Charles Clarke’s Election Doomsday List
Comment at end
THE NATIVES ARE REVOLTING
Charles Clarke releases ‘doomsday list’ of Labour MPs at risk
Just 7,500 voters can wipe out party’s Commons majority
By Jonathan Oliver, Political Editor, The Sunday Times
A former cabinet minister has circulated a “doomsday list” of Labour MPs at risk of losing their seats if fewer than 7,500 voters switch sides.
Charles Clarke, the former home secretary, warns that because of boundary changes the party needs to lose only 24 seats, predominantly in London and the southeast, to be stripped of its overall majority.
This will happen if just 7,417 people in the 24 seats who voted Labour at the last election vote next time for the party that came second.
Clarke points out that a disproportionate number of these marginals are in north Kent and Essex, prompting MPs to dub the next election the Battle for Bluewater after the giant shopping centre near Dartford.
In most of the seats, the Tory party is the main challenger.
The dossier, which has been e-mailed to selected MPs, is adding to nervousness in the already jittery parliamentary Labour party. One who received the document last week said: “It shows just how close we are to annihilation. If we lose our overall majority, it is unlikely the Lib Dems will keep us in power. Gordon needs to connect with voters, particularly in these crucial seats in the south.”
Brown has an overall majority of 67. However, the abolition of six Labour-held seats and other boundary changes favouring the Conservatives mean that he will go into the next election defending a notional majority of just 47.
A Sunday Times poll last week put Labour on 27%, 16 points behind the Conservatives on 43% – a 10% swing to the Tories since the last general election. However, Clarke points out that it would take a swing of less than 2% to wipe out Labour’s majority.
In the introduction to his four-page dossier, Clarke states: “Labour holds 27 seats with a majority of less than 3% over its main opponent . . . which would change hands with a universal 1.5% swing.”
The MPs on the doomsday list include several members of the government, including Bill Rammell, the universities minister; Jim Knight, the schools minister; and Phil Hope, the Cabinet Office minister.
A string of ministerial aides, including Angela Smith, Brown’s parliamentary private secretary, are also at risk of losing their seats. Clarke, who in the past has been an outspoken critic of Brown, declined to comment yesterday on the prime minister’s predicament.
But he said: “I prepared this document to understand the nature of the political battleground. The message that it sends out is that Labour has to make a clear case to win seats in London and the southeast.” Michael Thrasher, professor of politics at Plymouth University, agreed that a small number of votes could determine the outcome of the next election. “The reality is that a very small swing indeed of less than 2% would deprive Labour its overall majority. On the new boundaries, the electoral battleground will be centred around just 24 seats.”
AND NOW A TORY WARNING
Matthew Parris – he of the recent “I met a man who wasn’t Blair” fame, has an article in the Times tomorrow which might ring a few bells with some of us. It did with me. But then I have felt the country has been leaderless and rudderless since June 26th 2007!
“Who knows what’s happening? Perhaps nothing, after all. Perhaps this will all blow over. But what unsettles me goes deeper than a sense of mystery about the future. At most junctures in history there arises the feeling of a lull before a possible storm. Heck, we were in a worse state in 1945, or 1979. Danger was more imminent in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 posited bigger unknowns for the future. But at these crossroads the air was full of ideas: strong ideas, competing ideas, confident philosophies, angry dissent. People had policies. Ideologies clashed. Politicians and thinkers jostled to present their plans. Leaders led.
But what distinguishes this hiatus in 2008 from those earlier forks in the road is the impassivity of our politics, and the idleness of political debate, as we wait. There is a sense of vacuum.
There was not in 1979, as there is now, this curious hollowness in the air. Where today is the bold advocacy, the impatience to persuade, the urgency of argument? Where are the shouts of “Here’s how!”? It is as though the stage were set for some kind of theatrical climax, but peopled only with stage hands and the rattle and murmur of the scene-shift. Where are the leading actors, the big voices, the great thoughts?
Pictures of David Cameron in his kitchen, a family scene sweetly contrived to frame his thoughts on paternity leave, or whatever, and images of the passionless figure cut by Alistair Darling at the dispatch box, his grey stare charged with all the philosophical depth of a shop-window mannequin, stick in my mind. Are these the spirits of the political age?”
I DO rate Parris’s writing talent, though I don’t rate his anti-Blair stance. Particularly so since he took down from the internet an article he wrote entitled “Why I love Blair’s Britain”. I suppose it must have kept him awake at night wondering how he could have written such truths!
The target of Parris’s aim too is party leadership; this time it’s the Tories, of course.
A timely Easter gift from both. I suppose it’s kinder than the eggs which both Parris and Clarke would probably prefer to throw.
How depressing is today’s politics.
Byers seeks compromise in the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill vote
Gordon Brown yesterday faced an unprecedented challenge to his authority as he came under new pressure to cave in over controversial embryo research legislation.
Stephen Byers, the former cabinet minister, intervened in the row by attacking Downing Street’s plans to deny Labour MPs a free vote on the bill. Byers is the most senior Labour figure yet to attack Brown’s uncompromising approach, which could lead to several cabinet resignations.
Livermore loses respect for Brown.
Even the normally ultra-loyal Balls is said to have criticised Brown’s judgment in resisting the Police Federation’s pay demand, just to save £30m. One Labour insider said the pair had rowed over the issue, culminating with Balls swearing at the prime minister.
Labour’s collapse in the polls and the apparent takeover of No 10 by outsiders have left backbenchers bewildered and angry. The gloomiest are discussing the “Anthony Eden solution” – Eden resigned as prime minister in 1957 after the Suez debacle, citing health problems.
One rebel MP said: “Gordon is blind in one eye and there is evidence that the sight in the other one is deteriorating. Increasingly he seems to be missing words when he is reading statements in the Commons.”
The idea that Brown would voluntarily relinquish power is fanciful but illustrates the desperation gripping some of his critics.
And A.N.Other Cabinet Minister asks Brown – “What do we stand for Now?”
Brown thinks he’s got a long time. But although the election is likely to be in 2010 an economic downturn means political recovery lags a long way behind. “Say what you like about Tony but even his enemies knew what he stood for.” What do we stand for now?” One Cabinet minister apparently worried about it to Brown’s face.