I look forward to calling this election wrong, again. The three weeks of the campaign have been fun, a bit like a World Cup or Olympics for those of us who hate sport, and now we're in the final week and it's time to decide who you're going to vote for and try and predict the result.
Because I live in what has been a Tory safe set since the early Middle Ages (our MP is Liam Fox), my traditional Labour vote has always been as good as wasted. In past years I have tactically voted Lib Dem and it's still left them a good 10% behind Fox. This year, with the Clegg Factor of recent weeks, it has looked like my LibDem tactical vote could actually work. This is, after all, a LibDem target seat. Number 38 on their list, so.. who are we fooling. Three weeks in there is a feeling that the dust has settled and voters may just be reverting to type, except maybe Labour voters who have had the roughest campaign and are finding it really hard to defend their basket case of a party.
Looking at why I vote Labour, I do so because I believe in the principles of socialism and I want to see them applied in a caring capitalist society. I know sod all about economics, and a few percentage points in tax either way mean little to me. It's the principles that count. So which principles matter to me, and which party really intends doing something I'd like?
Education. I work in schools and know, like any teacher must, that the best thing you can do to start improving education is to reduce class sizes. Then you need to alleviate child poverty and redress the gap between rich and poor. No biggie, and no party is able to do a thing about it cos it costs money and they have none. So Labour & LibDem are level pegging there, Tory well out of it for not knowing what they're talking about (all went to posh school and talking twaddle about parents setting up their own schools. Idiots).
Nuclear arms. LibDems win there. I went on CND marches 25 years ago and still believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament. I believe the possession by my country of nuclear weaponry of any kind is morally indefensible and logically nonsensical, so scrapping Trident is a good start for winning my vote.
And LibDems opposed the Iraq war, as did I. So, all other things being similar, I guess the LibDems have won my vote on Trident & Iraq.
In that case, with my vote sorted out, who's going to win the General Election? I know I can only predict this wrong. I know that because I always predict it wrong and have done since I've been able to vote.
My first election was 1983. The Tories were in power and were the embodiment of purest evil. They'd sent 100s to their deaths in the Falklands, they'd sunk the Belgrano while it was sailing away, they'd decimated Britain's manufacturing base, Top Of The Pops was full of acts voicing the nation's hatred for them from Stand Down Margaret to Ghost Town, and I personally had never met anyone who was going to vote Tory, they were clearly going to be slaughtered by Michael Foot's Labour party. Imagine my surprise...
In 1987 it had to be a hung parliament. The Tories had gone from bad to worse, but I realised they were inexplicably popular among the Loadsamoney generation of spivs and chancers who were on the rise and taking over the media (protest pop had disappeared from the charts to be replaced by Stock, Aitken & Waterman, ooh it was an awful time). The SDP Liberal Alliance were as popular in the polls then as the LibDems have been for the last fortnight, and a three way tie was confidently predicted. I went with that idea too. I was wrong again.
By 1992 surely it had to be a Labour victory. Everyone agreed the Tories had been in for long enough. Thatcher had gone and been replaced by Major who everyone knew was just a temporary caretaker PM, and Kinnock was so clearly the man. He did a rally in Sheffield which was positively triumphant, so off we went to the polls assured of a landslide. Oh come on, how did that not happen?
In 1997 everything was going Labour's way, and I was the only sensible voice of caution in the room. I'd learned the lessons of the past. I knew that, no matter what the polls said, the electorate would always end up voting Tory, it's just what they did. Oh there might be a swing to Labour, but never enough for an overall majority. Why I very nearly put money on the Tories scraping back in. Not doing so was the only thing I got right there.
2001 I don't think anyone noticed there'd actually been an election, and I don't remember predicting the result correctly or not, and likewise 2005. Maybe I'd stopped caring.
So, who will win next week? Secure in the knowledge that whatever I say will be wrong, here is my prediction. Labour will come third in the overall percentage of the vote, getting less than 30 per cent. Lib Dems will come 2nd and Tories will get the most, but they will both be around the 30% mark. The minority parties will get their highest votes ever, with the BNP polling very highly and the Greens just behind them.
How this will translate into seats is, obviously, the real question. My feeling is that the LibDems will indeed take seats that they wouldn't have done without the TV debates and the Clegg factor, and that they will take them equally from Labour & Tories. I think Labour will also lose some to the Tories in other marginals, and I predict the BNP to take votes from Labour in certain seats with a high proportion of... well let's call them bigots for want of a better word.
Which will give us a Tory victory, but a slim one. It may give the LibDems a hold on the balance of power, but my feeling is it won't. I think the Tories will edge just that bit ahead, leaving them with a majority and no need to do a deal with the LibDems.
It's not the outcome I'd choose, but that's my prediction. We have 7 days to find out just how wrong I'll be.