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Anything can happen in the next half hour!

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Paul Mason | 07:43 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

One of the best TV series hook lines ever was the famous opening to Stingray: "Marineville I am calling Battlestations - anything can happen in the next half hour". Well that's how this election is beginning to look. In fact if copyright allowed it, I would gladly replace Newsnight's opening titles with this.

As the media gets back to its 24-hour rolling frenzy after the long weekend this morning it's worth trying to summarise what's happened since last Thursday - because I think it will be seen as significant with hindsight, and makes the whole situation unpredictable.

First the Guardian came out in support of the Libdems. Defying expectations - and calls from within the editorial team - for a simple tactical voting line, the self-designated "global voice for liberalism" adopted a capital-L - and that could presage bigger changes on the centre-left of British politics. This created a momentum within the Labour party that has resulted in parallel coded calls for tactical voting this morning, from Peter Hain, Ed Balls and Lord Adonis.

Then there emerged the "plot against Gordon" briefings. Patrick Hennessey of the Telegraph summarised a lot of what's being said in background: if Labour has to approach the Libdems on Friday morning for a coalition you would see simultaneous moves to replace the leadership, with the usual camps lining up - David Miliband (visionary neo-Blairite) versus Alan Johnson (affable stop-gap). Veteran Labour journalist Will Hutton called for Nick Clegg to become PM.

Gordon Brown, who had only decided to speak to the London Citizens' conference on Friday, turned up to it on Monday and delivered a left-leaning, barnstorming speech to an avalanche of applause and a lot of surprised Twittering by labour folks along the lines of "who is this guy who looks like Gordon?"

It was not just the Guardian's move that focused minds within the Labour hierarchy: it was the emergence of the "momentum" theme in media coverage of the Conservatives. Conservative internal polling has, for several days, been consistent with last night's Ipsos-Mori marginals poll - which is that they have a differential 7% swing in the marginals that could give them a tiny commons majority: but only as long as they don't lose seats to the Libdems.

This poll is actually really interesting. Remembering it is a poll of marginals, it states that: about 11% of people have already switched votes during the campaign; about a third are open to changing their minds; and the Libdem vote is softest followed by Labour. In short it confirms that there are too many variables to call it.

Meanwhile Conservative spin-doctors are working overtime to create a "quiet march to Downing Street" momentum.

David Cameron broke with tradition and began to spell out some of the immediate actions he would take - and began to put out messages of reassurance on protecting front line services. I read all of this as political ammunition for a push into the "red" end of the Labour-Tory marginal list, with an emollient message to areas where he knows there is residual mistrust for the Conservatives.

Within the Libdems there are two scenarios emerging. The first - which their campaign evidence seems to encourage - is that they might come second (obviously they want to come first) in the popular vote. If this happens it will turn Cleggmania into a much bigger political phenomenon and you will begin to see post-election re-alignments in British poltics. The second scenario is they get squeezed in the last few days but still emerge with somewhere between 70 and 100 seats and become instantly kingmakers in a hung parliament.

Interestingly the Libdems are still struggling to understand where their surge of support is coming from: they are getting mass sign ups to all Clegg's public meetings; are recruiting massively online and raising money ditto. Anecdotal evidence from party workers suggests quite a lot of this is happening within Labour areas and from within - yes, our old friend "Mosaic Group E" - young, urban, transient and trendy. There are some within the party who believe this puts them at the head of a true, Obama-style postmodern demographic swing. Others see it simply as a reward for a lifetime of thankless hard work.

With all the newspapers now indicating their voting preference, and rising calls for tactical voting between Labour and the Libdems, all three party machines believe there is, if not "all to play for", then something to play for. Their relentless campaign schedules matter; as does the crucial battle for domination in the broadcast media. It will be relentless for 48 hours now.

Oh and the bond markets have decided to open at 1am on Friday so that, before 90% of the votes are counted, the international markets can get their retaliation in first. There's no Newsnight on Thursday night but I will be out, armed with my earpiece and the idiot's guide to 10-year gilt spreads, at a constituency count that I am told will finish at 5am.

By then it will be all over bar the shouting - but for once I think we can guarantee there will be shouting, and not all of it ecstatic. Keep your finger on the refresh button and follow me on Twitter.


  • Comment number 1.


    Don't let that Max Bygraves exterior fool you Paul.

  • Comment number 2.

