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Cleggmania: the brutal unknowns for Labour

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Paul Mason | 17:38 UK time, Monday, 19 April 2010

I saw Gordon Brown laugh today - not just smile but genuinely laugh in during a moment of confusion in a press conference. In fact Labour's whole machine, gathered at Bloomberg's HQ in London for an economy press briefing, seems to have lightened up. Two reasons:

First, as one senior Labour person put it to me: getting to the first weekend after the debates without Cameron establishing momentum and an unassailable lead was always going to be a result. They now feel they have done more than that.

Second: the impact of Cleggmania. Here's the brutal logic, as explained to me by a Labour strategist. There are about 35 Tory/Lib Dem marginals the Conservatives have to win to form a majority. Cleggmania makes that harder. There are, maximum, 15 Labour-Lib Dem marginals that could harm Labour (these are the party's calculations, of course, not mine).

Then there are "about 100" straight Lab-Cons marginals that will decide the election.

The way Labour's high command thinks about these seats is as follows:
a) Some of Cleggmania is coming from people who are naturally centre-right and would have voted Conservative, but now like the idea of Nick Clegg.
b) Some of Cleggmania is really Vincemania, and is coming from people who are naturally centre-left, who want PR, want to break up the banks etc.

In Labour-Tory marginals, for the past two elections, some Lib Dems have voted tactically against the Conservatives. But if this phenomenon were to stop, or be diluted, that changes the electoral calculus quite brutally for Labour.

There is a third part of the demographic that is difficult to quantify because it is new. My hunch, based on a number of conversations with party workers and pollsters, is that quite a bit of Cleggmania is coming from young, first-time voters who may not have voted before. If it's true the Lib Dems have "captured the anti-politics zeitgeist" then we are not talking about a swing but an injection of new force into the election.

Such new voters may not be in any mood to be told they are wasting their (first ever or long-disused) vote if they vote Lib Dem. And they may not be natural tactical voters either.

It's also clear that a part of the electorate is revelling in the possibility of a hung parliament; possibly because it a) blows apart the two-party consensus and b) is exactly what the banking industry keeps saying it doesn't want. A hung parliament, by this logic, punishes both the politicians and the bankers.

So Cleggmania does pose a problem for Labour. But what it also does is define their task quite brutally, in those 100 marginals. No-one in Labour would say it openly but they need to turn Cleggmania there into pro-Labour tactical voting. Do they know this? I can assure you that they do. What they do not know yet is what the political cost of this is going to be: what is the new offer they have to make, either to the Lib Dem front bench or the Lib Dem voting base.

You can be certain that this is on their minds.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm still waiting for Cameron to start shouting "Well All Right, Well All Right!" and introduce "the next Chancellor…".

    Rather than copy the Labour '97 election campaign they seem to have pressed the wrong button and chosen the '92 campaign instead. It's really starting to unravel quite dramatically.

  • Comment number 2.

    He who laughs last laughs longest.

    They are laughing at the obvious extreme discomfort of an old and despised rival.

    But will they still be laughing when the minimum price they will pay is proportional representation, the sweet taste of total single party power will become outside their grasp forever?

    Will they still be laughing when the unions realise the Lib dems have policies more in tune with their aims than labour? Why fund them when a viable alternative more in tune with their aims is available?

    Let them count their seats and their strategies, let them salivate over the constituency boundaries that so warp the number of seats in their favour like Fagin counting his gold coins.

    But when the dust has settled and this new dynamic has run its course who will be the last one laughing I wonder?

    Gordon Brown?

  • Comment number 3.

    Maybe the Lib Dems should have policies to attract younger voters

    For a start, how about measures to re balance the housing market, for example by bringing prices down. High house prices have been a way of transfering wealth from non property owning (usually younger) to property owning (usually older) people.

    The mansion tax is a good example

    How about rationing health care for the elderly?

    How about putting more resource into pensions for the longer term?

    How about cutting winter fuel payments?

    How about increasing child benefit?

    The older sections of society vote more often, and thus get a better deal from the taxpayer. It is time this was re-balanced.

  • Comment number 4.

    Once word gets out that Mr. Brown wants Clegg to rain on the Tory parade, this will throw the Clegg bandwaggon into reverse.

    The issue of this campaign is not who replaces Brown but how badly Labour loses. Private polling has shown that Labour is in for a pasteing. If the anti-Brown vote gets split then Labour lives to fight another day.

    In the end, as has happened before, the possible Liberal (Democrat) voter gets into the polling booth with the intention of voting Brown out becomes fearful that if the X is not placed by the Tory name Brown will be back with a vengeance, so the X goes beside the Tory candidate.

    Clegg has peaked too soon.

  • Comment number 5.

