2010 election spending

The Electoral Commission, as it must every year, publishes the election campaign spending and donations to every political party and candidate , in handy (ish) spreadsheets. Some of the finer details are certainly worth grappling with the sporadic dummy-spitting of Excel’s filters and formatting…

Let’s look at the broad picture first. The general election of 2010 was as much ‘The Expenses Election” as “the expensive one”. The top 200 donations to candidates – not all of them winners, it must be said – totals over £7 million. It takes only 200 candidates to reach six-and-a-half-million pounds in spending. Some “digging down” uncovers the extremes people go to when candidature comes calling; James Thornton, who stood as an Independent in Poplar and Limehouse, spent £269 per vote to come 10th. His final total of nearly £16,000 is staggering.

So to is the percentage of money spent as a proportion of the “aggregate limit”, the legal upper amount allowed for each candidate in their seat. Stephen Lloyd (Liberal Democrat, Eastbourne), spent 99.62% of his allowed amount en route to winning; Christopher Philip (Conservative, Hampstead and Kilburn) didn’t win despite clocking up 98.93% of his maximum allowance. In the case of Stephen Lloyd, the total was just over £39,700.

Ten Labour candidates have who finished second have “total spent” amounts over £30,000. These range from Michael Foster at £38,645.97 (Hastings and Rye) to Jim Kinght (South Dorset) at £31,150.55. Both are former MPs. Both have ‘total donations’ over £30,000.

For the Liberal Democrats, riding at the time a wave of optimism (oh what far away lands that all seems….), the number of candidates topping £30,000 without winning the seat in the “total spend” column is 21, over twice the Labour amount, running from Lynne Beaumont at £30,457.63 (in Folkestone and Hythe, a distant target seat at one point) and up to Martin Tod in Winchester (at a whopping £40,382.72, more than 95% his allotted total). I’ll leave these facts here, you can make up your own mind on things…

Now let us turn to the British National Party, whose focus at the time was the ‘Battle for Barking” led by leader Nick Griffin. The total spend of their candidates who registered any costs adds up to £197,771. This does not include his personal cost of £22,498.77, an amount which is three times more than the next listed BNP failed candidate. (Let’s not forget that Griffin finished third in Barking, blaming the population change of that constituency for his failure).

Another interesting factor about the BNP results has been highlighted by a political forum I visit. Forty-four candidates lodge exactly £800 “total spend”, a further 142 put down their “total spend” at bob-on £400. Is this coincidence? Was Thomas Main (Glasgow North, position 6th) as exact with his financies as David Lomas (Ashton-under-Lyne, 4th)? Was this amount handed to each candidate in non-target seats (that is, anywhere outside Barking)?

Is this very good business sense from the BNP or accounting with a lot of scribbles and unexplained approximations? Is it further coincidence that two National Front candidates – Terry Williams in Birmingham Erdington, and Paul Morris in Birmingham Yardley, also lodged £400 each “total spend” ?

The other side of the financial details deals with political parties as entities in their own right. This tells a lot about the financial health (or otherwise) of the party machines.

Simple things first, then, and that means the column marked “Total” under the heading “Payments Made”. The top 5 are:

* Conservative Party £15,588,708
* Labour Party £7,131,811
* Liberal Democrats £4,718,503
* UK Independence Party £640,877
* Green Party £318,534

This shows the immense paying power of the “mainstream” parties, diverting huge funds (by British standards) into the electoral process. For the Tories, this mammoth amount includes over £6 million on “unsolicited material”, the much more glossy and professional leaflets pushed through your doors. For Labour, who were once on the backfoot with leafleting and doorstep politics, this “unsolicited material” devoured £4.1 million, almost exactly 50% of their total expenditure.

By far the “mighty” party for leafleting – no Lib Dem worth their salt are ever without FOCUS newsletters – the total in this column is £3.05 million.

Tellingly for the Lib Dems, their total for “rallies and events” is under £100,000, whereas Labour spent 8.5 times as much. Only in one regard do the Lib Dems come out as bigger spenders than Labour – “Canvassing and Market Research”, with £12,000 the difference between near-enough half-a-million each on phonebanks. If ever there was a sign that the letterbox isn’t king, this is it. Expect such shifts and changes in electoral campaigning to continue.

