Drawing of Nigel Farage by André Carrilho
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An A-Z of the election campaign

From screaming hen parties to a trout called Nibbles, the most wonderful and weird moments of the past six weeks.

A is for Ashcroft

The Tory peer Michael Ashcroft has morphed into a Yoda-like sage, thanks to his polling of marginal constituencies. The snapshots – which cost an estimated £10,000 each – provide an unprecedented level of detail at the local level, and there are suggestions that they could even influence the outcome of the election by swaying tactical voters. But not everyone is a fan: Tory Central Office must be kicking itself that such valuable data is being put in the public domain.


B is for brain fade

On 24 February, the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, got into a hopeless muddle on LBC Radio. Long, tortured silences were punctuated by racking coughs as she struggled to explain how the party would pay for 500,000 new homes. Later, Bennett did something unusual: she admitted she had made a total hash of it. “I didn’t do a great job this morning, I had a brain fade, that happens,” she said. “What I’m aiming to do is face up to that, and then move on.”


C is for constitutional crisis

. . . or, if you’re Theresa May, “the worst constitutional crisis since the abdication”. Yes, the latter weeks of the campaign have been punctuated by dire warnings about the havoc that a large bloc of Scottish Nationalists could wreak – particularly in exchange for propping up Labour. The line had what politicians call “cut-through” with voters, forcing Ed Miliband to toughen his language and eventually rule out any deal with the SNP.

Durántez and her husband cook crumble at a school.


D is for Durántez, Miriam González

Nick Clegg’s wife has always given the impression that she regarded his job as Deputy Prime Minister as an adorable but baffling hobby, like building ships out of matchsticks or morris dancing. Off he would toddle to his shed – sorry, to the Cabinet Office – while she got on with being a lawyer. Nonetheless, she has made a few campaign appearances, revealing to Mumsnet that she runs a cookery blog with the three junior Cleggs. The New Statesman office can report that her “tiny tortillas with shrimps” are delicious, cementing the belief that she is the talented one in the family.


E is for Ed Balls Day

On 28 April 2011, the shadow chancellor tweeted, simply and gnomically, “Ed Balls”. Most Twitter users suspected he was having a crafty search of his own name to see what people were saying about him – because, apparently, he is a masochist – and so Ed Balls Day was born. This year’s commemoration was comparatively low-key (seriously: in 2013 the Guardian did a live blog). Balls has always shrugged off the mockery. As he told George Eaton of the NS: “Who in postwar British politics has had a day named after them? You take what you can, really, don’t you?”


F is for fully black

When Ukip launched its manifesto, the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope asked why the only black face in it was on the page about overseas aid – and was booed by party activists. (One of them shouted, “Shame on you.”) Later, Nigel Farage clarified on Magic radio: “Well, firstly, there was one fully black person. There was another [picture] of our leading spokesman who is half black and that didn’t get a mention . . . We’re a non-racist, non-sectarian political party but we don’t have all-female quotas, we don’t have all-black quotas, we treat everybody as being equal.”


G is for Grant Shapps

The Conservative chairman, who has also gone by the name Michael Green, was accused on 21 April of using a pseudonym to edit the Wikipedia pages of his Tory rivals. (He denies the claims. As, presumably, does Michael Green.) Since then, he has been rather quiet – but with a 17,000-plus majority in his Welwyn Hatfield constituency, he can afford to be. Among the challengers for the seat is a comedian previously called Heydon Prowse – who has changed his name by deed poll to . . . Michael Green.


H is for hen party

We will return again to the subject of Ed Miliband’s unexpected elevation to Sex God status, but for now let’s note the incident that kicked it off. On 19 April the Labour leader’s campaign bus parked next to a hotel where a hen party was staying in Chester. To chants of “SELFIE! SELFIE! SELFIE!” he emerged from the bus, grinning from ear to ear.

You got the sense that somehow, the adulation of this screaming group of women in pink sashes had made all the pain and hurt and mean Daily Mail op-eds worthwhile. What was in it for the women? Well, I suppose it beats hiring a Chippendale.


I is for inevitable appearance by Russell Brand

We all knew we were living on borrowed time, didn’t we? In the end, the notorious non-voter’s interview with Ed Miliband was surprisingly bland – mostly because Miliband barely got a word in edgeways. (That didn’t stop the Tories being dismissive about the whole enterprise. “Russell Brand is a joke,” said David Cameron.) In the end, Brand endorsed the Greens’ Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Labour in England. “David Cameron might think I’m a joke,” the comedian said, “but I don’t think there’s anything funny about what the Conservative Party have been doing . . .”


