Thursday, 29 April 2010

“A Wonderful, Anxious Uncertainty”

That’s how I described the current political situation on a few minutes ago and that’s exactly how it is with just six days of campaigning left and the last of the televised debates tonight.

For David Cameron, this campaign has not gone to plan at all. He probably expected to dominate the debates and have the kind of procession around pre-arranged photo-opportunities that Mrs Thatcher enjoyed in 1983 and 1987. Supported by large opinion poll leads, he could be relaxed and comfortable and await the move to Downing Street via Buckingham Palace on the morning of May 6th.

The first debate two weeks ago changed all that – Cameron was lacklustre and completely outshone by Nick Clegg. The surge in the Liberal Democrat vote has left pre-election predictions of a Conservative landslide in tatters and forced an urgent re-assessment of the campaign and a change in focus which took some days to deliver. The Conservative media such as the Sun and the Mail have led the onslaught on Clegg and the Liberal Democrats which has checked the Lib Dem advance to some extent.

With Nick Clegg in the ascendant, David Cameron has seemed sidelined and even subdued. He speaks well and his performance in last week’s debate was much better but he now has an equally charming and telegenic rival and life has got much harder. The Conservative financial advantage means the ground war still works in their favour but the advent of the televised debates has blunted that advantage to some extent. The battle in the Con-LD and LD-Con remains fierce and there will be many close finishes next week.

For Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, the campaign has gone far better than they could ever have imagined. From a start of around 20%, the post-first debate surge carried them briefly to opinion poll leads and 33%. Since then, the poll level has eased back to 28-30% under the media onslaught but it’s still a big step up on 2005. However, the potential vote is soft and a good performance by Nick Clegg in tonight’s debate is vital to carry the momentum into next week. The party is struggling to make best use of the volunteers and to maximise the effectiveness of the vote. Potential for considerable gains in Labour-held seats is balanced by anxiety over the many battles with the Conservatives.

Gordon Brown had a dreadful day today and needs a game-changing performance tonight. For a governing party to be third in an election with a week to go and still going down is about as bad as it gets and there are signs of the Labour campaign being held together only by the force of will of Peter Mandelson. The Tory media are already anticipating the post-election bloodbath but for now Labour has a mountain to climb albeit our corrupt electoral system seems set to provide an ample number of Labour MPs albeit on a share of the vote comparable to the disaster of 1983, if not worse.

So, there we are…seven days of uncertainty – frightening, memorable and wonderful.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride !!

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