Wandsworth Conservatives hosted Ken Clarke for their annual fundraising dinner last night. Those that follow me on Twitter will know I was a little, shall I say, cynical of the motives behind these dinners last night as I was separated from my cash in a variety of creative ways – all despite being put onto a table pretty far from the ‘action’.

But then I am a councillor, so I’ve volunteered for it and, of course, benefit directly and indirectly from the money raised. I mustn’t grumble, especially as everyone had such a good time.

And it was a good headline act. Ken Clarke is indisputably one of the big beasts, a king of the British political jungle. One of the country’s best chancellors (certainly better than any of his successors) and definitely one of the best leaders the Conservatives never had. I suspect we might be in a very different political landscape had he become leader in 1997 (so Hague could mature as a national politician) or in 2001 (when we would have missed in-fighting that marred Iain Duncan-Smith’s leadership).

And while his speech was as rousing and robust as you might expect it set me thinking about the nature of those political big beasts.

Looking back to 1997, Major’s last cabinet was full of them. Clarke and Heseltine were obviously the biggest. But there were plenty of ‘names’ there. Rifkind and Howard served as Foreign and Home Secretaries while Portillo occupied Defence. Lesser known at the time was William Hague as Welsh Secretary. Lesser known even now was Sir Patrick Mayhew who laid so much of the groundwork for the Northern Ireland peace process. And the rest of the cabinet was scattered with intelligent and able ministers whose careers were cut short by the electoral disaster that befell them in 1997.

And then look at the Brown Cabinet. You would expect me to say it was weaker, because I clearly have a political bias. But even trying to look at it impartially I find it hard to identify the same level of talent. The only real big beast (though I’d argue he’s far too sleek and stealthy to be called a beast) is Lord Mandelson. But the rest of the Cabinet…?

There are some talented people there. I think Ed Miliband has potential that could, politically, be much better used by the Labour Party than his current portfolio. His brother, I fear, is over-rated and over-promoted as Foreign Secretary. Jack Straw is one of the governmnent’s survivors, but I’m not sure if he qualifies as a big beast – a very safe pair of hands, to be sure – though I may be under-estimating him.

But then you start coming to people like Bob Ainsworth and Harriet Harman and I’m certainly I’m not under-estimating them.

I’m not quite sure why it has turned out this way for Brown. It might be his politics or the electoral situation that explain why people like Alan Milburn have sat on the back-benches rather than at the Cabinet table. But you can hardly claim John Major was in a better position; he was leading a fractured party towards certain defeat – whereas it’s far from sewn up for any party this time.

It might be the change from collegiate and consensual Cabinet government under Major to increasingly presidential-style government under Blair and – while not presidential – the centralised command and control under Brown. It’s difficult to be a big beast in a cage. (For a similar reason, opposition doesn’t produce big beasts, and it will be interesting to re-visit this a few years into a Cameron government.)

So while we could allow sit and applaud Ken last night, I wonder what big beast the Labour would have in 2022, talking about the work needed after twelve years of Tory Government. It would seem the only beast they have is Mandelson? But surely even he can’t come back again?

For those that like symbolism today is just 164 days until the (or a) likely date of the general election.

While Brown could wait until 3 June next year – and there have been rumours that 25 March might be the date – for a long time the main betting seems to have been on a combined poll with the local elections on 6 May 2010.

So why do I think the 164 days are significant?

Well, here in Battersea Labour’s Martin Linton has a majority of just 163 votes. In the incredibly unlikely event that the electorate in Battersea remained the same between 2005 and 2010 the Conservatives would need to find just one vote per day between now and the election to gain the seat from Labour. An easy task? I don’t know. It’s certainly not one that is taken for granted, and the weekend’s poll showing Labour “slashing” the Conservative lead shows exactly why the election isn’t a foregone conclusion.

The poll has certainly created jubilation among Labour supporters who now feel there is still a chance they can win next year. And in response a degree of denial from Conservatives. Personally, I’m sitting on the fence. I remember being one of the underdogs in 1997, 2001 and 2005. And I remember how tempting it is to jump on any poll that gives you hope.

I also remember how depressing it is when the next lot of polls all show that it was just a rogue.

But what the poll does show, however, is exactly how hard the battle will be for the Conservatives. If you pop over to the Electoral Calculus website you can play with percentages and see how they would play out. In this case the 6% lead to the Conservatives makes them the bigger party (with no overall majority) by just 18 seats with 296 MPs to Labour’s 278.