    The economic conditions suggest that the profit rate is under pressure.
    This results in attacks on wages, pensions, jobs, etc.

    How will this translate into politics?

    The first point is social democracy is no longer affordable.
    Despite all the wealth that exists, because exchange-value dominates, capitalism cannot afford the post-war welfare state.

    State intervention today is about protecting the capitalist system, e.g. bailing out the banks, bailing out Greece, etc.
    It is no longer about 'buying-off' the workers with pensions, increases in real wages, shorter working week.

    The Labour party merely presents itself as being less harsh on the workers than the Tories - which is no doubt true, but they will still attack the working-class standard of living.

    The Tories see their opportunity to really roll-back the state.
    They will continue with their everyone for themselves philosophy - sink or swim.
    They represent barbarism (in the long-run).

    As the crisis comes back to the fore, as it must, as the crisis has not been resolved, how long will the 'left' continue to defend the market?

    When Clegg promises 'fairness' & delivers cuts, won't people start to question his & the Liberals (& Labour) concept of 'fairness'.

    People throughout the country know that they are being treated unfairly.
    That the banks, the utilities, big-business in general are just out to screw them.

    As the pressure on profit continues none of this will change no matter what the Liberals or Labour promise.

    So will there be a merged Liberal-Labour party?
    All those fools together who think there is a 'third-way'.
    I hope so.
    Then there is some chance that a socialist party can emerge from the remnants of Labour.

    The other political faction likely to emerge are the national socialists.
    Those who are against the market but wrap themselves in the union jack or more likely St George's flag.

    So this decade may have:
    1. Tories - pro-business, pro-market, dismantling the welfare state
    2. Lib-Lab - pro-business, pro-market, trying to save bits of the welfare state
    3. Socialists - anti-business, anti-market, pro-public services, work for all
    4. National Socialists - anti-business, anti-market, anti-immigrants

    Alongside this will be people organising locally.
    These political forums will form the embryonic councils for direct democracy.
    The people's attempt to take power away from the political parties at Westminster.

  • Comment number 3.

    I fully expect a financial crisis - aren't we in one already? - for the UK within weeks, if not days, of the election result. Whether it comes before or after any emergency budget by the incoming Government is the question.

    If the cuts are not bold and deep enough then I expect the markets will begin dumping British paper. It could quickly become another 'Black Wednesday' moment when interest rates shoot up faster and higher than most now think possible.

    If the cuts are bold and deep enough then there is going to be a vast army of public sector workers who are faced with wage and pension cuts - a wage freeze is not enough - or no job at all. The knock-on affect is self-explanatory.

    What was it that Blackadder said;

    “This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you got a moment, it's a twelve-story crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour portage, and an enormous sign on the roof, saying 'This Is a Large Crisis'. A large crisis requires a large plan. Get me two pencils and a pair of underpants.”

    Thank goodness M&S recently had a buy 2 for 1 offer on their boxers.

  • Comment number 4.

    Duvinrouge is too stark for comfort which is not to say he/she is wrong. If the Labour vote collapses in their traditional areas it will be because the government have made naivety about capitalism a virtue and a basis for policy. This might also go some way to explain the so-called LD surge as they seem to be left of Brown and co. Re - Alignment of left of centre is likely but may not favour the real Left.

  • Comment number 5.

    I wouldn't get caught holding UK equities in the coming years. We're in for a rocky ride. No I'm not shorting anything. I hold UK equities, but have run out of ideas where to invest anywhere else, except Brazil long term maybe. How can it be otherwise when we will be taking billions out of the economy/stimulus/queasing and the currency is so fragile. The markets will have their way.

  • Comment number 6.

    Actually what's weird about all the "financial crisis" talk is that the profit rate is *not* under pressure. In fact the rich are doing pretty, damn well.
    I waver between thinking it really does matter who wins the election, that the Tories slash and burn will happen and everything will indeed be slashed and burnt, to it really doesn't matter that much at all, that all their platforms are broadly similar and what will happen will happen. That's certainly the view of the big investment banks, UBS, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and so on.
    Who knows? Au fond its tribal and I'll never forget that hollow feeling in 1979.

  • Comment number 7.