Other than stretching my self-taught knowledge of Pivot Tables, where does this leave our understanding of British politics today?

One – and it’s a big one, fnarr fnarr – the amount of money dished out can be explained purely as a consequence of the election being regarded as a) close (and in the end, t’was close), and b) somehow more relevent given all MPs needed to cleanse their reputations and c) somehow more relevant given Esther Rantzen was losing in Luton South (taking of whom, £24,000 spent to finish 4th and have “ESTHER LOSES LUTON SOUTH” appear on the bottom of the BBC News screen). Okay, maybe just “a” and “b”.

The game is never outside the reach of non-party members, though it certainly seems so even under the unique circumstances of 2010. Parties are driven to the brink of bankruptcy by American-style races to the top of the spending tree, desperate to flush more members’ money into risographs and coffee mornings. The overall consequence has not been greater confidence in the political process.

It will be interesting to see what will come from two pressing economic concerns – the diminishing donations into political parties and the general attitude towards political spending. These stats could be the last of their kind…

paradigm of enemies/friends

Almost every morning, Nick Griffin sends me an email. Styled “Chairman Nick Griffin” – maybe other titles for far right leaders didn’t work through the focus groups – these emails are usually donation requests or tirades against various equality groups and broadcasters. The most recent email, pushing the British National Party’s ‘troops out of Afghanistan’ policy, asks for £7,500 to help “expand” the policy for next year’s elections in Wales and Scotland. Any “generous gift” has to be submitted to the Party within the next seven days…

Griffin dragged the BNP from no-hope sloganeers to the European Parliament, and yet the Party finds itself today with all the splits and internal strife of a Student Union council. The only electorally successful far-right party this country has known has been rolling downhill like a cartoon avalanche, with all the high-profile expulsions and suspiciously organised party leadership elections characteristic of Cold War communist rulers.

The BNP had high hopes for this year’s General Election, with Griffin’s candidacy in Barking receiving the same early online bookies odds as Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion to win; Lucas did so, Griffin finished third. By the end of the week, all the BNP councillors on the Borough Council of Barking and Dagenham had been defeated, LBBD now consists of 51 Labour Councillors.

The General Election result was a complete disaster for the BNP, a failure to capitalise on the sense of apathy towards the mainstream parties, a ‘barn door with a banjo’ approach which Griffin has struggled to smooth over since. Council by-elections following the election – more adequate a guide to peoples opinions than YouGov polls – show a continued collapse in BNP support. Voter loyalty to the BNP brand is hemorrhaging at a time when their only specialist subjects of immigration and asylum remain contentious subjects. Invited onto BBC Question Time, Griffin was woeful, his prepared rants cut down and curtailed, his backpedaling became breathless, embarrassing, desperate. His credibility shot-to-pieces – by a Polish Spitfire? – Griffin has spend the subsequent months trying to piece together any remaining strips of credibility with the success of wallpapering with cling film.

Whilst the BNP undergo their internal Streit im Führerbunker it can not have been missed that the High Streets of many provincial towns have become meeting places for the English Defence League. The EDL are a throwback to a different kind of far-right protest group, where the BNP started out when electoral participation was considered the activity of ‘the establishment’ – a trait the far-right and far-left share. EDL supporters and their behaviour should fill older readers with nostalgia – the shaven haired drunken small town vandalism of yore was mistakenly believed to have faded out with SodaStream and dial-up internet connections. Chanting “You’re not English anymore” at anyone who dares question the ‘logic’ of the EDL is my current Favourite Punchline Of The Year.

Unfortunately, the EDL appears to have captured the imagination of the Professionally Disgruntled, more so whilst the Hamley/Gormenghast malaise infects the BNP. Consequently it has become far more difficult to measure and predict the next steps of the far-right – though it is easy to recognise the next steps, they’re usually very heavy and within knock-off Nikes. EDL supporters don’t do public meetings or electoral candidacies or reasoned debate. They prefer the 1980s Hooligan approach – turn up drunk, kick up merry Hell, scrap between themselves, leave on the next cheap coach home. There is no accountability for their actions, no justification for spreading untruths or subscribing to hyperbolic Islamophobia. Rather than “defending” England, the EDL promote an image of ignorance which is utterly alien to what it means to be English.