J is for John Major

Throughout the parliament, Sir John Major made limited (but effective) interventions, most notably telling his successor that the Tories were not doing enough about social mobility. In late April, he was wheeled out to warn that the Scottish Nationalists would offer “a daily dose of political blackmail” in exchange for their political support.

Former Labour leaders have also stayed in the background: Tony Blair made one speech, about the importance of the EU, while Gordon Brown has remained in Scotland – and largely under the radar.


K is for kitchens

At the start of the campaign, the media had a collective spasm of interest in the party leaders’ domestic arrangements, sparked by a photo of the Milibands in their rather poky linoleum-floored kitchen. The Mail’s Sarah Vine claimed the picture proved the couple were “mirthless”, adding that there were insufficient fluffy roast potatoes and juicy joints of beef on show for her liking. The Times’s Jenni Russell sprang to the Milibands’ defence, saying we’d seen only “the functional kitchenette by sitting room for tea and quick snacks”. Cue loads of tortured reworkings of “Two Jags” to reflect Miliband’s surfeit of kitchens.


L is for losing the audience

The Question Time special proved that Hard-Working Taxpayers™ can be far more brutal than political journalists when cross-questioning party leaders. But Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are all old pros, and didn’t flinch even when they were called useless liars or accused of starving children to death. Not so Nigel Farage, who took the unwise step during the 16 April challengers’ debate of accusing the audience of being lefty stooges. He was subjected to a genteel smackdown by David Dimbleby as the veteran broadcaster explained that the crowd had been pre-screened to be politically balanced. He never recovered his mojo.


M is for the Milifandom

Yes, teenage girls claim to fancy Ed Miliband now. Someone photoshopped him wearing a crown of flowers; another coined the nickname “Milibae”. If Miliband loses the election, perhaps he could replace Zayn in One Direction?


N is for next leaders

If you really want to know how pessimistic a party is, don’t listen to anything the top brass are saying – see whether they are discreetly preparing for a leadership race. In this campaign, even David Cameron seemed to be looking to the Tories’ post-Dave future. In an interview with the BBC’s James Landale, he namechecked Theresa May or George Osborne or Boris Johnson as his potential successor; so if he doesn’t make it back to No 10, expect him to be handed his carriage clock and commemorative framed copy of Liam Byrne’s IOU note and shoved out into the sunset with ill-disguised haste. The chatter is quieter among the Lib Dems (where Tim Farron is the heir apparent, though he might face a challenge from the health minister Norman Lamb) and Labour is mainly discussing the 2016 London mayoral election.


O is for open letters

Turns out the favoured way for business leaders to grumble about their lot in life is to stick their demands on the front of the Telegraph. Surely, if they want to complain pointlessly about the minutiae of their lives, they should get on Facebook like everyone else?


P is for policy cenotaph 

And the Lord said unto Ed Mosesband: “Hew thee a table of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon this table better words than were on Tony Blair’s extremely effective, popular and – crucially – portable pledge card from 1997, which thou rejectest. Yea, I will even include that one about ‘an NHS with time to care’, which no one really understandeth.”

Ed's policies are carved in stone. Photo: Getty Images, PA

Labour’s policy rock did not receive a rapturous reception. The Scottish Daily Mail columnist Chris Deerin called it “the heaviest suicide note in history”, while the comedy writer Simon Blackwell tweeted: “Ed Miliband builds a policy cenotaph. And you wonder why we stopped doing The Thick of It.”


Q is for the Queen

Ever since that unfortunate incident with Charles I, our monarchs have been understandably wary of becoming involved in politics. The present Queen is no exception; she was reportedly furious when David Cameron was overheard boasting about how pleased she was with the Scottish referendum result. And so Her Maj is staying well out of the post-election bunfight by remaining at Windsor until the haggling is over, and will not even attend the VE Day ceremony on 8 May. All the main party leaders are expected there, however, so if negotiations are still going on it could be the most awkward-looking line-up since the poster for The Usual Suspects.


