Saturday Sport v Politics

It is a Saturday. It must be sport for me. Throughout my life a Saturday has meant looking forward to some form of sport and the anticipation of kick-off. From a young lad playing rugby in the morning and football in the afternoon to just about struggling to make Birstall 2nds most weekends. It was the same throughout my time in politics and and as an MP. I think it is why I never fully fitted into the way politics is run. You see for political types Saturday is more canvassing time and political conferences. Don’t get me wrong I did all those things, it is just that like today when there is a big sporting day v a political day the sport usually wins!

Today for sport in Leicester it has been a big day. As most people know Leicester City have been rooted to the bottom of the Premier League for too long. It seems a long time ago that they beat Man Utd 5-3. Whilst we all were encouraged to #keepthefaith I am afraid I did start to doubt about a month ago. And then 3 wins on the bounce and today a six-pointer against Burnley. By now you know the result. 1-0 win to Leicester and we are out of the drop zone. Still there are 5 games to go and it could all go wrong but after this last month we would be stupid not to think it is possible.

As a Tigers fan I have always been disappointed at the football side not quite replicating our success, but this year Tigers have been pretty poor too. It will take a separate blog to outline all the reason, but once again like the Foxes it was still possible for Tigers to make the play-off top four if they kept winning. Today it was up against poor old London Welsh and Tigers were already talking about the bonus point before the game. They did it. They got the win and bonus point. I can’t see us doing that well even if we do progress to the final 4. 

All of this is a distraction from the main points from the election campaign today and illustrates the inability some days to ‘cut-through’. Some days you just have to hope the non sporting population (of which there are millions) are not shopping and paying some attention to the news. 

Given that there is lots of other real news and the election seems to have been going for ever it is no surprise that most of what I have seen has been about the earthquake in Nepal.

But politically I have been following the excellent polling and logs which as far as I can see give the most accurate and best appraisal of all the commentaries. In particular this one is worth a read.

This is how Ed Miliband get to 323 seats and becomes Prime Minister

The other news from the FT is the way Nick Clegg seems to have chosen to paint himself into the Blue corner again for post election discussions. 

Of course Nick Clegg is ostensibly a Tory anyway and this is where he feels most comfortable. But I suspect there will be many of his MPs and many in the Party who thought they were a left of centre party and the idea of propping up a Tory, UKIP, DUP coalition is far from ideal. There are some tactics being played here as many Lib Dems will be losing their seats to the Tories in the SW but in other parts of the country where they pretend to be leaning further to the left of Labour this announcement won’t have pleased them. Vote Lib Dem and get another Tory government isn’t a great sell in Leeds or Manchester where a couple of LD friends are defending slim majorities.

Finally as it is sport v politics I couldn’t help laugh at the sporting slip from Cameron – who seems to have forgotten he is a die hard Aston Villa fan, but telling everybody to back his ‘West Ham’ As Jonathan Ashworth wryly commented on twitter as the Foxes beat Burnley – perhaps being confused by the colour of the kit again & the PM will be crying at another loss for his beloved team.

Campaign Returns to Bread & Butter issues

After I was bemoaning the total focus of the campaign being dominated by the Tories attacks on the SNP yesterday, and hoping that we would return to some ‘normal’ issues based electioneering, it seems from what I have seen today that we have finally moved on.

Interestingly by moving on it seems on the BBC News I caught and my twitter timeline (where I am watching the campaign today from the train again) that the tradtional campaigning isn’t exciting enough to lead the news bulletins! I am sure the first election coverage was about 4/5 on the running order. In view of the other stories this seemed fair given the return to the campaign is another day of the announcement followed by the photo opp to back up the theme of the day. The formula is fine for a short campaign but given we have another two weeks of this I am sure most of us are really struggling to the sheer boredom of these staged events and photos. There was a great piece this week too about the fact that at the Tory party events with Cameron Journalists aren’t even allowed to hold the mike when asking a question and certainly not given the opportunity to ask a follow up question. I also was reminded today that the journalists lament the loss of the daily press conferences where ‘announcements’ were put under some scrutiny from the political hacks. Now these are gone the announcements are just that – broadcasting messages. It does seem as though the scrutiny is left the to the set piece interviews on TV and Radio. As the election has moved on it does feel as though Andrew Neil has become the interviewer to avoid. He seems to have caused the most discomfort for politicians with his line of questioning.