And this is why the BNP, with or without Griffin, needs our support.

Electoral democracy is the ‘tip’ of the activist iceberg. As any good Marxist will tell you, there’s only so much people can do within the constraints of democracy. From the ground up, that’s where you find people wanting action and results in their lives. But nobody can leave electoral politics to one side, it is within the fabric of our lives. BNP candidates within electoral politics provides a target for debate and discussion, however shallow and misinformed. If the trouble within the BNP splits the party into smaller, irrelevant splinter groups – look at the Left for what happens here from their perspective – the alternative is “debate by EDL”.

As ever with most things life, “be careful what you wish for”. Debate the occasional BNP councillor or deal with onslaught of bottles thrown by shaven haired drunk yobs with their faces covered by scarves? Deal with the BNP through public meetings, or suffer the violent rampages of the EDL’s ‘street justice’ ?

Battling and defeating the BNP should be the priority of anyone who considers themselves a democrat. There is nothing British about the BNP.

However, the demise of the Party has many negative consequences. They may have the credibility of a bunch of pub bores, but at least we know who they are and where to find them. Griffin could well be trying to herd cats at the moment, but the alternative is far-right mob rule and lynching justice.

So support the existence of the BNP. Keep enemies closer. The real threat – to Griffin and the BNP and to the wider strength of British democratic debate – is from the rabble who form and fester beyond them.

Labouring the Point

Traditionalists within Labour, and those malcontents on the Left generally, like to recycle their slogans. Having labelled one prominent politician a “betrayer” of traditional supporters, a closet-Conservative, of being too fond of Thatcherite economic policies, they have now moved onto using the same language for another.

Tony Blair, who took an axe to Clause IV on his way to repositioning Labour as a European style social democratic party before the 1997 landslide election victory, would never be left-wing enough for every Labour voter. Blair was a Labour leader but not a Labour man, whose attempts to re vigour Britain’s political landscape for good was ultimately thwarted by the inherent conservatism within and without the political establishment. Nick Clegg is now suffering the same brickbats, labelled a betrayer and a turncoat, as much from the same disgruntled left-leaning voices who mocked Blair. It is, if you will, a case of ‘same difference’. Clegg has made a brave step, a leap far beyond that which Blair took, and doubtlessly there are many who feel that the trust they put into the Liberal Democrats has somehow been thrown away.

When Blair took to the country for his first election as PM, in 2001, he did so amongst the clutter and bother of disgruntled supporters who tried their hands at launching splinter groups in electoral opposition to ‘New’ Labour. They all failed – Socialist Labour Party and Socialist Alliance almost immediately, George Galloway’s Respect ultimately fell to internecine warring. His re-positioning of Labour, much like Clegg’s leap of faith within the Coalition, was an uneasy act for activists and councillors. When Gordon Brown told the party’s Conference “we are best when we are Labour”, he spoke with the socialist voice he would use throughout his own Premiership. Little wonder Lord Mandleson is speaking out against Ed Milliband’s bid for Labour’s leadership. Wrapping Labour values in conservative clothing has proven to be the winning formula for Blair and future followers of Blairism. Ickle Ed’s socialism would not.

Clegg’s Conference speech today, his first as Deputy Prime Minister, settled some nerves. The Coalition agreement has already made real many LibDem election manifesto pledges – higher income allowances, banker’s levy, changes to corporation tax, reforms to the voting system, possible good news on Trident renewal, end of ID Cards, scrapping Section 44, reform of the National DNA database. I blogged some time ago against the VAT increase, a move I still feel is regrettable. It will be difficult, these 5 years of fixed term governance. Clegg will have much harder rides, as the Cleggmania which followed the leadership debates gave his and the Liberal Democrats similar levels of expectation that Blair received in his landslide year. Coalitions are alien to Britain, which seems to be the sticking point for Labour and leftists; how can two opposing forces come together? How can political parties not be tribalist? Clegg is not one of “us”, he must be one of “them”.

