It’s 29 days until the General Election but it does seem as if the campaign has been going on in earnest since the beginning of the year. And what a lack-lustre campaign it has been so far. The essence of the arguments from the three major UK parties seems to be: ‘don’t elect Labour, let us finish the economic job we’ve already started’, ‘we’ll basically continue with the Conservative austerity measures but do it a little more slowly and with more humanity’ and ‘if you elect us and we have another coalition government, we can prevent the excesses of the other parties’. With the Conservatives focussing on the economy, Labour on the NHS and the Lib-Dems, well focusing on surviving I suspect, there is really little new in what has been promised so far…that is if you believe politicians’ promises in the first place. Labour bangs on about creeping privatisation in the NHS forgetting that there was more privatisation before 2010 than after. The Conservatives keep talking about how poor Miliband would be as Prime Minister and they are perhaps right though, as Tony Blair pointed out yesterday in a passionate and well-argued defence of the EU, he did have the courage to resist calls from within his own party to commit himself to a referendum on Europe. The Lib-Dems’ message seems to be, please don’t punish us for being in the coalition. Given this negative campaigning, it’s hardly surprising that the polls have moved little since the campaign began with both Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck around 33 per cent.
Yes, it’s breakfast at Tiffany’s!
This election is being spun as the most important election for a generation—aren’t all elections—but the indications seem to be that there will be a hung parliament. Neither Conservative nor Labour have yet made the electoral breakthrough suggesting that they will form a majority government. But what is significant is that Labour look like being massacred in Scotland by the SNP and their position in Wales, though perhaps less precarious, is coming under sustained fire from Plaid Cymru. If the polls are right, then it is unlikely that Labour could form a majority government or, in fact, end up being the largest party in the new parliament. It simply looks tired in Scotland where its natural right to rule had been increasingly questioned since the mid-2000s while in Wales it has failed to deliver effective government in the National Assembly particularly in the NHS and education. The first past the post system makes it difficult for the Greens and UKIP to make electoral headway but any MPS at all could make them influential in a hung parliament. It is, however, UKIP that is making heavy weather of the election largely because it needs the oxygen of publicity to get its message across and during an election that is diluted. The only way it can grab the headlines—and it has failed to do so—is to make outlandish claims that may well appeal to their core voters but are liable to put everyone else off.
So two weeks in to the campaign proper, the Conservatives and Labour are constantly recycling their rather worn mantra, the Lib-Dems are praying for forgiveness for supporting an increase in tuition fees while the smaller parties are desperately seeking votes to give them a say in a hung parliament. So little new there then.