May 3rd 2015
With less than a week to go until the big day, my series of political blog posts continues today with a report from the Bristol North West hustings (I have not yet settled satisfactorily whether it's 'a husting' or 'a hustings'. I may use these interchangeably), which took place last Tuesday. Steve, I'm sure, would like to me to add that it was organised by the Bristol Post. Unlike the Bristol Post, I have got the names of all the parties correct here.
Anyhow, about 15 minutes before kick-off Jenny and I took our seats in the second row, just behind former Cairns Road Baptist Church bastions the Paynters, and took some time to admire the lights in party colours that shone up the wall behind each candidate; the photo above sadly does not quite do these justice. When the candidates had all arrived - minus the Liberal Democrat Clare Campion-Smith, who had apparently decided to attend a different event that night, although I'm not sure what since her website hasn't been updated since 20th April - we settled back for about two hours of political excitement. The format was that each candidate had a minute to introduce themselves, before facing some pre-selected questions as well as follow-ups from moderator Mike Norton, interjections from the audience and - surprisingly rarely - comebacks from other candidates. Each then had a closing minute. In order from left to right in the picture above, here are the candidates and my thoughts on them:
Michael Frost (UKIP)
As the candidates took the stage, it was not difficult in several cases to work out which party they represented: the chubby middle-aged bloke wearing the purple and yellow tie (the only candidate who wore a tie, in fact; how times change) was clearly representing UKIP, and he played the standard UKIP card of common sense in a world of politicos gone mad. He pulled it off better than most, in fact, and won applause - including from me - by criticising the 20mph limits, before calling Bristol mayor George Ferguson a 'scruffy little man' and deriding his Park Street water slide. All completely off-topic, but you don't lose friends in Bristol by mocking the 20mph limits.
As I've written here before, I don't agree with UKIP but I am concerned by those who demonise them; there was some evidence of that on the night, as various audience members ignored Frost's answers in favour of their pre-determined view of UKIP - for example, when explaining the UKIP desire for an 'Australian-style points-based' system for immigration, Frost asked, rhetorically, if we thought he wanted to deport French doctors. "Yes!" came the reply from some in the audience, who seem determined to tilt at windmills rather than listen. The worst offender was a chap on the front row - a keen TUSC fan; more on him later - who accused Frost of being racist; Frost understandably took offence and said he wanted an apology, to which Mike Norton said that no one had heard it, and they could just sort it out between themselves afterwards. I must admit that this made me laugh out loud, picturing a car park fracas between the two.
Frost seemed eager to make a splash with a couple of one-liners, but when he boldly admitted that he had done 'absolutely nothing' for Bristol North West - it turns out he is actually a councillor in South Bristol, and only standing here because UKIP already had a candidate in the south - the audience didn't congratulate him on as common-sense honesty, as perhaps he had hoped. He was let off easy, though, when he complained that a particular policy was putting "the horse before the cart", as no one seemed to notice the slip-up.
He strayed off-topic a few times - I don't think he actually answered a question until we got to the one about immigration - but the oddest moment came when he was asked to summarise his position in a closing minute: rather than an impassioned plea for the UKIP vote, he declared that he didn't care who we voted for as long as we didn't vote Labour. An ally, then, that Charlotte Leslie could probably, on balance, have lived without.
Darren Jones (Labour)
In the 2010 General Election Labour came third in Bristol North West with 26% of the vote, but with Lib Dem support plummeting (8% in the latest opinion poll, compared to a 32% share in 2010) the constituency is a two-horse race between Darren Jones and Charlotte Leslie. Jones is a young chap - I'm not sure how young, but he was at university for 2005-8 so he must be about my age - and his lack of experience did show at times. He was off to a rough start in the first question, about the NHS: apparently Leslie has suggested that people who persistently miss doctor's appointments should pay a fine, and Jones has used this to claim: "Tory MP Charlotte Leslie has called for new patient charges in GP surgeries and A&E departments" (the line is still on his website). The point was brought up by Leslie, and as Jones tried to defend his view he gave the example of a mother who thought her child might have meningitis; he was cut off at this point by boos from the audience, and he was booed again minutes later when he asked an audience member - who had raised a question on private healthcare - if he knew Charlotte Leslie personally. The audience member claimed not, incidentally, although I must admit I wasn't convinced. Anyhow, these early exchanges made me feel rather sorry for Jones - he also faced cries of 'answer the question!', which I felt was a little unfair given that most of the candidates were on nodding terms with the question at best - but thankfully the audience didn't seem so partisan as the evening wore on.
Jones did seem a bit cowed after this opening, and while he presented himself well enough he didn't have a lot of memorable moments after that; the one that really sticks in my mind was his amused response when Frost claimed that no Labour candidate had ever had a proper job outside politics: Jones protested that he was in gainful employment as a lawyer, but for some reason this didn't seem to win over the audience's sympathies...
Understandably, Jones didn't mention Ed Miliband a great deal - in fact, party leaders in general were left out of it, apart from an audience member quoting David Cameron unfavourably to Leslie - and I would have been interested to know what led Jones to the Labour Party; as a posh-sounding lawyer from North Bristol (he actually attended the school that became the one the hustings was held in), it would not have been surprising to learn that he were the Conservative candidate rather than Leslie. The main thing that gave him away, in fact, was his parroting of the Labour line that the the coalition government had brought in NHS privatisation; this was the only time I was tempted to participate by explaining the fallacy of this claim (why do they, at every level, keep making it?), but Leslie stepped in for me by pointing out that privatisation was at 5% under Labour and is currently 6%. I think she rounded those numbers a bit much (4.4% and 6.6% is what I've read elsewhere) but the point was well made.
Jones seems like a decent chap, but not someone who is going to win over floating voters, and I suspect that if Labour run the Conservatives close in Bristol North West, it will be because of national rather than local politics.
Charlotte Leslie (Conservative)
In yesterday's Times, Danny Finkelstein wrote: "I always feel diffident when asked who I think won a leadersí debate, especially when the answer is that I think the person I agreed with won. It seems so embarrassingly obvious that one prefers those whose views one shares that I canít help blushing when I am asked." I feel in a similar position, as I intend to vote Conservative and therefore I'm not sure how much you'll believe me when I say that Charlotte Leslie performed best out of the candidates at the hustings. It's not that she had any particularly winning arguments or killer lines; she didn't deliver any withering put-downs or convulse the audience in joyful laughter. But she did present herself very well, addressing all the questions smoothly and generally bringing to bear her experience of five years in the Commons; she is in fact the only one of the candidates for the seat who also stood here in the 2010 election. As the incumbent, she was able to answer questions by citing what she has done rather than what she would do: her repeated mantra was 'getting stuff done', and when asked what she had done for Bristol North West she was able to reel off a list of tangible achievements, surprisingly many of which appeared to have been started while she was still just a candidate. She didn't mention that she was named 2013 Backbencher of the Year by the Spectator, nor that sexymp.co.uk (no, me neither) ranked her as the sexiest MP in 2011. To keep you up to date, she is currently sixth; Owen Patterson leads the way, with the next highest ranked man being, somewhat surprisingly, Eric Ollerenshaw.
