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Archives for May 2008

Normal service will be resumed...

Nick Robinson | 08:36 UK time, Saturday, 24 May 2008


As MPs take a Whitsun break, I'm taking a few days to recover from Manchester United's night of glory in Moscow and late night by-electioneering in Crewe.
Back soon...

By-election reactions

Nick Robinson | 13:06 UK time, Friday, 23 May 2008


Crewe: By-elections don't change governments. However, how parties react to by-elections can change governments.

David Cameron and Edward TimpsonThe self-proclaimed "heir to Blair" is trying to use the Crewe and Nantwich result to declare New Labour dead and at the same time he is trying to claim leadership of the Blair coalition for himself.

"I think what happened was that, for Labour, it was the end of being the party of aspiration, it was the end of being the party of opportunity: it was the end of New Labour."

David Cameron knows that what brought him victory this morning was the willingness of non-Tories to give him a chance or, at least, to lend him their vote. Expect him to continue his strategy of "love bombing" (as they call it in Tory HQ) those who traditionally protest by voting Lib Dem.

Gordon Brown's response has been a version of that old Clinton cliche "It's the economy, stupid". He's promising action to relieve the financial pressure voters are feeling. One cabinet minister told me that he's got to stop talking about the need for "a five-year tractor plan" and promising that "whatever happens you get tractors" - in other words, less talk about the long term and more action now.

The danger for the prime minister is this. If, once he's told people he's listening, and once he's told them he feels their hurt, and once he takes action, things don't get better for Labour some may conclude that "It's the leadership, stupid". Another cabinet minister shocked me by comparing Mr Brown with Michael Foot and expressing regret that the party had never had the courage to remove Foot.

There will be no leadership challenge now. There may never be one. If, however, Gordon Brown doesn't learn the right lessons from this by-election he would be unwise to assume that no-one would dare try.

Tipping point?

Nick Robinson | 02:49 UK time, Friday, 23 May 2008


Be in no doubt. If David Cameron becomes prime minister many will look back at the vote in Crewe and Nantwich as the moment they first believed it was possible.

Edward Timpson and wife Julia with supportersNot only is this the first Tory by-election gain from Labour in 30 years, it is on a swing that matches those secured by Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher before they reached No 10.

It comes less than a year after what was billed as Labour's moment of "renewal" when Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair. It comes just weeks after the prime minister responded to crushing defeats in the local elections by telling voters he felt their hurt before unveiling an unexpected tax cut and his legislative programme for the year ahead.

So, what is left to do now? A reshuffle? It would, most likely, be dismissed as moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. Ditching the captain then? Certainly that is being discussed by many Labour MPs - even some in the cabinet - but it stll looks unlikely - for now. A change of policy? That is where the debate will now focus with one senior minister telling me that it's time tear up what they referred to as "Gordon's five-year tractor plans" and take action now to ease the financial pain many are feeling - if necessary by postponing investment in hospitals and schools to pay for it.

Some in Labour will comfort themselves with the memory that Neil Kinnock was pretty good at winning by-elections but still couldn't win a general election. It is not likely to comfort very many.

How big?

Nick Robinson | 01:36 UK time, Friday, 23 May 2008


Attempts will be made to talk up and talk down the Tories' victory tonight. You can judge for yourself with this handy guide to previous by-election swings.

The Tories will say that this is the biggest swing from Labour to the Tories in more than 30 years and in line with the swings that were followed by Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher becoming prime minister:

Lab to Con by election swings

- Warwick and Leamington 1968 - 18.2%
- Brighton Pavillion 1969 - 17.9%
- Ashfield - 1977 - 20.8%
- Walsall North - 1976 - 17.3%

In Ilford North 1978, the last by-election gain from Labour to the Tories, the swing was 7%.

The opposition parties wll, on the other hand, point out that they've had much bigger swings in by-elections:

Con to Lib Dem by election swings

- Christchurch 1993 - 35%
- Newbury 1993 - 28%
- Ribble Valley 1991 - 25%

Con to Lab by election swings

- Dudley West 94 - 29%
- SE Staffs - 96 - 22%
- Mid Staffs 89 - 21%

Tories become kings of swing

Nick Robinson | 00:41 UK time, Friday, 23 May 2008


We have just heard the turnout - it's 58.2% - that's very high and confirms that the Tory vote has come out in force.

Party number crunchers are predicting a swing from Labour to Tory of around 17% - that's in line with the swing to New Labour in the last by-election before Tony Blair became prime minister and would lead to a majority of 8,000 or more.

There has also been a swing to the Lib Dems of around 8% - enough, their people say, to win around 20 Labour seats. They are putting a brave face on the fact that for the first time in many many years it's the Conservatives not the Lib Dems who are the by-election kings.