I don’t pretend that the Coalition will make choices which run counter to my liberalism, or the ideas of the Liberal Democrats. I just feel far more strongly against the traditional he-said-she-said stick to your guns tribalist nonsense streaming from Labour since the election. Nothing done from their side which suggests they understand why they lost the election, nor how the Coalition has managed to agree to its terms and policies. The real opportunity from this Coalition is less of the same red/blue nonsense which Clegg campaigned against during the election. As he told the Party Conference this afternoon, if nerves are held, the LibDems won’t just talk about change, we’d be the agents of change.

If you wanted the country to be different, you put faith in the Party that was different. That party has not changed. I just hope that the two sides can fulfill the early promise of these past 4 months. I fear Labour are set for the ugliest campaigning in British politics. Their acting like a bitter divorcee should do for their credibility. New politics? Yes. But Blair found it impossible to take the country down that route. Will Clegg, similarly maligned by the same anti-Blair lefties, suffer the same fate?

Devil is in the Ballot Box

As a Liberal Democrat supporter and defender of the Coalition, I was surprised to read the results from a ConservativeHome poll that pointed to a slim majority of Conservative supporters feeling positive about a “non-aggression deal” with LibDems at the 2015 general election.

Those LibDems with long enough memories will shudder at the memory of the Liberal/SDP Alliance and the subsequent trouble with ‘electoral pacts’. Democracy was not served well; loyal activists from both sides felt let down by the agreements from the opposite side.

For the Tories and LibDems to agree standing down in tough marginals would be a gift to Labour. Suddenly Rochdale would never seem like a LibDem target again, ditto both Oldham seats. What would happen in Southwark, where Labour have been denied ‘one of their own’ for decades? How would Wales react – Cardiff has a LibDem MP and both sides of Newport almost did. Would Conservative supporters in, say, Westmorland and Lonsdale [a LibDem stronghold, ex-Tory] really want to vote for Tim Farron? Would LibDems in Harrogate vote Conservative?

One consequence of a ‘pact’ which has been barely mentioned is the sudden rise of UKIP. Despite being trounced from every angle, latest figures from the Electoral Commission point to the UK Independence Party being the only mainstream group to enjoy an increase in membership. Both Tory and Labour voters would merrily troop into the UKIP fold, even with AV, if a dodgy deal is agreed betwixt Coalition partners.

LibDem voters at the last election knew that the introduction of STV (our ultimate goal) would have meant a future of coalition governments and compromises between parties. Lord Mandleston in the brilliant “5 Days That Changed Britain” hinted at his realisation that majority governments of the size enjoyed by Thatcher and Blair are things of the past. Britain doesn’t do mammoth mandates anymore. This Coalition could be the start of something big, even if AV is not introduced.

However, I agree with Nick Clegg’s words from before the election; the LibDems are not to become an annexe of the Conservative Party. Any electoral pact would start laying down the foundations. Clegg should publicly dismiss the idea. There are many LibDems who have tasted such agreements before – we tend not to return to a tree if the fruit tastes sour (and from oak trees grow acorns, and they are awful….)

OmniFuck

All the important things in life – football, relationships, football – can be planned to within a gnat’s crotchet only to be knocked off course by something completely unexpected. The mother-in-law popping round for a cup of tea, the discovery of suspiciously worded text messages, the hitherto reliable centre-forward hacking the ball with such force in another context it could have been a hole-in-one along a tricky par 5….

As you may be aware, Gordon Brown today plunged himself into a controversy which would have made Malcolm Tucker turn the air twenty shades of puce. Predictably called “Bigotgate”, Brown made one of his “meeting ordinary people” trips into a great clunking fist of a disaster when he labelled a housewife “a bigot” for her views on immigration.

Clearly the media went batshit mental over his comment rather than her views (although, let us be honest here, Labour’s record on both immigration and assisting the unemployed is somewhat lacking…). Brown is entitled to his views, of course, but to call a potential elector such a word, at such a time in the election period, with Labour in third place in some opinion polls shows a total and complete lack of understanding of the greater picture.