Anyhow, I digress badly. Just as Jones didn't exactly say why he supported Labour, neither did Leslie really devote any time to explaining her Conservative affiliations. She did make some reference to party policy, and the obligatory Tory comment on the 'long term economic plan' (the phrase tends to wash over me these days, strong though I think the argument is), but her focus was generally local: e.g. her desire to re-open the Henbury loop line, a stretch of railway line in North Bristol. Apparently she is referred to as 'Loopy Leslie' in some quarters because of this campaign...
On the NHS, and other topics, it was welcome to hear Leslie insist that we need grown-up politics, where MPs from different parties work together rather than "shoot each other's heads off". A lot of politicans say it, I guess - David Cameron's 'no more Punch & Judy politics' stance was sadly short-lived - and perhaps I'm being naive, but she certainly seemed genuine; it went down well with the audience, too. When the Conservative Party did come in for criticism - which wasn't as often as I was expecting - Leslie responded reasonably, saying that a stronger economy helps everyone, and that we need to fix the tools we use before we can then use them to fix things (this metaphor got a bit wrapped around itself, to be honest). She came across very well, as I say, and even friends of mine who hate the Conservative party beyond reason (I use the phrase advisedly) have been known to say nice things about her, even if they can't bring themselves to give her their vote. I can imagine many voters here having a difficult choice between a party they don't like and a candidate they do; fortunately for me I was going to vote Conservative anyway.
Anne Lemon (TUSC)
TUSC stands for 'Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition', a party co-founded by the late Bob Crow, and I'm afraid you could tell. They represent the hectoring and joyless Left, and I wouldn't vote for them if they were the only party with a candidate in my constituency. There is probably not much point me dwelling on Anne Lemon, therefore, but her opening answer was instructive: asked to identify cost savings in the NHS, her only suggestion was to stop tax evasion and tax avoidance, and scrap Trident. In fairness, none of the answers to this question were brilliant (the Green candidate just said that, if we all cycled more, we wouldn't need to use the NHS so much anyway; Leslie proposed savings of hundreds of thousands of pounds, which rather pales against the billions of savings needed) but this rather set the tone for Lemon's answers throughout the evening.
Seated next to Leslie, it was nice to see that Lemon exchanged some civil greetings with her at the start, and she even referred to the UKIP candidate as her 'friend at the end' in an unexpected burst of cross-party harmony. This was more than her fan in the front row (my guess is that he was Mr. Lemon, but I suppose he could just have been a TUSC devotee), who voraciously supported Lemon but also wasn't afraid to speak out against the other candidates, particularly Frost. I wonder if they did settle their differences like men, afterwards...
TUSC were the only party to be handing out leaflets outside the event, which rather struck me as a missed trick by the other parties, but realistically they know that they won't win the seat here; in the latest Ashcroft opinion poll, they are presumably included within the 0% of people favouring 'other'.
Justin Quinnell (Green Party)
Another candidate who knows he won't win is Justin Quinnell, but my guess is that he is rather comforted by that fact. Throughout the evening Quinnell came across as a decent kind of cove, but not at all the kind of person who would enjoy holding power of any sort. He provided some of the evening's more amusing moments, sometimes deliberately, although his joke about the 20mph speed limit not being low enough was bizarrely picked up upon by Mike Norton, who insisted on knowing what speed limit Quinnell would want. Indeed, Norton didn't seem a big fan of the Green Party in general, and was in danger of editorialising at times (perhaps not surprising, as he is an editor); it may have been coincidence that he almost always asked Quinnell to answer questions first, despite an early attempt to mix up the order, but having to check the pronunciation of Quinnell's surname at the start was just unprofessional.
Some of Quinnell's answers were somewhat surprising: one expects cycling to feature heavily in his responses (he even asked Lemon if she cycled, and was delighted to find that she did), but I don't think any of us expected him to bring up the 'white elephant' that was Concorde; I forget the precise question, but safe to say it was not in any way related to Concorde. Quinnell also made one of the evening's few references to party leaders when he said that only thing he had in common with Nigel Farage was that they were both Huguenots; this came while he was suggesting that the country didn't need any immigration controls at all. The irony when he later complained that Bristol jobs were going to people coming over from South Gloucestershire was not lost on the audience.
Overall Quinnell came across as rather hapless, repeatedly saying 'and stuff' at the end of sentences and, when asked what he had done for Bristol North West, bringing up an example from 1977. I wish him luck in his future endeavours, but it remains my view that the Green Party are the UKIP of the left: a single-issue party that has somehow become a bigger player, but consists mainly of people you wouldn't trust to run a tea stand and who would be a disaster if given any power. Generally happier than UKIP, though.
May 7th/8th 2015
5.39pm - As promised, I will be live-blogging the election all night tonight. Right now I'm going to bed for a few hours, in order to be (relatively) wide awake when the polls close at 10pm, so I'll see you then. While I'm sleeping, feel free to check out my entry from May 6th/7th 2010 to see some great predictions (a Conservative majority! Jack Straw to be next Labour leader!) and my odd certainty, in the small hours, that I could get a worthwhile pun out of Andrew surrNeil (y'know, because Andrew Neil was being surreal). Expect more of the same tonight. If you'd like to get in touch, please email me using the contact link above, or tweet me @colinjthomas. I'll have lots of padding to do, so you'll probably get a mention...
9.51pm - There's about a quarter of an hour before exit polls close, but my evening has already got off to a shaky start: the local curry house was closed. Fortunately, the second closest curry house was open, so I have just finished my chicken vindaloo (lovely) and have a spare keema naan waiting to sustain me in the wee hours. The BBC coverage doesn't kick off yet, so I've been watching Channel 4's alternative election night. They make the good point that nothing exciting happens until around 2am, albeit this is slightly undermined by them starting coverage at 9pm. In fact, due to Ofcom they're not allowed to discuss anything political until the polls close, so their current filler is even more filler-y than the post-10pm filler. The highlight is the fact that they've staged a race of micro-pigs, each representing a political party, but aren't allowed to air it... in case it influences someone's vote. As I write, they're naming the members of One Direction. It's going to be a long night on Channel 4.
9.54pm - The main problem with the Channel 4 coverage, actually, is that they think that giving Jeremy Paxman funny lines is a hilarious twist, given his history as a serious interviewer on the BBC. But since Paxman has been impossible to take seriously for years, there's no real difference here. Also, Richard Osman's hair is crazy tonight.
9.59pm - Right, I'm over to the BBC. Can't see myself channel-flicking too much tonight, so it's time to settle in with David Dimbleby and his stellar cast. Jeremy Vine is in imaginary Downing Street! Always a highlight of the night. Fiona Bruce is in Sunderland, where they're aiming to get all their counting done by 10.40pm. Andrew Neil is in the studio - he doesn't get the boat from last year - doing the Paxman role of interviewing anyone who turns up.
10.03pm - That's the sound of Big Ben! The exit poll is in and not necessarily "on the nail" (is that an expression?) and, astonishingly, gives Conservatives 316 seats vs. 239 for Labour. That's comfortably 20 seats more for the Tories than we were expecting based on recent polls; "sensational" is the word that Dimbleby and Nick Robinson are using, and it's hard to disagree. Actually a Tory gain. Nick says that this is an "exquisite torture", and Dimbleby is already "reminding us of the figures" despite the fact that we only saw them a couple of minutes ago and they've been on the bottom of the screen ever since then.