    Its signficiant that after Brown's views being clearly exposed in Bigotgate, that he then gets his rocks off on an issue that is almost exclusively for migrant workers, is strongly supported by both Tory Boris and big business, and closley allied with Clegg's amnesty plans

    You should be proud (Not) that you have steadily helped that one along,Paul

    As for voting, I hope that somewhere in the fluttering BBC luvvies (isn't it time that Dimbleby was sent to the knackers? I can be the only one sick of and sickened by dynasty)that it is noted that in some constituencies only Moslems are standing for both Parliament and Council. So no choices for non-Moslems - 'democracy' all sewn up by dodgy immigration, and that something other than the party politics that we all know and love is going on.

  • Comment number 8.

    #2 Duvinrouge

    An interesting synopsis of the 4 main alternatives:

    1. Tories - pro-business, pro-market, dismantling the welfare state
    2. Lib-Lab - pro-business, pro-market, trying to save bits of the welfare state
    3. Socialists - anti-business, anti-market, pro-public services, work for all
    4. National Socialists - anti-business, anti-market, anti-immigrants

    Just co-incidence, or will each of these parties (blocs) gravitate towards one of the four main solutions for dealing with our excessive debt scenario?

    1) Austerity measures (tighten belts and slowly pay down debts)
    2) Default (refuse to pay back debts)
    3) Inflate away debt (de-value debt)
    4) War (play double or quits with your debts)

    If only the electorate was given a proper chance to weigh up the real options for solving our debt crisis.

    p.s. Just came across a video of a David Harvey lecture at the LSE, filmed last week:

  • Comment number 9.

    #6 billjefferies

    There is a very big difference between the reported rate of profit & the 'true' productive rate of profit.

    Over the long-run the profit rate is determined by the increase in valued added in the circuit of capital.
    The value is added in production although this takes many forms such as merchants capital, rent, etc.
    But the point is capital has to be put to a productive use.

    What happens over the short & medium run though is asset prices can increase, e.g. shares, property, etc.
    This is what is known as fictitious capital.
    Capital is not put to productive use & asset prices increase speculatively.

    This is what made up a lot of reported profit rates before the financial crisis.
    Just about all multinationals were making huge abouts of profit on their financial investments, a lot of which never went to any productive use of capital.

    This process has relied upon money being 'printed' (created).
    This has been the role of the US dollar for the last 40 years.

    But when the banks (finance capital) began to worry that the increase in asset prices wasn't sustainable, they all try to get out & leave the other with the hot potato.
    Hence reported profit rates became huge losses.
    Until that is the government came to the rescue with taxpayers money (& money printed out of thin-air).

    What happens?
    Huge reported profits again.

    But the fundamental problem remains, 'true' productive rates of profit are in trouble because there is too much capital that cannot be put to productive use (they can't find anywhere to invest all their money).

    Even if many cannot rationalise what's going on, they know that a lot of money was given to the banks & now we are suppose to put up with a lower standard of living.

    This is hard to swallow.
    People know what kind of life these bankers live & all those who live of the capital they invest.
    The injustice of it all demands action.

  • Comment number 10.

    #2 duvinrouge wrote:

    "The other political faction likely to emerge are the national socialists. Those who are against the market but wrap themselves in the union jack or more likely St George's flag...

    ...4. National Socialists - anti-business, anti-market, anti-immigrants"


    Not strictly true!

    China could be described as National Socialist...or more accurately as statist.

    Yet China is not anti-business nor anti-market (granted they are manipulating their labour rates by not having a floating currency...but the Western Liberal democracies have so far turned a blind eye to I wonder why?)

  • Comment number 11.

    Hawkeye_Pierce # 8

    David Harvey might have sold a lot of books with his Marxist anlysis and indeed online Marxist courses.

    But when his only way forward is to support the US based 'Living Wage'campaign for migrants as they undermine labour standards, while simultaneously saying that organised labour is a lost cause, as he did that evening, the man has lost the plot. Or he is trying to please all of the 'Lefties' all of the time to keep selling the books.

    Zizek has a better handle on the situation, referring to the French revolution - you want change or you dont, and if you do then you need to face up to what it takes for that to come about. This is not a namby pamby game, but the 'multicultural liberals' are just undermining all meaningful struggle in their feelgood haze.

  • Comment number 12.

    #5 tonyparksrun wrote:

    "I wouldn't get caught holding UK equities in the coming years. We're in for a rocky ride. No I'm not shorting anything. I hold UK equities, but have run out of ideas where to invest anywhere else, except Brazil long term maybe. How can it be otherwise when we will be taking billions out of the economy/stimulus/queasing and the currency is so fragile. The markets will have their way."


