Friday, 30 April 2010

End of the Week Feeling

After a solid day's work yesterday, in which I spent three hours reading in the library in the morning before editing and printing off my essays in the afternoon, today has reverted back to type. I've been sat in my room watching the snooker online whilst listening to 6music's election special, with not a journal article in sight. If there's a finer British institution- for time wasting- than the BBC, I'm yet to discover it.

The aforementioned BBC had its shot at the Prime Minister's Debate yesterday, pitting Brown, Cameron and Clegg against each other down in Birmingham. I watched it at Andy Brown's house where he supplied myself, Digg and Richard with a splendid feast of Indian food that rather overshadowed the proceedings taking place inside his tellybox. As with the other two debates my attention was held for the first half hour or so, in which, contrary to almost everyone else, we all felt that Brown asserted himself fairly well. Yet as the debate wore on it became indistinguishable from the previous two- it was too long, the same topics were waded through again and all three (that includes you Nick Clegg) engaged in cheap political point scoring. Whilst the debates have added a certain amount of glitz and glamour to our, at times, turgid system I can't really see many floating voters having had their mind made up over the course of the last three Thursdays. I know the X-factor/beauty pageant comparisons are clich├ęd but they're a pretty accurate reflection of what's taken place.

I'm off to Lancaster tomorrow for Roses. Should be good fun as long as the weather holds, and hopefully York will be able to overturn the deficit they face at the moment, and crush the Red Rose for the fourth year in a row. Obviously it means that I won't be getting much/any revision done this weekend. However, by the start of next week it'll be all engines go revision and election wise. Meanwhile, feel free to check out this enjoyable blog by the Green candidate standing against my uncle in Carlisle. For a Green, he's actually quite pleasant about the Conservative campaign, saving his more scathing thoughts for the local Labour party.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Brown Factor

The digital (error) election; Your mic's still on Gordon; A sad spectacle; The guillotine moved into position

I was going to post something today about the internet effect on this election. However, Gordon Brown's gone and called some old lady in Rochdale 'bigoted', providing the first real gaffe of this campaign and further alienating himself from much of the electorate. So instead of any real analysis of the impact- or rather lack of impact- of online fundraising, the blogosphere and twitter I'll offer my thesis in a short paragraph before moving on to the calamity that is Labour, and Gordon Brown's, campaign.

I missed the first few days of the current election period whilst still on a family holiday in Cyprus so it wasn't until watching a muted Sky News in the departures lounge at Paphos airport, that I came across any real coverage of the campaign. The news being covered was Labour's dismissal of Stuart MacLennan, candidate for the Moray constituency, for some rather crude and expletive postings on his Twitter account. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the past two days have seen both Conservative and Labour suspend candidates for similar activities. Tory candidate Phillip Lardner was found to hold some rather outdated and intolerant views on homosexuality, openly expressed on his website, whilst Labour candidate John Cowan, in my home constituency of South-East Cambridgeshire*, fell foul of lewd comments he had made on internet forums. Whilst talk of stories from the blogosphere coming to dominate the news cycles, and Twitter being used as an effective mass campaigning tool have failed to materialise, the internet has still had an impact on the campaign. It's effect has been to add an extra layer of scrutiny upon those running for office, be it through their website, their Twitter or even forums completely unrelated to politics. What has become clear is that candidates enter the 'New Media' fray at their peril.

While the self-styled commentators of the internet have sat forlorn at their keyboards, failing to make the impact they had hoped, it is that age-old medium of TV that is defining this election. This is most obvious in the introduction of the TV debates that have taken place, adding a Presidential gloss to our electoral system. But what could prove to be more important in terms of the Labour vote, is this 28 seconds worth of footage of Gordon Brown speeding away from a meeting with ordinary voters- or 'plebs' as I'm sure he'd call them- in Rochdale. Whether the lady Brown's 'bigot' comment referred to is a jaundiced, old xenophobe is neither here nor there. What matters is the public's perception of Brown. This could well be the moment that he scuppers the Labour ship once and for all.

Labour's slip to third in the polls came largely as a result of the Liberal Democrat's unexpected surge in support after the ITV debate. However, the foundations for such a decline were set by entering the election with Brown still as leader. That he is resented on the right is little surprise- all Labour leaders are- but Brown's corrosive influence has been to alienate those remaining voters in the centre, who were part of the wave New Labour rode to power in 1997, and stuck with the party throughout the whole Blair era, Iraq and all. Through the Brown years there has been an exodus, creating the strong possibility that Labour will come third in the popular vote on May 6th.

