A day by the seaside
It wouldn't be everybody's choice of a destination - but as a treat to myself (£18 advance purchase day return, so a cheap treat), I took myself of to Clacton during the past week on a #GE2015 day out.
This north Essex seaside resort is, as you can see, the end of the line - an hour-and-a-half from Liverpool Street, which is an awful long time to get not very far.
And why Clacton? Well if UKIP win just one seat on Thursday, this will be it. I was curious.
So, the back story. Douglas Carswell, Clacton's Conservative MP, defected to UKIP last year, and then forced a by-election in which he was returned with an impressive 60% of the vote and a 12,000 majority over the Conservative runner-up. The conventional wisdom is that this sort of by-election majority doesn't fade away in a matter of months, whatever happens in national politics. And of course UKIP's standing in the opinion polls, though slipping a little, is still fairly resilient.
Clacton's had a bad press - during the by-election campaign last October, lots of Westminster-based political commentators went up there and came back holding their noses. Well, I was pleasantly surprised - not that Clacton has much in the way of style, but it's not a dump either.
The town centre has an awful lot of charity shops, and a 'half asleep' feel to it even on a sunny spring afternoon, but it's a long way from derelict. Clacton pier still stands - though it was almost deserted, and from the pier end you look out upon the vista of ranks of wind turbines just a few hundred yards offshore.
The beach is not bad at all - though a strong breeze, the bain of the east coast, put off all but the hardiest from walking on the sands. Not a single deck chair - no donkey rides - all a little flat. I thought about popping in to the other key attraction, the Pirate Radio Museum, but I suspect if I had have shelled out my £5, I would have been the only paying customer they'd had all day.
And the election campaign? Well, I couldn't find it - and this in a constituency with more political needle than most. As you come out of the station, you are face-to-face with the UKIP office, festooned with Carswell posters. I popped in. Two blokes having a chat - very welcoming, apologetic that they didn't have any UKIP badges or rosettes, but they gave me a Carswell poster and thanked me for my support. Hardly a hive of election activity - and this precisely seven days before polling day.
A little way down the road is the smaller, cosier, Conservative office - and here there was a bit of a buzz. Four women busily counting and folding election leaflets and stuffing them into envelopes, all overseen by a purposeful young man: "Yes, the campaign's going fine. Our candidate's getting a good reception. And now-and-again we see Douglas Carswell, when he can spare the time to come up from Fulham". Ouch!
What the papers say!
And the winner is ...
One of the blessings of leaving the BBC is that I don't need to be so circumspect in my blogging. So here is my prediction for May 7th - and after ... all time-stamped eight weeks ahead of polling day, and all to be deleted on May 8th if I am embarrassingly off the mark ...
So, my reckoning is that the two main parties are indeed neck-and-neck - neither excites much public enthusiasm, but it is clear that Ed Miliband isn't greatly trusted by the electorate. That personal awkwardness really matters and the political message is muddled. So I reckon that the polls have got it right, but as the campaign draws on the Tories will edge ahead, and even allowing for the bias towards Labour in the way that constituency boundaries are drawn, my guess is that the Conservatives will be the largest party in the new Parliament, though probably not by much.
I reckon that the SNP will do a little less well than the current polls suggest but will still emerge as the winner of the largest number of Scottish seats - more than thirty. The Lib Dems will do better than the polls point to, but will still lose a lot of seats, and will be down to under thirty MPs, and so will be relegated to the fourth largest party in Parliament.
The UKIP challenge is fading a little - they could get 10% of the vote and probably three or four MPs. The Greens will be somewhere around the 4-5% mark - but will do well to keep their sole current MP.
And if all this comes to pass, what happens then? Try this:
This isn't what I want to see happen - I just think it's entirely feasible and perhaps more likely than any other scenario. In that great journalistic cop out: time will tell.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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