Friday, 30 April 2010

"You can actually see the moment when his political career leaves his body"

Before you log off on a Friday afternoon, take a look at Jon Stewart's brilliant take on Bigotgate.
Worth watching all the way to the end. A very British scandal. CLICK HERE
(Hat Tip: Just about everyone)

Have the Tories really wasted their money?

Driving around the Westcountry it is impossible not to notice the huge amount of money the Conservatives have spent in the key marginals. Huge campaign posters - many featuring US-style grinning colour photos of candidates - line verges, fields and gardens.

It is impossible to drive into any of the major towns without passing a billboard plastered with the latest Tory attack on Labour, or a giant David Cameron looking down on you.

On one visit to the Torbay seat, I arrived to find a new Tory attack poster being pasted over an old "I've never voted Tory before..." one. Literally money to burn, it would seem.

But speaking to David Miliband this morning, as part of a round of regional interviews he was doing post-debate, he made an interesting point.

“We haven’t got the money the Tories have. The party that’s spent the most money has, according to the opinion polls, lost the most votes.”

It is true the Tory poll lead slumped just as the campaign really got underway. And Lord Ashcroft surprisingly quickly became a well-known shorthand for Tory ‘outsider’ money, which many in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset don’t like.

But it has also created a sense of momentum, and of taking an interest in a region which has long felt ignored, especially by the two largest parties.

The Liberal Democrats have quietly grumbled about the Tory spending, while reluctantly admitting they wouldn’t be spending the huge sums if it didn’t work.

Just how well it has "worked" is not clear. We’ll have to wait another week for that.

Campaign gets dirty – students arrested for spraying vote Lib-Dem on Tory posters

Candidates from all parties have privately grumbled over the last few weeks about how the campaign was unlike any they had known before. It was, in short, getting dirty.

Rumours circulated that one candidate had left his wife and set up home with a party colleague. Labour punted out claims a Tory had been posting obscenities on the web. Both were false.

Across the patch, the battle for the hedgerows was fierce. The Tories seemed to be winning, with the most roadside posters though the famous orange Lib Dem diamonds were also in abundance.

But all was not well. Posters – especially Tory and Lib Dem ones- were disappearing or being vandlised.

Now I report in today’s Western Morning News how two students have been arrested for spraying pro-Liberal Democrat messages on Conservative campaign posters.
A man and a woman, university students from Falmouth, were caught defacing a Tory party sign in Truro on Saturday evening, a spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police confirmed.

“They also admitted to defacing a number of others, in total eight, between Truro and Falmouth,” he said. “They had used spray cans to put Lib Dem slogans on them.”

The officer in the case, PC Andrew Brocklehurst, decided it would be best to deal with the incident by way of restorative justice and has been in talks with the Conservative Party candidate Sarah Newton. (right)

A spokesman for the Lib Dems in the South West said they “utterly condemn any criminal damage or theft to posters or other election material”.

She added: “It is regrettable that theft and graffiti to posters of all parties – both of which are matters for the police – seem to be rife during this campaign.

“In some cases the damage to Lib Dem posters has been highly distressing to the households involved, with perpetrators trespassing on to gardens and private property, and using saws and wire cutters to pull down signs.

“We have reported every incident involving Lib Dem posters to the police.”

This includes the discovery of 68 of Lib Dem poster boards found dumped at Bickington on Dartmoor on Tuesday.

Tory candidate Ms Newton said her Conservative supporters, including many elderly people, had been intimidated by the attacks.

But the quote of the day though comes from Camborne and Redruth Tory candidate George Eustice.

“I have had my eyes cut out with a Stanley knife.”

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Leader's debate - a verdict, of sorts

The economy was big stuff, and it was time for the big boys. It turned into Cameron v Brown. Clegg peaked too early in the debates, and he struggles with some of his policies. He could have done with Vince sitting on his shoulder.

It’s the economy stupid. Everyone knows that some nasty cuts are coming after next Thursday. All three leaders were put on the spot. All three said they were going to be “frank” and then danced around specifics. You can’t blame them. There is an election next week.

David Cameron, in need of a strong performance, got off to a confident start and built on it. He probably came out on top. It's not clear he has done enough to seal the deal but he came closer than he has in the last two debates. Brown's attack on inheritance tax was repetitive but hits home.

Gordon Brown, one-time Iron Chancellor, is convinced everyone else is wrong on the economy. He tackled the ‘bigotgate’ episode head-on, saying it was an example of how he doesn’t always get the job of PM right. But, he said, he did know how to run the economy. Tory spin doctors quickly claimed this was the “first joke of the night”.

He slammed the “same old Conservative party of the 1980s and 1990s” – a charge which will sting in the Westcountry.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg again made his plea for politicians to “work together… to be open and straight about how big the black hole is”. Fat chance. This is a fight to the death, a fight in which he was in danger of looking like a spectator.
These debates have been game changers. Not just for the three men at the podiums – and Mr Clegg remains the greatest beneficiary – but for the electorate as a whole.

Of course there is still apathy, trust remains low and anger still fizzes over expenses and immigration.

But after years of politicians complaining that their words are twisted by us nasty hacks, these debates have been a platform for them to set out their stall. The claim that all the parties are the same has subsided. Real differences have emerged over Trident, voting reform and, tonight, the economy.