10.07pm - Jeremy Vine is now in imaginary House of Commons, which has sound effects and, astonishingly, representations of the politicians themselves. David Cameron is looking thoughtful, apparently (did they have several different versions of CGI Cameron? "Jeremy, we're going to use 'smugly amused'! I repeat, 'smugly amused!' And Miliband is going to be scratching his nose absent-mindedly! Yes, I know, I know we said he'd be scratching it hopefully but we didn't have the budget.")
10.13pm - I won't be updating this frequently throughout the night, by the way, but this is huge. We've had our first mention of ITEPIC ("if this exit poll is correct") from Michael Gove, who is the first guest in the room and doesn't feel a sentence has been said right unless it's started and finished by ITEPIC. He's describing this as a success for the Conservatives, with a bigger incumbent increase than has been seen since 1983 - says Gove - and the BBC panel are finding it hard to disagree with him. Dimbleby makes the good point that Cameron described anything other than a majority as a failure, but this is such fantastic news for the Tories that no one's heart seems to be in insisting anything else. When we see a representative from Labour - or the Lib Dems, who lost an astonishing 47 seats - we might see some real savaging. At the moment we have the usual guff in Sunderland. Lightweight paper! Sixth formers running! Fine calibrations!
10.21pm - A quick channel hop to ITV, and they're also running footage from Sunderland ("I never thought that counting could be exciting") while at the same time asking Theresa May about Scotland. Back on the BBC, Paddy Ashdown says he'll eat his hat - "provided it's made of marzipan" - ITEPIC, because he's found another poll that gives the Lib Dems 31 seats. But I remember him denigrating the exit poll to Jeremy Paxman five years ago, and that one was pretty much bang on. One wonders why Paddy turns up, though, if he refuses to answer any of Neil's questions on the basis that we haven't seen any actual results yet. Did he hope to have a better slot on the show? Or is it going to be his bed time soon? There's general merriment in the studio as the choice of Paddy's hat is debated, with a fedora being a popular choice. In other news, I've had my first contact from the outside world as Rick tells me he's glad he's not in a drinking game based around the phrase ITEPIC. Me too!
10.30pm - I switched away briefly from Harriet Harman - who is being given a surprisingly easy ride by Dimbleby on what looks like it might be a dire night for Labour - and in the few seconds I spent on Channel 4, Richard Osman made a somewhat risque joke about the word 'Kent'. I went back to the BBC after that, and after the initial excitment of that exit poll, we're settling down into the routine of nothing really happening for hours. But why can't we see Jeremy Vine in imaginary Downing Street? Actually, why can't we see him in other imaginary versions of places - Wembley, say, or the Louvre, or the wreck of the Titanic? What are they spending my licence fee on?
10.38pm - Apparently there are other exit polls out there that don't give the Conservatives such a strong lead, which is giving some hope to those who (like my brother) are not fans of the Tories. Now that things are settling down a bit, I might as well mention that I voted Conservative and am delighted by the exit poll being shown on the BBC (and ITV). To be honest, I don't foresee writing a lot about party politics and policy tonight, though; Paddy Ashdown promising to eat a marzipan hat is definitely more my speed. Also, important update from my house: I'm going to make my first cup of tea of the night, just as soon as we get that Sunderland result, assuming all the paper hasn't blown away.
10.44pm - First BBC error of the night, as that enticing footage of people counting large numbers in Sunderland (usually a job only undertaken by the chap running the 'away goals' section of the Stadium of Light scoreboard) is being shown in preference to whatever graphic the woman wanted to show. Do I hope too much, or was it Jeremy Vine fictionally climbing Everest? It's not the biggest error tonight, though, as it seems the first 89 ballot papers in Doncaster forgot to include the UKIP chap. Dimbleby is chatting to a UKIP man in a room that is almost entirely empty, apart from a green curtain.
10.48pm - Come on, Sunderland, you're embarrassing yourselves here. Not only might you be beaten by Newcastle in the race to count paper, but you're also severely delaying me drinking tea.
10.56pm - Some professor-y looking person (actually, I think he might be a professor) is the chap behind the exit poll, and he has explained to Dimbleby how exit polls works. Dimbleby asks why they've given the Green Party two seats; the answer, says professor chap, is that they think they'll win one of their target seats. Fascinating stuff. I've switched across to see what Sky News are saying (yes, I know I said I wouldn't be channel-flicking. It's a night of broken promises already), and the main thing I've learned is that they're much louder. They've got Eamonn Holmnes bring us the speech from Houghton & Sunderland South (can we blame Houghton for the slowness this year? I'm fairly confident it was just Sunderland South last year), where Labour are currently winning the election 1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0.
11.02pm - Five years ago we were told that it would be the 'first Twitter election', but it was all a bit of a damp squib in terms of tweeting. This time round there's more going on over there, with #ExitPolls being the top trending topic (and Paddy Ashdown getting his fair share of mentions, as well), and I'm enjoying some Twitter interaction with Simon, Anthony, Martin, Matt (who called me 'bad Colin') and others. Ben tweeted me in the build-up but has gone strangely quiet... I promised that I'd buy him a takeaway if the Tories were in government when I see him in a week or two, so I might need to move some money around.
11.10pm - We've got the dream team of Gove, Alastair Campbell, Ashdown and Neil up in the gods of the BBC studio, and they're debating whether or not the exit poll is to be believed. Ashdown and Neil, in particular, are getting psephological: Ashdown complains that only 0.04% of polling stations have been included, whereas Neil counters that the poll covers 22,000 voters. Gove is clearly reining himself in, in case it all goes Pete Tong later in the evening, and Campbell seems to have come to studio straight from his anger management classes; I've never seen him look calmer. Oh, and Neil reckons that David Cameron is the largest party. Not sure what to make of that. By the way, in my list of election errors above, I should have added my own: it was Darlington rather than Doncaster where the UKIP bloke was left of the polling cards. Apparently there were computer errors in Hackney, too.
11.19pm - Over on ITV, Ed Balls is putting on a brave face but there is a possibility that, as well as a Labour humiliation tonight, he might actually lose his own seat. We shall see. Back on the Beeb, Sophie is talking to another exit poll expert (poor guys, they only get work one night every five years) who reckons that Scotland might 'turn orange'. Has the Irn Bru factory exploded? Back south of the border, and Labour have doubled their already comprehensive lead with a win in Sunderland Central; understandably, both Labour victors have claimed that their wins show that the British people want Labour, but in reality those seats were never going to be anything else: the real story in both seats is the Lib Dem fall and the UKIP rise. Just seconds after I wrote that last sentence, Nick Robinson has said exactly the same thing ("I agree with Colin", he didn't quite say), and he's losing his voice already.
11.29pm - Dimbleby can't talk to Jo in Thanet - "I'm not in charge of the switches, Jo" - where Nigel Farage might actually come in third, so instead he's talking to someone in Newcastle. Apparently they've tried really hard to beat Sunderland to be the first to declare, but to be honest they stood about as much chance as Farage did of becoming Prime Minister. With our friends from Sunderland now safely tucked up in bed, the Geordies have only just got the last ballot box in and don't seem close to declaring. In fact, it's Sunderland 3-0 Newcastle now, as Sunderland West are declaring. I hate to harp on the topic, but could this be helped by getting Jeremy Vine to visit an imaginary version of the Angel of the North?
