Election Diary

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Indy Politics

Good campaign (part 1)

Gordon Brown, who emerged from his cocoon to refresh parts of the party that Tony Blair couldn't reach, winning himself the title of the prime minister-in-waiting into the bargain.

Good campaign (part 2)

Charles Kennedy, who rode out a shaky start, and the distraction of his new-born son, to leave his party in its strongest polling day position for 80 years.

Bad Day (part 1)

Tony Blair, who emerged as the man everyone loves to hate and submitted himself to a relentless beating over Iraq. (Still, don't feel too sorry for him, he might well end up with an unprecedented third landslide.)

Bad Day (part 2)

Michael Howard, who aggressively set the agenda but ended up over-egging his attacks on asylum and may have upset British sensibilities with strident claims that Mr Blair is a "liar".

What campaign?

Whatever happened to: Geoff Hoon the Defence Secretary seen as box-office poison by Labour HQ; Ian McCartney, the party's chairman, who is well-regarded but whose Scottish accent is incomprehensible to many English voters; and Alan Johnson, the straight-talking Pensions Secretary, who was also mysteriously absent from Labour's campaign?

Where was Conservative Vulcan John Redwood and posh and portly defence supremo Nicholas Soames?

Even the Liberal Democrats had their missing men. For a party claiming to be green on everything, their environment man, Norman Baker, weirdly, didn't seem to get out of Sussex.

Last-minute wonder

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was relegated to the back row of cabinet ministers during Labour's manifesto launch, but won back his front-line seat at the final press conference yesterday after hauling himself into bat as Labour's night watchman to defend the war.

Gaffes of the campaign

Oliver Letwin, the title-holder from the 2001 election, was responsible for three top Tory policies crumbling. First, he admitted there would be no tax cuts in the Tory government's first year. Then he disclosed that only 35 ports would be guarded day and night. Finally, he could not rule out an increase in National Insurance.

Charles Kennedy had his own hiccup when he could not remember his flagship council tax proposals.

Sultans of spin

Labour has been spinning outrageously with its claim that the Tories could win if just one in 10 Labour voters defect or stay at home. That one evaporated within hours.

Powers behind the throne

Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives' hired gun from Down Under has been credited with running a highly professional campaign, which has had Labour rattled. Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's former communications guru, has been back, even once facing his old foes in the press. Oh, and the Lib Dems have got someone called Sandy, who used to work for BT.

Spare a thought for...

The poor old people in Watford and Birmingham Yardley, the only constituencies to have visits from Blair, Howard and Kennedy (and the media circus with them).

Slogans of the campaign

Michael Howard's mantra, "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" became "Take a stand on the issues that matter".

Labour's verb-free "Forward not back" has metamorphosed into, "If one in 10 Labour voters don't vote, the Tories win".

The Liberal Democrats say they are "the real alternative". Locally they say "Winning here".

Most dramatic moment

The leak of Lord Goldsmith's advice on the legality of war, and the veteran Labour MP Brian Sedgemore's defection to the Liberal Democrats.

Least dramatic moment

An election meeting in the marginal seat of Enfield Southgate had to be called off because only one voter turned up.

Grumpy old man of the campaign

John Prescott started the campaign mouthing "fucking pillock" at a journalist and ended it saying: "Let's go and meet the people, the real people."

Final words

"What I'm planning to do on Friday morning - I'm planning our first steps in government." Michael Howard.

"I'm very confident of our case but I never take anything for granted." Tony Blair.

"So let's have none of this Blair nonsense. He has cried wolf one too many times. No one believes his claims any more." Charles Kennedy.

Quote of the campaign

"I am renouncing Tony Blair, the Devil, New Labour and all their works." Brian Sedgemore.

"People don't want a date with destiny, they want a date with the dentist." Michael Howard.

"My drug is adrenaline." The former SAS part-timer and Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.

"I am proud to be leading the only party with a serious programme for the future of this country." Tony Blair.

"Even if he wins a third term, he is now going to be a lame duck prime minister. Iraq will haunt his premiership and his legacy, just as Suez did for Sir Anthony Eden." Charles Kennedy on Tony Blair.

"Being called a playboy politician by Peter Hain is like being told to sit up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame." George Galloway.

Most ludicrous fight

UKIP and Robert Kilroy-Silk's Veritas party, fighting it out for the Eurosceptic vote. UKIP appear to have mustered 1 per cent of the vote, and Veritas has not troubled the scorers.

The invisible issues:

The environment, or transport, or Europe, or nuclear power, or weapons, or constitutional reform, in fact anything much apart from immigration, crime, Iraq and tax.

Most tiresome mantra:

"The only poll that matters is the one on May 5," repeated, in one form or other, by all party leaders.

Angriest campaign:

The battle for Bethnal Green and Bow, which has pitted the loyal, pro-war Labour MP Oona King against the former Labour MP turned Respect leader George Galloway. Mr Galloway has stormed out of a TV show, allegations of electoral fraud are being investigated and claims of violence have marred the campaign.

Football fillip:

Michael Howard has been drawing strength from his beloved Liverpool FC.

And what the bookies say:

Labour is the runaway favourite. William Hill are offering just 1/50 on it becoming the largest party and yesterday slashed the odds on Labour winning with an overall majority from 1/20 to 1/33.

Ladbrokes also have Labour at 1/33 to win. The Conservatives are on 10/1, while the Liberal Democrats are at 150/1.

Q&A

1. Who believes they could be about to make history in Brighton Pavilion?

2. Which party leader is in grave danger of losing his seat?

3. Where is Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the country's smallest constituency?

4. What record could Tory Stanley Johnson achieve in Teignbridge?

5. Which party is on course to get its first black MP?

6. The constituency of Sunderland South expects to retain what record today?

7. What distinction is held by William Hague in Richmond, Yorkshire?

8. Why will there be no election in Staffordshire South?

9. Why will the Liberal Democrat Patsy Calton have a nerve-racking night?

10. Why are general elections always held on Thursdays?

Answers

1. The Greens, who are optimistic that they will see their first MP elected.

2. David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, faces a daunting challenge in fighting off the Democratic Unionists in Upper Bann.

3. The Outer Hebrides - it's the official Gaelic name of the Western Isles.

4. If elected, he would become the first father to follow his son (Boris Johnson) into the Commons.

5. The Conservatives.

6. Traditionally the first constituency to declare its result.

7. It's the safest Tory seat in the country.

8. It has been cancelled following the death of the Liberal Democrat candidate.

9. She's defending the country's most marginal seat, Cheadle. Her majority in 2001 was 33.

10. By convention as the Prime Minister can choose any day. (The 1931 election was held on Tuesday 27 October).

Great British elections: 1992

After he led the Tories to their humiliating defeat in 1997 and the subsequent revelations about an affair with Edwina Currie, it takes an effort to recall John Major as the miracle-working winner. However, he was the last Tory leader to win a general election. And he did it as Prime Minister in the middle of a recession, with home repossessions at a record high. Neil Kinnock, leading Labour for the last time, later said he knew before polling day that he'd lost, but the margin - 7 per cent - was bigger than most predicted. Even so, it only produced a majority of 21, which dwindled away in the course of the parliament. The Tory campaign had some brilliant but brutal catchphrases from the party chairman Chris Patten, such as "gobsmacked" and "double whammy". The election was centred on the issue of taxation, or "Labour's Tax Bombshell" as Tory posters had it. Soon Black Wednesday and the ERM crisis would see the Tories at 30 per cent in the polls, where they've stayed.

Sean O'Grady

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