Thursday, March 23, 2006

Gone fishing

Elections are starting to draw near again and I'm not going to have the time to devote to the blog over the next few weeks.

Sorry to disappoint the literally several regular readers, but the Hack is taking a break to spend some time at the sharp end, working on the campaign trail in Brum.

Accordingly, the blog will probably return in the wee small hours of May 5.

RESPECT. Or not.

I almost forgot to mention this one.

As of last week, RESPECT was reported to have a councillor in Birmingham - Cllr Talib Hussain, onetime darling of the Liberal Democrats and the man who was soundly thrashed by the RESPECT candidate in the Sparkbrook & Small Heath parliamentary constituency as recently as last May, was alleged to have joined forces with the redoubtable Ms Yacoub. You may recall that he was unceremoniously dumped last autumn and has spent the past few months sitting on the Labour side in the Council chamber, coincidentally right in front of Sir Albert. He was accused of bringing the Liberal Democrat party into disrepute (Mark Oaten, take note), while the real cause was him refusing to do as he was told and agreeing grants to key groups in the middle of an election campaign.Councillor Hussain has already branded the 'progressive partnership' a 'one race party' and said that
'They made sure they removed the only Asian. They now have ten white cabinet members. I was the only one from the inner city. I am quite disillusioned with mainstream politics. you have black and Asian councillors but they have no influence. The only place where the decisions are made is the cabinet.'

To be fair, heading across to the RESPECT crew was hardly going to give him influence. Can't wait to see Gorgeous George in his leotard, prowling the streets of Sparkbrook and Springfield to try and convince the voters to join his merry band.

As expected, Cllr Hemming responded generously, saying that,

'Basically he did a really bad job and we sacked him. it is as simple as that.'
There's an odd postscript to this.

A reliable source tells me today that, despite what the local press reported on Saturday and contrary to rumours around the Council House last week, Cllr Hussain remains an Independent councillor. Curiouser and curiouser.

Moseley Shoals

More curiousities from the home of Birmingham Liberal Democrats, Moseley B13 (unlucky for some).

When I commented that there had been ructions in the local LibDems over their candidate selection, a couple of councillors were swift to rebut my claims and told us that Ernie Hendricks had been selected as the mate of Hemming candidate back in November. Curiously, even a couple of weeks ago, leaflets were being sent out by the local LD team which didn't even mention their candidate, let alone have a picture.

Name recognition is important in elections - there are a surprising number of voters who go into the booth and vote for the name they recognise, hence the view amongst politicians that any publicity is good publicity. So, from fairly early on, candidates will be given equal billing with any serving councillors - usually as a campaigner or something like that. Photo opportunities will ensure that the candidate gets his mug in the leaflet on a regular basis, usually proving the adage that politics is showbiz for ugly people.

Oddly, this hasn't been happening in the leafier parts of Moseley. I've also seen a letter sent to constituents last year which merely asks them to vote Liberal Democrat without naming the candidate (Zaman Khan).

Surely they can't be afraid that petty racism will affect their vote?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nice one lads

Not often will you find me celebrating a drawn series, but today's win in India has to count as one of the great England wins. Hard to believe that England's depleted Ashes squad, bolstered by a number of debutantes, could put the mighty Indians down and out for just 100 runs on their home turf. Magnificent performance by everyone - particularly Shaun Udal, proving that even a 37 year old bowler can still turn it on when everything goes right for him.

And will whoever loaned Monty Panesar the Phil Tufnell Fielding Manual please get it back sharpish...

Soundbites and fury, signifying nothing

Many years ago, when David Cameron became leader of the Tory Party, he wrote that
we must also adopt a new style of politics, with less of the Punch and Judy show that younger voters in particular find so alienating..
So, why did he use his ten minute riposte to the Chancellor's Budget Speech today to attack Gordon Brown with a series of nasty little soundbites? Is it because he isn't capable of playing the ball and prefers to attack the man? Was his promise of a new age of politics more spin than substance? As Bob points out, it is difficult to reply to a Budget Speech, particularly from one so on top of his game, but this was a pretty pisspoor attempt - clearly pre-scripted and designed to produce neat soundbites for the media (in which it will doubtless be successful). Still vacuous, though.