11.34pm - At this stage it seems likely that the deficit could be covered solely by the deposits being lost by the Liberal Democrats. Also, Ed Balls has now made his way onto the BBC and has told David Dimbleby to spend less time on Twitter; personally I think that Dimbleby should be congratulated on knowing what Twitter is. Certainly an improvment on five years ago. In fact, speaking of Twitter, Jeremy Vine's brother (and renowned comedian) Tim Vine has come out with the joyful one-liner: "Exit polls. They're on the way out".
11.49pm - I'm pleased to report that Jeremy Vine is back, although I'm slightly disappointed that he's stuck with the Downing Street motif. Apparently (and this is serious) there was discussion at the BBC about him being in an imaginary helicopter and flying between constituencies. That would have been awesome. Speaking of awesome, James Lee tells me that he's got an election spreadsheet on the go, and I'm trying to get #GeneralExcelection trending. I'll keep you posted. Elsewhere, Simon has gone to bed and I've heard surprising little from my parents - although apparently Dad voted before I did, despite the fact that I got in within half an hour of the polls opening.
11.57pm - Natalie Bennett is on the Beeb, and she seems surprisingly upbeat despite being vehemently anti-Tory. But, of course, there's zero chance that she understands what the exit poll means, because it's got numbers in it. Speaking of the Greens, their second seat might come in Bristol West, a few miles away from me and where I was living during the last election. Suddenly rather pleased that I moved. Back in the BBC studio, and Michael Fallon - he of the "you can't trust Ed, he stabbed his brother in the back" column in the Times - is studiously refusing to express an opinion on anything at all. Quick, Neil, ask him what his favourite colour is! Oh, we're breaking away for Boris Johnson to be asked about his leadership ambitions, but we're back to the studio before BoJo has a chance not to answer.
12.05am - Judging by the reducing levels of comment on Twitter and Facebook, people around the country are going to bed. To be honest, this is the rather boring bit of the night where there is nothing new to report and it's a long wait before seats start flooding it. Five years ago, Paxman spent the time asking everyone he could see: "who has won the election?" and then mocking them when they refused to say; we're getting something similar this year, albeit with less mockery, where people from all parties are refusing to speculate. Over on ITV it's the turn of a senior SNP chap in Dundee, who is worried about David Cameron being back in Number 10 "in some shape or form". Rhombus? He's described the SNP as an 'anti-Tory' party, and confirmed that they wouldn't work with them even if they were given full fiscal autonomy. I used to play bass in a band called Full Fiscal Autonomy.
12.12am - The first sight of Nigel Farage tonight, on ITV, and he's not a happy chappy. After congratulating the editors of the Sun and the Mail for saying that the UKIP vote would split the Tories, he added "God help us" and stormed off. Over on the BBC, "there's not very much to see" says Dimbleby, and moves us to the news where we get the chance to see the same clips from the BBC that we saw a few minutes ago when they first happened. It's difficult to picture someone tuning into the news at 12.10am to see what's going on in the election, but at least it gives us another chance to see Paddy Hatsdown making another breakable Lib Dem pledge.
12.24am - Oh, the humanity. Jeremy Paxman is actually doing a stand-up routine on Channel 4 (albeit from a seated position, behind a desk) and it is somewhat less than impressive. Their sketch on Ed Miliband's charisma coach, intercut with genuine Miliband footage, is actually not bad, though. Flicking back to the BBC and Dimbleby wants to look at the 'battleground' with Jeremy Vine. Will we see him on an imaginary Agincourt? Sadly, no. Just a map of Britain and a board showing the 32 marginal seats that Labour really want to win; the forecast in fact shows that only half of them might go to Labour, and the BBC reckon Norwich might instead go Green (having been Lib Dem). If Norwich switches from yellow to green, it'll be the first time it's happened since the football team last wore their away shirt (note: this isn't true. Norwich's away shirt isn't green any more. Sorry).
12.29am - Nothing's really happening, is it? We're not even getting any good interviews in the studios (and whenever I flick to ITV they seem to be in the process of cutting off a bloke called Colin). So here's a video you might enjoy, courtesy of Pete from my church.
12.43am - "Hyperbole heaped on speculation heaped on hypothesis". Yes, ladies and gentleman, the silver-tongued wizard of darkness has arrived in the BBC studio: Peter Mandelson is here with Andrew Neil, with remarkably perfect hair. He's flanked by non-entities from the other two main parties - sorry, from the other main party and from the Lib Dems - and is probably wondering why he's not got a better slot. I mean, he may not be active in Miliband's world, but he should at least get a former cabinet minister to sit next to: Nigel Lawson, maybe, or Michael Portillo. I mean, who's David Walker? There's a bigger name downstairs in the studio, as Theresa May has come in just in time for the first Conservative victory, in Swindon North.
12.51am - Political titan and former co-host of one of the great radio shows, James Lee, has helpfully corrected me on my David Walker slur. Apparently he's called David Gauke and he's Financial Secretary to the Treasury. OK, I'll give them that. Also, I've opened a bag of Doritos.
1.09am - I thought that that bag of Doritos was going to be a peak moment for me, but I've just received news from my friend and fellow Warwick mathematician Ben that I've been quoted on the BBC live blog! Proof is here, at 00:56. I very much wasn't expecting that. Back to South Thanet, and Nigel has repeated his Mail / Sun / God-help-us line, shortly after we caught a glimpse of Al "pub landlord" Murray, who is also standing for that seat. The folk behind the BBC news bulletin now basically assumes that no one is both watching and sober, so is happy to run with a story about dogs in polling booths. Dimbleby might theoretically be sober, but it's not easy to tell as he explores an exciting sideline in what the phrase 'thick and fast' really means.
1.24am - Sadiq "Yes We" Khan has increased his majority in Tooting, and the news from Bradford is that George Galloway has lost his seat - it seems that there won't in fact be a recount, despite earlier reports, so it's not clear what's going on there. Still, there won't be many tears shed for Galloway tonight. Elsewhere Neil Kinnock is speaking live from Neath, and there's something about him that makes the whole footage look like it was shot in the 1980s. Which would make him rather prescient, I guess. And now we're back to professor man, whose hair is getting more professorish as the night wears on, and is now refusing to rule out a Conservative majority. Intriguing. Over in Battersea, only one person is applauding the UKIP chap for his thousand or so votes, but the bigger news is that the Tories have held the seat and in fact got 52% of the vote.
1.33am - More on George Galloway and, loveable scamp that he is, he's been reported to the police for tweeting about exit polls before the polls closed. I can't find any evidence of that (his retweet concerning the BBC exit poll looks like it came after 10pm) but here's a retweet that gives you a fair idea of his usual output. Not that I'm saying he's anti-semetic, of course, m'lud. Anyway, enough about him. Tristram Hunt has just been given a rough time by Dimbleby after claiming that Ed Miliband has exceeded expectations in this campaign; I understand that it's kinda his job to give things a positive spin, but he and Ed Balls have sounded frankly delusional. There are notably few Lib Dems turning out for the cameras - and Paddy has rushed out to buy some hat salt - so we don't yet know how much they'll pretend this isn't a disaster.
1.43am - We've just had the first Ed / David Miliband slip-up (well, apart from the one where the Labour party accidentally made Ed Miliband their leader, of course). According to Hugo Rifkind's drinking game in yesterday's Times, that requires us all to have a drink, but I don't think I'll break my teetotalism by drinking alone at twenty to two in the morning. We've also had the first use of the word 'envenomed' tonight, from some old bloke in glasses. If I'm honest, I'm struggling to catch people's names. Over on ITV, the chap called Colin - I caught his name - says that the SNP might have swept Glasgow. It kinda needed it...
