Well, it’s official: the election will be on the 6th May. We were accidentally informed of this date by bumbling Bob Ainsworth in January, and so today almost feels like a formality – May 6th was the plan all along but now the Queen’s dissolved parliament, all three leaders are making lavish statements about their wonderful plans, and the front pages have declared that the campaign officially begins from today.
I think there’s a different feeling surrounding this election – certainly more enthusiasm from Joe Public this time round, when compared to 2005. Perhaps NuLabour have finally stumbled enough for even apathetic citizens to start taking notice, demanding change – the Obama campaign certainly cemented that buzzword into British politics.
The Sun says the Tories are 10 points ahead, the Guardian says 4. Even though Labour have been behind in the polls for two and a half years, it still doesn’t look certain that the Tories will sweep in and take a majority. It’s still up in the air, to a certain extent. Although the launch of the SamCam WebCam (I know, it’s more ridiculous than this supposed ‘surprise’ pregnancy) shows how desperate Cameron is to follow through.
Similarly Clegg is making the campaign rounds – but his wife, international lawyer Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, won’t be strapping a webcam to herself to boost the Lib Dem campaign. She spoke out recently to make clear that she was not going to spend the election as Clegg’s prettier sidekick, as she had a career and children to tend to – and thank god. It’s refreshing to see a politician’s wife who doesn’t feel the need to become a political photo novelty, nice obedient wifey, called on cue to say nice things about their husband.
Speaking to ITV’s Mary Nightingale, she said: “…it’s one thing to let people to look into your life so that they get to know the politician, the person, and a different thing, in my view, is to put together a sugar-coated image of yourself, in the hope that that brings you votes.” Good on her.
In a way the election campaign has already kicked off – the poster campaigns from both the Conservatives and Labour are spreading across the country, and the Lib Dems brilliant ‘Labservative’ posters are popping up too (http://www.labservative.com/). The Tories seem to have reverted back to their 2005 strategy of a criticism-based campaign with very little policy offered – see http://www.flickr.com/photos/conservatives/sets/72157623594051439/ for the poster campaign titled ‘Brown’s Record’.
What should make this election campaign more interesting that 2005, on top of the fact that its going to be bloody close, is the inclusion of televised leader debates. As an ardent watcher of the US presidential debates, I am thrilled that this will go ahead. The Chancellors debate on C4 made for interesting viewing, and gave all three parties a chance to argue their case, free from media spin, and free from the disruptive shouting and heckling of the Commons. Darling received largely negative reviews, and the rest of the media claimed either Osbourne or Cable as the winner.
I do worry about Gordon and the debates however – charismatic public speaker he is not. My friend says she almost always gets distracted by the movement of his flappy skin. Cameron is clear, and passionate – but can also be devastatingly slimy and cliched, and tries too hard to be a normal kind of guy, but betrayed by his privileged background. Clegg is somewhat nondescript – similar energy and hand gestures to Cameron, but with a weaker tone of voice. There’s a real risk he just won’t stand out enough to bring voters round to his cause.
But with an election as close as this, hopefully the debates will shape the way people vote, allowing all three leaders to directly inform the public what their plans for the country are. If it descends into the normal bickering we see at the PMQ’s each week, it will be a disaster. But with the right questions asked, and asked by someone who can keep all three men in control, (Paxman anyone?), they could be brilliant – and hopefully brought back at the next election.
It does bother me that minority parties aren’t represented fairly though. Voters already see the election as a two horse race. I am grateful for Cleggs inclusion, but what about all the others? Smaller parties deserve just as much exposure if we are going to call ourselves a real democracy, and yes that does include the neanderthals in the BNP.
Today I feel a great sense of anticipation. Let the battle begin!