It shows Brown has a lack of understanding and empathy, and a complete lack of control over his emotional outbursts.

Ms Duffy thought she had the chance to tell the Prime Minister exactly what she thought on the subjects close to her heart. That those views were somewhat lacking in facts and heavy in opinion would have been handled far better by most other political leaders (Blair would not have been anywhere near this level of knee-deep controversy).

Did he need to apologise ? Once, yes. So many times? And with Hallmark card sincerity?

Tomorrow is the third, and final Leaders Debate. With quite unfortunate timing, Brown has ensured any chance of Labour Party spin leading up to tomorrow will be shadowed by this event. Like Prescot’s Punch all those years ago, this whole affair will eventually become nothing more than a curiosity, a footnote. In the glare of the cameras, it is typical of a Prime Minister whose luck tends to last mere hours.

Tomorrow is the last chance for Brown, Cameron, and Clegg, to sell their Parties before polling day. As I was told many years ago by LibDem campaign experts, the last week of any election campaign is “repetition, repetition, and repetition”. For the next week, Labour will doubtlessly crawl out of this saga, just as the country is struggling to recover from the longest, deepest recession in modern times (thanks again, Gordon…)

Older readers may remember what happened, some decades ago now, when television chef Fanny Craddock was asked to judge ‘ordinary people’ on a precursor to modern programmes like “Masterchef”. Craddock – never one to quite understand the way ‘real people’ lived – laid into housewife Gwen Troake for her menu with such force and condescension that while Troake was speaking, she pretended to retch and vomit. Craddock’s career was finished, her contract terminated early, never to be seen again.

For all his will and strength, Brown appears to have a similar problem with interacting with ‘ordinary people’. His unease and awkwardness, his social anxiety, has shown itself in ways throughout his Prime Ministerial career – from not understanding why low income earners would be upset at the loss of the 10p tax rate, to this recent outburst.

A Craddock-like axing from public life is not likely to happen…but something very similar must be on its way after polling day.

Lives of Others

Nick Griffin MP, anyone?

Already further down the rabbit hole than previous General Elections, this year appears to be glaring out towards us from somewhere beyond the looking glass. It’s the least predictable, most unusual campaign for generations.

And it could get awfully more weird…

The British National Party are standing candidates in more seats than at any previous election including here in Lancashire a candidate called Rosalind Gauci, who becomes the first candidate for the BNP in South Ribble since that seat’s formation. “Did she marry into the Gauci’s?” I have been asked by curious folk. I could not possibly comment.

The BNP manifesto is full of quotes no mainstream news channel would dare broadcast for fear of reprisals. Bring British is, “to belong to a special chain of unique people who have the natural law right to remain a majority in their ancestral homeland“, says their policy document. It gives the impression of these British Isles lifting from the oceans some three or four hundred years ago without a single brown or black face among the population. Or indeed the Welsh, or anyone with a passing knowledge of Gaelic. As most broad minded individuals note, the economic wellbeing of this nation is on dodgy ground enough without the sudden mass expulsion of every working immigrant or third-generation British Asian to their “home country”.

However – and this point is more true today than usual – the national opinion poll ratings showing the BNP flatlining on 3% or 4% does nothing to hide the possible (probable?) success of their leader Nick Griffin in Barking. His party is the official opposition on the Barking & Dagenham council; his main opponent is Margaret Hodge, a woman with a tarnished reputation. The mood of the country, if it is any guide to this specific seat, is of a rock solid Labour vote turning away from their party; no more certain bloc votes of the working class, for whom “New Labour” turned out to be an affront to their morals and expectations.

Griffin must be defeated. His presence in the House of Commons would be a dark day for this country’s democracy, however salient a lesson he may present to the commentariat already bruised by his MEP victory last year. For Barking he would be a disaster, encouraging division where none currently exists. It would do no good for voters to assume that a UKIP or LibDem vote would defeat him. The only person able to defeat him here is Hodge; a vote for Labour in Barking is the best advice anyone there can take.