1.56am - I can't believe I was watching ITV while Jeremy Vine was standing next to a Lib Dem house of cards on the BBC! Fortunately I switched back just in time to see him gesticulating at a floating Charles Kennedy card... and now the cards have collapsed! With sound effects! Nick Clegg is expected to keep his seat, though, as is David Laws in my parents' constituency. ITEPIC it's hard to see how the Lib Dems can justify any real position in government, though, let alone Vince Cable's hoped-for 24 ministerial roles. The Lib Dem disaster continues in Nuneaton, where they've lost their deposit, and there's a picture showing (according to Dimbleby) how nice Nuneaton looks in the sunshine. In other news, I'm starting to think that the BBC hasn't got anyone at all on a boat this year.
2.09am - David Dimbleby has started getting YouGov and UKIP mixed up, poor chap. No word on U-bends or Yusuf Islam, yet. He's also giving a bit of a grilling to the president of YouGov, Peter Kellner, who is somewhat desperately trying to justify his polls but must be worrying that (like Ed Miliband?) he'll be sacked in the morning. We're also being treated to live footage of David Cameron being driven to the count in his constituency, which is every bit as exciting as you'd expect it to be. If I wanted to watch people drive around empty roads, I'd watch F1. Anyhow, apparently David Cameron is cock-a-hoop - you can tell from the brake lights, maybe - and my friend Jenny suggests that this should be the new 'have a drink' phrase. One person who isn't very cock-a-hoop is Nicola Sturgeon, but she is still desperately trying to claim that she can help lock the Tories out.
2.20am - Labour in Scotland will be "hanging their heads in pain and gloom and despair", according to the blonde woman on the BBC (I'm not getting any better with names. She's doing a great job, though, and mostly remembers to give Dimbleby his pills). A 26% swing from Labour to SNP in Kilmarnock is indeed phenomenal, and backs up the predictions that SNP will win almost all of Scotland. While tonight looks like being a joyous result for those of us who vote Tory, the Union is in as much danger as ever.
2.30am - Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, has lost his seat in Scotland to a 20 year-old student. Funny, I'd have thought that I'd have recognised Douglas Alexander. The 20 year-old has some nice, albeit not entirely tactful, words to say about Alexander remaining in politics after he's recovered from this defeat, but gets the biggest cheers from pledging to vote against Trident. Just as Douglas Alexander steps up, wearing a rose rather than a rosette (hey, what's three letters between friends?), the BBC camera switches to a returning officer somewhere else and we miss almost all of Alexander's speech. This gives me very little time to memorise what he looks like. But I can definitely recognise Danny Alexander.
2.42am - David Mitchell is very angry on Channel 4 about the pointlessness of political campaigns, but Richard Osman looks delighted: partly because his hair is somehow staying up all by itself throughout the night, but I suspect mainly because Mitchell's repeated use of the word 'pointless' can only be good for Osman's career. Paxman is also delighted, because he's found an arena where absolutely no one is trying to rein him in even slightly, and he's free to shout madly at everyone around him to his heart's content. Rumours are that Nicolas Cage will play him in the movie.
2.53am - I was disappointed by the quality of the Times website coverage five years ago, and they've not really improved this time round: for some time they were claiming that UKIP had a seat, presumably because someone had misread 'UUP' as 'UKIP'. At the moment, in fact, the UUP gain from the DUP in South Antrim is the only gain outside of Scotland, so no MP in England has yet lost their place in the Commons. Seats are raining in, now (interesting mental image), a lot of them north of the border, and we're getting towards 10% of them being declared. Lucy Powell is now on the Beeb, assuring the public that Ed Miliband's campaign was very positive. Yes, but it didn't work, did it? Little evidence of shadowy Labour figures briefing against Miliband so far, but it must be coming soon. Maybe Jeremy Vine can walk amongst some imaginary shadows, to pass the time till then?
3.01am - The swingometer is back! This is not a drill! I repeat, this is not a drill! Jeremy Vine is inside an imaginary Elizabeth Tower (yes, he actually called it that, rather than Big Ben. Nice one, Viney). "Of course, it isn't like that," Vine adds, "but it's still very useful". Jeremy, it's three o'clock in the morning and I'm watching you wave at a mocked up version of the inside of a clock tower. None of this is useful. That isn't the point. Elsewhere, apparently Ed Balls' seat is "down to a coin toss - which would be another very big story of the night". Yes, well, that would be a big story. What I'm enjoying at the moment, though, is watching Jim Murphy swig from a can of Irn Bru.
3.14am - At the BBC they have people up in the gods, and this has already been compared to a Juliet balcony with Andrew Marr being the Montague to Andrew Neil's Capulet (around the same time that Dimbleby was claiming that Marr & Neil sounds like a songwriting duo. By virtue of there being two of them, I guess). By comparison, ITV has an 'opinion room' - with the instruction to tweet #opinionroom permanently on the screen - and it contains Matthew Parris, who thinks that Farage will resign but "not for long". Parris, it should be noted from his Times columns and elsewhere, hates UKIP.
3.31am - Getting a little tired now. And I'm somewhat surprise that my colleague Smudger Smith is still tweeting at this time, considering that he usually turns up for work with the lark (one of AXA's more dedicated employees, the lark). Anyway, over on ITV we have Owen Jones, one of my least favourite pundits and not just because he looks about 12 years old despite being older than me, but it's hard to disagree with him tonight: Labour have indeed lost Scotland, and didn't help themselves in the independence referendum. ITV's budget seems to have gone entirely on seats in purple and green, somewhat reminiscent of Ribena, meaning that I don't think they have anything imaginary at all. If I wanted to see real chairs, guys, I'd just look around my living room.
3.35am - Apparently the Guardian is reporting that Ed won't last beyond lunchtime (as Labour leader, I mean. It's not like he's got tuberculosis or anything); Tessa Jowell says she takes a lot of what she reads in the Guardian with a pinch of salt. Ouch. Now Andrew Neil is talking to high-profile Tory and Radio Warwick founder David Davis, who reckons that Blair & Brown gave Scotland a 'grievance machine'. Scotland gave us the telephone and the television, so mechanically I think they've had the worse of it.
3.51am - Nicola Sturgeon is delighted to say that she can't hear Dimbleby because of the cheering and music from SNP activists. Surely, suggests Dimbleby, she is all-powerful in Scotland and can therefore wave her hands and stop them? Apparently not. Dimbleby says he'll come back when the cheering stops, but he might have to wait a few weeks at this rate. Of all the main party leaders, Sturgeon and Cameron are the only ones who are likely to still be in their jobs this time next week, I reckon. Right, time for another cup of tea... Bristol North West was supposed to be announced around 3am but there's no sign yet.
4.10am - One of the Scottish seats - Orkney & Shetland - hasn't gone to the SNP! Andrew Marr is claiming that the seat is actually Scandinavian, probably just to see if anyone up there is still awake and ready to get offended. In a similar vein, I'm going to claim that Hornsey & Wood Green is actually in, I dunno, Japan. Closer to home, it turns out that Bristol North West has been called (the automatic email I got from the Times went straight to my junk mail, so I'm a bit late with the news). I'm delighted to say that Charlotte Leslie has held the seat with 44% of the vote, an increase from 38% last time and largely on the back of a plummeting Lib Dem vote.