Policy wise, confronting his biggest challenge, the financial crisis, Brown responded with what was close to a textbook response. Yet it is an inescapable fact that his cosying up to the City whilst Chancellor, allowing London to become the 'Guantanamo Bay' of the financial world (in that traders could get away with practises forbidden anywhere else), leaves some responsibility for the scale of the collapse at his feet. His profligacy in Number 11 also lies behind the size of deficit Britain now faces. His tenure as Prime Minister has been very much determined by errors he made before even taking the post.

At crucial moments Brown has appeared indecisive, from the election-that-never-was in the Autumn of 2007, to the expense scandal of last year. Within Downing Street he surrounded himself with a cabal that old Richard M. Nixon would have been proud off, a choice that blew up in his face with the McBride affair last Easter. And then there are the incessant media gaffes. Most of these have been innocent acts of incompetence (such as attending a summit of world leaders looking like this, or leading Al Gore into a cupboard at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit), but today's was the first to show his temperamental nature that has been much speculated upon. People who, till now, sympathised with him as a luckless man, struggling to deal with the constant press harassment that a modern day politician must endure, will find this error harder to forgive.

Should we reach a hung parliament, Labour might just hold on to power in a Lib-Lab coalition, though a potential dealbreaker in such a case may be the removal of Brown. It could be that it is Nick Clegg, rather than anyone from within Brown's own party, who finally stands on the fingers that have been clinging to the cliffs edge for so long. Should the Liberal Democrat's turn the other cheek to Labour's pleas or the Conservatives win an overall majority then Labour will have no choice but to jettison Brown and look to rebuild under a new leader. Though they currently stand just five points behind the Conservatives there remains a chance that the Labour vote could completely collapse, with those who sympathise with Labour beliefs but resent the current party, staying at home. If that's the case, then allowing Gordon Brown to remain at the head of the party for so long could have far-reaching consequences for the future of the Labour Party.

* Cowan's suspension so close to the election means that Labour can not now stand a candidate in the constituency. This means that the Lib Dem candidate, Johnathan Chatfield, who also contested the seat in 2005, could now mount a serious challenge on Jim Paice, MP for the area since 1987. The notional majority is 8,000, but there are now 10,000 or so Labour votes to be scrapped over. Though I'm voting here in York, it means my friends back home now have a vote worth a lot more... Should be interesting.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Post-Debate Musings

It's Saturday afternoon, two days after the Sky Leaders Debate, and I'm at home, listening to The Clash and keeping a keen eye on the relegation battle unfolding in the final days games in the Blue Square Premier. For my team, Histon, to get sucked into the fold they would have to lose to Barrow, with Eastbourne and Gateshead winning and Forest Green getting something from their game against already relegated Grays Athletic. It's unlikely, but after going through three chairman, two managers and enough players to make up an American Football team this season, I'm prepared for anything. Twenty minutes in and we're drawing, with only Gateshead winning, so for now things are looking good.

Anyway, to the matter at hand; that is my thoughts on Thursday's debate and the surrounding goings-on in this intriguing election race. Thursday morning's papers saw the country's right-wing machinery in full force as the nation's front pages peppered Nick Clegg with unsubstantiated accusations, ranging from dodgy financial transactions to Nazi sympathising. The Tory strategy since Clegg's stratospheric rise over the last week has been for the party to gently scrutinise Lib Dem policy, whilst their tentacles in the media and the blogosphere attempt to strangle the leader's burgeoning reputation as a candidate for change. Thursday's attempts, timed to put Clegg off his game before the evening's debate, appear to have failed as he brushed off the Mail's preposterous claim, joking he'd gone 'from Churchill to Nazi in a week', and later published his allegedly shady bank statements, dismissing The Telegraph's completely overblown attempt at 'scrutiny'.

Football update. It's nearly half-time in the BlueSquare matches and Histon are winning 1-0. Gateshead are still winning with Eastbourne and Forest Green still at 0-0 against Oxford and Grays respectively. As long as things stay the same, the mighty Histon will be remaining in the highest tier of non-league football for another year.

