During this most eccentric of British elections, I keep recalling a memo leaked way back in 2000, in which New Labour's polling guru Philip Gould contemplated the malfunctioning project. "Something has gone seriously wrong," he quoted Peter Mandelson as saying. "But what is it?"
These days, Labour mightn't struggle to answer that question, but the fact that it is easy to imagine a version of this communique doing the rounds everywhere from Tory high command to Rupert Murdoch's British HQ offers the tantalising possibility that this might be a "change election" in more ways than one.
It has already left the arch spouters of certainties mouthing flummoxed platitudes like "we live in interesting times". For those of us perfectly happy to concede we haven't a clue at the best of times, and merely hazard this sort of cobblers in exchange for beer tokens, the sense of discombobulation is delicious and thrilling. But for those whose business is knowing best, it appears to be an infinitely less pleasant interlude.
Chief among these is Rupert Murdoch, everybody's favourite unelected foreign billionaire, whose stranglehold on every British government in recent memory arouses approximately one thousandth as much vocal public ire as a duck house. That the News Corp chief has affected to endorse Cameron as the "candidate of change" is one of the satirical jokes that are his speciality. Obviously, Murdoch wants the opposite of change. He wishes to carry on exactly as things have for decades, with him calling the shots. To Murdoch, the Tory leader is nothing but a host organism, and a change of government merely the shuffling of junior personnel.
But something has gone wrong – or threatens to. Murdoch is distressed, we must assume from news that his UK avatars – son James and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks – barged into the Independent's offices this week, incensed the paper had used the advertising slogan "Rupert Murdoch won't decide the election – you will".
One can only sympathise. This is the sort of coarse personal attack against which Rupert's entire career has been the most noble of crusades. And as former Sun editor David Yelland noted on these pages this week, Cameron failing to secure a majority would leave Murdoch locked out of No 10 for the first time in decades.
Yet Murdoch is far from the only one who has potentially wrong-footed himself in this strange new landscape. As he prepared to assume the premiership, Gordon Brown stated that the core of his political message was his big vision of "an X Factor Britain", a TV show he apparently misunderstood completely, believing it to be about meritocratic aspiration as opposed to selling disappointment and making Simon Cowell stupefyingly rich in exchange for debasing popular culture.
So there is a certain hilarity to the fact that Brown is now beginning to discover the meaning of his wish, with his spin doctors continually forced to defend his tone-deaf public turns with the words: "Look, this isn't the X Factor."
Oh, but it is. And for all our neophyte fascination with the uncharted territory into which the TV debates have ushered us, the concern should be that we have imported US presidentialism overnight without the bruisingly rigorous primary system that justifies it. From where is the proper scrutiny to come? The one thing we can safely say after this week is that you can't trust the mainstream media to provide it. And yet, and yet again … was the synchronised ferocity of Thursday's smear attack on Nick Clegg a gift to the Tories – or might it go seriously wrong? Will these two-footed, hobnail-booted tackles prove the deadly weapons they once were, or in the changed landscape will the papers themselves look part of the same Punch and Judy politics for which a significant proportion of the electorate has clearly developed such a visceral loathing?
I couldn't begin to tell you. All that seems clear is that elements of the press appears to have assumed that the election would be as easy to manipulate as a Cowell programme. Yet they too misunderstood the shows, because they did not prepare for chaos. Cowell always prepares for chaos, and he has found a way of turning it to his advantage, presiding over formats in which all possible outcomes benefit him. The house always wins – as the House of Murdoch was wont to do before the advent of troublesome new variables like TV debates and the internet.
For those of us whose belief that Murdoch is the key issue in British politics is counterbalanced by the absolute knowledge that it is the last one ever to be raised on the doorstep, it is thrilling to observe that the old boy no longer has all the angles. This sublimely unreadable election is giving us a brief and tantalising glimpse of a world of dislodged certainties. Of course, bitter experience suggests that the window will slam shut on it – but somehow, even the not knowing feels like a progress of sorts. Who knows, perhaps we shall wake to utter chaos on 7 May, and sense that something has gone seriously right.
One can hope for no Hope for Britain.