Go back to your constituencies and prepare for (a) government.

YouGov/Sun: Cameron 41%, Clegg 32%, Brown 25%
ComRes: Cameron 35%, Clegg 33%, Brown 26%
Angus Reid: Cameron 36%, Clegg 31%, Brown 23%

Moment of the Night:
Michael Gove on Sky tells Charlie Whelan he may be out of a job next week and Tories would help him "quickly out of welfare and into work". Brilliant.

Pulling pints with Eric Pickles

Tory activists these days go to a lot of trouble to make their big name visitors feel welcome. T-shirts are pulled on – often bizarrely over long-sleeve shirts and even ties – while placards are waved and cries of "change" ring out.
Yesterday, it seemed they had gone to trouble of immortalising Conservative party chairman Eric Pickles on a pub sign. There was definitely a similarity between the straight-talking Yorkshireman and the bespectacled monk on the board 10 feet overhead.
Read the full piece from today's Western Morning News here

Is this the lamest poster of the election campaign?

It is widely agreed that the best Labour poster since Tony Blair left Number 10 was the Not Flash, Just Gordon billboard which appeared as Brown took over.

In four words it captured Brown’s strengths – solid, dependable, reliable – and the weaknesses of David Cameron – flash Harry, all style, spin and cringe worthy photo opportunities.

By contrast, the Labour party seems to have completely lost their way with their latest effort, above.

(The one saving grace being that presumably this ‘poster’ will not actually appear anywhere other than hacks’ inboxes)

The message is still a strong one, and putting bigotgate to one side, Brown is at his best when he avoids the spin and presentational tricks to just be himself. (Incidentally, this is not the same as the pre-prepared soundbites he keeps wheeling out on the TV debates about being rubbish at TV debates.)

But the new poster is truly rubbish. The choice of photos makes all three leaders look about equal - though not in size, obviously.

Why not use a picture of Brown giving a statesmanlike speech alongside Cameron on his bike and Clegg dunking hobnobs with Vince Cable?

According to the Labour press office: “The poster highlights David Cameron and Nick Clegg's lack of substance on the economy and the risk to the recovery the Conservatives' and Liberal Democrats' policies pose.”

Not sure it does any of that, actually.

Douglas Alexander, Labour's General Election coordinator said: "Tonight's debate will be an opportunity to demonstrate that a Conservative government would cut support from the economy and put the recovery at risk. Only Labour can plan for growth and secure the recovery."

Despite what Team Brown might say, there is a real need to be good at presentation, media management and marketing in 21st century politics, as the Gillian Duffy fiasco showed yesterday.

Frankly, far better for them to just concentrate on the substance of tonight’s economy debate and turn Photoshop off.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Turning up the heat

Watching the 'bigotgate' fiasco being played out on a pub TV screen at lunchtime was agony. The subtitles meant its awfulness was delivered in slow motion.
Labour's hopes of seizing the initiative in the campaign are now doomed. All those people I met on the Marginal Mystery Tour who felt sorry for Brown will, I suspect, be turning their back on him.
Worse than the unnecessary comment about the Labour voter was the attempt to blame anyone else but himself.
Meanwhile, here in Exeter, Ed Balls has made a naked plea to Lib Dem voters to unite with Labour to "stop the Conservatives".
Eric Pickles in Newton Abbot said Mr Brown's comments were the sort of dark thoughts a politician should only "whisper to your teddy bear".
And for reasons known only to staff at my hotel, the heating in my room is on full blast.
I know Exeter is home to the much-maligned Met Office, but surely they can realise it is boiling outside?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

What we have learned at the Exeter climate change hustings

LibDem Graham Oakes is allergic to horses.
Labour's Ben Bradshaw used to have an anti-nuclear car sticker.
Tory Hannah Foster likes waterskiing and flyfishing, though not at the same time.
Green Paula Black only has flour and vegetables to eat in her house.

Oakes & Black can both drive a tractor and milk a cow. Bradshaw and Foster dodged this important issue.

All eyes on the Westcountry this morning

This morning there seems to be a lot of media interest in the politics of the Westcountry.

The Guardian has a piece on Totnes, the seat vacated by Tory veteran Anthony Steen, in which the Conservative candidate GP Sarah Wollaston talks about "low moments" on the campaign trail:
"You wonder why you are giving up the nicest job in the world to do a job where it feels some days that everyone thinks you must be in it for the wrong reasons. I can't tell you the difference between knocking on someone's door as a GP and knocking on someone's door saying you'd like to be their MP. Sometimes you feel a wave of hostility."
The Daily Mail's brilliant Quentin Letts has been out and about in Exeter, with Ben Bradshaw:
"Strolling through Exeter with the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, is rather like going walkabout with the Queen. Passers-by wave. Cars toot. Grannies squeeze him as though testing shop plums."
And the BBC is in St Austell and Newquay all day. On Breakfast this morning, Tory Caroline Righton and Lib Dem Steve Gilbert had a bit of a ding dong on the issue of binge drinking.

Caroline saying she wanted to see more "bobbies on the beat" while appealing for more visitors looking straight down the camera, while Steve demanded she distance herself from comments made last year by a Tory councillor who tried to play down the impact of drunks on the town's reputation.