Crewe-sing for a bruising

Nick Robinson | 23:26 UK time, Thursday, 22 May 2008


Nantwich civic centre

50% Tory
28 % Labour
17 % Lib Dem

That's the early estimate of the party's vote shares for the first votes to be counted tonight, according to a Tory source bat the count

The word here is of a major stay at home in Labour areas - turnout in the 30s - and a rush to vote in Tory areas - turnout in the 60s. Team Labour is talking of a switch around from a 7000 majority in their favour to roughly the same lead for the Conservatives.

Those close to Gordon Brown who hoped that they could present a narrow Tory victory as a setback for David Cameron are going to have to get out a new script. One Cabinet source tells me "We're listening. We feel your pain won't do. People want action now - not in the long term"

. .

Police beat up defenceless woman

Nick Robinson | 11:29 UK time, Wednesday, 21 May 2008


Police Federation conference, Bournemouth: An unarmed woman has been attacked by a mob of angry police officers this morning.

Jacqui Smith at Police Federation conferenceThe victim, Ms Smith of Westminster, was told that she had "betrayed" us as blow after blow rained on her head. Her assailants are believed to have been enraged by the "theft" - as they see it - of their pay award by Ms Smith. She was even taunted with the question "What has Mr Balls got that you haven't?" This is thought to be a reference to a Mr Balls of Westminster who refused to take money from a group of teachers.

The victim reacted with a pained look. She is expected to speak about her ordeal shortly.

Your reporter was shocked by the violence (political, of course) that he has just witnessed.

Voters' choice

Nick Robinson | 18:55 UK time, Monday, 19 May 2008


"True, our candidate's winning", a Labour minder tells me today in Crewe. When I looked surprised, he clarifies that he means winning the most hugs. A moment spent with Tamsin Dunwoody and you sensed she really is her mother's daughter, feisty and outspoken, and you sense too that the people of Crewe really did admire the woman whose death has triggered this by-election.

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However a moment spent talking to voters here and you sense too, real anger with the government. Some raised the 10p tax rate, some immigration. An influx of Poles has alienated many. Others raise simply their dissatisfaction with Gordon Brown.

One woman ran up to me in the street to ask me to film the queues in the local post office after the closure of other local post offices. She was angry she'd spent 35 minutes in a queue. What's more, she'd lost out as a result of the 10p tax rate being scrapped. She would though, despite all of this, still, she insisted, be voting Labour for Gwyneth's sake.

That's the choice many voters are pondering here, whether to hug Gwyneth Dunwoody's grieving daughter or to kick Gordon Brown hard.

Negative campaigning

Nick Robinson | 11:58 UK time, Monday, 19 May 2008


Crewe: Surprise surprise, Harriet Harman has cancelled her visit to Crewe today. Yesterday Labour's deputy leader admitted that her party's campaign here was not very positive. Perhaps she felt that being pictured with a leaflet asking "Do you want a Tory conman or a Dunwoody", between a picture of a top hat and a bow tie, might just have reinforced her message.

She is apparently too busy in the House of Commons to come to Crewe today, however that's not stopped the home secretary, the chief secretary to the Treasury, the cabinet office minister, the terrorism minister and many other MPs.

Publishing expenses

Nick Robinson | 11:06 UK time, Friday, 16 May 2008


Another defeat for MPs trying to protect their expenses. The Commons now has no option but to publish the details of the 14 prominent MPs and former MPs who were the subject of this case.

House of CommonsA few weeks ago I was told that the Commons were preparing to publish everything for all MPs. That now seems to have changed. The Commons Committee responsible for security has been told that in order to protect MPs from terrorists, violent campaigners and obsessives nothing should be published that would reveal their addresses, travel patterns and the identities of those with access to their house.

These arguments were not made in the original FOI hearing about the 14 and could not, therefore, be added into later appeals.

PS. Below is the script of an essay I wrote for the Today programme at the end of Gordon Brown's extraordinary week. Some have complained that it showed contempt for him. All the contentious phrases are taken from conversations I had with sources in the Labour Party who wished to remain anonymous. They are not my own. This sort of journalism is, by its nature, off the record and I chose for ease of the listener (and now the reader) not to say "one MP said that" ....etc

Read the rest of this entry

Political fight-back

Nick Robinson | 10:27 UK time, Thursday, 15 May 2008


One day a surprise budget. The next a sneak preview of the Queens Speech. Today a prime ministerial news conference and a round of interviews. Call it a relaunch, call it a fight-back, call it what you like. This is a concerted attempt by Gordon Brown to shape events rather than being bruised and battered by them.