    What gets me is the assumption that the Lib Dems are necessarily "progressive" (here loosely defined as "anti-Tory"). & yet the reason I cannot bring myself to vote for them, however disillusioned I may feel about Labour, is that in practice - i.e. in local government - their record in power quite often shows otherwise, whether it's their propensity to do deals with the Tories for a piece of pie (e.g. Leeds & formerly Birmingham) or to pursue Tory-esque policies in places where being an actual Tory is socially unacceptable (e.g. Nick Clegg's "own" Sheffield, where the council is following a policy of equal expenditure on each ward, a de facto redistribution of wealth from some of the poorest wards in the north of England (where they don't, on the whole, vote Lib Dem) to some of the richest (where, notably in Nick Clegg's Hallam constituency, they most assuredly do). The assumption is they'd do a deal with Labour. The evidence suggests they'll do a deal with anyone, really.
    Of course, Labour are in way too weak a position to mention any of this. Focusing on the Tories & parrotting "I agree with Nick" is about as much as they can do. But I think journalists probably ought to investigate how "progressive" the Lib Dems really are a little bit more.

  • Comment number 6.

    "Will they still be laughing when the unions realise the Lib dems have policies more in tune with their aims than labour? Why fund them when a viable alternative more in tune with their aims is available?"

    How are the Lib Dems more in tune with the aims of unions?

    "Dimbleby: Very briefly, that goes back to governments tolerating or not tolerating. You’re saying in essential public services which you presumably described as being… you would, YOU, if you were elected would consider outlawing industrial action in those industries?

    Cable: Well, you could certainly consider curbing them.

    Dimbleby: Curbing them? You mean making them more difficult?

    Cable: Yes. Indeed, and there are legislative implications that has to be thought through.

    Dimbleby: Is it the policy of the Liberal Democrats, if you were to have a position in government, to say we should toughen industrial relations law in order to make it more difficult for these unions, rail, air, whatever it might be, to take strike actions?

    Cable: Well, if we’re talking about essential public services like the railway system then we should be looking at it, certainly."

    He wants to make it even harder for people to strike, on top of all the punitative hoops they have to jump through now.

  • Comment number 7.


    Hmmm ok I did not know that, I am quite surprised actually!

    But there is more to unions than just 'strikes'. I guess where I was coming from is that as an overall policy platform, in my opinion, the lib dems are more left wing than labour.

    Break up the banks


    No tax below 10k

    opposed the Iraq war

    Get rid of tax relief on pensions of the wealthy

    The mansion tax

    If they combine that with curbing the worst self interest excesses of the unions they may still get donations from the more progressive of the Unions I guess, but not the die hard 'everybody out and we dont care who suffers' london underground union types.

    Are the lib dems, in effect, New old labour?

  • Comment number 8.

    Paul wrote:

    'I saw Gordon Brown laugh today - not just smile but genuinely laugh in during a moment of confusion in a press conference.'(sic)



    When will you learn?....psychopaths don't genuinely laugh. It's just for show you know!

  • Comment number 9.

    I suspect Swansea West is one of those marginals that the Liberals could well take.

    The long-standing Labour MP, Alan Williams, has retired and for a few years now I have heard people wonder whether he had already passed on - the Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Alan William's heir apparent, sounds Welsh and has done Welsh things but he does not appear to be 'a local boy'. Parachutes and Labour in Wales seem to go hand in hand.

    On the other hand the Liberal Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Swansea West, admittedly a former neighbour of mine, is a chap called Peter May - a local chap who lives in the constituency and someone who got so fed up a few years ago by the way the area was being treated by the Labour Council that he went and stood for election - and he got in.

    Since then he has battled on real issues for the residents from lobbying for substantial Lottery funding to restore one of Dylan Thomas's much loved parks to its Edwardian glory: to campaigning for better buses for elderly residents; for parking spaces for locals who live near the University and who found they could not park outside their homes due to the large numbers of student cars; and for organising events for children - Easter Egg hunts among them. I have seen him get down on his hands and knees and help clear the muck and rubbish that, for example, the students of a student house left in the garden of 70 year old plus widows in the constituency.

    I mention this - not because I am campagining for him or connected with him in any way other than he used to be my neighbour - because I suspect he could be a surprise new entrant to Parliament. He has being doing hands on positive work for the people of Swansea West whilst the new Labour guy is, well, an unknown to many. Yes, the large majority that Alan Willams has had for decades will be hard to overturn and, as the old saying goes, in some parts of Wales a sheep could stand as a Labour candidate and get elected but...

    Combine the 'Clegg Factor' with the local Liberal candidate who gets down on his hands and knees to help the people in his ward. Throw in a retiring Labour MP, a potential replacement who many locals are asking "Who?" and things could get very interesting in Swansea West.

    We live in interesting times.

  • Comment number 10.


    Your neighbour is exactly the sort of MP we need who can help repair the disconnect between what has become the career lawyer politician class and the people they are supposed to represent.

    Please dont tell me he was a lawyer !

  • Comment number 11.

    "Are the lib dems, in effect, New old labour?"

    I kind of see them as embodying some of the worst aspects of the Fabian wing in old Labour. "We'll not let you strike and gain for yourselves but we'll throw you a scrap from the table as and when we want to."

  • Comment number 12.

    yup...Lib Dems equal Old Labour...I'll go with that

  • Comment number 13.


    I dont think Gordon Brown would still be laughing if he heard that!

