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The TNR Reader’s Guide to the British Elections

Who to read, what to say, and which races to look out for.

Overall Best One-Stop Shop

Politics Home. With all the latest polls, headlines, and videos from the campaign trail, PoliticsHome is clearly the best and easiest-to-use election portal. It’s got enough detail to satisfy political junkies and plenty of overview material for novices and newcomers.

Runner-up: the BBC.

Best Conservative One-Stop Shop

Conservative Home. An excellent, even essential, stop for Conservative news and much more useful than the official party website. This is where the Tory grassroots congregate for polls, analysis, tactics, and strategy. 

Best Labour One-Stop Shop

LabourList. An attempt to do for Labour what ConservativeHome does for the Tories—and increasingly influential in Labour circles. 

Best Liberal Democrat One-Stop Shop

LibDem Voice. See above, but because it’s a Lib Dem site, Lib Dem Voice receives a fraction of the attention paid to ConservativeHome and LabourList. And frankly you can see why.

Best Swingometer

UK Polling ReportElectoral Calculus, and the BBC all allow you to plug in the numbers and build your own fantasy election. For instance, a Tory-Labour-Lib split of 36-28-27 could leave the Conservatives the largest party but short of a majority.

Best Blogs

Modesty prohibits one from mentioning one's own blog or the work done by colleagues at The Spectator. But you might also want to check in on: 

Nick Robinson, the political editor of the BBC and thus perhaps the most influential TV reporter in Britain. 

Guido Fawkes. As the name suggests, he’s happy to see Parliament blown up (he’s particularly fond of arguing that Fawkes remains the only man to have entered parliament with honest intentions). Though he advocates a plague on all houses, he does so from a right-wing perspective.

Paul Waugh, political editor of The London Evening Standard. Read by everyone in the Westminster Village so you might as well read him too. 

Iain Martin provides irreverent Toryism from The Wall Street Journal’s European deputy editor.

Sunder Katwala, the General Secretary of the Fabians, offers astute analysis from the heart of the metropolitan, middle-class Labour tradition.

Best Blogging Labour MP and Best Blogging Tory MP

Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, and John Redwood, MP for Workingham. Many MPs now blog but few are better than these two. Harris for his insights into life as an MP; Redwood for his clear advocacy of Conservative policy. 

Blogger Who Most Brings to Mind the Black Knight From Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Alastair Campbell, previously Tony Blair's spin-meister, was last heard insisting that being at 25 percent in the polls is "only a flesh wound." 

Runner-up: former Brown henchman Charlie Whelan, whose Twitter feed offers up unapologetic gems like this: "Not up on 'mikegate' yet out in Brum but calm down. Who has not let off steam under stress and strain of campaign. He's apologised move on.”

Who is the British Nate Silver?

Scarily, the answer is Nate Silver. Everyone's favorite boffin has been busy constructing a statistical model for the British election, too. He admits it’s more of a work-in-progress than his U.S. models, but if he beats the British pollsters and prognosticators, our boys will hang their heads in shame. Elsewhere, the statistical models at the UK Polling Report and the London School of Economics are quite useful.

Best Close-to-Project-Cameron Columnist

Daniel Finkelstein of the Times. A former head of the Conservative Research Department and advisor to William Hague, the Fink is a must-read. (He blogs here too.) Typical comment: "Whether the Conservatives have a proper majority or are merely the largest party will depend on [the public’s] view of David Cameron. Because that is all there is left for undecideds to decide about. They have already decided that it is time for a change. More than 80 per cent of voters believe that it is time for a change. This is a very strong political sentiment that is hard for any governing party to overcome." 

Best Head-in-Hands and Despairing Labour Columnist

Polly Toynbee of the Guardian. Typical comment: "Yes, it is the knuckle-head Labour tribalists who blocked Tony Blair's attempt to bring in proportional representation. Blame that formidable array of dinosaurs—Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, Jack Straw, John Prescott and most unions. Now—so late—Labour would trade PR for a coalition with the Lib Dems. People have good reasons to deny their vote to Labour, but why should pro-Iraq war, pro-rich, anti-reform Cameron be the beneficiary?"

Best Conservative Columnist Appalled By Cameron

Simon Heffer of the Daily Telegraph. Typical comment: “I do not yet despair of the Tories being the largest party on May 7. Whether they would be able to form a government is quite another matter. Whether they deserve to be able to form one is another still. Perhaps the meltdown at Tory HQ that we are told is under way, with talk beginning about who or what might come next, is an indication that a moral defeat has already taken place. We hear little about the ‘big idea’ of the ‘big society,’ which despite the efforts of propagandists died almost the second it left the womb. The public knows it is inadequate: the big idea it wants is about securing prosperity again, and the Tories are nowhere near a credible plan for that.”  

Just About the Last Blairite Columnist in Britain

John Rentoul of the Independent on Sunday,who also blogs here. Typical comment: “Just because I thought Tony Blair was the finest peace-time Prime Minister in our democratic history does not mean that anyone who copies his rhetorical and campaign techniques gets my vote. Blair did all that ‘contract’ stuff in 1997, and it was all right as a device, but what matters is the content. ... Only by deciding that Cameron is incompetent, by allowing this juvenile ‘contract’ to go out under his name, was I able to write that I hope he wins this election. So that is my message: vote Cameron; he's useless rather than malign. Let's see if Conservative Campaign HQ put that on their next email shot.” 

Where to Watch the Election

C-SPAN. It’ll broadcast the BBC’s coverage on Thursday from 4:55 pm eastern time to 1 am the next morning.

Seats to Watch

Luton South: This seat and its predecessors have been taken by the winning party in every election since 1951. Margaret Moran, the outgoing Labour MP, was one of the most flagrant abusers of the parliamentary expenses racket.

Rochdale: If only to see what impact Gordon Brown's encounter with that "bigoted woman" Gillian Duffy has in Mrs. Duffy's constituency. New boundaries make it a "notional" Labour seat, but the sitting MP is a Liberal Democrat. 

Enfield North: Like Watford, one of the many London commuter Tory-Labour battles. The Tories must take these seats if they are to prevail. 

South Cornwall: One of many key Tory-Lib Dem battles in the southwest of England. Others include Taunton Deane, Torbay, and Somerton and Frome.

Stourbridge: This midlands commuter seat is number 25 on the Tory target list and losing it could be the moment when it becomes clear that Labour cannot win the election.

Barking: Neo-fascist Nick Griffin is standing in this Essex constituency and hoping to pick up support from disillusioned and, they say, ignored white working-class voters. 

Morley and Outwood: The Tories would love to defeat Gordon Brown's protégé and confidante, Ed Balls. They must overturn a notional 10,000 person majority to do so and have devoted considerable resources to a "Castration Strategy" to defeat the much-loathed Balls. 

Redditch: Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary who was disgraced during the great Parliamentary Expenses Scandal when her husband charged taxpayers the cost of pornographic films, defends a majority of just 2,000 votes.

What to Say

On Cleggmania: "Remember Macauley's wise words: 'We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality.’"

On Gordon Brown: "Of course, poor man, he's only the third post-war Prime Minister to never have won a general election...".

On Cameron: "If he wins he'll be only the 19th Prime Minister to have been educated at Eton." 

What Not to Say

On Nick Clegg: "Who's he?"

On David Cameron: "Why is Lieutenant Commander Data eligible to stand in this election?"

On Gordon Brown: "Oh dear."

On Britain: "This lot once ruled much of the world? How?"

A former Washington correspondent for TheScotsman, Alex Massie writes a blog for The Spectator.