As the Western Morning News' election coverage says, the Westcountry Counts.

Monday, 26 April 2010

What is it with UKIP and spelling their own constituencies?

Candidates are often caught out by surveys by local papers asking what they know about the constituency they want to represent.
But surely they should be able to spell the name of the seat. Iain Dale had a story last night of Emmett Jenner spelling Chislehurst as Chiselburst on a leaflet.

And in Cornwall a UKIP has been forced to apologise after his official election address spelt the name of his seat wrong.

In a bizarre release, Derek Elliott, UKIP candidate for Camborne and Redruth pinned the blame on a London-based UKIP official for putting a ‘U’ in the spelling of Camborne.

He said: “I cannot apologise enough to the people of Camborne for this ridiculous typing error, which has regrettably distracted attention from UKIP’s winning policies of job creation, opposing mass house building, and uncontrolled immigration.”

UKIP South West regional organiser Steve Crowther also apologised and because he is based in Barnstaple in Devon, felt the need to highlight the fact that he is half Cornish.

“The mistake was actually made by someone in our production team in London”, he said.

Cameron to block Anthony Steen peerage

From today's Western Morning News:
David Cameron has crushed former Tory MP Anthony Steen's prospects of being elevated to the House of Lords if the Conservatives win the election.

The Conservative leader said Mr Steen, who announced he was standing down after a public furore over his expenses, should not "hold his breath" about becoming a peer.
Read the full story here

The leaders send mixed messages - no wonder voters are confused

So, Clegg won't prop up Brown. Brown needs Clegg. Cameron doesn't want to want Clegg, but Ashdown says Clegg can't work with Cameron.
Meanwhile, the Tories spin that they are now focussing on Labour seats in the north which they previously felt were out of reach.
But just when cats across the Westcountry thought it was safe to doze behind the front door, another 500,000 Tory leaflets are being sent to target Lib Dem marginals.
The ongoing excitement of the Lib Dems holding their place in the polls disguises the truly shocking picture for Labour, trailling in third in more polls than not.
Party managers are growing increasingly concerned about Ben Bradshaw's seat in Exeter, where aides admit it is "neck and neck" with Tory Hannah Foster. The Tory love-bombing in Plymouth could also pay dividends in Linda Gilroy's seat.
The Lib Dems hope that Nick Clegg's ongoing popularity on the national stage will save them in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, though activists admit they have not seen a huge surge in support on the doorstep in the last two weeks, in part because the Lib Dems are already well known in the region.
So, Monday morning on the train to Plymouth. While the final result will go down to the wire, this could be the week when the election is won or lost by one of the three main parties.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

At last – those two defections to the Tories

More than a week ago, I sparked a bit of a flurry of interest by posting what I believed to be imminent news that two Lib Dems were jumping ship to the Tories. I can now reveal that the two defectors are long-standing Lib Dems, who had been sitting as Liberals for the last three years, after becoming increasing upset at the party.

Tony and Simon Inch, who currently sit as Liberal Councillors for Bideford South in Torridge District Council, are backing Conservative Geoffrey Cox (right) in his campaign for re-election in Torridge and West Devon.

Tony Inch, a former Mayor of Bideford and respected town and district councillor, said: “Simon and I have always had a good working relationship with Geoffrey.”

“We know how hard he works. He has always been friendly, approachable and supportive. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you have a problem he is your MP and that is all that counts.”

“We are both campaigning for Geoffrey to carry on being our MP. He is a true local constituency MP who works for the whole community first and foremost.”

The brothers left the Liberal Democrats in July 2007 in disgust after it emerged a colleague in the party was running a sex chat-line and advertising stripteases on the Internet.

Last night Mr Cox said: “I am proud to have won the support of Tony and Simon, whom I greatly respect as really good servants of our community. Their support shows that more and more people of traditional Liberal beliefs are increasingly seeing the modern Conservative Party as a congenial home.”

It marks a major move for the Inch brothers, and is a reflection on the way the Tory party is viewed in the Westcountry. I know of other long-standing Lib Dem supporters elsewhere in Devon and Cornwall, who come from the more traditional, Methodist history of the party, who are upset at the way the party has selected candidates and some of its campaigning methods.

However, it is not all one way traffic.Last week it emerged the former chairman of the Redruth Labour party Janet Brook had switched to back Lib-Dem Julia Goldsworthy in Camborne and Redruth. Mrs Brook said the Labour had changed, adding: “The Lib Dems are the only party standing up for ordinary working people”.

This defection clearly did not upset Labour's candidate Jude Robinson, who posted on Twitter:
The Lib Dems getting desperate in #Camborne. A 'switcher' that no-one has heard of and another who was last seen in 2001. #bestyoucando?

Friday, 23 April 2010

My favourite bit of the train ride home

Proof, if it were needed, that the Westcountry in the sunshine is hard to beat.
The stretch of railway past Dawlish just stunning this morning.

