General Elections campaigns at constituency level are not about policy but getting more voters through the polling station door

The general election campaign is almost with us. I was once told that for candidates, election campaign proper are nothing to do with policy.  Leave that to the national leadership.  Nor is it about trying to convince people that they should vote for you.  If you haven’t done that already, you are too late.

Election campaigns in individual constituencies are purely about getting more people to the polling station and putting their mark against your name than your opponent manages.

It will be a depressing thought for candidates, but the reality is that the campaign in most constituencies is done and dusted.  The candidates will busy themselves, firming up the vote.  There will be tiffs between individuals, even the odd dirty trick. But the fate of candidates are largely in the hands of their leaders.

This is good news for Nancy Platts.  As the election campaign approaches, people will be faced with a choice between Gordon Brown and David Cameron.  Cameron continues to come across as a Tory toff, and Eton educated rich boy.  Boy George Osborn hardly reassures the voters.  His personal performance under close questioning consistently underwhelms, if not terrifies, voters.  At least people know what they will get from Brown, and in spite of Tory attacks, they know that he is a decent and competent Prime Minister.

But both Nancy Platts and Charlotte Vere continue to be disadvantaged by the performance and profile of their opponent in Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, the Leader of the Green Party.  Every time Caroline speaks as party leader, she attracts coverage that Nancy and Charlotte can only dream of.

As I said the other day, I have reconsidered the view that I previously expressed that Ms Lucas’ candidature would be adversely impacted by being party leader. I was wrong.  Her candidature has been propelled in a fashion that is not possible for the other two.

It is no longer a question as to whether Caroline Lucas will win, the question is by how much?

Charlotte Vere could learn a thing or two from watching the campaigning styles of Nancy Platts and Caroline Lucas

In a comment left earlier, Charlotte Vere says she is not obsessed by her opponents. But it is fascinating to look at how the three candidates in Brighton Pavilion deal with each other, in public at least.  In private campaign teams there is much interest in the every utterance from the opposition camps.

But in public, different candidates treat their opponents differently.

But Charlotte Vere does seems quite obsessed by Caroline Lucas, spending as much time criticising and commenting on the Green candidates statements, and Ms Vere has tried, unsuccessfully in my opinion, to drag Lucas into the expenses controversy.

There is nothing that voters dislike more than candidates attacking one another.  It is one reason why Charlotte, in spit of being pleasant and personanable in private, comes across as shrill and petty in public.

Nancy Platts and Caroline Lucas by contrast have both refrained from personal attacks. Nancy has just got on with her campaign, building support and creating a campaign team that is enthusiastic and motivated in spite of the momentum and profile of the Lucas campaign.

Caroline has the massive advantage of being a party leader and she has managed to balance the demands of that role with those of being an MEP and local candidate.  This blog has been critical of her campaign in the past, but in recent weeks it has all come together.  And there are two words that never appear in any public statement from Caroline,and those words are ‘Charlotte Vere’. 

Ms Vere would be well advised to look and learn.

Let the phoney war end

The election casmpaigns in Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown and Hove feel a bit of a phoney war.  The vrious candidates are buzzing around like busy bees, but aren’t yet saying “vote for me, I am wonderful” or words to that effect.

We have seen big names coming to Brighton – David Milliband for Labour, Chris Grayling for the Conservatives, and for the Lib Dems , err, umm, nobody – a sign of the priority they are giving to the City.

The Greens, of course, don’t need to bring down their big guns since their biggest gun (surely n inappropriate reference to a party of peace – Ed) is Brighton Pavilion’s own Caroline Lucas.  Her appearances on Question Time and Straight Talk consolidate her reputation as one of the country’s most engaging, open and honest political leaders.

This blog was wrong when it warned that her position as Leader of the Greens would undermine her campaign.  Quite to opposite is true. The mannr by which she conducts herself and how she combines the roles of MEP, party leader and constituency candidate, has removed any doubt that I might have had about her.

The last few days has seen the usual pre-election activity, and all three candidates are aquitting themselves well, although Charlotte Vere seems more obsessed by Caroline Lucas than she is by her own campign!

Just wait for a week or so, once Gordon Brown goes to the Palace (6th April?), you can expect to be knee deep in candidates, canvassers, leaflets, posters, and national politicians.  What joy!  Who knows, you might even see a Lib Dem.

Speed dating with Caroline, Charlotte and Nancy

I enjoyed getting up close and personal with the three candidates at the UCU People’s Panel education speed dating event at the Friends Meeting House last night.  Well not that close, and hardly personal, but it was fascinating to see all three in action, and the intensity with which they engaged with their electorate.

