"A few strides from the Houses of Parliament, the small reception at the BBC's Millbank studios is the water cooler for the general election. A stream of politicians and Westminster hacks tumble through it, grimacing and gossiping. In the space of a few minutes, William Hague and Simon Hughes enter, the blogger Paul Staines and General Sir Mike Jackson exit, Sarah Teather chats to sketchwriter Quentin Letts and Peter Mandelson lurks outside.
"Most are here to submit to Andrew Neil. The former editor of the Sunday Times - and regular butt of Private Eye jokes - is TV wallpaper during this election. Every morning, Neil appears on BBC2 for an hour with The Daily Politics. Most afternoons he reappears to host debates between leading politicians on the economy or crime. In the evenings he pops up twice a week with This Week, his highly successful show with Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott. Then there is Straight Talk on the BBC News Channel and his BBC blog.
"When asked who is having a good election, Neil, who has just sat down with a pot of soup for a desk picnic, checks if I mean "among the politicians". He may have a certain broadcaster in mind. "Obviously Mr Clegg is way ahead of anybody else. It's quite clear though that the debates have changed everything. British elections will never be the same again. And Mr Brown and Mr Cameron are struggling." (Neil has an old-fashioned insistence on addressing people as Mr, including Lord Mandelson. "We don't do titles," Neil has said more than once on The Daily Politics.) "Mr Cameron is struggling to get his message across and Mr Brown is really struggling to be heard. The Labour campaign is like a television set that is on in the room and nobody is watching it. Mr Brown seems to go from safe house to safe house, not really speaking to anybody that hasn't been vetted. And David Cameron seems to move around the country with [these] genetically modified Tories," he laughs."