    I don't agree. However, I believe wealth protection is the name of the game at the moment.

    IMHO equities are probably a better bet than fiat paper or houses.

    It might be best to avoid the equities that are greatly exposed to political risk/influence (ala Robert Peston's blog today on this subject).
    However, there are many companies in the FTSE 100 with global sales/profits. This will surely protect them from any UK turmoil. I would also expect top UK stocks to stay abreast of UK inflation, should it rear it's ugly head. Stocks in businesses that already have high levels of regulation and not making profits that are deemed too obscene could be good bet.

    I still think the UK housing market is stiil awaiting another correction. It's still a bubble that QE has partially sustained.

    The only other alternative is (as armgediontimes keeps saying) buy gold!Even ETF's in gold/miners (following) shares may be risky given events in Australia yesterdy re the 40% mining tax. Buying gold will just be a prtection strategy.

    There could well be a stock market correction/drop following the GE but I don't think (or is it hope) it will be too big.

  • Comment number 13.

    @7 Stayingcool

    Muslim-only lists?

    Do you have any links or can you name any constituencies concerned?

  • Comment number 14.

    In amongst the love-bombing from various celebs, from Bill Bailey to Ross Kemp, this just now in my twitter in-box:

    bbcpolitics How to do it and what impact might it have

    What 'it' might be being beneath national news broadcast twitterers, I click to find out these are instructions on how to 'vote tactically', as this option is clearly an even, attractive option across all parties at this stage. Evidently...

    rising calls for tactical voting between Labour and the Libdems

    Calls often ably heeded?

    anything can happen in the next half hour

    It can. And if some get their way, it clearly will.

  • Comment number 15.


    Bethnal Green and Bow in East London is the only one I know of that might be what number 7 is getting at. It's pretty much a straight fight between Respect and the Conservatives, but all five parties contesting the seat are fielding muslim candidates. Which seems sensible and representative in a majority muslim area.

  • Comment number 16.

    #8 Hawkeye_Pierce

    "Just co-incidence, or will each of these parties (blocs) gravitate towards one of the four main solutions for dealing with our excessive debt scenario?

    1) Austerity measures (tighten belts and slowly pay down debts)
    2) Default (refuse to pay back debts)
    3) Inflate away debt (de-value debt)
    4) War (play double or quits with your debts)"

    There's probably something in what you say.

    I enjoyed the David Harvey link.
    What stood out for me for the bit about the 'effective demand' problem.
    Essentially, Rosa Luxemburg's accumulation problem.
    He is quite clear that it is the credit system that plays a crucial role, but, importantly, without the growth there is no solution.
    So the credit system isn't the solution, but a necessary part of the solution, which rests upon continual growth.
    Which then takes us back to the the issue as to whether growth is possible without the 'looting' that Rosa went on about.

  • Comment number 17.

    Can we have something on Greece and related stuff again paul, this election stuff is starting to leave me cold now.

    Cons will get the most seats, nip and tuck between lab and lib dems for second place, a hung parliament and a minority conservative government moderated by the lib dems.

    Maybe george and vince can share the chalcellor post. There must be a couple of spare bedrooms in No 11 after all.

    Nick clegg as foreighn secretary (he speaks lots of languages y'know and we are going to need afew friends).

    This greek thing is far more exciting.

  • Comment number 18.

    Looking at the 2002 Argentine debt crisis, they only got out of that because they defied the IMF, Wall Street and the City.

    Look at the policies (not the smears) of Chavez in Venzuela. Look at Ecuador and the seismic collapse that occurred when the Sucre was abolished by a US client government and the recovery under Correa, a man who represents the interests of Ecuadorians and not the interests of the US. Look at the policies of Morales in Bolivia.

    Where is the last remaining basket case in South America? Why is Columbia ruled by Álvaro Uribe Vélez a neo-Fascist, but supported by London and Washington.

    There is no way out of collapse until and unless you free yourself from the shackles of international finance. Latin America provides all the evidence that could be needed.

    Is the UK doing any of this? Are the people rising up and demanding that their government represents their interests? Do the ruling classes hold you and me in total contempt? Are they wrong to do so? How smart do you need to be to know the answers to these questions?

  • Comment number 19.