R is for #racistmug

The most controversial of Labour’s initial five pledges – immortalised on red mugs at a cost of £5 each – was the promise of “Controls on immigration”. Many commentators worried that it was a dog whistle, and so the hashtag #racistmug was born on Twitter. Then, on 17 April, the Sun’s Katie Hopkins reminded everyone that open racism is still tolerated in public life, with a column comparing migrants crossing the Mediterranean to “cockroaches” who would end up “at Calais, spreading like norovirus on a cruise ship”. Two days later, a boat carrying 700 men, women and children capsized off Libya, killing almost everyone on board.


S is for Stur Wars

The Scottish Sun endorsed the SNP on 30 April, showing Nicola Sturgeon mocked up as Princess Leia next to the headline “STUR WARS”. “We believe the Nats will fight harder for Scotland’s interests at Westminster, offering a new hope for our country,” said the front-page editorial. Meanwhile, the English edition backed the Tories, to stop “a nightmarish Labour government, propped up by the saboteurs of the SNP”. The lessons? Two things – first: the years Alex Salmond spent schmoozing Rupert Murdoch have paid off; second: the Sun wants to inflict maximum damage on Labour.

Elsewhere, the Guardian and Observer ended their flirtation with the Lib Dems and backed Labour, while the FT and the Economist called for another Conservative-led coalition. The Sunday Express broke with tradition to back Ukip, saying that “for grass-root voters it represents the people Labour has long left behind: the backbone of Britain”.


T is for Trident

Although foreign affairs barely merited a mention during the campaign, there was plenty of bickering over the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The SNP wants to get rid of it, while Labour wants to keep it (as do the Tories). A vote on its renewal is scheduled for 2016 – one of the factors that convinced Ed Miliband to rule out a deal with the SNP.

In the final Scottish leaders’ debate on 3 May, the Lib Dems’ Willie Rennie challenged Nicola Sturgeon to rule out Trident renewal as one of the “material changes”that would trigger a second independence referendum. The SNP leader declined to do so.


U is for “U OK, hun?”

Fake concern has become A Thing in this election – the prime example being Jeremy Paxman’s wry “You all right?” to Ed Miliband after savaging him over immigration, the deficit and Libya. (Earlier, Kay Burley had reacted to an audience question about David Miliband by saying to Ed: “Your poor mum.”) But politicians can do it, too: after the Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, tweeted furiously that David Cameron had “demeaned the Office of Prime Minister”, Ruth Davidson, who leads the Scottish Tories, replied: “You OK, hun?”


V is for the Valleys

Leanne Wood owes David Cameron big time. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s reluctance to debate Miliband one-on-one, the Plaid Cymru leader got two rounds of national exposure, appearing in the seven-way and the challengers’ debates.

Her higher profile has not translated into vastly increased electoral expectations – Plaid is hoping for five seats at most – but Wood could help form an “anti-Tory” bloc after 7 May.


W is for West Ham

Against stiff competition, the most cringe-inducing moment of the campaign came when the Prime Minister ad-libbed a remark about how he wanted everyone to support West Ham. His football team is supposed to be Aston Villa. He later told Sky’s Dermot Murnaghan: “By the time you have made as many speeches as I have on this campaign all sorts of funny things start popping out of your mouth.” Pressed further on the team’s record, the PM added: “I’m not doing quiz time because I’ll get them all wrong.”


X is for a cross

. . . which millions of us will make on a ballot paper on 7 May. It is the most interesting election in a generation, but will that drive turnout up from 2010’s figure of 65 per cent?


Y is for Yolo

To the surprise of . . . well, everyone, Ed Miliband has come out of this campaign looking cooler than he went in. He has played pool with Ronnie O’Sullivan, come up with a plausible song choice on Absolute Radio (Bastille’s “Pompeii”) and revealed his love of the 1980s video game Manic Miner. The key? Embracing his inner geek rather than bluffing, badly (see West Ham). True to form, when Time Out asked Miliband what yolo – “you only live once” – meant, he confessed he didn’t know. (Once he found out, though, he seemed to like it, excitedly telling the interviewer: “That is a good philosophy for politics!”)


Z is for zoo

Kissing babies is a bit 1990s; it’s all about posing with an animal now. Nick Clegg had an impressive gyrfalcon, David Cameron an adorable Easter lamb, and Ruth Davidson a huge rainbow trout called Nibbles. Nothing from Ed Miliband as yet, although I suppose that infamous bacon sandwich was an animal, once.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 06 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Struggle

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.