Despite a day of media pressure, Clegg came out on Thursday evening and performed well in the debate, in what was a case of trying to consolidate the past week's gains. Cameron and Brown struggled to make any of their attacks stick and he was again quick to dispel allegations of wrongdoing when Adam Boulton had the temerity to raise the issue of that day's media barrage. It is somewhat of a coup for the Liberal Democrats that polling after the debate put Clegg as joint winner, along with David Cameron, as Mr Murdoch failed to engineer the result he wished. There wasn't any brazen bias apparent on Thursday, but immigration, an issue that came up the week before, and on which Cameron scores high approval amongst voters, was raised again. Electoral reform, an issue supported by Labour, the Lib Dems and the majority of the population, was circled round but never directly addressed, whilst foreign aid, on which Labour have an admirable record, was completely bypassed. Then again, as I'm sure any Conservative would argue, last week's slight Tory bias will surely be readdressed by the pinko-loving, socialist breeding ground, that is the BBC.

Can you smell sarcasm. Or perhaps it's trepidation. Barrow have just equalised meaning a couple of inconvenient goals in Eastbourne and at Grays could stick Histon in real trouble. Scratch that. Barrow now lead. Histon are still, staying up, but only just. Trepidation is giving way to full on panic, so I'll make this last bit brief.

Gordon Brown has been said to have performed better this week but I have to say, I didn't really see it. Perhaps it's because he was pretty shoddy in the first twenty minutes or so and after that my attention rather waned. I feel that an hour and a half is too long, and rather than having the first half themed and the second half open for general questions they should be restricted just to a single theme. I am yet to see a question in the general sections at the end that couldn't be incorporated under either domestic affairs, foreign affairs or the economy. Simple proposal: why not have three, one-hour long debates under those three headings. After the first two debates this year is it's not been what's been said in the debates that has made the headlines but rather the public's response to the debates as a whole. Whilst they've definitely added some spice to this campaign, there's some tweaking to be done for next time.

Update: Forest Green ended up losing meaning they are relegated along with Ebbsfleet and Grays. A 92nd minute own goal salvaged a 2-2 draw for Histon meaning that whatever else happened they would stay up. I'm suitably chuffed right now.


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Cleggmania

Rumblings and stumblings in September; The tipping point; One man's progressive is another man's ...; Going forward

One Monday, back in September, I was at home reading our family's paper of choice, The Times. Inside it Nick Clegg had a guest column, scheduled to coincide with the start of the Liberal Democrat Autumn conference and the publication of a pamphlet, by Clegg, titled The Liberal Moment. In it, the leader of the third party argued for a change, writing:

'in the same way that Labour eclipsed a tired Liberal Party almost a century ago, the Liberal Democrats now offer a new rallying point for a resurgent progressive movement in Britain, replacing Labour as the dominant force of progressive politics' (The Times, Sept 17, 2009)

Despite this optimism the conference turned out to be rather rough. Clegg had to defend his coarse proclamation that 'savage cuts' were needed to tackle the deficit and then risked a backlash from the Lib Dem's strong student base when the possibility of scrapping the flagship policy to abolish tuition fees was floated. Even Vince Cable, so popular amongst party activists, was criticised for a lack of consultation before announcing his well-intentioned, yet sketchy, plans for a mansion tax. Despite the bruising, at the end of the week Clegg, undeterred, declared he wanted the top job, he wanted to be Prime Minister. The media reacted in predictably skeptical fashion. After all, it was like watching a 10-year old boy with little coordination, struggle to kick a ball round a field before turning to tell you he's going to play for England when he's older.

Now, with less than three weeks to go to the general election, Clegg's ambitious statement seems less like a ten year old's fanciful dream and more like Bobby Zamora's hopes of going to the World Cup. It's unlikely that Clegg will become PM as it is that the Fulham striker will be off to South Africa, but both look a lot more plausible than they did back in September. Whilst Zamora's goals have cut down European giants Juventus and quarter-final opponents Wolfsburg, Clegg has been cutting into the poll leads of the traditional heavyweights of British politics. And it all started with last week's much-hyped debate.

Clegg didn't do anything special in the debate. He spoke directly to both the audience in the room and at home whilst trying to paint the Lib Dems as, not only the party to succeed Labour as the leading progressive force in this country, but also, as opposed to the Conservatives, the leading force for change. All four polls conducted immediately after the debate finished deemed this a winning strategy, creating a media frenzy that rumbled through Friday and Saturday before erupting on Sunday. First off The Mail on Sunday produced a poll placing the Lib Dems top for the first time in over a century before the usually astute Sunday Times declared the new kid on the block nearly as popular as some guy called Churchill. Cleggmania was here.