One more visit then home

If it's Friday, it must be Ed Miliband in Exeter. The energy secretary today becomes only the fourth Labour cabinet minister to make it to the Westcountry since the campaign began.
Tory and Lib Dem teams report seeing little Labour activity outside Exeter and Plymouth. Certainly the number of roadside signs I've seen this week, from Plymouth to Saltash to Redruth to Truro to St Austell to Newquay to Plymouth, suggests the Labour party is not bothering much in Cornwall.
No doubt they'll be on to me immediately to put me right.
After a busy week, I'm not sure if a huge amount has changed in the campaign. Certainly the Clegg effect nationally is having a more limited impact in the Westcountry, where, for good or bad, people know the Lib Dems and their leader pretty well already.
But Cameron still struggles to cut through here. Deals are far from being sealed, and any gains are likely to be more about local candidates and a strong anti-Brown sentiment.
Anyway, the sun's out. A weekend at home beckons.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A colleague in the office has been doodling

Leaders debate verdict

Brown better. Cameron better. Clegg not as good. So, it was more even-handed than last week.
No longer got the novelty of this debating lark being new.
Sky are now getting live verdicts. D. Miliband says Brown won. L. Fox calls it for Cameron. P. Ashdown thinks Clegg beat the two "old ugly sisters" of politics. Also bravely claimed Clegg was "master of the debate".
If anyone came out of it well, I would nudge it for Cameron. Did much better than last week, arguably back in the race but landed no knock out blow. Clegg was solid, but occasionally too confident, hand in pocket, when he was being attacked. Good summing up statement. The "something is happening" line gets round the argument that he won't be PM.
Brown is staking his claim on being the man who got us in this mess so will get us out of it.
No gamechanger here. Suspect polls will tighten even more.
Cameron 36%
Clegg 32% (down from 51% last week)
Brown 29% (10% up)

Leader's debate #2 - some observations

God, Sky News are milking this. They have got a line-up of three political hacks just talking and talking and talking. Apparently Nick Clegg doesn't like the city because it plays havoc with his throat and David Cameron has been drinking tea.
Meanwhile, a text arrives from a Westminster insider with some tips for the Tory leader:
"Top Tips for Cam... Ditch the tie (I dare you), look at the camera, get angry, take the p*** out of yourself, use the phrase 'thirteen years have been REALLY unlucky for some', talk about '18 years', speak slowly, make a show of using only a small amount of the the given time at least once.
We'll see. Gordon Brown certainly needs to sharpen up. And probably agree with Clegg less.

8.45pm: It all seems to be more exciting outside the debate. Lots of demonstrations.
9pm: Mary, Mary, Mary. Good to see my old college mate Mary Slattery (her parents live up the road from mine) getting stuck in on expenses. No doubt her dad Tim, Lib Dem councillor and former mayor in Taunton, (right) will be pleased with Nick Clegg's answer.
David Cameron branding Clegg's cake tin. Brown reckons MPs shouldn't have second jobs. Should be working full-time on being an MP. Contacting us more. Heaven help us.

9.11pm: Cameron got a good hit on asking Brown to disown himself from some dodgy Labour leaflets on Tories cutting benefits for the elderly. Clegg still performing well. Lots of hands in pockets.
Brown doing better than last week. "David you are a risk to the economy. Nick you are a risk to security with your nuclear policy."
Lots of audience looking bored, though.

Brown: The buck stops here. Bring forces home. Multinational negotiations on nuclear weapons. Economy. "Don't do anything which puts this economic recovery at risk."
"Nick you would leave us weak. David you would leave us isolated."
Cameron: Brown "all sounded desperate" trying to scare people. New leadership. Big differences. "Pull together to build the big society that we need."
Clegg: "Shape the world around us." Run through of all question subjects. "Something really exciting is happening. Beginning to beleive and hpe we can do something difference this time."
At handshake Cameron did the old body language expert trick of touching Clegg and Brown's arms.

Cameron and Clegg head to head in the West

From the moment the Tory leader stepped on to Cornish soil yesterday lunchtime, there was an air of trouble.
“Oi, Cameron, where’s yer bike?” came the first heckle. “On the bus,” he replied quickly, if nonsensically.
Before David Cameron arrived in the library at Cornwall College Saltash, the principal had to remind them of their language. “You can get excited and say things you didn’t mean.”
I don’t think she was referring to the female student who later boasted she wanted to be a Conservative Prime Minister. In fact the questions from the students were incisive and a damn sight more interesting than those from the media haggle and TV tarts hovering at the back.
There were times when Mr Cameron (graying around the neckline) risked sounding patronizing. Telling the (mostly) first time voters to “vote for my team, the blue team" was horribly Playschool, but every party needs the ‘yoof’ vote. Thank goodness he didn’t rap.
Adult education, spending cuts, financial help for students, Afghanistan, Israel… on and on he went. When he got into his stride on regional quangos, one or two of the teenagers tried unsuccessfully to stifle yawns. It was in danger of getting boring.
And then, crack! Eggs! Panic stations. Who saw it, who threw it, who’s got the first pun?
In fact what can quickly be billed as an attack on an elected representative was actually missed by almost every hack, who were too busy kicking their heels and wondering what time the bus left.
The egg-thrower didn’t even have the manners to hang round and give us his full name, address and voting intention.
I am sure it is just a coincidence that the Liberal Democrat tour bus is the colour of a yolk - sunny side up. On the outfield of Redruth Cricket Club, a young girl, no more than eight, bowled Nick Clegg a googly.
“What can you do as Prime Minister that David Cameron and Gordon Brown can’t.”
Surprisingly, Mr Clegg (greying around the temples) was stumped, waffling for two minutes and surmising: “There you go, a rubbish answer.” It was.
Quite what the primary school children thought of it all wasn’t clear. With loudspeakers blaring across the field, the whole thing had an air of a school fete. Without the fun.
But then, as they kept telling us yesterday, these are serious times. At least the sun was out.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Tories winning battle of the hedgerows