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With the governor of the Bank of England's warning that "the nice decade is behind us" still ringing in his ears, Gordon Brown's returned to what he knows best. The first Lord of the Treasury is promising to steer the ship of state through stormy waters. "I'll do it again" he says suggesting that he's managed our economy through times like this before.

However, the economy has not faced challenges like this in the past decade. There has not been a time when real incomes were falling, inflation rising and house prices falling.

What's more, the government's room for manoeuvre is strictly limited. This is partly their own fault - they have very little money to spend because it's at the outer limits of what even they believe is prudent borrowing. It is partly because the inflationary pressures we're facing - oil and food prices, in particular - are not under their direct control.

The prime minister said yesterday that he asked and expected to be judged by the test of whether he'd maintained economic prosperity. He believes that Britain will weather this storm. The political question it raises, though, is whether the electorate will credit him if he's right or, even if they do, whether they'll reward him with another five years in office. After all, Churchill won the war and in the election that followed the British people said "thank you and goodbye".

Rallying the troops

Nick Robinson | 09:15 UK time, Wednesday, 14 May 2008


Yesterday Gordon Brown's loyal lieutenant finally agreed surrender terms at the end of the long and bloody "war of Gordon's ear"*. The prime minister only listened to those warning him about the millions of losers from scrapping the 10p tax rate when faced by imminent defeat.

Today Labour's general will try to rally his dispirited troops with tales of the next battles they will fight together. Whether it's housing or health, welfare or immigration, the battle cry which will ring around the land is "We are on your side! Fairness for all!"

Those in the ranks contemplating mutiny - and, believe me, many are - may be forgiven for wondering why their leader ignored those slogans for week after week and month after month in the battle of 10p which he fought and lost so spectacularly, leaving the casualties to wonder what on earth the point of it all had been.

* For the historians among you, you might have spotted that this is a reference to the War of Jenkins's Ear.

A political emergency

Nick Robinson | 17:52 UK time, Tuesday, 13 May 2008


This was quite simply another Budget - an emergency Budget - just 10 weeks after the last one. The emergency was not financial but political.

Red Budget boxThe revolt over the scrapping of the 10p tax band was so serious that ministers feared defeat in the Commons - a defeat which would have led to calls for the prime minister to quit. In addition, Gordon Brown feared being the first Labour leader to lose a by-election to the Tories in two decades.

Thus, the chancellor has brought forward an expensive package, paid for by extra borrowing and which helps millions of people who were not losers from the scrapping of the 10p rate.

There are perfectly good economic arguments for:
- helping hard-hit families at a time of economic insecurity
- extending borrowing to pay for it when times are tough
- increasing tax allowances as the most efficient and least bureaucratic way to help the 10p tax losers

Those arguments did not persuade the chancellor 10 weeks ago. Only a political emergency has been enough to do that.

Mini Budget

Nick Robinson | 15:50 UK time, Tuesday, 13 May 2008


A pre-by-election tax giveaway paid for by increased government borrowing. That was the chancellor's announcement in what amounts to a mini Budget.

It is designed, once and for all, to kill the 10p row and to wrong foot the Tories since they have called for help for the 10p losers and to help those struggling as the credit crunch bites.

Labour MPs are happier than they have been for weeks and the Tories, for the first time in a long time, look wrong footed.

10p tax repair

Nick Robinson | 14:59 UK time, Tuesday, 13 May 2008


Stand by for the announcement of the Treasury's 10p tax repair. The word from Whitehall is that it will be "significant", "costly" and will "fix the political problem".

Alistair DarlingThe chancellor's been determined to come up with a package that does not involve individual payments to individually identified losers, does not fall apart under scrutiny and which can be presented as a long-term policy rather than a short-term fix. He has also insisted that he will not unveil his plans in full until all the details are worked out ie in his pre-Budget report in the autumn.

Long term, Alistair Darling knows he needs to re-establish Labour's narrative of helping "the many not the few" with a strategy of help for the poorest - via winter fuel payments, the minimum wage and even, possibly, changes to tax allowances.

Today's statement is being described as a "ground clearing" job so that the list of bills the PM will unveil tomorrow get a hearing.

PS. When listening to arguments about gainers and losers, bear in the mind the following:

The Treasury estimates that 5.3million people lost as a result of the abolition of the 10p tax rate.

When the prime minister claimed recently that the figure "came down as a result of the Budget 2007 to 4.3m, it is now going down again to 3.8m" (Sky News, 5 May 2008) he was taking into account other measures in the last two Budgets such as the rise in winter fuel allowance and the planned up-rating of tax credits and child benefit".

The Treasury states that "for households that are worse off, the average loss is about £2 per week" and the "maximum amount any single individual could be worse off by is £232 per year (£4.46 per week).

