We're No Pundits


By the time you read this, things will have changed.

The polls have closed in the UK election and the counting has started. The swingometers might still be functional but the campaigning has stopped. This is the election that has been too close to call since campaigning started — and that’s still the case. As we write, the Tories are slipping ahead and exit polls indicate a hung parliament as the most probable outcome. You can also search exit poll results here.

The 2008 election in the US kept audiences around the world glued to their TV screens, waiting for the map to turn red. This year, political junkies and UK-watchers in Australia can watch the election results play out minute-by-minute on cable news, on Twitter (plug in the hashtags #geuk, #ukvote, #uk2010, #ge2010 and see what gives) and on the blogs. Forget trenchant, considered comment: this is electoral politics in the era of the liveblog.

One of the bloggers on The Economist wrote at 1.33am GMT, "If I had to call it now, I’d say the Tories are going to squeak a majority. Fortunately, I don’t have to." And neither do we. Instead, you can join us as we watch the pundits tie themselves into knots predicting the outcome of the poll.

Many were surprised when The Economist endorsed the Tories for this election. The magazine’s Bagehot columnist is live-blogging the election results here. One correspondent observes that it is unlikely that a complete result will be tallied until sometime mid-Friday, UK time. "One interesting wrinkle: not all seats will declare tonight. Around 20 will remain undeclared until late on Friday. If the race is very close, it could all come down to what happens in those few seats. The possibility has the editor tearing his hair out."

The editors of the The Guardian made the trenchant observation that newspapers don’t vote, voters do — and endorsed the Liberal Democrats. Bloggers are posting up-to-date information about results in each of the UK’s 650 electorates as well as rumours and whispers about who’s ahead, and bad behaviour at the polling stations.

Although there’s been a swing to the Tories across the UK, in Scotland, Labour has held firm. The live-blog at The Scotsman is registering the results north of the border: "That’s Glasgow East back to Labour then. The Labour world in Scotland is restored. John Mason maybe deserved better but got hammered".

The Wall Street Journal has gotten in on the act too. Ian Martin is blogging for a US audience so there’s some helpful extra background for those who haven’t been immersed in the campaign since it started. A typical sample, filed under "Election night surprises":

"Peter Robinson, first minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, lost his East Belfast seat in one of the biggest shocks of the night. His defeat follows revelations earlier this year that his wife — at the time also a DUP member of parliament — had had an affair, and allegations of financial impropriety.

"The seat was won by Naomi Long, deputy leader of the Alliance Party, which has never before won a seat in the UK parliament. The party has traditionally rejected identification with either the nationalist or unionist causes in Northern Ireland. In the last general election, Long came third in East Belfast with 12.2 per cent of the vote."

Poll madness always reigns at US site FiveThirtyEight. Nate Silver has set up a live-blog to cover the action in the UK. Like the WSJ, there’s some handy background here for non-UK audiences. Here’s what you can expect:

"As the Lib Dems look like they’re having a flop of Howard Dean proportions, the pundits will surely be asking what went wrong. Could be a case of too much tact. As a Tory government looked more likely in the past week, and Clegg flirted with joining a Tory coalition, leaning Lib Dem voters could have reverted back to Labour."

Over at The Independent, there’s an interactive results map and a live-blog. Robert Colvile asks at 2.10am: "Where are the Lib Dems? They’ve held their own in straight fights against the Tories, but the general picture is of a Tory/Labour battle. Maybe the exit poll was right…"

It would be remiss to fail to note that The Independent also provided UK voters with a who’s who of celebrity endorsements for the election. Stay calm, Bill Bailey voted Labour and so did Prunella Scales.

The BBC, shockingly, have neglected to provide their audiences with a live-blog, but there is rolling news coverage at their site.

Closer to home, Crikey is live-blogging the election results. Diarist on the loose Guy Rundle joins Crikey editor Sophie Black and psephologist Charles Richardson to chew over the results here. The interface is a little baffling but comments and questions from readers appear on the feed.

Each election appears to pundits as the most vital poll in history — and there’s been no shortage of rhetoric around this UK election. Whatever arrangement for government arises out of the poll — a hung parliament or an outright Tory victory — the leaders will have their work cut out for them. There have been riots on the streets of Athens in response to massive cuts in public spending and while Britain might not be as far down the tube as Greece, painful cuts are ahead. Fiddle around with this deficit gadget at Channel 4 — pensions v schoolteachers — to get a sense of the decisions that will have to be made. Tough job, etc.

Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Guardian, yesterday sounded an ominous note about the prospect of a Conservative victory. He invoked Neil Kinnock’s speech on the eve of the 1983 election and the grimmest of the Thatcher years:

"Kinnock knew a landslide defeat was imminent so, speaking in Bridgend, he sketched the world to come. ‘I warn you,’ he began, addressing a nation about to descend into the bitterest stretch of the Thatcher era. ‘I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old’."

The Independent‘s Jonathan Hari offers a cautionary tale about Cameron’s promised "compassionate conservatism". This is what happened when the Tories took control of Hammersmith and Fulham Council in west London:

"They immediately sold off 12 homeless shelters, handing them to large property developers. The horrified charity Crisis was offered premises by the BBC to house the abandoned in a shelter over the Christmas period at least. The council refused permission. They said the homeless were a ‘law and order issue’, and a shelter would attract undesirables to the area. With this in mind, they changed the rules so that the homeless had to ‘prove’ to a sceptical bureaucracy that they had nowhere else to go — and if they failed, they were turned away."

That’s it from us. We’re off to refresh our browsers and see if the exit polls got it right. One of these days, Kevin Rudd will call an Australian federal election. And you can bet the farm that there will be a new spate of live-blogs to mark that auspicious occasion.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.