The Tories are winning one battle in the Westcountry. The one for the hedgerows.
Driving from Plymouth to Saltash, then on to Redruth before heading back to Truro, Conservative Vote for Change placards were everywhere – in fields, up trees, on roundabouts, derelict buildings. You name it, Lord Ashcraft will pin a poster to it.
The Lib Dems were easily second, though the bright orange diamonds look a bit old-fashioned next to the Tories’ colour-printed photos of their candidates.
In the 80-odd miles I’ve covered today, I have seen just one Labour poster. And a small one at that.
Cornish nationalists Mebyon Kernow managed a good half a dozen.
UKIP had a couple too.
Much excitement with the egg-throwing hoodies in Saltash attacking David Cameron. A fine political tradition, and it was one of the heavies which bore the brunt of the mess.
Nick Clegg’s media circus seems to be growing, though the veterans of the yellow battlebus are wearying of hearing the same anecdotes.
When Clegg was stood silently waiting to speak to Sky News, surrounded by supporters, he enquired: “How long is this going to go on for?”
His battle-hardened press spokesman replied: “Another two weeks.”
I know how she feels. Tomorrow, St Austell then Helston. And I’ve still not had an ice-cream.

Bradshaw: I'd be "very comfortable" working with Lib Dems - it's what voters want

Gordon Brown is in The Independent today talking in code about forming a “progressive alliance” which is taken to mean Labour and the Lib Dems uniting to fight the Tories.
But in an interview in today’s Western Morning News, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has been more explicit.
He said he would be “very comfortable” working with the Liberal Democrats, and even suggested the public should vote to force the two parties into a coalition.
“There is very little you could put between me and many Lib Dems.”
The Culture Secretary’s 8,559 majority in Exeter has been heavily targeted by the Tories, and success in retaining the seat could depend in part on wooing Lib Dem supporters.
He pointed to voting reform, the green agenda, overhauling the House of Lords, Europe and helping those on low incomes as common ground between Labour and the Lib Dems.
In an “unpredictable election”, he said he wanted Labour to win outright, but repeatedly stressed he could “work effectively with Liberal Democrats on those reforming issues”.
Speaking after a day campaigning in the city, Mr Bradshaw said:
“I work very well with local Lib Dems. I share a great deal in common with them.
“I get a lot of positive feedback from Liberal Democrats on the doorstep in Exeter who realise that the only way they will get real political reform and a fairer voting system is either by voting for a Labour government, or Labour working with the Lib Dems. The Conservatives are the no-change party.
“I think it is very exciting. I think we have a unique and historic opportunity in Britain for real change, that I have been arguing and campaigning for years – meaningful change to the electoral system and reform of the House of Lords.”
Recent opinion polls suggested a third of people wanted to see no overall winner.
“It is very interesting that the public would actually welcome a balanced parliament.
The public want change, they don’t want change to the Conservatives and the way they can get change they want is by making Liberal Democrats and Labour work together.”
He insisted Labour was “fighting very hard” and “not taking anything for granted”.
In the Westcountry, Labour’s best hopes of retaining power depend on the Lib Dems holding back the Tory party. In 10 of the dozen seats the Conservative need for a majority, 10 are Lib Dem/Tory battles.

UPDATE: The fightback begins. "Ben Bradshaw is no friend of the Lib Dems in Devon," is how Brian Greenslade, former Lib Dem leader of Devon County Council puts it.
"This is just desparate Labour trying to cosy up to the Lib Dems in the hope of hanging onto office."

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Cable: I’m not agitating for leadership

After his meteoric rise in the polls, Nick Clegg has been hitting the campaign trail on his own.
This led to speculation that the Lib-Dem leader was finally stepping out of the shadow of his treasury guru Vince Cable.
There were even reports Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, aka Mrs Clegg, had been texting friends to grumble that her husband was being upstaged by his senior colleague.
But in an interview with the Western Morning News, Mr Cable denied talk of a rift, even wondering where the “speculation” was coming from.
“I am absolutely delighted he is now getting the recognition that he deserves.
“It is actually a very good relationship. It has been for a long time – good communication, we don’t have any differences. I am not agitating for his job like Brown and Blair.”
He also urged colleagues to keep calm and carry on.
“We are not getting carried away. Our feet are still firmly on the ground, the significant thing is we have got a hearing.”
The Lib-Dems defend 10 seats in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset which feature high on the Tory target list. The region has been targeted with a multi-million pound Conservative advertising campaign, and has been inundated with visits from senior shadow ministers.
But Mr Cable said “that kind of superficial razz-a-matazz doesn’t have much impact” in an area where the Lib-Dems have a track record on which to campaign.