Gordon's speech wasn't bad - he sounded more confident and assured than usual. The remanufacturing of the Iron Chancellor is well underway as his image is being thoroughly refurbished. While he did use it to remind us of the record of the past nine years, he also offered a guide to the next few years of the Labour government.

Rightly, there's more money for education. We need to get fit to deal with the economic realities that face us and we'll need a better educated workforce, so I'm delighted to see the promise to increase state funding per head to equal the per head spending in private schools.

Nothing hugely exciting, but business as usual for the Labour government. Yes, Mr Cameron, we are mortgaging the country's future - but only a tiny bit and we're investing that borrowing in something that offers us huge returns.

Borrowing time

So, they've decided. Predictably, the Liberal Democrat/Tory coalition currently ruining our city have decided to go with the flawed idea of the Centenary Square site and some new box over in Eastside.

This is a poor decision and one that has been taken solely for political reasons. It is not the right answer for Birmingham, for a whole multitude of reasons. The odds are against the Council finding the funding for it and they are so strapped for cash that they can't afford it themselves, nor can they afford to run and staff it.

Sir Albert Bore was critical of the Invigour report into the proposal - and rightly so.

The new library is trumpeted as being £30 million or so cheaper than the single-site Richard Rogers option. The Labour-backed single-site option went through a thorough consultancy process and has been priced up by the architects accordingly, following a six month report process. The costings for the split-site model have been calculated by officers based upon information from the 2005 consultants' report and on known figures from Millennium Point.

As stated in the Scrutiny Report (page 45) officers have openly acknowledged that the Two Centre option emerged so late in the day that it was inevitable that its supporting information was well short of that available for other options.
In this sense the financial information available for the two main options cannot be said to be comparable as they are based upon different levels of detail.
I can't help feeling that the officers stuck their fingers in the air and came up with a figure that the leadership would like. The single-site option, while not based upon a firm design, has gone through a significantly more robust process. The officers calculated their figures on the basis of a cost per square meter figure some 11% cheaper than the equivalent cost of the single-site option. One phrase that worried me in the Invigour report is
We have attempted to check the validity of the m2 rate used by officers
I'd like a more robust defence of that figure than just an attempt to explain of the assumptions made. The report doesn't seem too sure on this area. While it doesn't fault the basic process of a calculation of cost per square metre, there are caveats over the assumptions made and the level of available detail. My forecast on this is that the final cost of the split site will turn out to be broadly comparable to that of the single site - if not higher.

Another point to be made here is that, although they have made allowances for the cost of maintaining the current Central Library during the construction of each option, no allowance has been made for the cost of maintenance because of the delay in progressing the build. The Liberal Democrat/Tory coalition came to power with a plan in place for a new library, ready to be developed into a fully-fledged PFI proposal, in time for the 2005 bidding round for PFI credits from the Department of Culcha, Meeja n'Sport. Instead of getting on with the job, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats sat on their hands and did nothing, finally submitting a half-finished plan, which was naturally booted out. The next bidding round won't be until 2007, so that's at least another two years of maintenance costs on the existing building - that's not accounted for. That isn't strictly relevant, of course, because both projects would have to start from the same point, so the costs would apply to both, but the delay has added to the cost.

It is also regarded as acceptable to inconvenience the 60,000 library visitors a year who need to use elements of both sites. The staffing costs also seem undercooked, so that the library as proposed will not be able to offer late night weekday or Sunday opening. The overall issue about duplication of functions at two sites is referred to repeatedly, but never actually resolved.

For me, the report still leaves too many questions unanswered. The whole project seems to be too vaguely drawn and bodged together with the sole aim of shoring up a predetermined political decision. But what else should we expect from this administration? We're still not going to see a new library in our City this side of 2012.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Disturbing...

Iain Dale forecasts a resignation during the summer.

I've given up forecasting when Tony will call it a day. He's had a number of chances to go and good reasons to resign, but has hung on in there. Broadly, he's still been an electoral asset to the party, but perhaps that is actually shifting, as the latest result from YouGov shows his personal rating dropping to a new low. The problems do seem to be piling up - the dodgy education bill looks like progressing through parliament only at the whim of the Tories (don't forget that there are an awful lot more stages for this bill to pass yet and at each, the Tories will remind us that they are getting the proposals through). The press have got their teeth into political funding, so we can expect a feeding frenzy around that issue for a while. The most damaging thing about that is that the Party leadership are publically unhappy with the affair - from Jack Dromey putting the cat among the pigeons this week to John Prescott admitting that he didn't know anything about the loans.

