Randall and Rentoul unleashed: It's really a 139-horse race now

(140 if you count the pantomime horse) Plus, in an action-packed programme, some celebrity thoughts, no sweat, and where's Blairy?


Runners and riders

At much cost to our own sanity, we have now surveyed all nominated candidates. There are 4,149 of them, representing no fewer than 139 different parties. Some of the lesser known causes in which your votes are being sought are: the Nobody Party, Community Need Before Private Greed Party, Get Snouts Out The Trough Party, Go Mad and Vote for Yourself Party, the Middle England Party (curiously, standing in the Isle of Wight, which we would have thought was more the preserve of the Southernmost Tip of England Party), Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers Party, The Best of a Bad Bunch Party, and the Virtue Currency Cognitive Appraisal Party.

How it works

No 3. How to vote for a hung parliament

Several campaigns have been set up to persuade people to "hang parliament", either on the grounds that parties sharing power is a good thing in itself or that it is a way to achieve reform of the voting system.

* Charter 2010, endorsed by former SDP leader David Owen, urges politicians to prepare for a hung parliament by discussing a GNU – Government of National Unity, formed by a grand coalition of all three main parties, to deal with the economic crisis.

* Vote for a Change, the campaign for electoral reform, "is campaigning for a hung parliament – it is our only hope". Last week it hanged, or hung, an effigy of the Palace of Westminster in Parliament Square to publicise its campaign.

* The Progressive Parliament Network is running a similar campaign, but its objective is "radical change on social justice, democracy and the environment".

Willie Sullivan, director of Vote for a Change, told the New Statesman last week that the logic of the existing system "often means we have to back a candidate with a realistic chance of winning to prevent a worse option". Yes, but for which party should someone who wants a hung parliament vote?

The answer is very simple. The party with the best chance winning an overall majority is the Conservatives (the betting market says that is a 40 per cent chance). Anyone who is serious about a hung parliament should, therefore, vote for the candidate best placed to beat the Tory. They are also, coincidentally, the only major party implacably opposed to electoral reform.

Election quotes

"First thing, we should get rid of the Archbishop of Canterbury. When he said sharia law was not just necessary but inevitable, I thought: no, he's got to go." – Nigel Farage, Ukip candidate for Buckingham

"I am not Jacqui Smith. I don't claim a second home allowance and my husband doesn't watch porn." – Reported reaction by Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, after being mistaken for the former Home Secretary

"Labour has demonised toffs, for want of a better word. They have demonised education, they have demonised hunting, any gentlemanly pursuits." – Nicky Haslam, interior designer

"We've always got on very well together. We are on perfectly good terms. He is a class act. I like him. He always has at least one plot." – Kenneth Clarke, shadow business secretary, on his opposite number, Lord Mandelson

"I've got plenty of elections right in the past." – Clare Petulengro, a Blackpool seafront clairvoyant, who predicts a big Tory win

"Note to Clegg and Cameron: refuse to wear so much make-up for the next debate. Heavy one-tone pancake base looks like a mask. Just say 'No!'" – Elizabeth Hurley, model and actress

"What's a bigger challenge – running 40 marathons or getting Labour elected?" – Heckler at Cambridge challenges comedian Eddie Izzard, who said "they are both hard"

"The Tory in me is dismayed by the election news – but the vandal is thrilled. Apple-cart on its side! Fruit rolling everywhere." – Matthew Parris, former Conservative MP

"This is not a political machine. I think I would describe it as a contraption." – Former MP and ex-war correspondent Martin Bell at the launch of independent candidates

"Tony Blair sort of killed it for me." – Actor Bob Hoskins, who said he would vote against Labour for the first time in his life

Political anorak's quiz

First the answers to last week's questions. The shortest length of time between someone becoming an MP and PM is two years, by William Pitt the Younger in 1783; and, in 1974, the Liberals had to amass six million votes to win just 14 seats.

Now this week's question: Which devout prime minister predicted the end of the world and what was the date he plumped for?

Poster watch

Both Harriet Harman and Tessa Jowell may win in their safe south London fastnesses, but there are worrying signs they are losing the hearts, minds and windows of the poster-sticking classes. A drive around their constituencies reveals a sudden rash of Lib-Dem orange. Meanwhile, a drive through West Sussex and Surrey shows an inordinate number of Ukip placards in farmers' fields. They bear the slogan: "Say No to the EU". This seems curious, for if any people have benefited from EU money down the years, surely it is farmers.

Lucky Tories

In 2005, Ukip polled more than 600,000 votes. If these had gone to the Conservatives, Michael Howard would have come within 200,000 of beating Tony Blair. This time, the Tories are rather less fearful of the Ukip effect. In two places, their candidates – Douglas Carswell in Clacton, and Philip Hollobone in Kettering – have been judged sufficiently Euro-hostile for Ukip to step aside and give them a clear run. Whatever you think of Ukip's politics, this does seem smart tactics.

A doctor writes

Some of you have been puzzled by one aspect of the leaders' debates: that these men, despite being under strong lights and great pressure, show no sign of perspiring. Medical specialists have been consulted, and we can report that the condition of excessive sweating – or hyperhidrosis as the sweatologists call it – is treatable by drugs. Curiously, one of the most effective is botox. Have we stumbled on a larger story?

Where are they now?