It must have been quite a challenge for Ms Vere as this was not her natural territory, and there was some hostility towards the Conservatives, probably in a similar measure to that against Labour, although there was warmth towards Nancy Platts.  But the winner at events like this has to be Caroline Lucas who can always take the moral high ground. 

I am reminded of an exchange between Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis when the latter complains about a woman priest coming across as “holier than though”.  Morse replies, “She probably is, Lewis”.  So too with Caroline Lucas.  She has the advantage of representing a party that has not been guilty of making cuts, failing to deliver on promises, or betraying its supporters. Having said that, and having observed her quite closely, I am increasingly convinced that Ms Lucas is the genuine article.  She will make an excellent Member of Parliament.

A word of thanks to Charlotte Vere

I don’t often have the chance to offer thanks to Charlotte Vere, but she has done something that deserves thanks and praise.

Yesterday she tweeted about Caroline Lucas’ appearance on BBC’s Straight Talk with Andrew Neil.  I for one would not have known that Ms Lucas was appearing on this programme, but thanks to Ms Vere I was able to watch it.

Once again I was struck by Caroline’s poise and command, even in the face of hostile questioning from Neil.  Compared to other political leaders, she comes across as genuine, principled and worth supporting.

It was fantastic to hear her commitment to the abolition of Trident, for being a party of the left, for redistribution, and so on.

What was a shame was Charlotte’s observation that the “wheels came off” when the opposite was true.  Andrew Neil was aggressive with Ms Lucas, yet she showed characteristic grace and good humour.  She also showed characteristic competence and authority

She also clearly charmed the brute that is Andrew Neil and it won’t be long before she joins Itchy and Scratchy (Abbott and Portillo) on the sofa on This Week!

But a special thank you to Charlotte Vere.  Please keep us posted on other appearances by Caroline Lucas.  It can only strengthen her candidature.

You can watch Caroline here

The sleeze allegations against Blairites will stick to Labour unless Gordon Brown does to the the Right what the Right did to the Left

This blog has repeatedly called for tactical voting to ensure that the Tories do not form a majority government after the election.  The recent narrowing of the opinion polls has pointed to a hung parliament, while optimists hope that Labour can pull victory from the jaws of defeat.  The joker in pack has been the Blairites, including Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon, or as they are also known the Bitterites, who hate Gordon Brown more than they hate the Tories.  They are, afterall, Tories in Labour clothes.

I had always expected the Blairites to put the boot in during the election campaign.  They may yet do this.  They have form, not least in 1983 when they openly attacked the Labour Manifesto even though many were standing for election on that very platform.

What has come as a surprise, though why it has shows my innocence, are the disclosures about cash for influence.  The video footage of former Blairite Minister, Byers, has brought condemnation from his former colleagues, and there may be more to come in tomorrow’s Dispatches programme.

What Gordon Brown should do is withdraw the whip from them for the duration of this Parliament while the Party undertakes an investigation into their actions that clearly bring the Party into disrepute.  The Labour Party has never hesitated doing so against the left, but will it, and Brown himself, have the courage to do it against the Blairite right?  It would send a signal that Labour finds the alleged behaviour unacceptable.

But of course, Labour won’t do this, and Gordon Brown will at best remain silent, or at worst try to give the Bitterites some political cover.  He thinks he needs them and that his personal prospects depend on their loyalty.  They don’t and they won’t remain loyal.  This will be another opportunity lost for Brown.

‘New’ style Tory candidates are just fresh faces fronting the same divisive, Thatcherite policies

The Guardian Weekend colour supplement has profiles of eighteen ‘new’ Conservative candidates from around the country.  It reflects that amongst the Tory ranks will be more women, gay and non-white MPs.  David ‘Dave’ Cameron points to these candidates to show how much the Tory Party has changed.

Amongst those fighting marginal seats is Louise Bagshawe (Corby and East Northamptonshire), the author of chic-lit novels: “I’ve always been a die-hard Thatcherite”. Also featured is former GMTV presenter, Esther McVey (Wirral West), media barrister Joanne Cash (Westminster North), failed Brighton politician Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford), Philippa Stroud (Sutton and Cheam) who wants to strengthen families, ex-BBC producer Charlotte Leslie (Bristol NW) who has “never liked authority stamping on what individuals want to do”, and Keeley Huxtable (Birmingham Northfield) who has “always believed in a small state and giving people power over their own lives”. Dom Raab (Esther and Walton) likes the Conservatives’ commitment to “defending our freedom as a nation and ending the creeping mission of the European Union”.

Most of this sounds like Thatcherism, anti-Europe, pro-small government, tax cutting (and therefore public spending slashing), and ‘giving people power over their own lives’ … but only if they can afford it. The faces are certainly changing amongst the ranks, but the philosophy remains the same, and the leadership is Oxbridge.  Cameron remains a toff, and the legacy of Thatcher will be reflected through these, the latest of her children.