UPDATE, 03:30PM: It is to be increases in tax allowances which will affect pay packets from September and will be paid for by greater borrowing.

Team tactics

Nick Robinson | 09:19 UK time, Tuesday, 13 May 2008


He is not "the special one". He is not as charismatic as his predecessor. He faces persistent rumours about his long-term future. A crucial test next week will help determine how events unfold. Gordon Brown had a lot to talk about to Avram Grant last night when they met at a Downing Street reception.

Avram GrantEarlier that day Team Brown's head coach, Ed Balls, had declared that there were great similarities between the ups and downs of leadership in sport and politics. Of course, unlike Chelsea, Brown's team did not even come second in their recent contest and their real focus is on trying to reverse the damage done by a spate of own goals. Today, Labour's team manager will debate tactics and strategy with his squad of cabinet players. In particular, they will consider a plan to compensate some of the losers from the scrapping of the 10p tax rate.

Whilst Avram Grant is hoping to raise a trophy, to bask in the cheers, and to keep his job, Gordon Brown's more limited ambition is to stop the crowd booing. Today may be the first test of whether he can pull that off.

The PM met another grizzled veteran of the nausea-inducing rollercoaster of the beautiful game's fickle fortune, Roy Hodgson of Fulham, last night. Perhaps his advice on how to avoid relegation was more appropriate.

Taking up the gauntlet

Nick Robinson | 16:18 UK time, Monday, 12 May 2008


The gauntlet had been thrown by Frank Field and Ed Balls clearly could not resist picking it up. In an extraordinary on the record (though off microphone) briefing - originally planned to be about the Tories' education policies - Mr Balls:

Ed Balls• Warned his party against "personal attacks or settling old scores"

• Attacked Frank Field's motives - saying pointedly that before last night's BBC interview, people could "believe his intentions were honourable" and could take what he said "at face value". It is now clear, Balls said, that nothing we do "will persuade Frank"

• Criticised last autumn's pre-Budget report for having focused insufficiently on family finances. If, Mr Balls said, the credit crunch's impact on family finances had been anticipated, "different decisions would have been taken" - remember that it was in the PBR that hundreds of millions of pounds were found to cut inheritance tax rather than to alleviate the impact of the 10p tax rate abolition

• Called for quick action on the 10p tax issue - "there is a real desire in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the country to set out what can be done quickly to show we're not just listening but acting"

• Appeared to concede the likelihood of Labour losing the Crewe by-election by saying that "the result would not be a decisive indicator of the general election result"

UPDATE, 04:50PM: For the record, Ed Balls told the Telegraph this morning that the fight for the Crewe and Nantwich by-election was not over and Labour could win.

Labour in-fighting

Nick Robinson | 10:07 UK time, Monday, 12 May 2008


Frankly speaking, it isn't news that Frank Field is not a member of the Gordon Brown fan club, although the phrases he used in his BBC World Service interview last night are extraordinary. He spoke of the tragedy for the Labour Party and the country of Gordon Brown, being trapped in a job in which he is clearly so unhappy. What is real news however, is his prediction that Mr Brown will not be prime minister at the time of the next election and his suggestion, far from friendly, that the PM asked the advice of people he loves and who most love him about what he should do next. A clear invitation to consider resignation.

Alan Johnson and Gordon BrownThe only thing that should cheer those in Labour's ranks, is the rambunctious performance of Alan Johnson, who's been almost silent in recent weeks. He could not disguise his fury on the Today programme this morning at what he described as another episode of True Confessions. It may be that the publication of the memoirs of Prescott, Levy and Cherie together with the comments of Frank Field get all the bad news out of the way at one time, unless of course there is more bad news to come.

If Johnson's anger is matched by that of other senior Labour politicians, if they realise that they are in a battle for their own survival and not merely for Gordon Brown's, it may just be possible that this period of in-fighting is followed by a renewal of what I have described as the glue that held New Labour together. That can be Gordon Brown's only hope at the beginning of this, the latest of a series of very difficult weeks.

Opening up

Nick Robinson | 13:51 UK time, Thursday, 8 May 2008


Listen very hard, and believe me you did have to listen very hard, and you could just catch the sound of a new improved Gordon Brown today. The prime minister took to the sofa of ITV's This Morning programme to be patronised by Fern. She opened the interview by telling her guest, "It's an opportunity for you to be human". Resisting what must have been the overwhelming temptation to tell her where to get off, the prime minister proceeded to try to do just that.

Gordon and Sarah Brown with their sonsMuch of the content was familiar but the tone was very different and there was one glaring change. Albeit looking awkward, Gordon Brown did what he does all the time in private but loathes to do in public. He talked about his children and in particular his son Fraser who has cystic fibroses. He talked about the struggle of bringing up two healthy children.

