A night to forget?

My General Election prediction was wide of the mark. The result is far more complicated and very unsatisfactory for any party seeking a workable coalition.

For many, this was a night to forget

It was no great surprise, but Gordon Brown has lost the election. He will not survive as Prime Minister for very long.

David Cameron has fallen too far short of an overall majority to seize the reins of power by default.

Nick Clegg has not enjoyed the breakthrough he might have expected. His negotiating strength will be limited.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, has lost the seat he held for 31 years.

The SNP hoped for 20 seats. It has repeated its 2005 haul of just six seats.

The Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest until less than a decade ago, has failed to win a single seat. A disappointment for both the UUP and David Cameron.

It was a very bad night for Nick Griffin (BNP), George Galloway (Respect) and Nigel Farage (UKIP), the latter of whom must reflect on his performance from his hospital bed. They each fell short of victory, and must settle for bronze.

There were just a few successes

Caroline Lucas won Brighton Pavillion for the Green Party. Its first ever seat and a major breakthrough.

The NI Alliance Party won East Belfast; Naomi Long took the seat at Peter Robinson’s expense (or due to Mr Robinson’s expenses?) Another first; another major breakthrough.

Plaid Cymru gained one seat.

With such wide variations from the average national swing, many new MPs will be proud of their own individual successes.

And the voters?

Many voters were unable to vote and are very angry. But the rest of us have got the government we deserve. Or at least we might get it, eventually.

For many, this was a night to forget. But it will be remembered for a very long time.

This time next week, anyone could be our Prime Minister. Let the negotiations begin.

Where are they flocking from?

Gillian Duffy was a lifelong Labour voter who told Gordon Brown she was now “absolutely ashamed of saying I’m Labour.”

Mrs Duffy raised a number of issues with the PM: crime; tax on pensions; national debt; immigration and student tuition fees. She spoke forcefully and he responded persuasively in a four minute exchange. Afterwards he dismissed her as a “bigoted woman” in a private conversation.

Why?

You can’t say anything about the immigrants, because you’re saying that you’re a… But all these eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?
(Gillian Duffy, Rochdale, 28 April 2010)

One assumes they may be “flocking” from eastern Europe!… Mr Brown thought the encounter was a “disaster” and the idea of talking to her “ridiculous”. But really the encounter was fine. It was a heated discussion, probably uncomfortable for him, but not particularly harmful. And after the conversation, Mrs Duffy told the BBC she would probably still vote Labour, though perhaps that is now in doubt.

The infamous exchange (from BBC News)

A deception?

My only complaint with Mr Brown’s handling of the conversation was on the issue of debt.

How are you going to get us out of all this debt, Gordon?
(Mrs Duffy)

We’ve got a deficit reduction plan to cut the debt by half over the next four years.
(Mr Brown)

If only that were true… At the end of March, the public sector net debt was £771.6 billion (excluding financial interventions). That is a lot. In the year ahead, our interest payments alone are projected to be £43bn.

£43 billion.

That is more than the government proposes to spend on defence. It is twice the budget for transport or half the budget for education.

It is more than the government expects to raise in corporation tax. It is over half the VAT take.

It’s not as if we can afford to spend so much on interest. Last year alone, the government deficit was £163 billion. It spent £163bn more than it raised in taxes. This is not just a number; it is an obscene amount to borrow.

Alistair Darling’s plan is to cut the deficit by half over four years. If he is successful, in four years time we will borrow just £82bn. The deficit will be half what it is now, but the national debt will not be. It will have risen by hundreds of billions of pounds. Any budding chancellor should read my blog on debt: good, bad or ugly?

Gordon Brown told Mrs Duffy he would cut the debt by half over four years. Obviously, he meant the deficit. A slip of the tongue. The difference is profound, but the language is deceptively subtle. Cutting the deficit by half may sound great, but the burgeoning debt draws us ever closer to economic doom.

“A sort of bigoted woman”

I must digress no more. What Gordon Brown said after leaving Mrs Duffy was more damaging for him.

She’s just a sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour.
(Gordon Brown, oblivious of his personal microphone)

Perhaps he was right? Mrs Duffy selected eastern Europeans to illustrate her immigration concerns. Perhaps she is a bigot?