Monday, 19 April 2010

David Davis: I'm happy to serve

David Davis has been campaigning in Devon today. The former shadow home secretary was doing his bit for Torridge and West Devon Conservative Geoffrey Cox, who defends a 2,732 majority over the Lib-Dems.
Mr Cox should have been a shoe-in, until Nick Clegg-mania gripped the nation.
I spoke to Davis briefly this afternoon, and he was withering about Lib-Dem policies, including the "daft" regional immigration plan ("iron curtains across Devon and Cornwall?") and suggested that in the event of a Lib-Lab coalition, Clegg and co would be impotent in reversing Brown's ID cards and "authoritarian databases".
But would Davis consider a return to the Tory front bench, after his sojourn to campaign on civil liberties?
“I have always said ‘I’m easy’.
“I enjoy being a backbencher. I am perfectly happy to serve if I am needed.”
He stressed the decision was not his.
But with the polls as they are, it could be all hands on deck.

What happened to those defections to the Tories?

A few people have asked me, both in comment threads and elsewhere, what has happened to the announcement on two Lib-Dem councillors defecting to the Tories, which I caught wind of on Friday.
An announcement was expected today, but I now understand it will be tomorrow at the earliest.
And from what I have been told by the Tory orchestrating the whole thing, the surprise element may not be all it was cracked up to be. It’s more complicated than first thought.
Will update when I know, but not sure it’s a gamechanger, as they say.

Labour talk about Tory win

We were summoned to the super-futuristic, super-trendy surroundings of Bloomberg in the City, to hear about Labour plans for the economy.
Instead, all we got was Labour talking about the Tory plans for the economy, and surprise, surprise, how Labour don’t agree with them.
We even had to endure a fake radio report, which they obviously had a lot of fun with in the Labour press office.
The premise was it is the morning of June 25, George Osborne has just delivered his emergency budget, widespread horror from just about everyone.
Even Alistair Campbell got a look in, posing as a sports reporter who managed to get political, talking about an Anglo-German row at the World Cup. All very amusing/cringe-worthy* (delete as appropriate).
It seems a major gamble for Labour to keep on talking as if the Tories are going to win.
And the idea that it will be all sunshine and happy days if Labour win, without any job losses in the public sector after the election, is just as fanciful as the radio broadcast and this website (above) which they have also launched.
On an unconnected note, Gordon Brown repeatedly referred to “mainstream public services”.
It sounds like the sort of wooly phrase which joins the long list of “hard-working” families and people on “middle” incomes.
But could it be paving the way for cuts in the “non-mainstream” public services.
An where will they be?

Vote Clegg get: Cameron... or Brown, depends who you ask

Sun/YouGov poll:
Liberal Democrat 33
Conservative 32
Labour 26

The latest YouGov poll provides fascinating reading, and gives both sides need for ammunition against the Liberal Democrats.
The Tories, who need to swipe 10 Lib-Dem seats in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, are playing up the idea that a vote for the Lib-Dems would deprive them of an overall majority, giving us five more years of Brown. Vote yellow, get red, is the message.
Lib-Dem enthusiasm for Europe has also often been played down in the Westcountry, where UKIP traditionally do well. The Tories will be highlighting it more, along with Lib-Dem policies on an asylum seeker amnesty and scrapping tuition fees.
The Sun/YouGov poll puts the Lib-Dems in first place, for the first time since records began (an odd phrase, better suited to snow in August or donkeys winning the Grand National).
But the electoral maths means this Lib-Dem lead would actually make the Tories the biggest party, with 245 sears, Labour on 242 and Lib-Dem on 134.
As some in the Labour party are already saying, "vote yellow, get blue".
And the Lib-Dem party in Exeter said last night: "We hope Ben Bradshaw will agree that best thing for Exeter voters to do is vote Lib-Dem to stop a Conservative government."
Confused? You're not alone. Thousands, maybe millions of people - normal people, not political anoraks - who are justing starting to take an interest in this election, impressed with Clegg's debate performance, will have thought a vote for the Lib-Dems was just that, and no more.
Both Labour and Tories will want to muddy this, claiming the Lib-Dems are secretly in cahoots with the other side.
The dual temptations to demonise and lovebomb the third party will be strong. Both could actually help the Lib-Dems.
Labour launch their South West manifesto in Exeter today, knowing their best hope of winning the election is the Lib-Dems performing strongly in the region.
But there are two and a half weeks of campaigning left to go - the last fornight has proven anything could yet happen.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Now Harman cosies up to the Lib-Dems

Alan Johnson is at it in The Times. Gordon Brown has tried it. The Tories want to play it up, thinking it will affect their support.
Now Harriet Harman in today's Western Morning News tries to cosy up to the Lib-Dems. She urges
Westcountry voters to basically do whatever they can to keep David Cameron out of Number 10, which in most of the region's seats means voting Lib-Dem.
The key quotes:
"It will be either David Cameron or Gordon Brown in Number 10 after the election.
"People have seen Gordon Brown and they know what he is doing on the economy and his concern about unemployment and jobs."
Ms Harman said there are "a lot of areas of agreement" between the two parties, including calls for reform of the voting system and the House of Lords.
"The Lib-Dems have supported a number of quite important steps Gordon Brown has taken to blunt the impact of the global recession."
Although space meant it didn't make the cut in the paper, she added that voters "will be thinking 'is my vote going to mean David Cameron might end up in Number 10'?".
So don't vote for Labour but just stop Cameron.
She said Cameron was "supposed to be the one to watch" in the TV debates, but "didn't win it".
Interestingly, she refused several opportunities to say Gordon Brown did win the debate - and did not mention Nick Clegg by name at all.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Lib-Dem defection latest

It seems I am a little ahead of the game.
An official announcement on the two Westcountry Lib-Den councillors defecting to the Tories is not now expected until Monday.
A joint statement will be prepared over the weekend, going into some detail about the attraction of David Cameron's Liberal Conservative pitch.
It will prove a boost for Tory high command ahead of high profile visits by both parties leaders expected to the region next week.