There has been remarkably little political hay made this week by other politicians. Partly this is to let the Labour Party stew in its own juice, but mostly this is to avoid drawing attention to the fact that everybody does it to one degree or another. Politics costs money and no party has enough members to cover their costs through membership fees. Donors have to be sought and it is far more cost-effective to pursue a few rich and generous patrons than try and collect a few quid from thousands of individuals. However you cut it, it will lead to, at the very least, a perception that this buys influence and/or an honour. Hell, sometimes it does - let's not be prissy about it. It sure as hell buys access - if somebody has given your party a few hundred thousand pounds, you'll take their phone call. Bear in mind that this applies to all parties and probably always has - in all things, the golden age is mythical.

So, how do we square this circle? Full disclosure and absolute transparency is one way - we're heading in the right direction (do remember that we've come further in the past nine years than for decades before - and that was brought about by a need to clean up the system). However, that's still not going to remove the suspicions about politicians. In my experience, most of them hate the fund-raising part of the job - they don't like having to ask for money.

Prescott's in favour of state funding - and I suspect that this will form a part of the answer. We then need to convince the public that funding democracy is a valid use of taxation. Further, we then need to convince them that this will mean funding startup parties and the smaller parties like (gulp) the BNP. Then we have to devise a formula that works (I'd guess something based on membership and votes cast in favour across the country).

But in the meantime, how's Tony doing?

Reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated before, so I'm not going to write another political obituary. The time is near when he will have to hand over and resigning in the summer is as plausible as every last rumour of his imminent departure. Many have said that Blair has an eye on Thatcher's record, which would indicate a retirement date sometime in 2008, but Gordon's profile of late would suggest otherwise. Certainly, he's been taking a higher profile of late and speaking out on non-Treasury issues - he's positioning himself ready for the fight, so my guess is by the end of 2007.

That said, I've been wrong before. Many, many times.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Colour me surprised...

Ming Campbell is 'an old Tory' says Ken Clarke. And who am I to disagree?
"He is someone Conservatives can do business with, and it would not upset me
to see him in a Cameron cabinet."
Furthermore, he claims economic Toryness for Nick 'Yesterday's Man Tomorrow' Clegg, Vince Cable and David 'Smug Git' Laws.

The Liberal Democrats and the Tories are blending into one - blue meets yellow, rather like a bruise.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another difficult day at the office

Poor old Tony - he's staggering from one 'most difficult week of his premiership' to another.

There's no danger of the Education Bill falling - that's a racing certainty - but it may only pass because of Tory votes. They've tried to convince Labour MPs that voting against the Bill would be a sin for which the parliamentary party would never be forgiven by the country at large.

The bill has certainly been watered down, but it is impossible to over-estimate how important education is to the Labour Party. It has always been crucial to the Labour identity and principles to want to provide the best possible education for all - an attempt to level the playing field with those who can afford the luxury of private education. Any bill that is opposed by such rebels as Neil Kinnock and Estelle Morris has to be in trouble.

I'm still concerned about removing schools from local authority control - I'm not convinced that the LEAs are responsible for stifling innovation in school - and I'd like to see selection removed from the equation altogether. I loathe the current games that some schools play to keep the bright kids and maintain high exam performance and the fact that some parents actually temporarily rent property close to the school of their choice just to ensure that their children get in just proves that choice is only for the wealthy and those who know how to play the system.

It still needs some work, but it is probably worth a second reading.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Internal problems

Rumblings are afoot amongst Liberal Democrats in Birmingham.

Desperate to secure his home power-base, Cllr Hemming has parachuted yet another one of his mates into the key target seat of Moseley. Increasingly, it looks like one of the prime qualifications for getting a LD nomination is to live within B13. Ernie Hendricks - who also works for John's parliamentary office - has been given the nod over the local favourite Zaman Khan, who has campaigned in the ward over a number of years and stood in both 2004 and the 2005 by-election. He's a decent type, who has been working hard on reconstruction projects following the Kashmir earthquake, but has still been pushed out to help one of John's favourites.

Local Liberal Democrats are deeply unhappy at the outcome of the 'selection process' - but why should they be surprised. John seems to be on a mission to quell opposition within his party.