If we look at previous elections you can see that the electoral system is skewed in Labour’s favour. In the 2005 election Labour won just a 3% bigger share of the vote than the Conservatives, but this netted them 158 more MPs. In 2001 a 9% lead gained them 227 more MPs. And both elections produced substantial Labour majorities.

However if you go back to the last election the Conservatives won, in 1992, their 7.5% lead represented the most votes ever cast for a single party in the UK but garnered them just 65 more MPs than Labour and an overall majority of just 21 that had eroded to nothing by the time of the 1997 election.

I should be clear this isn’t a complaint about the electoral system, which I like and greatly prefer to any system of ‘proportional’ voting – but an observation current distribution of constituency boundaries means, overall, the electoral system heavily favours the Labour Party. And that means the Conservatives have an almighty task ahead of them. They need to lead by around 8% before they have an overall majority.

But while the overall figures may suggest a there’s a huge mountain to climb, that’s not the case in individual seats. In Battersea it might ‘only’ be 164 votes needed, but they will only be won with hard work on the ground. Exactly the same as all the other majorities that will be over-turned next year when each seat will makes its contribution to an historic election.

I live life on the edge. I’m the type of guy you see in a L’Oreal advert, perhaps running along the Thames, then doing something manly, like chopping down a tree or at least doing something wearing a tool-belt.

And I use Facebook (you can even be my friend), which includes applications like ‘How Sexy Am I?’.

Actually, I generally avoid applications on Facebook, largely because I’m averse to clicking OK when asked to approve access to virtually all my information. But I did try with this particular application out of solidarity with Cllr Geoff Courtenay from Uxbridge. The Uxbridge Gazette reports that Cllr Courtenay, a fellow Conservative, has been de-selected by Hillingdon Conservatives after putting the app on his Facebook page. Apparently he displayed “a lack of judgement over inappropriate material being placed [on the] social networking site Facebook.” If there is any good news for Cllr Courtenay it’s that the paper later reveals that, in true Facebook style, there is a group demanding he be un-de-selected.

Despite my general cynicism about the role sites like Facebook and Twitter play in politics and local government stories like this depress me. I know the articles in the might not tell the whole story. And I know there may well be an unwritten subtext to the de-selection. But it looks bad for two reasons.

First, if you take it at face value we are saying that we, as a party, don’t really understand sites like Facebook, where applications like this are not that unusual and not meant to be taken seriously. If you have a Facebook account you understand that, and to see the ‘inappropriate material’ you not only need to have an account but be Cllr Courtenay’s friend. Taking it further, we are saying that we don’t expect our candidates to be human. We expect them to operate in a humourless void, in which defects like personality or character should be stamped out.

Second, if you view it as a smoke screen, then it gives the appearance that we are unprofessional. We’re using an excuse (and I think a fairly flimsy one) as cover for a decision we want to take for other reasons. Candidate selections and de-selections are a fact of life for anyone involved in politics – in just the same was as we win or lose elections, we need to convince our party that we’re fit for the job. There is nothing wrong with de-selections, just as there’s nothing wrong in people losing jobs or failing at job interviews. But if we are to be a professional party (and generally, we are) we need to act in a professional manner – and that includes honesty in the feedback rather than using convenient smokescreens.

And if you were wondering how sexy I am, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. I tried installing the application but just get a message that “there are still a few bugs on Facebook and the makers of How Sexy Am I? are trying to sort them out.” But every cloud has a silver lining, because while my sexiness will – tragically – remain a mystery, at least I don’t have to fear a de-selection.

I thought it might be worth putting a Labour Party Election broadcast on here.

For me, the key line comes in at exactly one minute: “You cannot cut your way out of recession, you’ve got to grow your way out of it.”

Compare and contrast with the his speech this afternoon, being heavily spun as talking about cuts. This, of course, is the man who used to tell us that Britain was the best-placed to come out of recession, but we’ve now seen France and Germany – among others – come out before us.

Now it seems there’s agreement on the scale of the problem, who do you trust to deal with it? The Conservatives who have always been honest about the need to address public spending? Or the man who, as Iron Chancellor, created the problem, as Prime Minister failed to tackle the problem, and as dead man walking realises the Conservatives are right?