A flurry of polls this morning have shown some consensus: the Conservatives have slightly increased their lead, at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and Labour, who are more or less neck and neck. None of the polls point to a working majority for the Conservatives but show that their campaigning against a hung parliament may be having an effect.
Helping them is Nick Clegg, who is danger of seeing his reported views on who he would work with in a hung parliament spin out of control. Some reports today indicate he would work with Gordon Brown, after all. He needs to clarify and close the issue as a matter of priority. Brown and Clegg are turning into the Odd Couple of British politics, a remarkable achievement considering they are faced with some pretty stiff competition. One such coupling could be Cameron and the left-wing leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond. Reports today indicate that the Tories are courting the SNP and the Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru on a constitutional reform ticket which would see them getting further devolved powers in return for their support to a change in the electoral system which we predict would see a substantial reduction in the numbers of Westminster seats from the devolved nations. As you’d expect, the vast majority of Scottish MPs are Labour.
Cameron already has the support of the Ulster Unionists who did so much to keep John Major’s Government in business between 1992 and 1997. Whilst that deal is certain, they are unlikely to get similar support from Lady Hermon, a former UUP member who is standing in this election as an Independent may not be as certain. During critical votes in the last Parliament, Lady Hermon would often abstain or even vote with the Government – critical when the majorities started dwindling away. Cameron judges that these alliances could help him bat off any threat of a Lib/Lab coalition.
Campaigning took a more traditional turn yesterday – visits, meeting the public and speeches. Clegg gave an effective speech to the Royal College of Nurses, Gordon Brown visited a budget supermarket and David Cameron had a hairy moment when a member of the public berated him on a policy issue in front of the entirety of the UK’s media and, of course, live on Sky News. He handled himself well in these most precarious of campaigning moments.
Cameron also spoke yesterday on one of his favourite themes, ‘Broken Britain’, the idea appearing to be that society has broken down. If Labour had an operation, they might want to point out that it was only six days ago when Cameron repeatedly accused Gordon Brown of trying to ‘frighten’ the electorate into voting for him. Furthermore, many people don’t think their neighborhood or their street is broken. It is a risky strategy for the Tories, but it is a testament to this lacklustre campaign that there are no almighty rows about it – none of the political parties seem to want to take each other on for fear of coming a cropper during the TV debates.
The debates may have created talking points, but they have tamed the politicians. They are playing it safe. We see and hear more of them, but the irony is that they have less to say. It’s as though the threat of making a gaffe has gagged them.
With the deals which are having to be put together following the rise of the Liberal Democrats in this first TV debate era, politics at this stage of the campaign is more about what the politicians will promise to do for each other than what they will promise to do for you or me.
Live on Sky, the Prime Minister in the last few minutes appeared to call a voter ‘bigoted’ and his morning’s campaign trip ‘a disaster’. This will set the agenda today and be a nice run-in for the TV debate tomorrow. His comments were picked up by the microphone which he had had on during his visit and were made as he got in to his car. It is a highly embarrassing incident for the PM and his aides, whose job it is to ensure that these things do not happen. Earlier in this note, we wondered if Labour had an operation; insulting the voters has come as rather unexpected answer.
- Populus/Times: CON 36%(+4), LAB 27%(-1), LDEM 28%(-3)
- YouGov/Sun: CON 33%(nc), LAB 29%(+1), LDEM 28%(-1)
- ComRes/ITV/Independent: CON 33%(+1), LAB 29%(+1), LDEM 29%(-2)
- Nick Clegg has been interviewed in the Times about his ambitions to lead the country;
- Labour have this morning set out their plans for safer communities;
- The Guardian carry an interview with Lib Dem Lembit Öpik, which follows him campaigning in his constituency;
- David Cameron is campaigning in Yorkshire;
- Vince Cable, George Osborne and Lord Mandelson will address the Institute of Directors;
- Alistair Darling will make a speech on the economy, in Edinburgh;
- Nick Clegg will take part in a Q&A session at Oxford Brookes University, the Lib Dems will also outline their plans to phase out tuition fees;
- Today’s BBC2 debate will feature the three health spokesman, at 2:15pm. Andy Burnham (Lab), Andrew Lansley (Con), Norman Lamb (Lib Dem);
- Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will attend an Operation Black Vote event in London;
- Gordon Brown will appear on BBC3 at 8pm to answer questions from first time voters;
- Sinn Fein will launch their manifesto;
- The Sun – ‘Pig Deserts sinking ship’
- The Daily Mail – ‘Secret Tax bombshell’
- The Independent – ‘Tell us the truth on our economy’
- The Guardian – ‘Parties ‘dishonest on cuts’
- The Daily Telegraph – ‘The story these men don’t want you to read’
- The Times – ‘I want to be prime minister’
“The Conservatives have been keen to present themselves as a government in waiting, and should therefore have spent the two years since the crash constructing a coherent program of spending cuts that played into the wider plans for reducing the size of the state. It is too late to do that now. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, have flip-flopped from last autumn’s “savage cuts” to their timid reluctance in this campaign to “put the recovery at risk”. It is, however, the Government that deserves the real opprobrium, not only for helping to get us into this mess in the first place, but also for cynically deferring a spending review until after polling day, while at the same time contaminating any prospect of real debate by fallaciously pitching Labour “investment” against Tory “cuts”.
“All three parties have failed to “come clean” on how they will reduce government borrowing, says the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies. In their presentations on the economic battleground yesterday morning, IFS researchers pointed out that the big debate on how to reduce the budget deficit was – so far – just so much hot air.”
“It’s the unplanned moments in elections that can bring them alive. A punch, a heckle, or a slow handclap. “You guys are looking for someone to throw an egg,” the PM said to reporters who asked him whether he really intended to meet and greet more real people in this campaign.”
Nick Robinson, BBC political editor
“The backfiring Peppa photo-op is a metaphor for the Labour campaign; they can’t get traction on their new “Coalition for Cuts” dividing line because they themselves won’t credibly specify their own closet cuts agenda. Peppa the Pig stood in for government spokesman on the Daily Politics and featured on Newsnight more than Yvette’s message.”
Guido Fawkes, Political blogger
“David Cameron is enjoying the daily evolution of the Nick Clegg position on PR and deals. His gag on the plane to Manchester was “Vote Clegg, get Balls”, which will make Labour folk laugh even more. There’s a rumour that Dave might turn up in Morley and Outwood shortly to see how the Education Secretary is getting on. As James Kirkup pointed out earlier, Dave made a big play of his admiration for Gladstone, to buff up that progressive conservative idea he’s on about, as well as Barack Obama and his “audacity of hope” line, saying he wanted a bit more audacity and optimism from his party for the next 10 days.”
Ben Brogan, Daily Telegraph