Free market economist in West Brom?

From Talk Politics...
Tory in woman sex sale attempt
A West Bromwich councillor has admitted trying to sell a woman for sex. Councillor Alan Burkitt, Tory member for the Charlemont ward, has been suspended by his party following his arrest on Sunday. He was kept in custody overnight at West Bromwich police station and released on bail Monday afternoon pending further inquiries.
Councillor Burkitt, former deputy leader of the Tory group on Sandwell Council, told the Express & Star that the matter concerned only one woman and claimed that she was consenting.
He said: "I realise what I did was still illegal but it was consented to. She is denying it. She's saying I made her do it. I do not accept that and shall be vehemently defending myself."
Councillor Karen Bissell, Tory group leader, said he was suspended with immediate effect. Councillor Burkitt was elected as a Liberal Democrat in 1996. Within three years he had defected to the Tories. In 2002 it was revealed he owed more than £1,000 in rent and council tax on his flat in Beaconview Road, where he was arrested. The 47-year-old former housing adviser has been unemployed for about three years.

Another Liberal Democrat gone bad.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Party animals

I can't say I'm surprised by the decision of Birmingham's Peoples' Justice Party to disband and join the Liberal Democrats. I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats allowed them in and suspect that they might yet regret that decision, although it will give them a short-term political bonus.

One thing it will do is shift the power within the coalition - or 'progressive partnership' to those without a sense of irony. The allocation of cabinet posts depends on how many councillors that the parties bring to the table. Currently, the Tories have 40 and the Liberal Democrats now have 32, which gives the Tories 7 cabinet members (plus leader) and the LDs two (plus deputy leader). Unbalanced doesn't start to describe it - and that's a word used a lot about the coalition. So, it seems likely that even if things remain the same after May's elections, then a realignment is overdue.

I am reminded of the story told to me by a resident who had the misfortune to be represented by the fore-runners of the PJP, the Justice for Kashmir party. She once tried to contact her local councillor, but was told that he didn't run surgeries. She eventually managed to track him down and he agreed to meet her on the forecourt of a petrol station, finally advising her that there was nothing he could do for her. (Her problem was later solved by a more helpful councillor from another party).

Dave Radcliffe has missed something by claiming that this marks a return to 'two-party politics' in the inner city wards in Birmingham. He's missed the probability that the peculiar alliance of the hard left and the Islamic radicals that is the Respect coalition may do rather well.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Single mothers are evil

David Laws, the insufferably smug Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, has come up with a policy to warm the cockles of the Daily Mail. He wants to take money away from single parents.

Yes, you did read that correctly. Currently, single parents can claim income support until the youngest child is 16, but David wants to reduce that limit in stages - starting when the youngest child starts secondary school at 11. How far they actually want to cut it is unclear, but I'm instinctively concerned about this.

This man's a laugh riot, because he also reckons that this will help to tackle child poverty. Yup, taking money away from parents always helps that. One of the quiet successes of the Labour government has been in increasing the amount of money used to support the poorest in our society - and single parents often fall into that group. A survey a little while ago gave the lie to the right-wing media view that if you give single parents extra money, they'll just spend it on scratchcards and alcohol. Sure, there are some that waste it, but that's what you get for a free society. Most chose to spend it on their kids - clothing, food and even the odd day out. For every single parent pilloried in the press for getting pregnant to get their council house, there are dozens more trapped in poverty and desperate to get out to give their kids a better life.

I do believe that we have a responsibility to society to do all we can to support ourselves and our families - I'm the product of a single-parent family where my mother worked throughout my childhood. We do need to encourage and support people to rejoin the employment market and I believe that we can achieve more through education in basic skills than by wielding a big stick.

Not even Thatcher had the gall to try this trick. So much for Ming's declaration that they are a centre-left party (an odd definition as we've heard repeatedly over the past few weeks that terms like left and right are outdated). With many more policies like these, David Cameron will be wondering where his clothes went.

Centre-left or sliding to the right?

One of the central acts of the Liberal Democrat conference was the affirmation of the policy to sell off the Post Office.

If you recall, the Liberal Democrats have made great capital trying to blame the government for closing urban post offices. So what can these plans mean?