In recent days, after suffering the indignity of being asked about being strange and being invited to be human, the prime minister is trying to do something that the self-confessed private man has resisted all his life. Opening up.

UPDATE, 04:00PM: Interesting news. Far from wanting to discuss his family, in particular his son Fraser's cystic fibrosis, Gordon Brown thought that there was an agreement that he would not be asked such questions. Indeed, reports reach me of furious members of Team Brown complaining that the pre-interview agreement had been broken. So, no new strategy involving talking about the kids apparently.

Brownspeak made simple

Nick Robinson | 17:03 UK time, Wednesday, 7 May 2008


Translation: "Bring it on" eg as used by Wendy Alexander with regard to a Scottish referendum on independence).

Early translation (circa last weekend): "Let's get on with it as soon as possible."

Later translation (circa today, source - G Brown): "Let's not pre-judge the conclusions of the review into devolution due to produce an interim report in a few months' time at which time it might - or might not - be appropriate to reach a judgement about whether to come to a decision on whether or not to consult the people on independence. Or not."

Of course, Gordon Brown was damned today whatever he said after his Scottish leader dropped him in it.

If he'd said yes he did agree with Wendy Alexander's call for a referendum, the question would then follow - when? And why don't you call one yourself?

If he's said no, he would have been in direct disagreement with her and so she would have had to resign.

So, he said neither yes nor no but, in effect, let's wait a few months before deciding. He cannot put off a decision for ever on one of the most important decisions he'll take as prime minister - does he risk the unity of the United Kingdom on the grounds that he is convinced the best chance of winning a referendum would be sooner rather than later?

PS: Apologies for earlier suggesting that "the only person who can actually call a referendum is Gordon Brown or, to be more precise, the Westminster parliament". I meant to say that Holyrood can stage a referendum but it would have no legal status since the constitution is legally a Westminster issue. Politically, of course, a Holyrood sponsored referendum could not be ignored.

An almighty mess

Nick Robinson | 14:17 UK time, Wednesday, 7 May 2008


The other morning on the Today programme I was asked a question which, I can now confess, I didn't know the answer to. Had Gordon Brown been told of the switch by Wendy Alexander - the leader of the Scottish Labour Party and a long-time friend of his - to back a referendum on Scottish independence? The answer became crystal clear at Prime Minister's Questions today. It's "NO".

Wendy AlexanderMs Alexander - or "Bendy Wendy" as some have dubbed here after her apparent U-turn - had privately argued for months that it was time to call the SNP's bluff and tell them to put up or shut up on the issue of independence. Her purpose was to reposition the Scottish Labour Party to be in favour of letting the people choose rather than being opposed to democracy. Her aim was to put Labour on the front foot and the SNP on the back.

There was one wee problem with this. The only person who can actually call a referendum is Gordon Brown or, to be more precise, the Westminster parliament. So, when Wendy Alexander said "bring it on" it raised the obvious question - why don't you get your friend Gordon to do just that. Now, the last thing he wants at a time when he's trying to re-connect with voters in key marginals in Middle England is a row about the future of Scotland. Hence, the almighty mess he finds himself in.

Thus, this curious exchange in PMQs:

CAMERON: Labour's leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, says there should be a referendum now on Scottish independence, does he agree with her?

Gordon Brown at PMQsBROWN: That is not what she has said.

CAMERON: I think the PM is losing touch with reality, this is what Wendy Alexander said "I don't fear the verdict of the Scottish people" she told BBC Scotland on Sunday "Bring it on", what else could that possibly mean? So can I ask him again, does he agree with Wendy Alexander or not, it's not much of a leadership if no-one is really following him?

BROWN: Mr Speaker, the Calman commission has been set up to review the progress of devolution, I believe that all parties in the house will welcome the fact that it is looking at all these issues, when we review the progress of the Calman commission we can make further decisions.

Mmmm - is that what "bring it on" means?

Even curiouser is last night's exchange on BBC's Newsnight Scotland:

PRESENTER (GORDON BREWER): Is Gordon Brown endorsing your decision to call for a Referendum?


PRESENTER (GORDON BREWER): He is endorsing it and he has told you that.


Mmmm - I suspect what's happened is that Gordon and Wendy have agreed that what she really meant to say was that the SNP should stop messing about and have the courage to ask the people for their verdict on independence. What he said to her in private can only be guessed at.

Under scrutiny

Nick Robinson | 21:58 UK time, Tuesday, 6 May 2008


And so it came to pass.

