24 April 2010

The state of play with 12 days to go

A day in a nutshell neatly sums up where we are in the election campaign:
Labour's campaign is set to focus on the future of the NHS, while the Conservatives launch new plans to deal with economic crime. David Cameron will also find time to make an appearance at his sister's wedding. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg is taking a day off from campaigning to spend time with his three sons, who had been stranded in Spain owing to the volcanic ash cloud.
With twelve days until election day little matters except for the third debate and the polls.

Gordon Brown, having failed to cut through during the campaign, "has decided to adopt a more high-profile role".  Will it make a difference?  Who is listening to what he has to say?  Brown can talk about the economy until the cows come home but we all know the message.  Unless Labour start to put the Tories on the spot about tax cuts, VAT and public spending, they will not be able to move the agenda on.

The tactics of Peter Mandelson remain a mystery.  Here is the person who put his faith in Brown's leadership but has failed to produce a strategy for him or his party.  There has been no game-changing moments and nothing to engage the electorate.  Mandeson has had Brown moving around the country from one group of Labour supporters to another with little to say.  Perhaps he does have rabbit to produce, but it has been invisible to date.

The Tories, of course, should have had the election in the bag before the campaign started.  Their policies and leader have not convinced the voters that they should be elected for the first time since 1992.  Cameron, by default, may get an overall majority, but the Tories will not have a mandate for the "change" they keep banging on about.

Luck plays a large part in politics as does being in the right place at the right time, which the Lib Dems and Clegg have had in spades during the campaign.  They have said what the voters want to hear.  Just as important, they been allowed to build on Clegg's success during the first debate because of the failures of Labour and the Tories.  It remains to be seen whether they can maintain their momentum.

So we wait for the Sunday polls and the final debate.  This lacklustre stage-managed TV election, which has been defined by the first debate and Nick Clegg, may still be blessed by an unknown that will stir the voters.  We shall see.  Whatever the result throws up in twelve days time, two party politics are at an end and the electoral system will have to be changed.

Labour and the Tories have misjudged the mood of the electorate.  In one sense Cameron was right: "We can't go on like this".

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