End is begin

Apologies if you are looking for the earlier version of this article — there was a server glitch and we had to roll back to an earlier version.

In Stratford on Avon the Lib Dem vote rose by 1.7% — higher than the national rise of 1%. Two weeks ago, our poll figures were putting us in contention to win this seat, but the change in the national mood — largely fuelled by the ‘only Cameron can get Brown out’ message pedalled by national newspapers, and now shown to be vacuous — meant that we got none of the 16% boost that we were looking at.

My congratulations to Nadhim Zahawi, who fought a good campaign.

To the 29% of the electorate here who voted for me: Thank you. We have not won this time, but that does not mean we will not win next time. Thank you for the confidence you placed in me. As I promised in my campaign literature, I will continue to live here and work here, and continue to press for all the issues which were so important during the campaign.

We may well see another General Election in the next six months… so don’t settle back down to ‘business as usual’.

For now, we wait the outcome of the discussions between leaders. All must surely recognised that for the Lib Dems nationally to gain 1% and yet lose 5 seats, and to get almost 1/4 of the votes and substantially less than 10% of the seats, demonstrates clearly that our election system is now desperately in need of reform.

Voter intention 36:36:24

Following tonight’s final debate, ComRes have polled for voter intention, and the result is Lib Dems 36%, Conservatives 36%, Labour 24%. This is an important result, because it shows the aggregate effect of all the debates and everything else that has happened. Conservatives were quick to jump on two early polls which suggested Cameron had won the debate, but the key issue is not “who won tonight’s debate” but “who won the series as a whole”. The answer is quite clearly that Lib-Dems have shot up by a figure greater than 15%, and a totally different outcome is now expected from the Cameron-win-or-hung-parliament of two weeks and one day ago.

David Cameron has been pedalling the line that a hung parliament would be an unfair and undesirable result given that the Tories deserve to win. But, really, he has not got over the fact that, six months ago, he was nine points ahead in the polls. He is probably (though with certain rather obvious reservations) right that it would have been unfair for him to be neck and neck with Labour in terms of numbers of seats with a nine point lead — always providing that we accept that someone who scores a third of the vote should deserve to get more than half the seats. But his idea that it is unfair for him to not win the election when he doesn’t even poll the highest number of votes is patently absurd.

Cameron needs to have a good long look at himself. He paints himself as a liberal, progressive, ‘changed Conservative’. But, in reality, his entire approach to the election is that Labour has been in for 13 years and it’s now ‘his turn’.

It is not his turn. He has failed to persuade the majority of voters that he is Prime Ministerial material.

On tonight’s poll, based on the BBC’s uniform swing seat calculator, Tories would get 285 seats, Labour 182, and Lib Dems 157. Others would get 26. Cameron would not only be far short of the seats he needs to win, but would also be far short of the seats he needs to form a government with all of the ‘others’ as coalition partners, enabling him to side-step the question of a coalition with the Lib Dems and the requirement for proportional representation.

In any case, the Lib Dems are not offering anyone a coalition. As Nick Clegg has repeatedly pointed out, the electorate must decide who they want to run the country. Cameron does not seem to get this: his notion that he has some implicit right to be the next prime minister based on the same poll as his (now) main competitor is laughable. His notion that this status quo ought to continue until some serendipitous roll of the dice gives him that role is worse than laughable.

That 36:36:24 yields a result of 157:285:182 is surely the most compelling demonstration that our electoral system does not properly reflect the will of the people. Britain is demanding change — and real, not cosmetic, change.

Neck and Neck nationally

Two polls are now putting the Lib Dems ahead of Conservative and Labour. No poll has put Lib Dems ahead since 1985, and all the polls are now agreeing that the gap between Lib Dems and the others is lower than the sampling error — in other words — we are truly neck and neck, and everything is to play for.

A Tory blogger is already claiming that this is all rubbish and he hasn’t noticed any of this on the doors. I don’t know what doors he’s been knocking on, but out on the streets of Shipston, Alcester, Tanworth and Claverdon, the story is totally different. People have been coming up to me for weeks telling me that they will vote for me for the first time because they are not satisfied with the Tory Central Office candidate here in Stratford. As of yesterday, people are walking up to me and saying “I have been a Tory voter all my life and I am voting for you for the first time because you have the finest leader in the land.”