She seemed to acknowledge the issue could get her into hot water: “You can’t say anything about the immigrants, because you’re saying that you’re a…” It’s impossible to know what she almost said, but I’ll hazard a guess: she was concerned about being labelled a racist. However, she persisted and made the point, somewhat ineloquently, that immigration is too high.

I don’t believe her primary concern is eastern Europeans. I believe it is immigration. For her, recent immigration is characterised by eastern Europeans. It’s a reasonable perception. A million eastern Europeans have registered to work in the UK since the jobs market was opened to them in 2004. I believe she would have been equally concerned about immigration to Rochdale from Spain, China, Australia, Birmingham or, God forbid, Northern Ireland.

That is my perception, and I may be wrong. But Mrs Duffy seemed to recognise the danger of talking about immigration. Even the Prime Minister hears the word ‘immigration’ and thinks ‘bigot’. Mrs Duffy was evidently upset when learned what he’d called her.  He later visited her to apologise.

Gordon Brown hears his error on The Jeremy Vine Show (from BBC News)

Immigration is an important issue. We must be allowed to discuss it. There are many arguments in favour of immigration. There are strong arguments against it too. But even if debate was clear cut, if immigration was acknowledged to be A Good Thing, there will be many who remain concerned. Those concerns should be addressed, not ignored or dismissed as bigotry. That approach has given succour to the BNP, and that is – in my view – A Bad Thing.

Click here to compare the main parties’ immigration policies.

Gordon Brown should have learned from John Major’s error in 1994. He probably has ‘bastards’ in his own cabinet too, but all politicians know that a microphone has only one job, and that is to listen. He must be careful what he says when a microphone is listening.

Reliving 1992

It’s getting close. The election is soon, and the gap between the two main parties is narrow. Various opinion polls give the Conservatives a slim majority over Labour. In some cases it’s just two percentage points. For the Conservatives, a two point lead is not enough for an overall majority. It may not even win them more seats than Labour.

Labour could be in a position to form a minority/coalition government despite polling fewer votes than the Conservatives. This is because Labour dominates in urban constituencies with smaller electorates. So the seats it wins are often secured with fewer votes. It’s a real possibility the Conservatives could win more votes but fewer seats in the forthcoming election. Indeed, in 2005, in England, that’s just what happened.

As an aside, the Liberal Democrats are wrestling with the conundrum of a hung parliament in which Labour secures more seats and the Conservatives, more votes. They say the party with the strongest mandate has the right to govern. But Nick Clegg won’t say whether that means the party with most seats or the most votes. It leaves him some wriggle room.

Election day, 1992

So the Conservatives are ahead in the opinion polls, but each party has all to play for. It reminds me of 1992 and there are a number of similar features.

  • In 1992, the Conservatives had been in office for 13 years. Margaret Thatcher, an inspirational but controversial figure had led her party to three comfortable majorities before losing favour with the country and her own party. She stood aside mid-term to be replaced by her Chancellor, John Major.
  • Now in 2010, Labour has been in office for 13 years. Tony Blair, an inspirational but controversial figure led his party to three comfortable majorities before losing favour with the country and his own party. He stood aside mid-term to be replaced by his Chancellor, Gordon Brown.
  • In 1992, Labour has been 13 years in opposition. In the early years it  swung sharply to the left and suffered for it in successive elections. But the latest leader, Neil Kinnock, had worked hard to change the party and its brand. By 1992, it had been mainly ahead in the opinion polls for several years.
  • Now in 2010, the Conservatives have been 13 years in opposition. In the early years they swung sharply to the right and suffered for it in successive elections. But the latest leader, David Cameron, has worked hard to change the party and its brand. Now it has been mainly ahead in the opinion polls for several years.
  • In 1992, the Conservative had won three general elections. When they first came to power, they succeeded a highly unpopular and mistrusted Labour government. Margaret Thatcher was re-elected twice, remaining undefeated in the country. She called each of her elections after four years. Her successor waited until the last practical moment: five years.
  • Now in 2010, Labour has won three general elections. When it first came to power, it succeeded a highly unpopular and mistrusted Conservative government. Tony Blair was re-elected twice, remaining undefeated in the country. He called each of his elections after four years. His successor waited until the last practical moment: five years.
  • In 1992, the economy was in recovery from a nasty recession, but Black Wednesday lay ahead.
  • Now in 2010, the economy is in recovery from an even nastier recession, but I have no doubt further challenges lie ahead.