I almost forgot Charlotte Vere (Brighton Pavilion).  A fresh set of policies? A break from traditional Tory values?  “I have been a Conservative all my life.  It’s about having a strong sense of social responsibility, a view that opportunity is for everybody, believing that a more effective government is better than a bigger government – and ideally paying as few taxes as possible”.

Caroline Lucas is just not playing fair in Brighton Pavilion

I want to express support for Nancy Platts and Charlotte Vere.  Caroline Lucas is not playing fair in the election in Brighton Pavilion.

Watching Question Time tonight, Ms Lucas shamelessly displayed charm, personal authority, clarity of thought, poise, good humour and grace, not to mention a masterclass in articulating clear policies in a convincing and compelling way.

If Ms Lucas has any concern or compassion for her opponents in Brighton Pavilion, she would not have put on such a competent and effortless display.  Even Margaret Beckett and Charles Kennedy looked on with admiration.  Andrew Landsley looked amateurish.

It is not fair that Caroline Lucas is allowed to display her obvious and exceptional talent before a ntional audience.  Anyone in the Brighton Pavilion constituency who watched Question Time tonight will have been left in no doubt that is Lucas they have a candidate who, when elected, will take the House of Commons by storm.

Nancy Platts and Charlotte Vere, in their own right, are strong and impressive individuals, who would be dynamic candidates in any constituency.  Fate has dictated that they have the misfortune in coming up against the extraordinary Caroline Lucas.  It is just not fair.

Dining Clubs, Donations and Distribution of Funds – an unfair basis for a fair election

The Brighton Argus has published details of who is financing the campaigns in Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown and Hove, with details of donations going back to 1995.  And it makes quite interesting reading, and requires some questions to be asked.  Who, are what, is the United & Cecil Club?  Or The Winston Churchill Dining Club? Or the Intensive School of English and Business Communication?

The United & Cecil Club makes very generous donations to the campaigns of Conservative candidates Charlotte Vere (£12,000), Simon Kirby (£12,000) and Mike Weatherley (£3,000).  Ms Vere is the poor relation amongst the Tory trio, having raised just £12,000 (although she was only selected late last year).  Simon Kirby  has put over £21,000 of his own money into his campaign but has still enjoyed further support of £17,000 from the Winston Churchill Dining Club.

Mike Weatherley in Hove has received just £2,000 from the Winston Churchill Dining Club, but he has rich friends such as local ‘entrepeneur’ Mike Holland (£5,000), former Tory MP Sir Timothy Sainsbury (you may wish to consider where you do your shopping in future) who has given £7,500, and property developer John D Regan (£5,500).  The biggest personal donation to the Mr Weatherley came from Stewart W Newton (£12,000).

The Lib Dems have received just £6,016 for all three seats, a reflection of their prospects in Brighton and Hove.

Labour’s Simon Burgess has received £33,324, primarily from the Co-operative Party and the GMB Trade Union. Similarly, the majority of Celia Barlow’s £12,495 has come from these two sources and a small donation from the Communication Workers Union.  But what is most significant as far as Labour is concerned is the mere £11,080 donated to Nancy Platts, again from The Co-operative Party, the GMB and £4,500 from Unite. If there was a Pound for Pound comparison for the energy and effectiveness of campaigning, Nancy Platts would win hands down between the three Labour candidates. She deserves to have had the resources channelled to Simon Burgess directed into her campaign.

As for the Greens, they have received £92,914 for their three campaigns.  It is not clear how much has gone into Caroline Lucas’ campaign, but it can be assumed that the majority has gone into Brighton Pavilion.  All the Green’s donations have come from individuals, none from ‘Dining Clubs’.

The Tories have always been funded from shadowy figures, and there remains a lack of transparency.  How much, for example, is being channelled to seats in Brighton and Hove from Lord Ashcroft? Labour candidates have always received funding from trade unions.  Afterall, it was the unions that were largely behind the setting up of the Labour Party.  A little more clarity from the Greens would be welcomed, and a redistribution of campaign funds from Simon Burgess to Nancy Platts would ‘level the playing field’ in Brighton Pavilion.

Overall, this is an unfair situation.  The boys, Kirby, Weatherley and Burgess, have received almost £150,000 between them, while Vere, Platts and Barlow just a total of £37,000.  Lucas is the exception to the rule, but then Brighton Pavilion is that party’s number one (and only?) genuine target seat.

Laura Moffatt stands down and effectively hands Crawley to the Tories

I have just heard that Laura Moffatt, Labour MP for Crawley, is standing down for ‘family reasons’.  With a majority of just 37, her decision to stand down at this late hour effectively hands the seat to the Tory Henry Smith.

At least her pension and redundancy payments are secured.