Why Griffin is treated as a genuine threat in Barking is worth acres of analysis. All mainstream parties have failed to deal with immigration, job security, the alleged democratic deficit in England compared with Scotland and Wales. These are not points to be whispered or tip-toed around; exactly that kind of misunderstood, mishandled ‘liberalism’ has enhanced the BNP into the current, unwarranted, status of credible party.

It is worth noting that Griffin is the only possible BNP victory anywhere in the country; all other 300-odd candidates will struggle to save their deposits. A far-right Party whose Leader goes for the winnable seats? I could not possibly comment.

A few hundred miles away in deepest Buckinghamshire is the Speaker John Bercow, in a typically British struggle against former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. In the seat of Buckingham “convention” means sitting Speakers do not face any mainstream opposition. Hence Farage turning up, who knows how to attract media attention if not exactly reason to his arguments. Anyone who has witnessed his “speeches” in Brussels will acknowledge that Farage has brains and political savvy…but the 10-year old “YouTube Been Framed” clips on Russel Howard’s Good News have more lasting effect.

You may recall my attempt to cover the UKIP manifesto launch some weeks ago. The Party has not exactly made much of a serious dent in the election since. UKIP, like their distant cousins in the BNP, suffer from being a one-man band, with hundreds of foot-soldiers standing with shallow pockets and no chance of victory (or for that matter, support from the party command).

UKIP are as deluded about their place in the country’s affections as most “major minor” parties. The fact that they came second in the European Elections misses the point; the General election is not voted on in the same way: and in 2005 they managed just over 603,000 votes across the country, finishing fourth overall, just about 4 million short of the third placed LibDems.

Farage could win, of course, proving that national opinion polls mask such one-off results thanks to the unique way the nation elects its MPs. Bercow is neither a traditional shire Tory, nor the kind of MP who can walk away from the expenses scandal with his reputation unscathed. Farage – who shakes off claims about his £2million Euro expenses without being awfully convincing – could attract enough protest votes and traditional C/conservatives under the current circumstances. One MP from UKIP will not drag the country out of the EU (not a single UKIP MEP has managed that yet, despite that being thier only policy), but again, what a sign to the ‘establishment’ if the Speaker was defeated in his own back yard.

The third likely win from the “others” in this election – no, not Esther Rantzen in Luton South – is the Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. Caroline Lucas – now the sole leader of her Party following years of inexplicable “duel leadership” – has steered the Greens from mavericks to mainstream, proving that they are more than just environmental mouth-pieces.

Her victory in Brighton – now favourite with some bookies – would be more of a significant blow than either Farage or Griffin. No, her presence would not herald a sudden reversal in environmental policy in Westminster. No, one Green MP would not alter the course of the country. However, unlike BNP and UKIP, no mainstream media coverage has ever frothed at the mouth whenever their name is mentioned. No breathless coverage a la Griffin whenever Lucas appears on Question Time.

Are the Greens more likely to be elected elsewhere, unlike the one-man-bands of the “others” ? It’s not likely at all, such is the problem of having so little resources, so much faith in the once in a lifetime chance of our electoral processes. Green policies are not without their faults – the total cost to ordinary people has not been worked out at all. It is refreshing to think that our perverse, unfair voting system could yet suffer a minor flesh wound.

It is worth noting that this 2010 election has broken all records – more candidates than ever before, more registered Parties, more “independents”. Despite everything thrown at the election from the duck houses of Westminster, democracy in this country appears more alive and compelling than ever. The Leaders Debates have changed the face of the election campaigns for ever. Now all this event needs is some guests. There is no truth in the lazy observation “they’re all the same”. Voting in 2010 really isn’t an optional extra among the hours of your lazy Thursday, I would be awfully pleased if you went out and did so…

Election Fever, part 94…

Nick Clegg emailed me today. Well the address was from “LIBDEMLEADER-SUBS2010@emarketing…”, but with the Leaders Debates starting tomorrow, appearance is everything. He’s a very busy man.