Of course, there are some differences too. For example:

  • In 1992, the incumbent Prime Minister was still relatively new to the voters. He’d served as Foreign Secretary for four months, Chancellor for 13 months and Prime Minister for 18 months before election day.
  • Now in 2010, the incumbent has served 18 years at the highest levels of opposition or government. Mr Brown is well-known.
  • In 1992, interest rates were 10% (on election day). They had fallen steadily from a peak of 15% in 1989.
  • Now in 2010, interest rates are just 0.5%. That is as low as they have ever been.

But there is another critical similarity:

  • In 1992, the incumbent party won a late surge in support.
  • Now in 2010, that is happening again.

In 1992, the incumbent party won.

Politics was not well-served by the re-election of the Conservatives in 1992. They were tolerated, not loved, but the voters couldn’t face the prospect of Labour returning to power. Five years on and the governing party was about as popular as a rat at a hen do.

It has taken many years and a substantial change in tone and focus for voters to come to terms with the Conservatives again. But that last term in office did them great harm. Labour is tolerated, not loved, but the voters are very nervous about the Conservatives returning to power.

Now in 2010?

Against expectations, Labour could remain in government until 2015. If that happens, I predict a landslide the other way, just like 1997. 18 years in government is a very long time. By 2015, it will be a very tired government.

In any case, the next five years are going to be very difficult. The next government will have some very tough economic decisions to take. It cannot risk the politics of popularity. It must govern in the national interest.

For the next government, Labour or Conservative, the election of 2014/15 is going to be very tough indeed.

Generals v Politicians – a war of words

Every request that the military commanders made to us for equipment was answered. No request was ever turned down.
(Gordon Brown, Iraq Inquiry, 5th March 2010)

Fighting a war brings all sorts of challenges. There is a foe to contend with, but it’s harder when your armoury’s missing some key bits of kit, or when you step onto hot desert sand and find your boots melting. Effective transport is crucial, but the Snatch Land Rover used in Iraq and Afghanistan has been described as a ‘death trap’. And helicopters have been slow to arrive, their absence sometimes blamed by parents who feel their injured sons might have survived had they reached a field hospital sooner.

In some cases, parents report shelling out for better kit: webbing or helmets for example.

So what was the problem? The Prime Minister is careful not to accept blame for this under-resourcing. Why then do the generals (or admirals/air marshals) feel compelled to say they didn’t have enough?

He cannot get away with saying ‘I gave them everything they asked for’. That is simply disingenuous.
(
Lord Guthrie, Chief of Defence Staff 1997-2001, speaking on 6th March 2010)

He is dissembling, he’s being disingenuous.
(
Lord Boyce, Chief of Defence Staff 2001-3, speaking on 6th March 2010)

There is a clear sense of frustration among some key military leaders. They haven’t accused Mr Brown of lying; the word ‘disingenuous’ is their weapon of choice. It makes me curious. Did the generals ask for what they needed? Did they go to war claiming they had what they needed when in fact they did not? Should they have resigned for resource reasons as Robin Cook did for political reasons?

Gordon Brown hinted his predecessor would not have gone to war if the generals told him they were unprepared. Well, of course not! But it’s a rhetorical point. The generals are unlikely to say ‘no’ to their masters; it’s not in their blood. They know that fortune favours the brave. They know the difference between essential and desirable. And with the essential kit, they know that all things are possible.

What our troops lacked in Iraq and Afghanistan could perhaps best be described as ‘highly desirable’ rather than essential. While the political struggle continues, we have been able to undertake military operations with broad success. The generals have their cut their cloth as required, but some men and women needed better provision and have paid for its absence with their lives.

What the Prime Minister yesterday said… narrowly and precisely was correct… What Gordon Brown didn’t address… was the underlying underfunding of defence that goes right back to the outcome of the defence review in 97/98.
(General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of General Staff 2006-9, speaking on 6th March 2010)

Finally some clarity. As I expected, while the fact-claims of the generals and the politicians appear to conflict, the truth accommodates both.

But now we have a problem. In recent times, retired military chiefs have routinely criticised the government. We don’t expect this so much from serving officers; as men under authority, such insubordination would be at odds with the career that took them to the top.

General Dannatt is a notable exception. Before his retirement, he was happy to make life uncomfortable from time to time for his political masters. In so doing, he voiced publicly what other generals may have said in private to the ministers. He is a man of great experience and wisdom. He also has a natural outspoken honesty which I believe may be sorely tested under a Conservative government.