Labour ministers said that the Tories' victories in the local elections would ensure that they were scrutinised for what they do if they were in office. David Cameron, on tour in Crewe today was confronted by an eager member of the public who decided to impersonate Jeremy Paxman or was it Sharron Storer (she was the woman you may recall who confronted Tony Blair outside a hospital).

Again and again, three times in all, this man pressed Mr Cameron to say that he would bring back the 10p tax rate. Again and again Mr Cameron refused to do that, insisting that the people of Crewe and Nantwich should send the government a message with their votes in the forthcoming by-election.

Now, unlike Sharron Storer, this man was a supporter of the man he was cross-examining. Yet, in his own way, he illustrated the difficulties the Tories have in saying what they do rather than what they're against.

Consequence of devolution

Nick Robinson | 11:29 UK time, Tuesday, 6 May 2008


Does Gordon Brown really believe that a referendum on Scottish independence is a part of his recipe for electoral recovery? No. Why then did Labour's Scottish leader, Wendy Alexander, back the idea over the weekend? The answer is simple. Whilst Westminster politicians are obsessing about the fall-out of last week's elections, Scottish politicians are still obsessing about the fall-out of last year's elections which put the SNP's Alex Salmond in the position of Scotland's first minister.

Wendy AlexanderLabour sees it being seen as the opponents of choice in Scotland. That is why Wendy Alexander now says that she favours a referendum on Scottish independence. It is not that she wants one soon or indeed that she hopes independence will ever come. What she fears is that the SNP will play the issue as long as possible trying to make it dominate Scottish politics at the expense of everyday voter concerns which Labour would like to hold the government to account on. That's why she said at the weekend "Our message to the first minister is enough of the huff, puff and bluff. Bring it on."

Alex Salmond's strategy has always been to "demonstrate our performance in government before the referendum question". What Wendy Alexander's decision illustrates is the gap between politics north of the border and politics south of the border - a consequence of devolution of course. What it also means is that a referendum on independence is much much more likely then it was before the weekend.

PS. If you'd like to read more about this, read my colleague Brian Taylor's blog.

Who gets the last laugh?

Nick Robinson | 01:00 UK time, Saturday, 3 May 2008


johnsoncameron_pa_226.jpgBoris - Mayor of London? What a joke, it was said. I confess that that is what I thought when first told that he was thinking of running. So much so that when I broke the story I didn't take it seriously enough to argue that it should appear on the main news bulletins.

Well, tonight the joke is on those who didn't believe that the blonde bombshell from Henley could ever unseat the man who saw off Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair to become Mr London.

This is the first significant Tory election victory since 1992. Boris is the first Conservative to wield significant political power since John Major's defeat. What's more he is doing it in the most visible place of all - the capital city. As someone who is a friend of Dave (as he calls him) Cameron, Boris must know that his performance as Mayor could help determine whether people will take the risk of electing an untried and untested man to be their Prime Minister in two years time.

In a well judged act of generosity Boris used his victory speech to pay tribute to the man he beat as "a very considerable public servant" and to acknowledge that many who had voted for him had found their pencils wavering above the ballot paper.

Ken returned the compliment by offering to help Boris. He did an equally big favour to Gordon Brown by saying that the responsibility for his defeat lay with him and him alone.

Labour hope that Boris will prove incapable of doing the job and that this will expose David Cameron too.

The future of British politics will be profoundly affected by who gets the last laugh - Boris or those who think he'll be a joke as Mayor.

No easy answers

Nick Robinson | 18:24 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


Gordon Brown toyed with a euphemism today and then cast it aside.

These results were disappointing, he began to say, before correcting himself and admitting that they were in fact, bad.

Gordon BrownHe had no choice of course. A new leader who'd promised to renew his party has in fact done worse than his predecessor Tony Blair ever did, even after the public had tired of him and his unpopular and unsuccesful war.

Labour's problem, then, is there are no easy explanations and therefore no easy answers to the mess they find themselves in.

The party, in effect, had its leadership crisis just two weeks ago, over the 10p tax debacle. On all sides there's much talk of listening to the electorate without much sense of what that really means.

Allies of the prime minister now openly compare his plight with that of John Major. The hope is that their man is in the same position as Mr Major was in the early 1990s - that the country will in the end, stick with him, rather than risk a flashy, untried and untested opposition leader.

Today's polls suggest, though, that he may be in fact in the same position as John Major in 1995 - headed for defeat.

A joke no longer

Nick Robinson | 17:10 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


Boris Johnson goes for a run while awaiting the results of the London Mayoral electionI can find no-one in the Tory or Labour high command that does not believe that Boris Johnson will this evening be declared the next Mayor of London.

I can't help reflecting on the day I broke the news on this blog that Boris was thinking of running.

In truth, I didn't really take the idea seriously. Labour must now be rueing the fact that they too did not take Boris seriously until it was too late.