4.23am - The Labour Party is 'herbivorous' and 'nibbles at its leaders until they fall over' says Andrew Marr. Perhaps that's why Ed Miliband is still smiling... although, with those teeth, you have to imagine that he'll be the best nibbler in the party. In rather unsurprising news, Alex Salmond has won the seat in Gordon and is now one of those horrible Westminster people that he always used to go on about. In Eastleigh, the 'Beer, Baccy & Scratchings' party didn't get a lot of votes: I've done a small amount of research, and confusingly their website suggests they're actually called the 'Beer, Baccy & Crumpet' party. Crumpet is an acronym; I'll let you read all about it on their website. Speaking of minority parties, the 'Cannibas Is Safer Than Alcohol' party has got a couple of hundred votes in Thurrock. Presumably they're an anti-alcohol party?
4.36am - Ming Campbell is in the studio, and also still alive. Apparently this result is a bit like 1931-45, which must have been around the time that Ming was considering retirement. Speaking of Lib Dems, I'm following @LibDemDeposits on Twitter, an account which is tracking how much money the party has lost in deposits so far (£500 deposits are lost where any candidate doesn't get at least 5% of the vote in their constituency). Astonishingly, with about 200 seats decided, the Lib Dems have so far apparently lost £61,000. They can add another £500 for Uxbrdige & Ruislip South, where BoJo has predictably won the seat against a dozen other candidates of varying seriousness, including a Lord Toby Jug (not, I think, his real name). Apparently it's BoJo's wedding anniversary today.
4.48am - Vince Cable has gone. Possibly the biggest name to lose his seat so far; he reckons that Lib Dems have been hit by a national campaign based on fear of Labour and the SNP. It's hard to see how the Lib Dems can recover from this for a generation. Personally I take no joy in seeing Lib Dems lose seats, but I think Cable may just have become the new Portillo; I'm also sure that headline writers will be scratching around for 'missing cable' jokes. Just wait to see what happens if Ed Balls loses his seat... Boris is on the Beeb now, with suspiciously windswept hair, despite the fact that he's indoors. BoJo claims he was listening to Andrew Marr's "very very interesting" views on the SNP, before dozing off - harsh! - and that most SNP voters don't really want an independent Scotland. If wishing made it so, Boris.
5.00am - We're breathlessly told that the Lib Dems could be down to "single figures - that's fewer than 10 seats", but Nick Clegg has just held Sheffield Hallam with a majority of a 2,353 on a 75% turnout. He's getting a bit of heckling in his victory speech, which is about the most mournful one you'll ever hear: he says it's been a "cruel and punishing night," and given some heavy hints that he will be standing down as leader. Forget lasting a week, I'd be surprised if he hasn't resigned in the next 24 hours.
5.21am - Looking back at May 2010, I apparently went to bed at 5.06am, so I've now beaten that time as the sun rises slowly on the hope of a Conservative majority. It's been a long shift for Dimbleby, who's just got confused by a graphic showing the number of seats won by each party ("that doesn't tell us anything!") and, perhaps understandably, is now mixing up morning and evening. It's been some hours since we heard him saying "For God's sake!" when he thought his microphone was off, immediately followed by someone in the background running off with cups of coffee. Unless I dreamed that. Or hallucinated it. That might be happening now. Speaking of hallucinations, we're back to Jeremy Vine and his battlegrounds - still, disappointingly, a mere map of Britain rather than Bosworth field - before being whisked away to see Charles Kennedy lose his seat, then to Doncaster North to see Ed Miliband retain his against candidates who include Nick the Flying Brick. Gosh, I definitely hallucinated that, didn't I?
5.32am - Ed Miliband looks "ashen and grey", apparently, which seems a little harsh given that he's been up all night. I don't imagine I look too great myself, at the moment. Anyway, Ed is "deeply sorry" for what's happened in Scotland, and while he doesn't quite cede victory to the Conservatives in his speech, it's clear that he doesn't retain any hope at all of becoming Prime Minister. Unlike Nick Clegg, though, Ed didn't give any hints at all about his own position as leader of the party. Elsewhere, the Conservatives have won Gower with a majority of just 27, apparently the first time in over a century that it has gone to anyone other than Labour; it was 124th on the Tory target list.
5.50am - Unsurprisingly, David Cameron has held Witney, up against 11 other candidates, only one of whom was dressed in an Elmo suit. He's looking a lot more well-rested than he did five years ago, and who can blame him for being chirpy? "A very strong night for the Conservative party" and a "positive response to a positive campaign", Cameron says, and while it's impossible to disagree with the former, I'm not at all sure about the latter - a lot of the Tory campaign was based on the danger of a Labour victory, rather than the joys of Conservatism. Anyhow, he's done that bit and now needs to wait to see what the election arithmetic does - the BBC is now saying that the Tories are projected to be on 325, which is effectively a majority given that Sinn Fein don't turn up in Westminster. There's also a landmark as the Tories have taken the lead in declared seats for the first time, with 182 to Labour's 179.
6.03am - The night gets worse for the Lib Dems, as David Laws has lost his seat (in my parents' constituency) with a 16% swing to the Tories, and Douglas Alexander has gone as well. But brighter news in the BBC studio where Jeremy Vine is back in the imaginary Commons; is it my imagination, or is imaginary David Cameron looking stronger and more handsome? Also, one of the imaginary backbenchers is ducking and weaving like a champ. The only person looking smugger than imaginary David Cameron, actually, is John Professorman, whose exit poll is defying all expectations by being pretty spot on. Paddy is touring the milliners of central London as I write.
6.17am - I'm fairly confident they told us hours ago that Gorgeous George had lost Bradford West, but we've only now had it confirmed that, as David Dimbleby purred, he has been trounced. Over on ITV they've switched to Good Morning Britain, but they're still talking politics and Lorriane has found a Scot to puncture the SNP party by complaining about being governed by 'economic illiterates'. Yep. She warns that Nicola Sturgeon, like Tony Blair before her, may "walk on water" now, but it won't last. Speaking of water, we seem to be returning to semi-normal programming on the BBC with a weather forecast. This is the first non-election thing I've seen for 8 hours... but now we're back to what is apparently called the 'election centre'. When did that start?
6.32am - The option is open for David Cameron to visit Buckingham Palace, but he doesn't have to. If I were him, I wouldn't bother. Get some sleep, mate. Man, I could do with some sleep. I want to stay awake for three big seats - South Thanet (Nigel Farage), Morley & Outwood (Ed Balls) and Bristol West - and when those are out I think I'll get some sleep. But I might cave before then.
6.54am - Right, I'm calling it a night. Bristol West has been taken by Labour from Lib Dem, which I regard as a good result because it could have gone Green (the pundits on the BBC haven't spotted that it's been declared, yet). Overall it's been an astonishing night, certainly a lot more exciting than both this year's campaign and the election night five years ago. I started the evening thinking that David Cameron would probably hang on with a weakened mandate; it seems, instead, that he will return to Downing Street with an effective majority with which to govern for the next five years. A great result for those of who vote Conservative. As Jeremy Vine dances around his swingometer with the energy of a man half of his age, I shall head to bed and hope to wake to a majority.
