Vote for the dinner party

There are, I understand, Labour supporters in the chattering classes who may defect or abstain this time because of the Government’s record on a whole sheaf of issues.

You’ve been contacting me in your thousands asking how to organise the perfect dinner party vote, so here are some tips.

Obviously, it’s best to hold the dinner party on polling day itself, then, just before the polls close at 10 o’clock, those who want to cast their anti-Labour vote can toddle off and do so, while the abstainers can stay behind with a couple of bottles of shiraz and perhaps a box of bitter mints.

You can top up the glasses of the ones who are voting, to sustain them in the polling booth. A circle of red wine from the base of a glass makes an original spoilt ballot paper and a good conversation piece for the tellers at the count. I would recommend holding back the cheese board until everyone has returned from voting.

It is advisable to prepare a little extra food for your dinner, because some eager Liberal Democrat party worker is bound to show up uninvited in the middle of the evening to try to persuade you to go out and vote and they won’t need much encouragement to squeeze in at the table and tuck in. I usually recommend a casserole – lamb with spring vegetables perhaps.

As a fun alternative why not hold a tactical dinner party? For this, you simply invite a group of people who you know are supporting rival candidates to your chosen one. Then you just keep them at the table until it is too late to vote. It’s a good idea to serve them something fiddly to keep them occupied.

Devilled spatchcocked poussin would be nice. Although it has to be prepared at the last moment, and means you will be too busy in the kitchen to get out to vote yourself, you can be confident that this is more than cancelled out by all those people enjoying their asparagus starters in the next room.

What are the hazards of the dinner party vote? Of course there is always the chance you may get the dinner party vote bore, bragging about how he was once interviewed by an opinion pollster. Incidentally, you should take care with the seating plan and make sure you don’t put an ardent fan of YouGov next to a passionate devotee of Gallup. This can lead to terrible rows. I once witnessed a fist fight which arose from a disagreement about sampling methods.

Talking of rows, you can also get the most frightful marital bust-ups. At a dinner party vote I attended at the last election, a Labour-supporting couple named Clive and Lucy Whimbrel arrived tight-lipped and spoiling for a fight.

Over the meal, after Clive had told her “It’s the economy, stupid” for the 14th time, she put on her coat, flounced out and voted for the Socialist Workers’ Party candidate. The Whimbrels split up shortly after that. Lucy ran off with the election returning officer and now lives in a cottage in one the Tories’ top 10 target constituencies. Clive went to pieces. I gather he gets odd seasonal jobs driving election battle buses.

Beware of dinner party dirty tricks. You may find your babysitter is suddenly unavailable on the night, forcing you to abandon your plans to abstain in style with a few friends over a delicious pumpkin risotto. It may turn out that she has been secretly dating the Green Party candidate and you are being lured to the polling station by trickery.

There could be a problem if you hire caterers for your dinner party vote. You and your guests may be drumming your fingers, wondering when the salmis of guinea fowl is going to appear when you notice that it has turned awfully quiet in the kitchen. You go and check up and discover the caterers have done a runner to cast their votes for the UK Independence Party candidate.

A lot of election experts are now saying: “Forget about the dinner party vote – what about the barbecue vote?” This could be a crucial factor, particularly if a large number of barbecue parties are held in key marginals tomorrow.

Groups of potential voters may be standing round, waiting for the charcoal to light properly and they could become so hypnotised by this that they forget to go to the polling station until it’s too late. A low turnout would be fatal for Labour.

In the end, the fate of this Government may depend on half a dozen duff charcoal briquettes.

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Background to the prime ministerial debates

A confidential memo circulated well ahead of the current prime ministerial election debates has been leaked.

MEMO from the Joint BBC/ITV/SKY Political Special Projects Working Group.

Subject: Proposed Televised Debate Featuring Three Main Party Leaders During General Election Campaign.

Serious consideration should be given to alternative means of presentation than the agreed three-men-in-a-studio format.

One possibility we have considered is what we have called “the animal rescue option”. The party leaders would appear in a daytime television programme and each be required to capture an injured swan. This would test their ability to make tough choices. They would be able to outline the main points of their manifesto (quietly) while creeping up behind the bird. We believe that the voters would be better informed and this would be good for the health of our democracy. It might also be good for the health of the swans.