It certainly shook the opposition leaders into action as the surge of the party in yellow placed target seats around the country in danger. Brown and Cameron came to a rare moment of agreement that scrutiny must be upped on Liberal Democrat policy while Cameron made a last-minute change to Monday's party political broadcast, replacing an attack on New Labour's time in office with a vacuous, presidential style advert for himself. As Cameron seeks to keep his hopes of an overall majority alive, Brown has started making overtures to the Liberal Democrats leader, seeing a Lib-Lab coalition as a way of returning him to 10 Downing Street. Clegg is yet to bite, dismissing Brown today as a 'desperate politician'. This has led to the mooting in some corners of a coalition in which the removal of the hapless Scot is the dealbreaker, paving the way to PM for one of the many waiting in line for Brown's departure. Whilst more appetising than half a decade of Cameron and chums, five more years with New Labour at the helm of British politics hardly enlivens the taste buds. But, were a coalition to be formed, it must be asked to what extent would the Liberals lead Britain towards a more progressive future?

Cleggmania is a bubble that has been inflated by all sections of the media over the past week, yet to say that it represents 'a new rallying point for a resurgent progressive movement in Britain' is a far cry from the truth. The Liberal Democrats are looking to pursue the ruthless cuts advocated by both other parties whilst policies such as the abolition of tuition fees and the raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000, though more progressive than the Tories and Labour, will predominantly benefit the middle class. The lack of discourse on Afghanistan makes it easy to forget the country is at war, yet when it is mentioned Clegg sings very much from the same hymn sheet as Brown and Cameron. A pledge for a phased withdrawal would not only be the sensible and popular choice but also likely bring the backing of a major national newspaper in The Independent. The choice of Liberal Democrat slogan for this General Election says a lot about the lack of diversity amongst the three main parties. 'Change that works for you/Building a fairer Britain' acts simply as a compound of the Tories 'Vote for Change' and Labour's 'A future fair for all'.

The Lib Dems will get my vote on May 6th. Not because of the last week but because, out of the dearth of left-wing candidates running in York Outer, they lie closest to my beliefs. Nationally, Brown and Cameron have two weeks and two debates to stick a pin in the Clegg Bubble that has expanded beyond all expectations since last Thursday. Expect too see a sustained attack from both sides on the issue of Trident in the foreign affairs debate tomorrow and a continued level of scrutiny right through to election day. Whilst the last week's hysteria has gone somewhat overboard, I hope they don't succeed. With a hung parliament we can perhaps see some form of progressive politics restored in Britain, but I hold no delusions as to the extent we are likely to get.




Sunday, 18 April 2010

The media, the leaders and personality

Letdown of a debate; Channel 4 does personality politics; Politician version 2.0

I finished my last post on Thursday afternoon expressing my excitement about the first televised leaders debate that was to take place that evening. My enthusiasm even led me to get the time wrong, arriving at Andy Brown's to watch this historic moment an hour early. My over-punctuality, however, turned out for the better as the three episodes of Fonejacker we fitted in whilst Corrie laid down the teatime gauntlet for Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg, proved exponentially more entertaining than the tedium that was the main event. And I'm not even a fan of Fonejacker.

The first issue was immigration, a topic on which each leader sought to appease the supposed xenophobe in all of us with a truly nauseating, tougher-than-thou approach. Internet hero Joel Weiner's question on our 'education' system was given short shrift and all three offered similar responses on the issue of crime. Indeed, agreement was the broad theme of the evening with only some petty bickering on the economy between Brown and Cameron, and the Liberal Democrat's pledge to scrap the renewal of Trident demarcating any differences between the three. What the debate went to show was that what clear water there is between the three main parties is but small, shallow puddles on an island of crackdowns on immigration, slashed public spending and policy justification by anecdote.

Nick Clegg has been roundly acclaimed as the winner- a result that has caused somewhat of a media storm around the Lib Dems- yet this is more due to the fact that much of the public were previously unaccustomed with him. With the leaders failing to lock horns on policy, judgements have been made based on performance. Clegg has been acclaimed for his ability to talk straight down the camera to the viewer at home, like an X-factor contestant pleading for the nation to keep them in the competition. Cameron came across as confident and the fact his biggest gaffe is considered to be his story of the black man he met who supposedly joined the Navy aged 10, rather than his categorising China as a potential nuclear threat to a peaceful world, shows how style and delivery are coming under more scrutiny than substance. The hapless Gordon Brown continued to place his sporadic, strained smiles at inopportune moments, such as when being criticised by the others, and remains derided by many corners, not as a political lightweight, but simply as socially-inept.