It is changing. And it is likely to change more. Lab/Con spin doctors are saying that the Clegg will not have it his own way next time. My observation is this: in competitive situations, although the scores can reverse, they usually don’t. We all remember the great reversals of fortune because they make compelling stories. But, usually, the one who starts out in front increases their lead. I’ve seen this over and over again in competitive sports, and the psychology of sports is very similar to that of debate. Yes, anything can happen. But the most likely thing is that Clegg will solidify his dominance in the debates. Based on this week’s polls — and, again, anything can happen — this will be reflected in polls leads, and on election day.

Decisive victory for Clegg

Following the first leaders’ debate on ITV tonight, Nick Clegg took 46% in the ComRes poll (Clegg 46, Cameron 26, Brown 20) — as much as Brown and Cameron put together. In the YouGov poll he took 51 points against Cameron 29 and Brown 19. There were, of course, a number of unscientific polls conducted on newspaper websites, but they do nothing more than reflect their readers’ opinions. The real, scientific, polls are unequivocal.

If this were replicated in an election (of course, it won’t be, but the illustration is still valid), it would result, according to the BBC website’s calculator, in 530 seats for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons — a majority of 410 seats: a landslide beyond all conception and all precedent.

Liberal Democrats were, of course, looking for Clegg to make up ground tonight. Brown is generally considered to be undervalued and Cameron overvalued, a view not supported by tonight’s public response. Conventional wisdom suggested that Clegg needed to be up with the others, and it would do Lib Dems good because of the exposure. But the scale of the Nick Clegg result was absolutely devastating: an absolute majority of votes in one poll, an equal vote with the other two parties combined in the other.

Where did the debate landslide victory come from?

There were three factors, I think.

First, Nick Clegg made a point of answering the question. I followed the BBC comments page while watching the debate, and — leaving aside the obviously partisan comments — this was commented on again and again. He not only answered the question, but made a point of looking at and referring to the questioner to see if they thought he was answering the questions. Brown famously jibed at Cameron ‘this is answer time, not question time’, and, certainly, Cameron’s unwillingness to give an actual answer told against him. But Brown’s own attempts fell flat as well. My feeling is that Brown really was trying to answer the questions from time to time, but he was held up by his own opaque language: beginning a sentence with “Net inward immigration…” three times does not make for a good connection with viewers.

Second, the Lib Dem manifesto published this week was a clear winner in terms of the power it gave to Clegg over the other two. The manifesto sets out in detail exactly what the Lib Dems would spend and what they would save. Neither Labour nor the Tories — as Clegg pointed out — included figures in their manifestos. Cameron tried to have a bit of a go about the figures, but it is never easy to argue with a man on his own turf: Clegg knew his manifesto and his figures much better than Cameron did, and Brown made no attempt to overturn the Lib Dem figures at all.

Third, Nick Clegg positioned his two opponents very clearly in his own address as the ‘same old same old parties’. The bickering between Brown and Cameron which followed underlined that again and again. Clegg certainly benefited from the game that Brown and Cameron tried to play. They were almost deferential in their treatment of him, and when Cameron did attempt to question Clegg, it fell rather flat, especially on immigration, which should have been his strongest suit. Brown again and again tried to say that he and Clegg were agreeing. Unfortunately for him, Clegg refused to play along. This was all especially important because, at Prime Minister’s Question Time, the bulk of Tory/Labour jeers are often enough to drown out Clegg’s comments. In a studio, with a studio audience and clear rules, this extraneous factor was taken away.

What difference will all this make? That remains to be seen — over the next few days, as the pundits weave their theories, and as the spin-doctors from left and right attempt to demonstrate (as William Hague is already attempting) that, despite all the opinion polls, their candidate won after all.

There may be more polls tomorrow, and they may give a different result. But, for now, based on this debate only, and without any particular connection with other realities, the result is a clearer victory for Nick Clegg than any Liberal Democrat could have hoped for.

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