That’s because General Dannatt is now an adviser to the Conservatives. If they win the general election, he will take a peerage, but won’t become a minister. He will bring great strength to David Cameron’s team, but his decision is clearly a controversial political judgement. The announcement was leaked while he was still in the pay of the army. I believe it has dented his authority.

With regard to the other defence chiefs, an explanation has arisen as to why they might have felt motivated to speak out against the prime minister.

When Guthrie and Boyce attack Gordon on defence spending note they are consultants and non-execs of defence coys. and have vested interest.
(Lord Foulkes, via Twitter, 13th March 2010)

Well, perhaps they do. But what they said is either true or it isn’t. If it is true then I would expect to hear from them. In these circumstances, who else could speak out? If it is not true then Guthrie, Boyce, Dannatt and others are all singing from the same flawed hymn sheet. Gordon Brown had plenty of facts at his disposal for his appearance before Sir John Chilcot. But they were spun carefully and the truth behind them was hidden.

In any case, Lord Foulkes has form. He sees the military as the enemy. He is a tribal Labour loyalist who defended Speaker Martin when the game was lost, freely attacks those he regards as his opponents without regard to the arguments and tried to smear General Dannatt last summer.

Am I saying the politicians are wrong and the generals are right? Not at all. We live in a world of limited resources. And it is for the government to decide on the allocation across ministries. I have no doubt that generals will always want more. So will doctors, head teachers and many others. When the resources fall short, they’ll have to make do. Or if not, then resign as Norman Tebbit has argued.

Resignation is the ultimate political statement. It is a very tough decision, especially when the stakes are so high. For most of us, there is a very practical reason we might not want resign our jobs. How would I pay the mortgage? For generals and politicians the reason is likely to be more philosophical. Had Lord Boyce resigned before the Iraq war he could have pulled the plug on the whole adventure. Unless that was his objective, it would not have been an attractive option.

So while resignation is always an option, for the most part it is far from ideal. But speaking out against a sitting government is fraught with problems as Professor Vernon Bogdanor explains. We are not about to be led by a military junta, but the generals must think very carefully before engaging in politics. And if they back off, the politicians must show more respect.

The Thieves of Westminster

Sometimes my wife and I read chunks of the newspaper out to each other as we find interesting titbits. Yesterday I bought the Sunday Telegraph and marvelled at the number of pages devoted to the expenses of our elected representatives. And that was after the Telegraph had devoted Friday and Saturday to the issue too. It’s back in the paper yet again today! It’s all on this link if you want to read all about it.

As I read through the allegations, I found myself reading out almost every other paragraph to Vanessa, such was my fascination with the moral dungeon some MPs have stooped into.

I don’t object to MPs receiving a decent salary, but I think some of them fail to recognise that £64,766 is a pretty reasonable level of remuneration.

We shouldn’t ask them to work for peanuts, and indeed we don’t. Their salary is plenty enough for elected representatives working in public service. It’s not like the market would create a higher salary. Hundreds of people are eager to become an MP, for every one who makes it into office. Indeed, if MPs’ salaries were defined by supply and demand, they’d probably work for free. But in that scenario only the rich could afford to represent us and avoid penury.

It is true that many (though perhaps not all) MPs could earn more outside parliament. Indeed, some of them do earn more in their part-time jobs. But aside from their moonlighting, they have chosen a noble path and should swap their personal financial ambition for higher ideals.

£65k is only their base salary. Aside from their generous expenses, there are a range of ways MPs can earn more:

  • If their constituency is in London, they get London weighting.
  • The Prime Minister, his secretaries of state, their ministers and their parliamentary under secretaries all get a salary supplement.
  • The Leader of the Opposition, his whips, the Speaker, his deputies and Select Committee chairmen also receive a supplement.

So I really don’t buy the argument that expenses are in some way a substitute for a decent salary. The salary is fine, and as the Speaker has argued, MPs should not just “work to the rules”, but consider “the spirit of what is right”. In the meantime, it’s clear that many MPs’ application of the rules shows so little regard for the spirit of them that one wonders whether the needle in their collective moral compass has been installed back-to-front.