We have put the idea to the parties and there has been quite a positive reaction, although the Liberal Democrats have expressed some anxiety that Nick Clegg has shorter arms than Mr Brown and Mr Cameron and would not be able to hold the swan far enough away from his face, thus putting him at some disadvantage. We may be able to overcome this problem by providing Mr Clegg with a slightly smaller swan. We have actually found a swan of an appropriate size but unfortunately it is not injured.

The Group is conscious of the need to avoid being superficial. One way of enabling the electorate to participate directly would be to put on a programme called The 100 Worst Party Political Broadcasts. Viewers would be invited to nominate the worst broadcasts and clips would be shown on a programme hosted by Graham Norton. The party leaders would appear as guests, adding their views and reminiscences. This would fill up three hours of the Sky One schedule on three successive Saturday nights.

The parties have responded favourably and welcome a chance to get the public involved. However there may be a problem for the Prime Minister who likes to watch Casualty on the other side on Saturday nights. He feels the programme has improved in the last five years under the Labour government. The Liberal Democrats would like to have some form of proportional representation in the voting for the 100 worst party political broadcasts. We are looking into this.

The Group is well aware that the party leaders must not be seen to be given an “easy ride”. The solution may lie in Before They Were Elected. This would consist of archive footage and home video clips of the party leaders when they were young. They would appear in the studio and the voters would have the chance to see how they reacted under pressure when subjected to scripted mockery.

The Group has never lost sight of the fact that the purpose of the three-way debate is to help the British public use their vote in a more enlightened way. We could achieve this, perhaps, by taking a sample of households throughout the country where the occupants were undecided, then get Mr Brown, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg to arrive unexpectedly and re-decorate their bedrooms while they were out.

This would illustrate how the party leaders established their priorities, organised their plans of action and cleaned up the mess afterwards. Early soundings suggest this one could be a runner, but the Liberal Democrats may need a bit of persuading before Mr Clegg agrees to be Handy Andy.

The Group’s favoured format is the “remote Scottish island option”. This would involve leaving them to fend for themselves, and with no contact with the outside world, for the duration of the election. At the moment we are not sure who should be cast away. The party leaders or the voters? We would welcome your thoughts on this one.

My ‘Indispensable Downloadable Guide to the 2010 General Election’

As possibly the most exciting general election campaign of all time enters its third week, I’m publishing my new Indispensable Downloadable Guide to the General Election for you to download and print out.

Keep this guide with you at all times to help you keep abreast of the daily political skirmishing between now and 6th May.

And there’s more! Thanks to the marvels of modern technology (and a bit of imagination) each copy of the Guide comes with a free CD of the Plaid Cymru campaign song CD stuck on the outside, so that when you try to peel it off you deface the cover picture of the three main party leaders.

Special features in the guide include exclusive extracts from the owner’s guide to the Liberal Democrat Battlebus, so that when it breaks down on the motorway slip-road just outside a crucial marginal constituency in the North East, you will be able, from your armchair, to make an intelligent guess about what has gone wrong.

See, also, my fascinating article on Pollsters’ Wives. Here, the women behind the senior men in Gallup, Mori and YouGov talk frankly for the first time about their lives, their opinions and also the things they remain Undecided about. They also reveal the secrets of how poll findings can be adjusted to take account of predicted turnouts, and they give fashion tips for people who expect to be stopped in the street and asked how they intend to vote.

On page 39 you will find a full-colour easy-to-follow map of the route that will be taken by Gordon Brown on his ‘spontaneous’ walkabout in Derby. There are X’s to mark the spots where you should stand to have a good chance of shaking Mr Brown’s hand as he passes.

Bothered by all the election leaflets that come through the door? Now is your chance to win a special pine-style rack to keep them in, so that you can easily refer to them and check up on your SNP candidate’s views on speed humps, or whatever.

And I’ve even managed to persuade John Prescott to write for me! On page 63, Prezza gives a step-by-step guide on how to make your own rosette. Put it on and see how it feels to be a candidate. And John Prescott also writes a fascinating article on how very little is known about the origin of rosettes in politics.

Foxed by all the graphics? There is no need to be now. The guide includes a simple user’s guide to all the pie-charts, graphs and computer-generated gimmicks that are used in television election coverage. And there is another great innovation: we publish, for the first time ever, a full-colour cross-section illustration of Jeremy Vine, with all his working parts, as he is expected to appear on election night TV. There is also detailed analysis of all the 30,000 gestures he is expected to make.