Yesterday was the launch of the UKIP manifesto. Never knowingly intentionally hilarious, the basement venue meant the quad of joint leaders – for that is how it looks – squashed together like naughty schoolboys outside the head’s office. I concede very well tanned, wrinkled schoolboys, although it has to be said their current down with the kids leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch closely resembles Monty Burns on ether…

It was “Honest Malcolm” who seemed to get the most laughs yesterday. He bumbled along with pretty heavy handed delivery of every over-rehearsed line – something about not wanting to order the octopus at a Brussels restaurant, or at least not to claim expenses for it – then tangled himself in knots over the policy on tactical voting.

In short, UKIP would prefer voters to choose the Tories, but not too many Tories, because that would cause a Conservative victory, thus causing the end of the nation as we know it. I assume, therefore, that m’Lord would prefer UKIP voters talk to each other by means of telepathy to ensure that, like Goldilocks, the number of votes given to each Conservative candidate is “just right”.

Lord Malcolm of Used Cars then had a manifesto blank. On the proposed burqa ban, a journalist asked about the intention to extend the ban to private buildings. “We haven’t said private buildings,” protested Malcolm. “Yes we do, it’s on page 15,” whispered one of the joint leaders. “I will hand you over to our policy chief,” blustered Lord Octopus.

It was this “policy chief” – Duncan, a normal name to offset his double barreled surname – who turned up on SKY News later in the evening to sink into a quicksand of interview failure.

“You say in the first line of your manifesto that, in year one, you will reduce public spending to 1997 levels…?” barked the interviewer
“Yes” answered Duncan
“Can you tell me what public spending levels were in 1997?”
“No”.

There will be no UKIP hilarity tomorrow during the first ever Leaders Debate, live on ITV1. Despite the constraints strapped onto the debates by the 76-point rule book – which includes, bizarrely, one rule indicating exactly when the three men can shake hands – I remain optimistic that something good will come from this new curiosity to our election campaigns.

Lord knows this has been a pedestrian campaign so far.

“I’d rather watch paint dry,” comments my mate on the prospect of watching tomorrow night. “No, actually, I’d even watch dry paint, just stare at the walls for an hour, to be honest…”

Nick Clegg, having successfully seen off a petulant Jeremy Paxman on Monday night, is in the strongest position. He needs to polish off a few soundbites, otherwise all is well. Gordon Brown has the most to lose, given how disastrous he is during live television, with his almost autistic preference for answering with pre-prepared lists of statistics.

David Cameron needs a good showing after a rather ho-hum reaction to the hard-backed “power to the people” manifesto on Tuesday. If he can avoid starting every sentence with the very Blairite “Look…”, he could be onto something…

It’s not looking good, though, this election. Still seems distant and abstract. It’s missing a vital policy difference – National Insurance contributions just ain’t snappy enough – or an incident around which the campaign can turn. Unlike American elections, from which the Leaders Debates have been adopted, an election over here happens in shorter, sharper bursts. We’ve just been lacking the burst so far…

Is it a measure of the election – or your humble Doktorb – that the excitement could come when the 90 minute interview starts tomorrow night ?

Much ado…

Gordon Brown, so controlling and demanding, and reportedly high on the autistic spectrum, has never understood how the economy fell from out of his grasp. Having inherited the golden economic legacy from the Conservatives in 1997, nothing his clunking fist could get hold of stayed the way he wanted. Through political fudges and not exactly subtle stealth taxes – and let us not forget such highlights as the gold sell off disaster and unforgivable 10p tax abolition – Brown will be recorded by future historians as one of the least credible economic figures in British political history.

His attempt today to force Alistair Darling into yet another ventriloquists act has done nothing to rescue his reputation one inch. The Budget today is a middle of gimmicks and aspirations; above all else, it is the equivalent of treading water. Darling did not want the end of his career to come like this, reading out Gordon Brown’s words, coming up with sticking plaster solutions to the serious debt and unemployment issues facing the country. But Darling had no choice.

Today’s budget has few highlights. I welcome the tax-break scheme for British video game developers, an overdue recognition. The increase in the ISA limit is one I genuinely applaud.