10.48am - Well, I've not quite woken up to a majority, but it is very much on course to happen: the Conservatives are on 322 seats. While I slept, Ed Balls lost by a majority of 422, and Nigel Farage has just failed to with South Thanet. Al Murray milked his moment in the spotlight, there, but now Farage is giving a speech. I'm not sure why he's allowed to do that - does every failed candidate get a speech? I guess so - but he's openly admitted that it's a weight off his shoulders, even if his claim that he "couldn't be happier" sounds a trifle unlikely. Not quite as unlikely as his claim that UKIP is now the party of young working women, which I've seen elsewhere described as "psephologically challenging". Anyhow, next on the agenda is apparently an announcement from Nick Clegg at 11am, followed by Ed Miliband at noon. Are they going to bite the bullet now?
12.23pm - Yes, they are. Clegg and Miliband have both resigned - as has Farage, although he then immediately suggested that he might put his name forward for the UKIP leadership election - and the country's political landscape is about to change even further. It's been a dramatic few hours, hasn't it? It is in everyone's interests to have a strong and sensible opposition - which we won't get from SNP, because they don't want to be part of our country's politics - so the upcoming Labour leadership election could be almost as important as tonight's general election. Even though it was not a difficult choice for me to vote for the Conservatives yesterday, I certainly don't believe that they are perfect (I may write more about that thought on some future occasion) and I would like nothing more than to have a trickier decision to make in 2020.
May 14th 2015
It was dispiriting, following an unexpected election victory for the party I voted for, to read across social media and elsewhere that I could only have voted for them because I was greedy, selfish and uncaring. I don't think that those things are true of me, and if you know me then I hope you don't either. The kindest voices I heard - perishingly few of those - were the ones suggesting that I, and other Tory voters, are misguided and need to be shown the error of our ways. Well, I would be delighted if what I write today persuades anyone that the Conservatives are the best party to lead Britain, but I actually have a less ambitious goal: to explain why I voted Tory. To be clear, this is not an apology or a mea culpa: I believed that the Conservatives should be in government when I voted for them in 2010; I believed it when I put a cross in their box at 7.30am last Thursday, and I believe it still. I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Tory, and I have voted for several different parties over time, but my mind was made up some time before polling day this year.
Having said that this will not be an apology, I have been thinking about this for much of the last week and I think there are two mistakes I have made. The first is that, having heard the cries of 'wolf' too often, I now tend to disregard them; more on that later. The second is that, after voting for the Conservatives in 2010, I was too keen to see them as 'my team' and therefore Labour as the opponents, when in reality I should have seen the whole country as 'my team', looking for the best possible government. I don't think that this inclination has led me to blind myself to reality - I may not be the best judge of that, of course - but it has meant that I have approached some pro-Labour or anti-Tory stories with suspicion; I have also been too eager to highlight flaws in pro-Labour pronouncements (for example, I did this a couple of days ago in regards to a TUC statement about strikes), and make generalised statements about 'the Left'. Again, I haven't made comments or put forward arguments that I don't believe - the TUC statement was genuinely illogical - and I have also turned my sights on the Conservatives, including on this page, when I've thought they've made mistakes. But I'm aware that my tone is sometimes triumphalist when it should be disappointed, and while I can't promise that won't happen again, I'll try to avoid it today.
So, why did I vote Tory? The key achievements of the Conservative-led government will not be news to any of you, given how much they were raised during the campaign, but they bear repeating: one of the fastest growing economies in Europe (despite predictions of a multiple-dip recession) and 1,000 new jobs created per day during the coalition, with unemployment currently at a seven-year low. The Conservatives campaigned this time round on the platform of a 'long term economic plan', and with good reason: they took the deficit seriously when other parties were still suggesting that no cuts were needed, and they view it as their duty - yes, even their moral duty - to eliminate it by 2020. I agree with this view (remember - as if we could forget - that this is not a case of eliminating British debt: just stopping adding to that debt). Traditionally the Conservatives are trusted on the economy far more than Labour, but particularly in this election I believed that a Labour government led by Ed Miliband would have been a risk to our economy; and without a strong economy, a government can't realistically achieve any of its other aims.
I have brought Ed Miliband into the equation, and not without reason: voting is, of course, a choice between parties, and Labour's faults were as much a driving force in my vote as the Conservatives' strengths. Under Miliband, the Labour party moved significantly to the left from where they had been under Blair and even Brown, largely failing to challenge the major unions (whose leaders, sadly, continue to express absurd views), favouring larger government while distrusting the private sector, and promoting populist policies such as the mansion tax. In fact, I will take two other policies to illustrate my view of the differences between the parties: the first is the 45p tax rate. The Conservatives have had a lot of criticism for this "millionaire's tax cut", but it was largely based on analysis showing that the net impact to the Treasury should actually be positive (and, as an aside, I do not believe that a sensibly-run country should ever require large numbers of its citizens to have to pay half of their marginal income to the government); under Ed Miliband, the Labour government seemed to prefer the political message of a higher tax rate even if it meant lower revenues. The second policy that illustrates my point is tuition fees. I wrote about them on this page last October, so I won't repeat myself too much, but again this was a decision where I believe that the Conservatives chose the correct, albeit unpopular, policy, whereas Labour went populist and wrong. There are some who believe that university should be entirely free, and - while I disagree strongly - it is at least a coherent view; Miliband's proposal of reducing the fee cap to £6,000 would not actually benefit any graduates on lower salaries, serving only to reduce the level of loans needed to be paid off by higher-earning graduates. In fact, by increasing to £21k (from <£17k) the level of earnings a graduate would have to make before beginning to pay off fees, the Conservative policy was much better designed to help those on lower incomes (as well as reducing the overall cost to the government).
Which brings me onto the frequently-expressed view of the Conservatives: that they are only interested in helping the rich. And, while I agree that the traditional Conservative voter is likely to be better-off than the traditional Labour voter, I find it hard to tally this view with actual Tory policy. Even if you leave aside the pre-election giveaway gimmicks - e.g. tax-free savings of up to £5,000 p.a.; 30 hours of free childcare - I can think of many policies from the last government that were more favourable to those worse off: the increase in the income personal allowance from £6,475 p.a. in 2010/11 to £10,600 p.a. now (the Conservative manifesto has this rising to £12,500 p.a. by 2020); the reduction in pension Lifetime Allowance from £1.8m in 2010/11 to £1m next year; the addition of a new stamp duty band for £2m+ houses and the complete restructure of the charges to reduce the cost for lower value property; the reduction or removal of child benefit for people earning £50k+; the introduction of the help to buy ISA. On the other hand, the only policies I can think of that particularly help the rich are the 45p tax rate - discussed above - and the waiving of inheritance tax on properties worth up to £1m. I may have missed some, and the Tories should definitely have done more (as should the Labour government before them) to tackle tax avoidance, particularly by corporations, but overall the picture I see is not the one of popular perception.