    So the lib dems have pulled the rug out from labour by being more left wing than labour and pulled the rug out from under the Tories by now being perceived as ' the party of real change' ... the very strap line of the Tory campain.

    y'know I am starting to believe they may actually win this.. not in terms of seats, which is too warped by years of boundary tinkering but in terms of % of the popular vote.

    Woulden't that be interesting.

    By the way you can still get reasonable odds on nick clegg winning the next debate... I just cant see how he can lose it now actually, the fundamentals are too in his favour for any ammount of spin to win it for gordon or the sleek but visibly under extreme pressure Cameron.

    Go crazy eveyone, the bookies can afford it.

  • Comment number 14.

    If the LD's said the price for coalition with Labour is Brown to go they would reap a lot of support from both disenchanted Labour voters and wobbling new Tories.

  • Comment number 15.

    10 Jericoa: -

    No, he is not a lawyer. Nor does he wear fake tan.

    I don't rightly recall what he does now to be honest. I know he worked with children - forever organising activities in the school holidays for the kids - for years and was heavily involved in the local schools - could be a teacher.

  • Comment number 16.

    9. At 8:59pm on 19 Apr 2010, tawse57 wrote:

    You wag...that was an un-abashed party political advert!

    ...fair-doos though!

    Do you still keep in touch?

  • Comment number 17.

    16 DebtJuggler: -

    No, it was not a party political advert - I don't think I have seen the guy since I moved about 2 years ago now. I am sure I must have but can't recall.

    I was contemplating writing "Liar Loans" on my ballot paper as a protest against the corruption of the bankers and politicians if you wish to know my voting intentions.

    I probably will vote for one of the main parties though.

  • Comment number 18.

    I am concerned that in the anti-the-other-two Clegg factor, what is being lost is the critique of EU membership, previously being expressed in support for anyone anti- EU. By contrast, in this form of reaction against the 2 big beasts, Lib Dem support is for even further EU integration.

    Who si actually winning - transnational capital- got all three big business puppets parties fighing it out - they now cant lose.

    Surely better than all this 'who is winning , who is a a neck in front, who coughed' it would be more worthy for the media (especially that which we pay for) to give a good go to supporting an informed electorate. I mean real information not just reflecting the public's floundering desperate opinions in poll reading.

    Panorama has just done a reasonable program on immigration numbers, albeit with a few too many shots of posh houses.

    How about a good run down of the labour liberalisation mechanisms so that people can know what they are getting, ask real questions of politicans and measure up responses in an informed way.

    This is what will produce a good election outcome, not lazy coverage reflecting polls with the same boring suits chewing over those polls and saying nothing.

    Not another few weeks of Finkelstein!

  • Comment number 19.

    I think you are right to raise the point that the arithmetic for the election has just become a lot more complicated.

    As you also point out some of the phenomena of the previous elections since 1997 such as tactical voting may unwind, or they may not. They may even intensify.

    You are also right to highlight that the marginals will remain where the decisive arithmetic will work its effect on the result.

    There are still two and a half weeks to go and two more Prime Ministerial candidates' debates.

    One part of the arithmetic that may be a little more reliable is that the opinon polls currently point to a three cornered fight, at least until Thursday. There is some voting interest being generated and hopefully more people will vote this time than for the last two elections.

    Will Ashcroft's £millions be decisive in the outcome?

  • Comment number 20.

    17. At 11:35pm on 19 Apr 2010, tawse57 wrote:

    I probably will vote for one of the main parties though.


    I beg you not to!

    If you vote for any of the free-market liberal democratic lovin parties, you will just end up with more of the same.

    Do you truely belive in liberal dimocracy? really is all just a sham!

    I strongly recommmend you read jaded jean / statist on this website's archive. This person is truely amazing in their intellect/history/political insight....I fear if you do not agree, it will only reflect your intellectual insight on this matter.

    It's up to you I guess!

  • Comment number 21.

    I saw Gordon Brown laugh today - not just smile but genuinely laugh in during a moment of confusion in a press conference.

    That this seems to arise from only 60+% of the Uk population not wanting anything to do with him and his stellar 13-year GOAT herd, compounded by various perverse quirks of a discredited system, speaks volumes.

    Was it anything like this one?:


  • Comment number 22.

    #20 DebtJuggler

    What is so amazing about a person who sees life in a hierarchical form, with himself at the top & black people at the bottom?

    National Socialism will only result in millions of deaths.

  • Comment number 23.

    what a sad state of affairs....the Lib Dems to the left of Labour, how many old parliamentarians would be spinning in their graves, Attlee, Bevin, Wilson etc., all would be appalled that a once great party had become a mini Tory party...what went wrong...discuss

  • Comment number 24.


    It's the same Westminster that Clegg has functioned within FOR FIVE YEARS. No one of visceral integrity could be present in that dark place, for so long, WITHOUT SHINING OUT, being spotted and, IRONICALLY, sidelined as 'NOT ONE OF US'.

    Parties once had root dogma (a kind of integrity). Now they 'position' themselves ANYWHERE that can be made (deviously) to look appealing. Upon abandoning any defining dogma, to my mind, the parties lost all meaningful identity, and now simply play empty power games at Westminster. The wellbeing of UK citizens is secondary, and incidental.

    But you knew that stevie.


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