After Clegg's victory, two Lib-Dems defect

Oh dear. Leader comes out on top in TV debate. Polls swing in your favour. Things are on the up for the Lib-Dems.
Er, so not a good day for two Westcountry Lib-Dem councillors to defect to the Tories.
I understand an announcement will be made in the next few hours.
4.45pm UPDATE: Tory HQ seem understandably excited about this, but am still awaiting confirmation of names. Will post when I have them.

Calm down Lib-Dem dears

Put away the tapemeasures, Lib-Dems. No need to size up the curtains just yet.
Before Taunton's Jeremy Browne turns up at the Treasury with his pocket calculator or SE Cornwall PPC Karen Gillard ponders what to do at the Home Office, the Lib-Dems - particularly the uber-excitable ones on Twitter and the blogs - need to chill out.
Nick Clegg is not - NOT - going to be Prime Minister. If the Tories have a mountain to climb to return to power, the Lib-Dems are stood at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, wondering where Everest even is.
Putting in a good turn on the telly is a vital - but single - skill for a wannabe PM.
But winning a juggling contest just makes you a good juggler, not somone able to run the whole circus.
In the Westcountry, a strong Lib-Dem showing could cost the Tories a majority, plunging us into hung parliament territory: which remains the Lib-Dems' best hope.
On a separate note, all the hype over Clegg's strong performance and Cameron's faltering outing, overlooks the fact that Brown was as uninspiring and wooden as everyone expected, which is why no-one is bothering to comment on it today.

Harriet Harman refuses to say Brown won

Just had a quick chat with Harriet Harman about last night's debate.
Despite repeated attempts, she refused to say that Gordon Brown won.
The odd exchange was typified by my first question
MC: I think I know what your answer is going to be, but who do you think won last night?
HH: I am going to answer a different question: Who lost. I think it was David Cameron’s to lose and he lost it.
Hmm. Lots of wooing of Lib-Dems as well. This appears to be the strategy in the Westcountry. Labour know they can't make gains down here, and need Nick Clegg to help hold back a rising Tory tide in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

On the campaign trail with William Hague

Marching down Babbacombe’s main shopping street, the entourage demanded “turn to the right”.
Under William Hague’s ill-fated leadership this would have been interpreted as a demand for a harder line on immigration or Europe. In fact, they wanted him to visit a clock shop.
“This is obviously the place to buy a clock,” he told the owners. He didn’t get where he is today without that eye for detail.
A local newspaper billboard highlighted the case of a TV comic caught speeding. Who was it? Jim Davidson, I told him.
“Oh… I know him,” Mr Hague admitted, uneasily. Mr Davidson was once considered a celebrity Tory, though less so these days.
In fact, Mr Hague is something of a celebrity himself. Certainly one of the best known Tories, he retains the image of someone to share a pint with while morphing into an elder statesman figure. “Younger elder statesman, please.”
One woman was so distracted by the melee she was nearly knocked down by a mobility scooter. Ruth Martin from Torquay had trouble taking a picture on her mobile phone – a bright green, floral handset dubbed a “bobby dazzler” by the visiting Yorkshireman.
“It’s made my day that has,” Mrs Martin said. “The sooner the Tories get back in the better.” This was a recurring theme.
A flying visit was made to the Conservative club, with local candidate Marcus Wood leading the charge. The regulars were a straight-talking bunch. One woman, tucking into lunch, told Mr Hague: “We have got to get rid of that idiot in Number 10.”
Maybe it could be another billboard slogan. “Seeing Gordon Brown’s face does tend to frighten people,” Mr Hague said, passing another Conservative attack billboard. Tory HQ is pouring money into Torbay, hoping to reverse Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders’ 2,727 majority. Like all senior Conservatives to visit the Westcountry in the last week, he insists the region is “very important”.
While those who approached Mr Hague were enthusiastic Tories, others suddenly cornered by blue rosettes were less sure. One woman coming out of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary shop told him: “We are shopping in a charity shop. I don’t really think it’s something Conservatives do.” She was quickly won over by his easy charm.
All this handshaking, posing for pictures and inane conversation must be one of the most mind-numbing aspects of being a politician during an election campaign.
But Mr Hague is considered political box office, and yesterday packed in five constituencies. It is not clear who is winning the war, but the Tories have got the most generals on the ground.

