Well, it's good to be back after a fortnight's holiday in Las Vegas which remains one of the most relaxing cities on the planet even if many of the people there aren't.
When I left on Monday April 11th, the ICM poll for that day's Guardian had the Conservatives on 37%, Labour on 31% and the Liberal Democrats on 20%. This morning, a Sunday Telegraph poll by the same organisation had the Conservatives on 35%, the Labour on 26% and the Liberal Democrats on 31%.
It's a lot to take in but here goes...I decided to vote for Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader after I saw him in a debate with his opponent, Chris Huhne, at a hustings in London on a dark November night in 2007. Basically, he sounded more authoritative and comfortable and confident than Huhne and that seemed important at the time and even more so now.
The televised debates were always going to be an opportunity for Clegg and he took it with both hands in the first encounter. Last Thursday was less clear-cut but Clegg did nothing wrong.
So, where are we just 10 days from polling day ? The Liberal Democrats are in a position they have never been in - 30% in tonight's Sun YouGov poll. This provides a tremendous challenge as much as an opportunity. The pro-Conservative media have launched an unprecedented and vitriolic assault on Nick Clegg of a kind not seen since the attacks on Neil Kinnock in 1992.
This should come as no surprise - the mutually-sustaining duopoly of Conservative and Labour fears, above all, an interloper. The last time I recall the Conservative dogs being turned on the third party was in early 1987 after the Greenwich by-election when a series of polls put the then-Alliance parties second. David Steel and David Owen were subjected to a period of intense and vitriolic abuse from the Tory press.
The Conservative activists in the blogsphere are clearly rattled - this was the election they were going to win and win big. Now, they are fighting for their lives with poll sshowing they have made little or no progress since 2005. The Conservative press, led by the odious Daily Mail, has now realised Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are the real threat so we are witnessing a sustained barrage against the party and the leader. The Tories may claim this is fair play and may even cite similar anti-Tory leaflets but the fact remains the Liberal Democrats do not have the media power to rebut the allegations and the snide innuendo and the partisan critiques disguised as objective analysis.
Steve Richards offered the sober assessment in yesterday's Independent that it would take more to achieve real change and this may be so. IF the Liberal Democrats poll 30% on May 6th, it may be that the vote will be spread too evenly to push the party up to more than 100 seats but we simply don't know. It may well be that the Liberal Democrat advance will pick up more seats from Labour and hold more against the Conservatives than the straight-line poll analyses suggest.
For Labour, to be third in a General Election ten days out and to be still falling is about as bad as it gets. That said, even 26% of the vote would likely yield around 200 seats which tells you all you need to know about the corrupt electoral system so lovingly backed by both Conservative and Labour parties.
There are those on the Conservative side who claim the Lib Dem vote is soft and people don't really know the detail of Liberal Democrat polcies but the truth is much simpler - most people don't vote FOR a party but AGAINST other parties:
You vote Conservative if you're against Labour
You vote Labour if you're against the Conservatives
You vote Liberal Democrat if you're against BOTH Labour AND the Conservatives