The proposal is for the Post Office Counters business to be hived off from the Royal Mail delivery organisation. The former will remain in the public sector while the rest is sliced up for sale. 51% will be divided between the government and a staff trust, with the remainder split equally between small investors/employees and the major investors. There seems to be a belief that this will inspire greater dedication to the cause of the company by the new employee shareholders. This is exceptionally unlikely. What will happen is that the staff will grab their share entitlements with both hands and sell them off as soon as possible - as will the small investors. The big privatisations of the 80s (British Gas, BT, etc) haven't created a massive share-owning culture - most buyers sold out as soon as they could to make a quick profit. Shares are largely in the hands of the institutional investors like pension funds.

If you seek a model that generates employee involvement, why not try the John Lewis Partnership? There, each of the 60,000 employees owns part of the business - they have a real interest in the success of the company, not just a short-term profit.

So, this newly privatised company will have a cash fund of around £2 billion, which has to be spent on sustaining the publically-owned post office network. Well, actually, most of the post offices are privately-owned small businesses. Effectively, this will be a subsidy for the private sector to support a structurally-flawed business model.

For many years, your local post office has relied upon the handling fees for paying out benefit and pension cash. Increasingly, clients are having their benefits paid directly into their bank accounts, which helps to reduce theft and fraud, as well as cutting out the costs and risks of transferring large amounts of cash around the country. While the current cohort of pensioners may not be used to using direct debits and card accounts, the next generation - people like my own parents - are quite happy with electronic fund transfer and card payments.

Like it or not, the role of the post office is going to have to change, but the Liberal Democrats will tie the company into maintaining failing businesses or reopening branches where they have already failed - as Yellow Peril points out. Lynne Featherstone reckons that saddling the Post Office with this deadweight is going to allow it to compete with the new foreign entrants to the market. No. It won't.

The final question is what happens when this £2 billion fund finally runs dry? Does the government then pick up the tab for subsidising private sector businesses? Does it then let them fail naturally or does it start selling off a little more of the Royal Mail to keep it ticking over?

Yet another half-baked policy proposal from the Liberal Democrats - but then they know that with power nothing more than a pipe-dream, they can afford to play at politics rather than trying to devise real policies for the real world.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Cheek by Jowell

Hmm.

Maybe I'm too cynical, but isn't the whole separation thing a little, errm, convenient? Then again, if he has stitched her up, you'd expect nothing less than a little domestic froideur.

Trouble is, the truth isn't important - the overriding belief will be that she has resigned from her family to spend more time with her ministry (Copyright everybody). The whole thing is still rather messy and there may be more to come out. I'm not sure that this will save Tessa.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Safe pair of hands blah blah

Back to the Future for the Liberal Democrats?

Expect to hear all and sundry telling you that Ming is a statesman, that he's a safe pair of hands, that he's respected by all, steady hand on the tiller, etc, etc. Loyal promises of support from all - even from Simon Hughes yesterday, whose fulsome praise rang a little hollow yesterday afternoon.

The Lib Dems have dodged the bullet and clung on to their usual fence-sitting position. Picking Hughes would have been a retrograde step and would have caused defections to the Tories by some of the more right-wing LDs. Selecting Huhne would have seen a number of activists leave the party in fear of a rightward shift - it would have been the most interesting choice, to be honest. Either would have allowed the party to define itself and map a future.

Instead, they've chosen the 'none of the above' candidate and have put off the political clash for a few years more. I doubt we'll see much in the way of policy change under Ming, unless it comes as part of a package to push the leadership claims of one of the new breed - be it Clegg, Teather or Huhne. The party still wants to be all things to all people - just as it backs the concept of road-pricing to reduce environmental damage, but campaigns against it on a local basis.

Huhne had an excellent campaign - he's raised his image within the party no end and has instantly become a big-hitter. When the next leadership election rolls around, he'll be well-placed and should be assured of a high-profile post in the meantime - but that narrow majority in his constituency may make him even more of a Tory target than before. Hughes didn't do well - to come third for somebody who was regarded as a front-runner and thought to have a huge power base within the activist voters is nothing short of disastrous. His leadership ambitions must now be over - the threat of the new boys and girls will be too much in the future - and the lies he told over his personal life won't go away. The less said about Oaten, the better. It seems that he'll be lucky to save his marriage, let alone his parliamentary seat next time round.