Back on the patch in Loughborough I see the Labour campaign was spiced up a little with the arrival in town of comedian Eddie Izzard to help the Mathew O’Callaghan. There are a number of celebrity endorsers of the parties. In 1997 Labour was cool and lots of luvvies backed the party and were quite keen to be seen with Blair. Although my only celebrity visit came from Richard Attenborough when we held an event for him to meet potential switch voters at the Ramada Hotel in the town centre. It was a surreal experience when he turned up in his Rolls Royce and referred to everybody in the room as ‘Darling’. He was good value and It was a welcome break from the normal daily routine. It would be interesting to know if it changed a single vote for those 30 or so people who came along. I also had a great visit from Tony Robinson of Blackadder fame (amongst many others since). Again it was fun walking the town centre
and people loved getting autographs. It did cause a great buzz and a stir but do people change their vote because of celebrity endorsements? I know the other way round it puts me off celebrities if they have endorsed the Tories, so it is a high risk strategy for those concerned. I actually advise many sports people to choose very carefully before making any announcements about their political preferences.

Today will certainly liven up events in the town centre and I hope it reflects positively that people like Eddie, Martin Freeman, Jo Brand and David Tenant are willing to give their public support makes voting Labour semi respectable if nothing else. It was funny in the 1990s that the Tories star names were Kenny Everitt and some crusty old actors. They became a little cooler in Cameron era and there are one or two more like the tax evading Barlow! It may be worth a short quiz – put the celebrity with the party!

I haven’t been able to follow the campaigns in any great detail today (or indeed yesterday) as I have been in meetings. However, these meetings have been a fascinating insight into the thoughts and actions at the heart of the campaign from a Leaders office and from inside the mins of civil servants planning for May 8th. Clearly it’s a shame I can’t share these discussions here but in due course they will emerge when it is appropriate and they really help shape some of the thoughts and feelings I have for the campaign in these short blogs. With polls still showing neck and neck for Labour & the Tories it means those responsible for policy areas are having to make detailed plans for a variety of eventualities. Interestingly enough somebody told me today that they were still assuming another Tory / Liberal ‘coalition’.

Given the fact that a coalition – even an informal one still looks the most likely outcome from this election it is worth thinking about what this will mean for the country and even for those new MPs being elected in 2 weeks. Without a clear or even workable majority every vote will become crucial to the future of the government. If there are no deals this will be really demanding when there are running whips and votes where everybody will need to be present. Don’t expect many ministerial visits until things have settled down!

Tory Success if we are still talking about the SNP today instead of NHS

The Tories will be pretty pleased with themselves if the news coverage today is still talking about Scotland and the SNP. Instead of the normal daily coverage of the topics the parties want to talk about in their ‘Grid’ – education, NHS, Transport or the economy we have had the last week dominated by the issue the Tories love to use to reduce the number of Labour held seats (by assuring Scots that if they vote SNP they really do get a Labour government) Whilst in England playing the ‘SNP are really dangerous intolerant people who don’t have a legitimate place in Westminster. As I have posted before this is a dangerous short term game – playing with fire. However, if you are sitting in CCHQ and none of the other themes of the Campaign seem to be working the way Australian Guru Lynton Crosby told them it would all of this risk obviously seems worthwhile. I guess the fact that in my reflection today I am even talking about the SNP and not about the NHS Launch from Labour in Manchester shows it is working. So I promise this will be generally SNP free blog from now on. We will wait until May 8th to see what happens and then work out what sort of government is formed.

I did find it amusing today though. Dragging up John Major to lecture us on unstable government really did take the biscuit. If ever there was somebody who missed the irony surely it must have been him in his speech today. Major presided over chaos and a government held to ransom by his UKIP tendency in the Party – those who he described as ‘Bast$%^s’. It is also probably galling for Cameron to see this weakest of PMs actually won an election in 1992 – something Cameron is likely never going to achieve.

But back at the campaign. It looks as though Labour are trying to go back to the NHS this week with a big launch in Manchester today. It will be interesting to see if this gets any cut through given the headlines are elsewhere and people already give Labour big lead on handling the NHS. At least it is good ground for them to reinforce their message.

More later when the full implications of the days campaign have become obvious after a day in London and on a train!