    If anyone can find the time over the next few months, try reading JM Keynes' "Essays in Persuasion" - it's very relevant to what's going on in the Western World at the moment.

    Keynes wrote an open letter to the French finance minister in 1926, advising controlled inflation to make sure it was not the poor or the currently productive who paid for the costs of the first world war. (Unlike the policy of Britain's rich embodied in Churchill's disastrous budget of 1925.)

    Greece can't do this: it fudged the conditions to join a single currency where there was and is no integrated economy. Britain, by predjudice rather than rationality, was fortunate enough to keep out. Paul Krugman recently compared Greece and Britain. Read his conclusions here:

  • Comment number 20.

    @18 Debtjuggler.

    I quite agree. The trouble is that Britain has become both greedy and lazy. True, there is more greed at the top and laziness at the bottom, but this is all part of the (planned?) consequences of the victory of finance and the City.

    Despite the recent falls, the pound is still higher than justified by Britain's balance of trade. Propped up by the financial piracy of the City, a high pound boosts imports and destroys manufacturing. Jobs, like steel on Teeside, have been exported to countries where both life and labour are cheap.

    Much of the working class has been exported and replaced by a lumpenproletariat on benefits, Primark clothes, Asda imported food, and Sky TV. This is the modern equivalent of "Bread and Circusses".

    Our poor are disadvantaged and left out, but much better off than the wage slaves who make their kitch faux-designer clothing or the Arabic/eastern European gangs who pick their fruit and veg. They do not earn a living, because their work-ethic has been destroyed by a financial ruling class which steals their living for them. This class treats them with contempt and laughs at the rest of us. We will have to "price ourselves into jobs" at third world rates in due course.

    I would like a hung parliament, but I would like to hang certain finaciers and media magnates first. I'm sure you know who I mean.

  • Comment number 21.

    #19 and 20

    Good to see you back Sasha, always valued your comments, looks like you picked up where you left off.

    I still haven't finished reading 'The Master and Margharita' though.

    Your nemesis 'jaded jean' and his offsping of different name but identical sentiment seem to have disappeared also.

    All is good.

  • Comment number 22.

    @15 UltraTron

    Thank you for responding to my earlier question. I found a similar answer a few minutes ago when reading this piece in the Independent:

    The paper had sent a reporter to investigate suspected postal voting fraud in the borough, who was assaulted when he tried to contact a candidate at the centre of the allegations (and further threatened by the same candidate subsequently). Mercifully the BBC London reporter did not suffer the same fate when he tried to go door-knocking yesterday.

    There are two things here. The first is the postal ballot scandal which is now infecting twelve London constituencies, aside from other parts of the country. Perhaps one shouldn't point the finger, but much does seem to trace back to one party and its activists. At a finely balanced election, the damage that could be done by just a few tens of fraudulent votes could have a significant impact. This could be the "hanging chads" that does for Democracy as we knew it.

    On the subject of Muslim-only ballots, I agree with StayingCool that there is something wrong that the non-Muslim community are being denied representation. While the two constituencies (Tower Hamlets and Poplar/Limehouse) have large Muslim populations, they are far from exclusively so and such bias is only pandering to extremism. Remember that these communities will be prominent during the 2012 Olympics in the life of the next Parliament (barring another election to resolve a hung Parliament).

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Jericoa - Sorry I haven't been around - too many commitments.

    This general election will resolve little: the real debates - and battles - are still to come. I'm not looking forward to it - it's going to be very difficult to promote reason and rational behaviour.

    I hope you and yours are well! :-)

  • Comment number 24.

    #23: alas, i think you are right. And after the Election, we will once again be what in political science is an "Elected Dictatorship". No matter how many protest and march, no matter how many write invective laden blogs and twitters - we are still facing a Dictatorship at the end of the day.

    our Grandparents knew how to deal with Dictatorships - do current generations have the necessary strength of will to take on the even larger task of removing a domestic Dictatorship? Will our own troops fire upon the Public in defence of (most likely) a Tory Govt, or will they, like in Greece, disobey orders and join with the Public?

    i suspect, after hearing about the huge drive for 'soldier postal votes', that they have mainly been fed murdochracy lies out there in the ME. If so, we can only hope their loved ones and families back here in the UK try to inform them of the true realities of the UK's situation, and that it is the People in front of their guns who were opposed to sacrificing their lives for American geo-political gains, and not the swines in the offices behind them they have been ordered to protect..


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