Psychology plays an increasingly important part in politics these days as the parties go to great lengths to put their message across in the most effective way. I’m proud to have secured the services of top psychologist and hustings counsellor Dr Deirdre Mackintosh who reveals, in a controversial article on page 143, that, contrary to popular belief, the colour of a candidate’s socks makes very little difference to the number of votes he or she receives in an election. It seems, furthermore, that sock colour is particularly irrelevant in seats held by the Liberal Democrats.

The important thing about this Indispensable Downloadable Guide to the General Election is that it is a practical help that you can keep with you at all times. For example, that noted psephologist Malcolm Macpherson from the University of Lochboisdale, has produced a wonderfully lucid guide to Places to Look if You Think You Have Lost Your Polling Card.

And on the big night, as you settle down to watch the results on television, I have included a list of The Seats the Tories Must Win to Stand a Chance. The names of these constituencies have been chosen to contain a large number of Os, Ds, Ps, Rs and Bs so that you can fill in the holes with a green felt-tip pen.

Download your copy now!

As a result of production problems beyond my control some readers may not be able to successfully download their guide until after the election.

Spring is breaking out all over the show

We can no longer depend on frogspawn. Its appearance in ponds used to be a sure sign of spring, but now it can be seen slurping about even in January. Migrant birds seem to come and go as they please and blossom becomes more lurid and flashy.

To help sort out the confusion of the seasons, I’ll be publishing Nature Notes in the coming months. Here is the first instalment:

There is a sense of expectation in the air. On the verges we can see more and more patches of fresh bright green as the discarded cheese and onion crisp packets replace the harsh blue salt and vinegar of winter.

Take a walk in the long grass and you may put up an empty Evian water bottle or perhaps a polystyrene cup which has been lying absolutely still and cleverly camouflaged in a dip in the ground.

These are signs that you have stumbled across the scene of some lunchhour tryst of a pair of office workers. If you wait patiently at dusk you will see the flocks of people going past heading back from the garden centre in V-formation, uttering little piping cries when they learn how much they have spent.

Just stand and listen. In the distance you may hear the first call of the shy hedge-trimmer emerging from its hibernation in the shed. Brrrrpp, brrrrpp, it goes. A moment later you hear the answering rasping notes of the chainsaw being started up. Brrrrpp, brrrrpp, then rooooaah, rooooaah.

Soon another sound is added to the chorus as a cock BMW somehow knows that it is time to open its windows to let in the milder air and let out the song from its quadrophonic speakers as it claims its territory. Brrrrpp, brrrrpp, rooooaah, rooooaah, bom-bom-bom-daddy-bom-daddy-bom.

You may hear the restful drone of an aircraft overhead, and, if the sky is clear, see its vapour trail. It could be our old friends the Haskings returning to these shores from their skiing holiday. It won’t be long before the sky is filled with more of these frothy white patterns as the Boeings depart for the warmer climes of Spain and Greece, using some means of navigation that we can only marvel at and never truly understand.

My favourite sound of spring is the cheerful clatter of lightweight aluminium chairs falling over. Something deep inside tells the managers of wine bars, coffee shops and restaurants that it is time to set up chairs and tables on the pavement. A gust of wind comes and blows them over, but these intrepid creatures go out and set them up again.

It happens over and over again. They seem to be fulfilling their destiny. It’s as if they know that in just a few weeks’ time there will be customers at these tables and colourful waiters flitting among them with their odd little repetitive chirruping which sounds just like “Enjoy your starters”.

It is a time of renewal. A telltale postcard reminds us that it is time to renew our subscription to the gardening magazine. We look down at the carpet and we see that we are surrounded by a multicoloured carpet of leaflets inviting us to take up various types of Isa.

There are also mysterious stirrings – a restlessness in the male and the female which they do not fully understand. There is a yearning, a need. Finally they realise what the are yearning for. They must have more work surfaces. The time has come round, once again, for an improved fitted kitchen.

Exactly 17 days after the pair go through their elaborate looking-at-the-catalogues ritual, the neat little van of the fitted kitchen company will draw up outside their house. After that it is just a matter of time before the male and the female are cooing over their clutch of perfectly shaped and delicately patterned ceramic tiles.

Finally there is that annual miracle that tells you spring is here. You are walking down the street when the seasonal gale blows the outsize magnolia blossom off its twig and it hits you in the face like a cold damp flannel.