Will Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, last heard of touring the Far East to make a speech for a fee of roughly £200,000, please contact the Labour Party in London? They believe that things are so desperate that an appearance by Mr Sincerity could only help. If you have seen Mr Blair, please contact the nearest British embassy.

On the doorstep...

Evidence that a sense of humour has not been entirely extinguished in the Labour Party comes from Grimsby, where Austin Mitchell is running to extend his tenure beyond its present 33 years. In an online message to voters, he writes: "We are now using all the modern technology available including a seance to contact dead voters and a volunteer force of 500 pigeons to deliver messages to Loft Avenue, Grimsby." Meanwhile, in Clitheroe, Lib Dem Allan Knox is now using a wooden spoon to push leaflets through letterboxes. A dog, apparently, was so eager to grab Mr Knox's message to voters that he nipped the candidate's right hand.

Obvious polls of the week

Barely an hour goes by without our offices receiving the latest intelligence from the polling community. Few of their findings qualify for insights. A poll from Opinion Matters, for a firm that sells to the over-60s, found that, among retired voters, the big issues were the NHS and "pensioner welfare". Fancy that.

The sceptical voter's guide to the week

Sunday "Clegg nearly as popular as Churchill" the preposterous but catchy Sunday Times headline based on an opinion poll by YouGov that showed Clegg with a 72 per cent approval rating against 83 per cent for Winston Churchill in 1945. Designed, of course, to encourage scoffing at the electoral pretensions of Mr Clegg, it failed to point out that Churchill's popularity didn't last. He lost to a famous Labour landslide that July.

Monday David Cameron scrapped a planned Conservative election broadcast, and substituted a straight-to-camera-from-my-back-garden claim that he, not someone else (whose name or party he did not mention), was the new politics. A new poll puts the Lib Dems 17 per cent up, and the Tories down to just 23 per cent. It relates to voting intentions in Wales, and is a reminder this election is remarkably English-centric.

Tuesday The Daily Telegraph featured Nick Clegg's schooldays at Westminster school on its front page, which seemed to involve tennis and girlfriends. Truly shocking. David Cameron in Tamworth took the head off the Daily Mirror's chicken and asked it what the question was of which he was supposed to be afraid. The chicken didn't know and had to refer to a Mirror minder. Cameron 1 Chicken 0.

Wednesday Cameron egged by a young man in a hoodie, thus allowing the Conservative leader to quip that the puzzle had finally been solved: the chicken came first. George Osborne appeared on a chancellors' debate with a new side-parted hair style. Kenneth Clarke appeared at a news conference with him and said that a hung parliament would cause the markets to "wobble" and that it would make it more likely that Britain would need help from the International Monetary Fund. Osborne looked uneasy.

Thursday The Sun, Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and Daily Express launch separate, but somehow wonderfully co-ordinated, front-page attacks on Clegg. A letter from Mr Zinoviev, outlining Moscow's funding of the Liberal Democrats, is expected to be published by the mail any day now. In the non-Tory press, David Cameron faced another burst of unhelpful candour from a frontbencher on gay rights, as Julian Lewis, a defence spokesman, repeated his view that equalising the age of consent put teenage boys at "serious physical risk" from HIV. Third debate hosted by Adam Boulton for Sky News from Bristol.

Friday The day dawns on conflicting snap polls on last night's debate, watched by four million. Sky had Clegg and Cameron joint winners, as did The Times; polls for ITV News and The Guardian said it was Clegg; while one for The Sun put Cameron in the lead, followed by Clegg. Back in the real world, the last major economic indicator before election day came in: GDP grew by 0.2 per cent in first three months of the year. And, speaking of such things, the deficit remains the under-discussed issue.

Saturday The onslaught on Clegg in the Conservative press continues. The Man Himself spent the day with his three sons, freshly returned from a volcanic dust-extended trip to Europe. Cameron attended his sister's wedding, and Gordon Brown went on the stump. In Corby, Northants, an Elvis impersonator seranaded him with a rendition of "Suspicious Minds" – lyrics that strike something of a chord with voters.

Winners of the Nick Clegg fridge magnet

Last week we asked you to suggest other pantomime roles for the Lib Dem leader, after he was pictured doing his annual turn as Prince Charming in Sleeping Beauty. The winners of this potential heirloom were:

Ginny Cheeseman Puss in Boots – he's the cat that got the cream, and he may well be wearing the boots soon.

"B" Puss in Boots, and he would require only three boots, because Vince Cable would keep him company.

Patrick Walsh The pantomime horse, partnered by Vince Cable – the only question is who should be the front end.

Robert Boston Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk, as he is soon to slay a political giant or maybe two.

Linda Hine Buttons, because he's bound to get stitched up.

Liz Tubby Buttons, because he's got the opposition sewn up.

Karen Ries Buttons, the character that no one really remembers.

Paul Sixsmith Cinderella, because he may go to the ball.

David McNickle Ali Baba in Ali Baba and the Thirty Concubines.

Pam Ingram Aladdin, with Vince Cable as his genie; or Cinderella, with Cameron and Brown as the ugly sisters.

This week: Win a Gordon Brown doggy chew!

This week, you can win a Gordon Brown chewy dog toy. Just tell us how the Prime Minister would render one of the poetic passages in the English language into a dull statement that fails to sustain the reader's attention to the end of even a few sentences.

Send your entries to: sundayletters@independent.co.uk

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