And here lies the problem. As I sat down for some dinner before heading to the pub on Friday night I was watching Channel 4 news. Halfway through, Jon Snow finished the proper news and handed over to Krishnan Guru-Murthy to present a 'policy free' examination of the three candidates called Britain's Next Boss. The show consisted of three experts- James 'Dragon's Den' Khan, Ruby 'not funny' Wax, and a man, who looked like the kind of guy to be selling you stolen watches in an East End pub, but was in fact referred to as a business psychologist- watching selected clips of Brown, Cameron and Clegg on the campaign trail and then commenting on their team-work/decision making/ genuineness. Here's Gordon Brown with some cabinet members- does this show he's a good team-player? Here's Nick Clegg turning one way out of a room but then going the other- does this show he's indecisive? Here's David Cameron pretending to be mates with some factory workers- does this show he's not genuine? It was an example of the complete dominance of personality and style over policy in modern politics.

This is part of the reason why Gordon Brown is so detrimental to the Labour party at the moment, to the point that he barely figures on most candidates literature. No doubt many people have reservations about the way Labour, under Blair and Brown, have presided over the country, but a lot of people simply see the latter as socially awkward and find it difficult to relate to him. What they want is the socially confident (thanks to a public school and Oxbridge education), forty-something male, with attractive wife and kids in tow. Think Cameron, think Clegg, think David or Ed Miliband. Whilst for a lot of people the UK's political landscape is a dull, monotonous scenery, we risk moving towards a state where the people who inhabit it reflect this, as over-coached, PR savvy, clones. The media persona's of Clegg and Cameron are virtually indistinguishable. Get used to it because there's more of the same coming.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Prepare for people power?

Essays and the Agricultural adjustment act; A power station that generates no power; The elusive Mr Osborne; Let the debates begin

The last few days have been spent getting slowly back into work/essay mode. I would say I'm easing myself back in, upping the hours each day like a jogger slowly upping the mileage in preparation for a marathon. However, it's been more like a jogger who gets to the end of his road and decides he can't be bothered so turns around and walks back to his house. Word counts are the issue at the moment with the essay I've pretty much done a couple of hundred words short and the one I'm working on at the moment shaping up to fall similarly wanting. I blame my laconic style on the useless History A-level exams where you had an hour to write one essay showing how knowledgeable you were. This involved being concise and getting straight to the point to the extent that adjectives and conjunctions came at a premium and was more a test of how many facts you could jam in to two scribbled sides of A4 than a gauge of aptitude in the study of history. For an example of its success I can tell you that one of the bills in FDR's first new deal resulted in the slaughter of 6 million pigs. What I couldn't tell you is what act it was, when it was enacted or whether this great loss of swine life had any effect on America's economic recovery (for those who are interested it was the agricultural adjustment act, enacted in 1933, and I'm still none the wiser on its impact).
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The last few days have seen all the main parties launching their manifestos as well as some not so main parties- my favourite proposal from the lesser parties is Ukip's plan to fund the Met Office depending on the accuracy of its predictions. The launch greeted with the most fanfare was the Conservative's on Tuesday, unveiled in the rather bemusing surroundings of the long-defunct Battersea power station. John Prescott, never one to miss the opportunity for a bit of Tory bashing, saw similarities between the two tweeting 'impressive from the outside but hollow and empty within'. Turns out the manifesto wasn't empty. No, it was all about people power and was filled with all kinds of invitations to set up schools, elect police chiefs and sack MP's. The PR wizards had come up with the High School Musical inspired slogan 'we're all in this together' and David Cameron even had the temerity to quote JFK's old 'ask not what your country can do for you' line. Whilst the presentation may have lacked imagination, the manifesto did finally provide some clue as to what Cameron, as a conservative, stands for.

The question though is whether anyone 1) actually wants to take advantage of these schemes and 2) has the time to do so. At least these were the questions Michael Gove dealt with as he did the media rounds Tuesday evening. I quite like Gove. He speaks eloquently and intelligently and generally answers the questions put to him. He's performing well, as he's playing a pretty predominant role in the Tory campaign at the moment whilst others- Chris Grayling and George Osborne for example- have receded into the shadows. Osborne is an interesting case as, for someone who in a month will likely be controlling our ailing economy, even the Tories seem to realise he can come across as immensely unlikeable. He still has the superior demeanour that Cameron seems to have shaken since their Bullingdon days, and he has a perpetual look of contempt etched across his face. I was fairly surprised when the latest Conservative's letter through our door came baring his photocopied signature (no photos, unlike the Cameron ones though).