Under the circumstances, it would seem wise to ignore the moral compass and just get the rules right. Michael Martin is finding himself isolated from voters and even most MPs in his witch-hunt of the leaker, but he accepts that “serious change” is needed. The Committee for Standards in Public Life is working on this, but it won’t be bounced into rushing the process. As the chairman says, the “issues are not simple”. What kind of issues are they? What should they be considering? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Expenses should be accurate, not generous.
  • Money should be paid to reimburse expenses actually incurred in the course of an MP’s work.
  • No individual needs to spend £400 per month for groceries in their ‘second’ home. What are they eating? Perhaps caviar omelettes for breakfast and organic truffles spiced with saffron for dinner. This needs considerable revision!
  • An MP could rent a decent one-bedroom flat in central London for £1,200 per month. If something grander is desired, so be it, but £1,200 towards rent, mortgage interest or hotel rooms is plenty, in London or elsewhere.
  • Repairs and maintenance are a personal matter which the Commons authorities should not interfere with. But if an MP needs to extend their mortgage to pay for repairs, the authorities could cover the interest payments provided they do not exceed £1,200pm.
  • An MP should be asked to designate their ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ homes at the beginning of a parliamentary term. Any desire to change this should be considered by an independent panel. The request and decision should be a matter of public record.
  • A fixed grant at the begining of an MP’s tenure could be paid to cover special expenses, such as furniture. This could be equal to a month’s salary (£5,397). It would be taxable, but any actual expenses the MP incurs would be tax deductable with HMRC. NB: MPs already receive a 3-month severance payment when they retire (or are turfed out) as an MP.
  • What MPs tell the Commons authorities about their living arrangements should be consistent with what they tell HMRC. It should also be consistent with reality!
  • All expenses should be receipted. If an MP considers it too onerous to supply a receipt for any claim, then it’s probably too small to bother reclaiming.

The information revealed in recent days is – in my view – a credit to the Telegraph. It wasn’t cheap, perhaps £100k, but it was probably a bargain given how much the paper has milked it. But the other cost lies within the risk of libel action, which must be considerable. Was it wrong to publish? I think not, given the widespread concern about so many MPs. Some of them have difficult questions to answer, and the truth will hurt them. But others have innocent reasons linked to their curious expenses.

Corrupt to the core?
Corrupt to the core?

I don’t doubt for a moment the Prime Minister’s probity in connection with the £6k cleaning bill paid to his brother. But many voters will judge him harshly for it. If he is innocent, then the taxpayers’ frustration is unfair. But the situation is perhaps more unfair on his brother Andrew, whose family has borne the brunt of sniping comments from acquaintances. Andrew’s wife Clare has written about her frustration over the whole issue.

There have been awkward questions for the Shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove who’s been accused of ‘flipping’ his second home. Mr Gove has given a robust defence to the most serious charges, but shows welcome contrition on some minor points.

I believe Mr Brown and Mr Gove are among many whose expenses may not look good, but who are (generally) above board. They will be annoyed about how their expenses have been portrayed, but I believe it will be good for them. At this stage, the situation is so severe, the public mistrust so widespread, that it is time for every MP to face the charges and mount their defence. One by one, they ought to take that opportunity to clear their name. The BBC has outlined the key charges and responses currently in the public domain. Check it out and judge for yourself. In my view, some MPs will need to mount a better defence than claim they acted “within the rules”.

The whole affair enhances the appeal of an early election. The Prime Minister’s authority is already weak. It would be a disaster if all remaining authority in the House of Commons is also allowed to drip away. That is what appears to be happening now. If there is to be no general election in the near future, I would like to see a swathe of resignations and by-elections. I doubt it will happen, but something must be done to stop the rot.

When is E-Day?

Much has been said about when the general election might be. Well-informed tongues began wagging ahead of the Labour conference in 2007, Gordon Brown’s first as Prime Minister. Should he call a snap election to consolidate his authority? As leader of the underdogs, David Cameron’s challenge was to frighten the PM and force a rethink. He was helped by some clever politicking by his Shadow Chancellor. In the end, there was no election and it became clear Mr Brown would aim to see out the mandate won by Tony Blair in 2005.

Today is four years on. Each of the previous two elections were held after four years (or thereabouts). Both of Margaret Thatcher’s re-elections were held after four years, but John Major held off until the five year mark on both occasions.

