Comments »

Last week’s debate may have been historic but last night’s was electric, and the first “real” debate as opposed to a series of presentations. There was more passion, more anger, more cut and thrust, and according to the instant polls, no clear winner.

Of course all the papers have a view, largely based on post debate spin and the political colours of the title. I think the best assessment is in The Indie – “Cameron and Brown come out fighting, Clegg stands firm”.

Read Colin’s daily insights in GQ

Pre-debate Buzz


April 22, 2010 by Robert Anderson  | Category Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, TV Debates  |  0 Comments »

What’s the digital buzz telling us ahead of tonight’s TV debate? Nick Clegg is one of the top searches on Google right now; far more people are searching for him than DC or GB. Of course this is likely to be driven by the Telegraph report around funding — so it’ll be interesting to see how this changes during and after the debate.

Looking at Tweetminster’s Twitter sentiment analysis you can see that things are falling off for NC. The chart below has plotted GB as green rather than red, but you can see it’s DC who seems to be on the up this morning.

So does this mean internet users are going to be more receptive to Cameron and Brown tonight and more hostile towards Clegg? We’ll find out later how helpful these kind of tools are as predictors.

Is Labour already in a hung parliament mindset?


April 21, 2010 by Dan Sacker  | Category General, Hung Parliament, Labour, Liberal Democrat  |  0 Comments »

A couple of interesting interviews in the press this morning worth noting. The first is with Gordon Brown in The Independent in which he appeals for a “progressive alliance” of natural Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters to join forces to keep the Conservatives out of power. In the interview Brown says he wants a “new politics” and argued that the Conservatives offered merely “a change of personnel and a return to the old politics”, while Labour was “serious” about revamping the UK’s electoral system.

As an aside, the idea of a “progressive alliance” was something on the minds of some in the Labour Party before the election was called. Writing in The Guardian back in February of this year, Peter Hain called for such a progressive alliance of Liberal and Labour voters. He urged those individuals who found themselves in marginal constituencies to vote Labour – even if in their hearts they were Liberal Democrats – in order to defeat the Conservatives. Whilst Hain said that “I am not asking them to sign up to Labour’s entire record” he argued that if this did not happen, then “there is a real danger of letting the Tories in through the back door.” Strangely enough, the conclusion Hain reached was that if this new “progressive alliance” was formed then “Britain’s natural anti-Tory majority can take charge.” An anti-Tory majority, not a Labour one. Interesting.

Anyway, back to today. The placement of the interview in The Independent and this type of rhetoric is a clear strategic move designed to target Liberal Democrat voters and the often more liberal-thinking readership of the paper. Some might call it desperate; others may see this as the clearest indication yet that Gordon Brown has come to some inner peace and realised that the unpredicted rise of Nick Clegg in the polls following the first debate may mean that his best chance of holding onto power is by being the largest party in a hung parliament.

But this may have been Brown’s position for some time now. In the run up to this election, Brown has been asked on numerous occasions what he thought the result would be. Many times his answer has not been an outright declaration of victory, but rather a more cautious approach along the lines of “the people will decide the outcome of this election.” Brown has undoubted political ability and has long been seen as one of the most strategically minded politicians in the Labour Party – he did after all run a number of past election campaigns for Labour. Do you think it is possible that he foresaw this situation even before he called the election, realising that his best hope of keeping hold of the keys to Number 10 was the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats?

The second interesting interview is with Nick Clegg in The Daily Telegraph where he has labelled Gordon Brown as “a desperate politician” and indicated that he might find it difficult to do a deal with Brown in the event of a hung parliament. He also delivered a rebuttal to those arguing that there is little difference between the Liberal Democrats and Labour: “Do I think Labour delivered fairness? No. They are clutching at straws.”

Clegg’s comments serve a number of strategic purposes. Firstly, he needs to find a way to distance himself from Gordon Brown ahead of the second debate. The number of times during the first debate that Brown sought to say in one way or another that he agreed with Clegg was a clear strategic move by Brown to align himself with the Liberal Democrats and peel away some of their potential support. If Clegg is to build on the momentum he developed coming out of a successful first debate and grow his party’s support base then he needs to demonstrate a clear dividing line (or lines) between the two parties.

The second strategic aspect to his comments could be Nick Clegg taking a more long-term approach. Only the most eternally optimistic Liberal Democrat supporter must think that Clegg has a chance of becoming the next Prime Minister. Let’s be very clear: he doesn’t and Clegg knows this. The best hope for the Liberal Democrats is that they do well enough in order to be the kingmakers in the next Parliament. Should they find themselves in this situation, then surely the Liberal Democrats will want to be in the strongest negotiating position possible. In order to do this all the soundings Nick Clegg makes between now and the election must be about how difficult his party would find it to align itself with either the Conservative or, more likely, with Labour. Make the parties desperate for the Liberal Democrats support. And then you are in much better position to place certain conditions on your support.

At the start of the election many political commentators were sceptical of the impact of the leaders’ debates. The first one blew the race wide open and re-framed the entire election campaign forcing all the parties to re-evaluate their strategic approaches. We wait what the second debate has in store!

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