I do not want to risk overstating my case, so now is perhaps the time to introduce the two big areas where I disagree with Conservative policy; there are of course other, smaller, issues where I disagree - as well as Trident, which is a big issue where my instincts are the opposite to Tory policy, but where I'm prepared to admit I am woefully uninformed - but these are the two big ones. The first is civil liberties, where I am increasingly concerned by the views and actions emanating from the Home Office under Theresa May; as well as the level to which our communications are tracked, I am worried by the level of secrecy now introduced into key trials, particularly terrorism-related, and by cases where people born in Britain have been stripped of their British citizenship. I understand that in all such decisions there is basically a choice between liberty and security, and that moving towards one will reduce the other, but my own view is that this government is prepared to sacrifice too much of our liberty in the name of the nation's security. The second big policy where I strongly disagree with the Conservatives is the increase of the higher rate tax threshold so that the 40% rate kicks in at £50,000 rather than, as at present, £42,385. At a time when the Conservatives are rightly emphasising the need to eliminate the deficit, this sends out entirely the wrong message: I applaud the narrative that the Tories are the party of aspiration, helping those who work hard, but reducing tax on anyone now - and this reduction would genuinely reduce income to the Treasury - is not the right thing to do, even if it wins some votes (and reduces my own tax bill).
In passing, because it doesn't really fit anywhere else, I will mention foreign policy: it is not typically an electoral priority for me, and this has absolutely not been an election fought on foreign policy (unless you count EU membership), but I will say that I thought Miliband was wrong in ruling out action against Assad in Syria; particularly in that he appeared to be politicking on the issue, although there I may be wronging him.
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned any party other than Labour and the Conservatives, so I will cover off the others quickly now: I am broadly pro-EU so UKIP holds no fascination for me; I have nothing much against the Lib Dems but I don't believe that they stand for anything much at the moment; the Green Party platform seems to be based on unfunded promises that are frankly delusional. In fact, as well as my other concerns about Labour, I feared a government pulled further to the left by the Greens and, much more strongly, the SNP; like many others, I also did not want to be governed by a Scottish Nationalist Party that did not actually want to be in my government.
Towards the beginning of this post I mentioned the cries of 'wolf' from anti-Tory voices, and said that I would come back to them. This is an important theme for me, because I have spent much of the last five years hearing these cries and they have played a large part in confirming me as a Conservative supporter; perhaps too large a part, given how many of them came from political supporters rather than the politicians themselves. The cries take on several different forms: the first, and the most frustrating, is the ascribing of malign motives to Tory policies: rather than saying that Michael Gove is misguided in his education reforms, these voices say that he wants to destroy our schools; rather than cutting welfare too quickly, the Tories are "waging war on the vulnerable"; rather than mismanaging the third party contract with Atos, the government is "stigmatising and demonising the disabled" (this last allegation is a horrific thing to say about anyone; when it is levelled at David Cameron, whose own severely disabled son died at the age of six, it is truly beyond the pale). To be honest, people espousing these views sound as ridiculous to me as Republicans do in the USA when they say that Obama hates America. If I were to offer advice to left-leaning people as to how to win over Conservative voters, the first thing I'd say is to stop this form of language; not only does it sound absurd, but by implication it suggests that those of us who vote Conservative are equally vile, and I am unlikely to vote for anyone who thinks that about me.
The next form this wolf-crying can take is in misrepresenting policies to make them sound much worse than they are. This vice is certainly not unique to the left wing of the political spectrum, but it has raised its head on topics like the 45p tax rate and tuition fees, as I've written above, and particularly on NHS privatisation. Leaving aside the fact that Labour began a lot of NHS privatisation initiatives, and the increase under the last government was relatively small, this is an area where there is a lot of misinformation: only yesterday I heard a protestor complaining about NHS privatisation making healthcare unaffordable for the poor, but that is absolutely not what is happening; the NHS remains free at point of service, the 'privatisation' is only about who is providing that free care. Personally, I am not concerned who pays the doctor who sees me, and I do not share the fears of the 'profit motive' that some do; in fact, working in the private sector, I generally believe that it is more efficient than the public sector but still staffed by dedicated people. This, indeed, is another key area where I disagreed with Ed Miliband's Labour party: whereas his instincts appear to be against the private sector and in favour of government regulation, mine are the opposite; I do not believe that capitalism should be allowed to run entirely unchecked, but I am in favour of a smaller government only acting where needed.
The final form of wolf-crying is not so reprehensible as the other two, and perhaps I am being unfair in describing it as crying wolf; it is where there are strong protests against particular government policies that I in fact agree with. I have covered some of these above, but it's worth also mentioning public sector pensions, which were the cause of mass protests a few years ago but where I thought the loudest voices were completely misguided, since an independent body had shown that public sector pensions were significantly better than those in the private sector, where defined benefit schemes are now almost unheard of.
With so many of the loudest protests being (in my view) misunderstandings or misrepresentations of motive or policy, I have, as I say, run the risk of disregarding other complaints against Tory policy that may have more justification: for example, the badger cull, the workings of Atos and the removal of the spare room subsidy (a.k.a. the bedroom tax). This last point brings me onto austerity, which is the focus of the strongest anti-Tory protests at the moment, as the Conservative government wants to cut the welfare bill by a further £12bn. This is an area where they have to act very carefully - much more carefully, in honesty, than they have done so far - but an area, nonetheless, where I believe they are right. When a huge deficit has to be cleared then government spending has to fall, and when government spending has to fall then it is inevitable that the impact will be on people who receive government money. Many of the reductions the coalition made did not impact welfare - for example, the increase in tuition fees, or the attempted changes to public sector pension, both of which I've mentioned above - and one of the first welfare cuts made was the one removing child benefit from people earning £50k+ (and even this cut was met, in some quarters, with strong protest). Similarly, the capping of benefits at £26,000 p.a. - a cap that excluded Working Tax Credit, Disability Living Allowance or any one of eight other benefit types - was designed to reduce the cost of the welfare state with minimal impact on the most needy; in the same vein, a below-inflation increase in benefits saved up to £12bn in the last government while ensuring a relatively small (although, I realise, not negligible) impact on any individual. Set against this, there have been a host of administrative errors where benefits have been delayed or even not paid, and these should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Aside from these costly errors, and the shambles that was the bedroom tax (a policy I actually agree with in theory - the government should not be funding an extra room if it is not needed - but was handled horrendously in practice, particularly where alternative accommodation was not actually available), the biggest error the Conservatives have made in reducing the welfare bill is that they have allowed it to seem like they don't care. I believe that they do. Perhaps a key difference in approaches between parties is that a Conservative believes that the best thing for an unemployed person is that they gain employment again, and this view drives things like benefit sanctions for failing to attend job interviews: again, there are individual cases where this has been wrongly applied, but the principle is a sound one.
Given that this post is an explanation of why I voted for the Conservatives, I have spent a long time defending them rather than extolling their virtues, but in the current political climate I feel that that is a necessary approach. I believe that this is the best government for the country, and while I have listed several areas of disagreement or disappointment above, I wholeheartedly believe that this country would be in a much worse state if we had woken up on Friday morning to a government led by Ed Miliband's Labour. This has been a very long post; far longer than I intended when I began. It may be that you began it by disagreeing with me and ended it in the same way. You may feel that I've missed the point, or been conned, or not got my priorities right. Who knows, you might even have come round to my way of thinking on some points. But I hope at least I've shown that I've given this thought, that I haven't voted out of pure self-interest, and that, whomever you voted for, Conservative voters are not your enemy.
|what was I listening to?
Sun Records Collection - Various Artists
|what was I reading?
Blair - Anthony Seldon
|what was I watching?
A Streetcar Named Desire