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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Our day of power

Well, the talking is very nearly over. The leaders are holding their final rallies with their supporters on their home turf. The campaign has been a marathon for all three leaders - we've had the excitement of the debates; the eruption of Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem surge; the downright farce of Duffygate and Cameron's final all-nighter. And yet, some polls still suggest that up to 40% of voters have still not made up their minds.

Tomorrow, just before the polls close, I will publish my final predictions for the General Election Result and for what I think we'll be seeing over the course of the weekend. I'll also set out some of the key seats to watch for and my predictions of what will happen in those seats. In predicting the Election result, I've looked at all the target seats for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives and analysed what I think will happen in those key marginal seats.

Tonight and tomorrow is almost always one of the most fascinating moments in election campaigns. We see the final, frantic flurry of speeches and campaign hustings for each of the party leaders - the mad dashes to every corner of the country. And then, at midnight, the power of choice and of democracy is handed firmly back to the people of the country. Our leaders are strangly powerless. They retire to their homes to wait and hear what we have decided. There is no Government. We cast our votes: millions of people up and down the country making tiny crosses on ballot papers.

With this election, comes the real added power of massive uncertainty. Not since 1992 has an election been in such doubt. In many ways, this election is more uncertain than 1992; that election was notable for the pundits being proved wrong in how predictable they thought it was - before the event, many thought a Labour victory was the likely outcome.

The undecideds will be the great unknown tomorrow. We've seen the polls - and broadly they have settled on the Conservatives on 35%, with Labour and the Lib Dems vying for second place on 28 or 29%. I suspect there may be a late surge on polling day towards the Conservatives. The Lib Dem bounce is unlikely bounce again on polling day. They have peaked, and may actually fall short when people come to mark their cross.

My first predictions put the Tories winning a majority of 20. In each subsequent prediction, I have revised that downwards. It is remarkable that, in a campaign with the economic recession as the key issue and against a hugely unpopular Prime Minister, the Tory vote share has at best flatlined, at worst declined. Based on YouGov polls at the start and end of the campaign, the Tories have dropped two points during the campaign. It is easy to forget now that back in December a hung parliament was still thought fanciful, and that a December before that that the Tories were in for a comfortable majority.

There are a few certainties on Friday morning. No party will secure a comfortable majority. For the Tories not to do so will be deeply worrying for them. The Cameron project of reform was not enough - it did not convince in sufficient numbers to deliver a clear majority. If they win either a small majority or are able to operate a minority administration - life will be very difficult indeed for David Cameron. I predict that the story after the election, in six months time, will be one of a rejuvenated, Brown-less Labour Party very quickly rediscovering itself in opposition to a Conservative government that will be having a mighty difficult time of it. Wafer thin majority - or lack of one. A rookie Cabinet. Not knowing whether they can survive or whether they need a second, dangerous, election. Facing the harsh realities of government, with its Ministerial gaffes and organisational blunders. Struggling to cut the deficit and win support for those cuts. It will be very, very difficult and it is hard to see the Conservative Party emerge from that experience electorally stronger.

But tomorrow is the day for the people. The talking is over. The politicians can do no more. Silence descends. We go out and vote. We make our decision. It is a beautiful day, where people exercise real power. Ministers and former Ministers resign themselves to personal defeats. And the leaders are on the edges of their seats.

We will be, too. Good luck with the choice you make tomorrow.

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