Ash means Darling misses debate

Alistair Darling has been in Plymouth this morning, the first Labour minister to show their face in the Westcountry since the election was called.
I’m told he caught the last flight out of City Airport this morning, before all other planes were grounded. He now faces a 10-hour train ride back to Edinburgh, meaning he will not be home until long after tonight’s leader’s debates have finished.
He was asked what the impact of this shutdown would be on the economy:
“What matters more than anything else is safety and the decision has been taken simply because it is not safe to let aircraft fly in these conditions.
“I don’t think it will have any material effect on the economy because I don’t think the signs are it is going to go on for too long.
“Any disruption is damaging but what you have to look at in terms of our longer term development is there are more fundamental questions. This is very irritating for travellers. I think most people given the choice would say safety trumps everything else.”
I also pointed out to him that while Labour ministers have not shown their face down in these parts, there are plenty of giant posters featuring a grinning Gordon Brown. Tory posters.
Is the PM an electoral asset for Labour?
“What happened to David Cameron’s promise to end Punch and Judy politics?”
Answering a question with a different question. May of that what you will.

The power of the online petition?

There has been a lot of talk this week about people power, and how groups can rally to a cause, often using the web.

So I was impressed to see the level of support this round robin emails received, when it arrived in my inbox moments ago.

From: ********]
Sent: 14 April 2010 10:13
To: - Western Morning News

As a rule, I don't pass along these "add your name" lists that appear in emails,
BUT this one is important.
It has been circulating for months and has been sent to over 20 million people.
We don't want to lose any names on the list so just hit forward and send it on.
Please keep it going!
To show your support for Gordon Brown please go to the end of the list and add your name.

1. Mrs Gordon Brown.


Monday, 12 April 2010

George Osborne wants respect not popularity

I have interviewed George Osborne today for the new look WMN.

He was forthright about Labour’s record in the Westcountry, don’t understand rural areas, “malicious” cider tax – as you would expect.
But I also asked him why voters don’t warm to him. Here is an extract:
He is the brains of the Conservative campaign.
Credited with seeing off Gordon Brown’s snap election in 2007, the shadow chancellor is the chief strategist who has put the Tories back, if not yet on top, closer than any before him for a generation.
And yet. And yet. There is still something about him, or so people said time and again on the WMN’s Marginal Mystery Tour. Voters struggle to warm to George Osborne. After a moment of awkwardness on raising the issue, he tackles it head on.
“The job of the shadow chancellor, and indeed the job of the chancellor, is not just to court popularity,” he said.
“It is doing what you think is the right thing for the country economically. Sometimes that means being prepared to say things that aren’t necessarily very popular.”
Last autumn he delivered a brutal message about the coming “age of austerity”. Many have asked if he is ready to become the most unpopular man in the country, wielding the axe and potentially raising taxes.
“To be absolutely honest, I don’t think of it like that. People know the country faces a lot of economic problems and some tough decisions have to be taken.
“In the end, respect from the public comes from doing what is the right thing in the long-term and that is what I have always got my eye set on.”
The debt problem “overshadows everything” and “the longer we leave it, the bigger the risk that interest rates are going to go up, taxes will spiral up and the recovery will be killed stone dead.”
He offers an early glimpse of Tory strategy if they do win on May 6; blame Labour.
“People understand the Conservative party did not create these economic problems, Gordon Brown did.”
He was also pretty strong in his attack on the Lib-Dems:
He claims the Westcountry has been “very ill-served” by the Lib-Dems who “abandoned them” on these key issues.
Across the Westcountry, nine Lib-Dem seats are on the Tory list of targets for an overall majority. Mr Osborne has them all in his sights.
“In this election we are either going to have David Cameron as Prime Minister of Gordon as Prime Minister.
“And if you vote for the local Liberal Democrat candidate, even if you think they are doing a reasonable job locally, you are helping Gordon Brown to stay in office.”
In previous elections, when the outcome was more predictable, some constituencies “thought they could sit it out and vote for who was a local candidate they liked most”. This led to a rise in Lib-Dem support, which the Tories must reverse if they are to win outright.
The full interview is only in today’s Western Morning News.

Tory cider poster gets icy reception

The Conservatives have done much in recent weeks to woo the Westcountry. Visits, billboards, promises, warm words, motherhood and apple pie.
Or more accurately, apple drinks. The Tories have made much of their commitment to reverse Labour’s 10 per cent plus inflation duty hike on cider.

In my interview with Goerge Osborne today, he tells me the move was “malicious” and “fundamentally dishonest” because “under the cover of pretending to be dealing with alcohol abuse and binge drinking - which is a serious problem – Alistair Darling introduced a general tax on the cider that very responsible drinkers have a pint of in the pub”.

Last week David Cameron also told me he wanted to target high-strength lagers and cider but specifically excluded Scrumpy and “mainstream ciders that people drink in pubs”.

“We were just going after the white lightening and that stuff that people buy from convenience stores to get off their heads.”

Most people, not least when the Wurzels were rallying to cause, thought all this was meant coming out in favour of “proper” cider. The cloudy stuff, made in barrels.

It was proof, we were told, of how the Tories understand the Westcountry more than Labour.

Which begs the question, why have the Conservatives produced a poster today of Gordon Brown holding up a pint of bright orange cider – WITH ICE!

No self-respecting Westcountry lad (I count myself among them) would ever drink cider with ice. On the night of the budget when the hike was announced, I went to the press bar for a glass of the stuff and told the bar staff to kindly remove the ice cubes from the thirst-quenching tipple.

Someone who was really on the side of the scrumpy drinker wouldn’t put ice in his drink.

The Tories have some explaining to do.