“It’s substance over style”, says Brown. “Vote for change”, says Cameron. “Enough of the old politics”, says Clegg.
We can’t go on like this until election day, but that is just what may happen. One volcanic eruption during an election campaign is more than enough to cope with.
So, we get to the 6 May, pop down to the polling station and then wait for David Dimbleby to tell the nation: “It’s a hung parliament”. The night roles on and Labour finish as the largest party with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.
On the morning of 7 May, Brown returns to Downing Street, makes a speech to reassure the markets and then little meetings start happening to ‘seal the deal’ with Clegg & Co. Indeed the planning for such gatherings have already started:
Mr Brown has also turned his thoughts to who could best carry out the negotiations. Lord Adonis, who once stood as a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, is likely to play a key role. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary and a longstanding supporter of electoral reform, could also figure.
After a week of spin and rumour Brown confirms a deal has been reached. Meanwhile, the Tory party descend into civil war as David Cameron leaves the scene to spend more time with his family.
That’s the theory but life doesn't work out as one hopes. Events do happen and the best laid plans have to be tweaked along the way.
The problem is Gordon Brown. The voters don't want five more years of the chap and neither does Nick Clegg. Rachel Sylvester takes up the story:
Mr Clegg has a problem with Mr Brown. It dates back to the MPs’ expenses scandal, when the Prime Minister summoned the Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders to a crisis meeting at No 10. They were given a 15-minute rant about what should happen, which ended with Mr Clegg telling Mr Brown: “Look, Gordon, there’s no point having this meeting if all you want to do is lecture us.”
Those close to Mr Clegg have made it clear to senior Labour figures that it would be difficult for the Liberal Democrats to do a deal with a Labour Party led by Mr Brown. “The whole notion of change is so important to Clegg and Gordon doesn’t represent change,” says one Labour strategist. “It’s hard to see how they could prop up Brown in a hung Parliament.”
With Cabinet ministers openly discussing the prospect of coalition, the question of the Labour leadership is back on the agenda. David Miliband is seen as the candidate most likely to appeal to Mr Clegg, although some point out that Alan Johnson has long supported the Lib Dems’ favourite policy of PR. The suggestion is that the party’s elder statesmen — Lord Mandelson, Jack Straw or Alistair Darling — could ask Mr Brown to stand aside to give Labour a chance of retaining power. It’s hard to see him going easily — but it is being discussed.
Sylvester’s nuggets assume that Brown will not frighten the horses before the election, and with him as Labour leader, the party will be able to secure the largest number of seats.
But this could backfire. ‘Mr Substance’ may not cut through. At the end of the day ‘five more years of Gordon Brown’ may push votes away from Labour. The case for him wasn't made any easier by Ed Balls popping up on the BBC Campaign show and saying:
I think he'll be the prime minister for five years unless he went for an election after four years and went on for a fifth term.
What can Labour do reassure the electorate about Brown’s leadership? Is there a cunning plan that could be rolled out before the election?
As they say, we will return to this small matter after the break.