A booky BBC colleague, Robin Chrystal, suggests that Boris may be getting a little extra help from on high. Some religious calendars indicate that today is St Boris' Day.

The Bulgarian and Greek Orthodox calendar of saints has 2 May as his feast day.

St Boris was the pagan ruler of Bulgaria - Boris I - in the ninth century. According to some sources his conversion to Christianity met great opposition in Bulgaria. Boris ruthlessly suppressed it and executed 52 boyars together with their entire families.

He ended his life as a monk.

London beware.

Bad night for Labour

Nick Robinson | 04:50 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


Bad for Labour. Very bad. And with worse likely to follow. For once there can be no spinning, no rival interpretations, no debate about what local elections results mean.

If - as insiders on both sides now expect - Boris Johnson is elected mayor of London later today David Cameron will be able to herald his party's most successful night since John Major's general election victory in 1992.

This, of course, does not mean that Mr Cameron will follow Mr Major into No 10 but it does mean that something will have to change dramatically for Labour to prevent that happening.

What could that something be? A change of Labour leader? No, for all the discontent with Gordon Brown, hardly any Labour MP believes that's possible, let alone desirable. A change of policy? Certainly, though it's already clear that there is disagreement about the direction in which policy should change.

Thus, Gordon Brown will be left to blame unprecedented economic turbulence for the unprecedently bad political position he's in. He will offer to listen to voters' concerns. He'll promise to steer the country through troubled times as he did as chancellor. He expects that greater scrutiny will expose the opposition for the lightweights he believes they are.

Above all, though, he will simply have to hope that - in the words of the old election song - things can only get better.

Inquest (continued)

Nick Robinson | 03:35 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


John McDonnell - the left-wing MP, who tried and failed to mount a challenge against Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party, has just warned his party that they will be sleepwalking their way to disaster if they seek to minimise tonight's defeats.

Fuel for the inquest

Nick Robinson | 03:20 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


Labour's vote seems to have fallen most heavily in its heartlands. The BBC's boffins report that in those wards where it won more than 45% of the vote last year, Labour's vote is down by five points compared with three points across the key wards as a whole.

This poor performance can't be blamed on apathy. Turnout in its heartland wards is almost exactly the same as last year.

Advice from Norwich

Nick Robinson | 02:47 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


The second of the two Norwich brothers - Ian Gibson - has now told Gordon Brown that "we're there to help". Coming from one of his party's most serial rebels this is help that the prime minister may feel he could do without. But Gibson, like his Norwich political sibling Charles Clarke, will now feel empowered to tell the PM that he knows how to solve his party's woes.

The inquest begins

Nick Robinson | 02:27 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


At last, the inquest begins.

Asked whether Gordon Brown can win the next election, Charles Clarke replied with the resounding reply "It's possible" before adding "but it will require changes" - changes, he went on, to his team, his message and sense of purpose.

Not a threat to change the leader but a demand that the leader change his approach fast.

Final projections

Nick Robinson | 01:58 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


The BBC's final calculation of the projected national share is now in and confirms that it is a very bad night for Labour and a very good one for the Tories:

Labour 24% - the worst figure in 40 years
Conservative 44% - 4% higher than last year
Lib Dem 25% - 1% lower than last year, 4% lower than 2004 BUT pushing Labour into second place

Expect Team Cameron to try to mount a tour of Southampton, Bury and Nuneaton tomorrow to show that he has won in the South, the North and the Midlands.

Expect Gordon Brown to be contrite, to promise to listen, to blame economic uncertainty and promise to weather the storms.

Expect Nick Clegg to find councils to visit such as Hull and St Albans to highlight where he has made progress.

NB. If you're just joining me, you might be interested in this brief guide to what I'm looking out for tonight.

Why did Southampton swing?

Nick Robinson | 01:23 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


John Denham says that the Lib Dem vote in the city collapsed and that voters felt "shaky and uncertain" and that the government needs to reassure them. I'd be grateful for more local intelligence on what led to this Tory upset.

I note from a quick search of the web that the Tories ran on a very populist platform promising:
• a 10% discount on council tax for pensioners and free bus travel throughout the county is an attempt to appeal to the grey vote
• a public say on a "large" casino for the city
• the fight to save one patch of the city from a proposed gypsy transit site

NB. If you're just joining me, you might be interested in this brief guide to what I'm looking out for tonight.

First wow result

Nick Robinson | 00:55 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


The first wow result of the night. The Tories have gained Southampton - they didn't expect to and we didn't expect them to.

This is the home of the cabinet minister, John Denham, who's warned his party of the danger of losing the southern voters who Tony Blair wooed so successfully. Those warnings will now surely get louder.