Whilst Cameron and Nick Clegg are their parties main assets, Gordon Brown is conspicuous by his absence from much of Labour's election material, replaced by marathon-running comics and vanquished timelords. Tonight he will have nowhere to hide. All three have been attempting to play down the impact of tonight's leaders debate, but it looks set to have a some effect with the expected audience around the 10 million mark. Cameron has been most guilty of trying to dampen expectations warning that it could be 'slow and sluggish'. Despite his efforts he knows he has the most to lose if he doesn't perform. Nick Clegg, who has already shown himself ready to be challenged on his policies with a reasonable performance against Paxman, will benefit from an equal footing with the other two and should show better than his rather tepid interventions at PMQs. And then Brown. It's finally time for him to show why he deserved to survive more coup attempts than most small west African nations ever manage. I can't wait.

Monday, 12 April 2010

It's a Marathon, not a Sprint

Hello and welcome to my second attempt at a blog. My first faltered just before Christmas before perishing of neglect early in the new year. With the click of a delete button a few weeks ago it is has now been consigned to the the dustbin of cyberspace, to be replaced with this slicker, more efficient, as badly titled version. My hope is that this will exist rather longer than its short-lived predecessor, and I have a hunch that it may well do for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, I have finals coming up in a months time meaning that the word of the moment is 'procrastination'. Be it sorting notes out into piles, making sure my room is tidy enough to work in or just that last jaunt round the usual websites (webmail, hotmail, facebook, bbc sport, bbc news in that order) during exam periods time wasting becomes a finely-honed skill.

Secondly there's a small matter of a General Election in under a month meaning the news will be crammed with policy matters and publicity stunts- as Paxman put it 'let the baby-kissing commence'- for me to spout my opinions on. Let us commence.
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Gordon Brown rather inconveniently, though as expected, called the election last Tuesday whilst I was in Cyprus. I say inconveniently because the resort store had a pitiful selection of British newspapers meaning that my first taste of election media coverage was through the slightly right of right-wing Daily Express. The paper made it seem that if Cameron were not to win, Britain would face some kind of armageddon with groups of 'hoodies' slashing and mugging everything in sight, the country being swamped with funny looking and funny sounding people wanting to either steal our jobs or blow us up, and the nation having to go into administration and getting a nine point deduction, or whatever the international punishment for such measures entails. The world must be a very scary place to live in for Express readers.

I arrived back with the family late on Friday night and any worries that campaign coverage would all be of the Express's timbre was quickly quashed by the Beeb's much more tempered reporting. Radio 2's midnight bulletin was dominated by reports on the three main parties tax plans, the most eye-catching (or I guess ear-catching in this case) of which was the Tories plan to reward people for getting married- it's something to do with the 'death of the family', 'Broken Britain' and some other ominous sounding slogans that feeds the fear frenzy the right-wing papers thrive on. The proposal would save couples about £150 a year so with a traditional wedding in the UK costing about £11,000 cold-hearted economics would suggest you only need to be married 73 years to make your money back. Those Tories can be so generous.

Anyway, the Conservatives seem to believe they've got the better of the first week, or at least that's what my uncle, who's standing for them in Carlisle, thinks. Family ties took predominance over political allegiances- at least for me- yesterday as a group of us went leafleting for him in a fairly nondescript area. I managed to avoid any encounters with hostile dogs or voters, but I'm sure there must be parts of the city where a Conservative leaflet in your hand may as well be a ticket to the nearest A&E. As a constituency its a high-employment but low-wage area with 99% of the population being white and has been held by Labour since the 1960s. The notional majority sits at just over 4,000 but this year Labour face seven challengers including candidates from the BNP, Ukip and the Socialists. It's going to be a tough fight but Carlisle will be one seat I won't mind seeing swing to the Tories.

In the next few days I intend to decide where I'll use my vote, be it York Outer or South-East Cambridgeshire. I'm pretty sure it'll be York where, not only is it rated very marginal by the very useful voterpower website, but there is also a BNP candidate running. The more people that vote here the lower their share will be and maybe, just maybe, we will be able to roll back some of the confidence they gained from their successful showing in last years disastrous European elections.