When might Mr Brown see fit to go to the country? My view is that the election will take place on 6th May 2010, one year tomorrow. The argument for this precise date is put succinctly and effectively by James Forsyth in the Spectator last week. Basically, we know the local elections will be held that day and he doesn’t think it will happen before then or afterwards.

6th May 2010 is (a day) more than five years. It surprised me to learn recently that the general election could take place more than five years after the previous one. But apparently so; it happened most recently in 1997. Parliament is elected for a five year term, after which the timetable for the next general election is set in motion automatically.

In practice, the Prime Minister normally requests a dissolution from the Monarch before this point, but it’s not necessary. An election next year could happen as late as 3rd June, or two weeks later if the Queen dies after she’s summoned a new parliament. But as James Forsyth explains, 6th May would seem to be the most likely date. 

Westminster
The Mother of Parliaments

Mr Brown has faced much flak for his failure to go to the country early to secure a personal mandate. He was criticised, partly because probably he would have won; but the philosophical reason is arguably more important. Had he sought the consent of the British people to govern, he could more easily point his critics to this and move on.

He also lacks a mandate from his party. His elevation to the premiership was something of an appointment by inevitability. Labour MPs knew Mr Brown would be their next  leader, so the vast majority of them pledged their support. Two challengers emerged, Michael Meacher and John McDonnell, but neither could secure enough support (45 MPs) to force Mr Brown to face a wider vote.

So Mr Brown has neither a mandate from his party nor from the British people. His only real democratic authority comes from his constituency in Scotland. This reality harms him when he faces other challenges to his authority. So if he is replaced any time soon, would his successor call a snap election? I don’t think so.

All parties are ready for an election at any time. At least they should be. Even the party of government should be ready for when its leader decides it’s time to go to the country. Only the Prime Minister knows when he will do that, but his chief lieutenants must have a campaign plan ready at all times.

So, along with the others, Mr Cameron’s party is ready, Mr Clegg’s party is ready, and Mr Brown’s party is ready. But if Mr Brown is deposed, his party would no longer be ready to fight.

A new commander would need time to marshal his forces. He (or she) would need to draw up his own battle plan. A personal leadership vision would not be enough. A manifesto for government and an effective campaign to sell this message to the voters would take time to draw up. And in the midst of a crisis, the voters may not forgive any prime minister who decided to focus on electioneering instead of governing. The voters know the election will come soon enough. I believe they would rather wait for it, particularly if a key leader was unknown to them.

For Gordon Brown, it was different. He had ten years to prepare for the premiership, and the voters knew who he was. So he could have called a snap election. His replacement would be a fool to do so, particularly if the opinion polls remain stable.

The county council and European elections are on 4th June. This will be a key test. A good day for Labour will possibly settle the leadership question for now. But a bad day will increase the pressure on the Prime Minister. If he steps down, it will happen in June. A new leader would not be in place until, probably, August. At the earliest, a snap election could take place in September. But I suggest this will not happen.

I believe that, at the best of times, a new leader would want to wait at least three months before calling the election; perhaps even six months in the current economic climate. By that logic, an election would not take place before April. In that case, he might as well wait until 6th May, if only for the prospect of better weather. I believe the governing party benefits from a sunny day and Labour, in particular, benefits from a decent turnout.

But what is the likelihood of Mr Brown being turfed out now? I think it is slim. There is plenty of speculation about the leadership, but the next leader of the party will not want to begin a term in opposition after a crushing electoral defeat. Better to allow Mr Brown to take the hit. The circumstances of a stable overall majority for Labour are difficult to envisage; any victory is likely to be akin to John Major’s 21-seat majority of 1992 which had dwindled to precisely zero by 1997.

Who would want to take the helm during this storm? A caretaker, just for now, is a possibility. After all, if the skipper has lost command of his vessel, his crew must either step up or face doom. But if a caretaker is needed, Gordon Brown might as well stay on. For this purpose, he’s probably as good as anyone. The pretenders will recognise this soon. Expect them to close ranks almost immediately; certainly before the elections on 4th June. Watch the rats abandon ship in the year ahead (to a range of parties and some as independents), but Captain Brown will remain on the bridge.

A week is a long time in politics.
(Harold Wilson)

One might suppose that a year is somewhat longer. We will have to see that year out to understand what history reveals. But my prediction is this: the three main party leaders will all fight the next general election and the campaign will culminate on 6th May next year. One year tomorrow.