NB. If you're just joining me, you might be interested in this brief guide to what I'm looking out for tonight.

Tory successes

Nick Robinson | 00:37 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


With now just over 220 of the BBC's key wards declared, the change in vote share for the three main parties is:


The BBC boffins tell me that it's beginning to look quite likely that the Conservatives have performed better than they did last year, while Labour may be heading for an even worse performance than in 2004. Whether the Lib Dems will end up a little weaker than last year remains uncertain.

Tory sources are predicting that they'll gain 200 council seats - high enough for them to claim real success.

After disappointments in Cheltenham and Worcester they have had successes in Harlow and Nuneaton.

NB. If you're just joining me, you might be interested in this brief guide to what I'm looking out for tonight.

Not so simple

Nick Robinson | 00:19 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008


More flesh on the bones of the boffins' analysis. With 100 of the BBC's key wards declared the estimate of the change in vote share is:

Labour down 3%
Conservatives up 6%
Lib Dems down 4%

Now, you can't simply add these figures to the vote share in 2004 and get tomorrow's Projected National Share. Why? Because the figures above are the change in share in those wards and not a projection of what the final figure will be.

Proof that individual results will tell stories that don't fit neatly into the PNS figure comes from Worcester which the Tories have failed to take. This is one of the seats David Cameron needs to win an election.

NB. If you're just joining me, you might be interested in this brief guide to what I'm looking out for tonight.

Early indications

Nick Robinson | 23:55 UK time, Thursday, 1 May 2008


I can bring you early provisional intelligence from the BBC's election boffins led by Professor John Curtice. Studying key wards throughout the country it looks as though it will be a relatively good night for the Tories, and a bad night for the Lib Dems, while Labour can look forward to at best doing much as they did in 2004 and 2007.

NB. If you're just joining me, you might be interested in this brief guide to what I'm looking out for tonight.

Have I got news for you?

Nick Robinson | 23:00 UK time, Thursday, 1 May 2008


The Tories are beginning to believe that Boris has beaten Ken in London. Indeed, the Tory supporting (though unofficial) website has actually declared him the capital's next mayor. This even though no votes have been counted yet and none will be until tomorrow.

Ken Livingstone and Boris JohnstonThe key to their optimism, I believe, is the staggering turnout in outer London where resentment of Mayor Ken in the commuting classes runs at staggering levels. I'm told that the turnout in Bexley and Bromley may be higher than at the general election - in the 60s.

One note of caution, however. Turnout in Ken-loving inner London is high too - it's around 47%, I'm told, in Hackney.

The key to the result will be who was more motivated to vote - Ken haters or Boris fearers. My guess, the haters may just have it.

NB. If you're just joining me, you might be interested in this brief guide to what I'm looking out for tonight.

A brief guide to election night

Nick Robinson | 22:28 UK time, Thursday, 1 May 2008


The hardest thing on any election night is judging who won and who lost. What's more you have to decide whether that matters.

The answer is that tonight's results do matter.

Of course these are not elections for the government.
Of course, not everybody has a vote.
Of course, opposition parties can do well on nights like this and still not get back into government.

However, it is not just political commentators who will look to tonight's results as a guide to the state of politics just under a year after Gordon Brown became prime minister.

The spin doctors will, of course, pick which ever figure helped to make their case. I will be looking at a number of different tests:

• National vote share - not the actual votes cast but a calculation of what share of the vote each party would have got if this had been a national election - the boffins call it the projected national share or PNS
• Councillors gained and lost
• Who wins London

Tonight cannot help but be a difficult night for Labour. The question is - how difficult? If Ken Livingstone holds on, if the party is not pushed into third place and if its vote share is above 26% (the lowest figure that Tony Blair got) expect Team Brown to look very relieved.

Tonight should be a good night for the Tories. The question is - will it be good enough? If Boris Johnson wins, if their vote share is comfortably above the 40% they've gained in the past two years and if they gain 200 or more new councillors they'll be well pleased whilst being well aware that Tony Blair did much better than that before he won his landslide victory in 1997.

Tonight could be a tricky night for the Lib Dems. The seats up tonight were last fought in 2004 when the party's opposition to the Iraq war meant they were riding high. Nick Clegg needs evidence - a council gained here or there; beating Labour into second place, a vote share of 27% or more - to prove that he's moving his party forward after the fall of Ming.

The problem tonight is that we will only know part of that story. 2/3rds of council results will be declared but the rest come on Friday. London will not even start counting until the morning. The picture will emerge in the way a jigsaw does. Occasionally, people will disagree about what the parts add up to.

Stay with me through the night as - working from the BBC's election studios - I pass on the latest titbits of information and feel free to tell me what you've picked up too.

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