Campbell won't set the world on fire, nor will he inspire new voters to come to the party. The LDs are about to fall further behind the Tories and Labour. Their only real hope for continued success is that their finely-tuned by-election machine can keep the ball rolling.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

UnTeathered

It is a trial when you have to be all things to all people. Sarah Teather is on Question Time at the moment praising her new leader and she's suggested that the Minger led opposition to the Iraq War. When Dimbles said that Ming had wanted Kennedy to hold back from the anti-war march, she said that was untrue. Dimbles came right back at her, reminding her that it WAS true - he knew, because Ming had said as much on QT a few weeks back. Do keep up, Sarah.

Nick Clegg, the poster-boy for the right wing of the party, said that Ming was qualified to lead -
'He has also got resilience, and I knew that, but I'm glad that came out in the campaign. Just look at what was thrown at him in the last few weeks.'

Apart from the self-inflicted damage of his poor public speaking performances, I'm not aware of anything being flung at Ming in the past few weeks. There was far worse hurled at Huhne and Hughes (and we won't discuss what was thrown at Oaten). Ming got off VERY lightly.

William Hill have already opened a book on how long Ming will last in the job.

Excuse of the week

One that Tessa can't try. From The Scotsman.
An ex-Lib-Dem councillor who downloaded photos of penises from the internet failed in a High Court claim that the council was guilty of unlawful surveillance of his computer activities. Matthew Shepherd, 59, said he had been carrying out legitimate research into the EU standard condom size in his role as his party's health spokesman.

Bald man wins comb

The final winner of the Lib Dem leadership scrap was Sir Ming - a fact that has undoubtedly brought joy to Chuckles Kennedy - watch out for his face when he was applauding the new leader, 'stony' doesn't even begin to describe his expression. More importantly, Ming won by a fairly decent majority, getting 57% of the vote (including Hughes' second preference) - not quite as close as most people had it (including me).

The Orangistas must be very happy - they know that Sir Ming's claims of being ready to fight two elections are just pie in the sky. Remember that the general prognosis for his heart condition is around 50% survival at five years - they'll be lucky to make it to 2009/10. Nick Clegg and Sarah Teather can get on with their grand plan to be ready to step in if ill-health prevents Ming from leading the party into oblivion.

Note that the same people (Ming and others) who were demanding Chuckles' head on a plate a few weeks back were cheerleading the applause for his successes in the past two elections (yes, I mean you, Simon Hughes). These were also the people who called for him to stand down last year because he hadn't done enough.

And as for Ming's victory speech. Zzzzzzz. I've not heard such a collection of banalities and platitudes since... ooohhh... since Tuesday. And someone please tell him that he can't do jokes.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Is this Tessa a bad investment?

Thursday is D-Day for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we'll get the report from Gus O'Donnell as to whether the Culture and Media Secretary has broken the ministerial code. Don't expect tabloid-style damnation from Sir Gus - that's not the Civil Service way. Most of the damage will be in things unsaid, but unless the Cabinet Secretary can lay this one to rest convincingly, then the rumours will continue to spread and Tessa will end up committing the worst ministerial offence - she'll become the story. I have to admit that the omens aren't good and unless the media sharks find a new target, she'll end up going - the pressure of the story and of further revelations will demand it. According to the BBC, they have a letter from Mr Mills to his accountant:
"I told no lies, but I turned some very tricky corners which kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble." He says that $600,000 was put into a hedge fund and refers to "the person connected to the B organisation". Later he says: "I regarded the payment as a gift - what else could it be?"

Even if what happened with the hurried remortgage and subsequent clearance of the debt is all in order technically, it doesn't feel right and has overtones of the dying days of the Major government, mired in sleaze. She'll be lucky to make it to the weekend before she resigns, doubtless to focus on supporting her husband.

The other event on the horizon is the finishing post for the leadership election in the Liberal Democrats. All the ballot papers had to be in by lunchtime Wednesday and the result is due at 3pm on Thursday.

Guido is still calling it for Campbell ahead of Huhne - 53/47 with the Hughes second preference votes included. PoliticalBetting has been sat firmly on the fence for a few days, reckoning that it is too close to call - the latest betting chart just puts Campbell in as favourite, but it remains close. That's my honest answer still - although I'm still just about shading it for Huhne (largely as a contrarian approach to Guido, but also as an instinctive opinion).

All will be revealed over the next few hours.