I certainly don’t welcome the sneeky “freeze” on personal tax allowances, the oldest trick in the book, one to increase Government tax intake.

Freezing Inheritance Tax at £325,000 could cost an additional £37,000 in real terms.

And as for the 10% hike in the cost of cider – what exactly is this going to achieve? Oh yes, that’s right, the Brown “new puritan” drive, the same “ban everything, tax everyone, full naked body scanners for all!” mantra we have heard year after year. “Has he taxed curry, music and sunshine?” asks a work colleague.

The problem with this budget, of course, is how shallow it is, from the moment Darling stood to the minute he was duly patted on the back by his Master. There is nothing in this budget because Brown needs yet more breathing space before calling the election. His hatred of uncertainty, of things out of his control, will soon catch up with him. An election cannot be delayed much longer, and everyone in the Chamber knows this to be true.

This was the introduction. Now the main show. Time to show the depth to the slogans, the meat on the bones, and call the election.

Missives From 2010

Doctor Who came to its conclusion on New Year’s Day. Intense, dramatic, overblown, and just a tad overlong (pause for effect), there are undisputed parallels to the forthcoming UK general election campaign. If the over egged regeneration sequence had you willing Matt Smith to get on with it, you just wait for the protracted election campaign. The other prominent David, Mr Cameron, hopes to be the new face on our screens from March….or May….or June, at the latest.

And how “late” it will feel given the very early doors to Cameron’s “Year For Change” launch this weekend, and today’s rebuttal from Gordon Brown. For those who missed the Prime Minister on Andrew Marr’s show this morning, Brown really did speak in the third person about his chances on Polling Day. Knuckle down chaps, we could be in for a very long ride….

The BBC certainly hope for a Whovian ratings boost whenever the Leaders’ Debates begin, although with the clock ticking and general election drums banging I cannot be confident that the Labour great and good really think Brown is going to attract floating voters to them. And for the record, the SNP leader Alex Salmond really should give up thinking he can drag his sad attempt to get on screen through the courts. It won’t happen, sir, you got what you wished for.

I predicted in October that turnout will fall below 50% at the next election. This still stands. Talk of a shallow class war campaign from Brown will give loyal voters some reason to cheer; the vast majority of British voters already sick of party politics would not be enthralled by the silly talk of the playing fields of Eton.

David Cameron is ‘love-bombing’ the Liberal Democrats. On fairness, environment, civil liberties, the difference between the two parties is a far more vast space than Cameron realises. I did not join the Liberal Democrats as a stepping-stone to the Tory Party; Nick Clegg has my full support, not any wishy-washy talk of ‘progressive alliances’ from an Opposition who remain lacking in policy credibility. If you want your country to be different, vote for the party that’s different.

Meanwhile, from this blog, I hope to retain regular entries and posting. There will be the usual mix and muddle of entries. Maybe less politics, maybe more bad poetry. I wish every one of my readers (hello, incidentally, to my first ever Croatia registered IP address) a very happy new year. If you want to read previous entries from Missives, just use the “Previous Prescriptions” drop-down box on the right….

Speaker priority – a new election

The election of a new Speaker of the House of Commons (being covered by many on-line sources, including Iain Dale and of course Twitter, shows just how much modernisation is required in our “mother of all Parliaments”. Each round of voting takes hours due to the continued reluctance to introduce electronic voting. The only candidate to speak of social media and outreaching to members of the public was Gloucester’s Parmjit Dhanda, for his efforts voted out in the first round.

Whoever is chosen – I fear Bercow, I would welcome Young – the first modernising priority would be to use all existing powers, and any others he or she could be given by Parliament – to ensure a general election is called before the year is out. This country has no trust in the institutions of democracy. The Speaker of the House of Commons is not a role with any relevance to many people in the country who have not forgotten – are not likely to forget – the expenses scandal.

Faith in the political process comes from real change, honesty, and accepting the need to renew rather than review – to press, if you like, fast-forward, not pause. The sensible way forward is to accept that this Parliament has been tainted for good, its reputation sullied. A new election is not just for the political anorak – it is for the good of the nation.