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Dale’s Dairy: Labour and Tories stuck in the trenches, Milifandom and Cameronettes on the front line

Dale’s Dairy: Labour and Tories stuck in the trenches, Milifandom and Cameronettes on the front line

🕔23.Apr 2015

This is the strangest General Election campaign I have written about in 36 years, says Paul Dale.

On the surface, nothing much of any importance seems to be happening.

Labour and the Conservatives are engaged in dogged trench warfare, making policy claim after claim and firing rebuttal after rebuttal. As the days go by, the claims get bigger and bigger, the rebuttals more savage.

The Tories are planning the biggest public spending cuts, not just in Europe but in the entire world, according to Labour. The Labour party will wreck the economy and enter into coalition from hell with the SNP, warn the Tories.

With two weeks to go, neither party has the edge and the poll of polls remains stubbornly at 34-34.

This may change in the final lap, but as things stand we are deep into hung parliament territory.

The likelihood of no overall majority has of course led to a stampede of mixed messages about voting for ‘x’ and getting ‘y’. Vote Labour and get SNP. Vote UKIP and get Labour. Vote Green and get Conservative. There’s probably even a case for saying vote Conservative and get Labour too in some sort of grand coalition or national government.

Something that was not really predicted at the start of the campaign was the way in which the great Scottish scare story would take off. The Conservatives are now pushing with all their might the notion that a McMiliband minority Labour government would jump into bed with the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon, with Alex Salmond pulling the strings in the background – an eventuality that they feel sure will scare voters back into the Tory camp.

There not been any major gaffes so far although there is plenty of time to go on that front.

Boris Johnson has been pretty much kept under wraps by the Tories, for obvious reasons. Given the party’s failure to make progress in the polls, there was no alternative but to unleash the Old Etonian weapon of mass destruction on a campaigning trip to Surbiton where he teamed up somewhat uneasily with David Cameron.

Boris obliged the media by declaring that it would be wonderful and an honour to be seen as a contender for leadership of the Conservative party, although that would clearly be in the dim and distant future. For dim and distant future, read this summer if Cameron doesn’t get back into Number Ten.

An amusing sideshow in this, the first all-out social media General Election, has been the emergence on Twitter of a teenage girl fan club for Ed Miliband – the Milifandom – which prompted a Tory response in the shape of the Cameronettes.

Who knows where this may take us over the next 14 days? Possibly those too young even to vote will have as much impact on the election result as the SNP, or perhaps Mr Miliband as an unlikely sex symbol will benefit from a new version of the Cleggmania that gifted the Liberal Democrats additional seats at the 2010 General Election.

Here, for what it’s worth, are my significant factors that could decide this election:

It’s the economy, stupid. The old Bill Clinton maxim has been a staple of political strategy for a long time and contends that the Government of the day will do well if the economy is doing well. If people feel safe in their jobs and have a bit of cash to spend they will be resistant to vote for change. Is the UK economy doing well, though? There has been a recovery from recession, it is true. But will enough voters have the feel-good factor, or will they punish the Tories and Lib Dems for the continuing policy of austerity and public spending cuts?

David Cameron. It seems a long time ago now that Mr Cameron was regarded as a breath of fresh air who would extinguish the Tory ‘nasty party’ toxicity factor with soft green-leaning policies. Remember that hug a husky stuff and backing for gay marriages? Well polls show that while voters respect Mr Cameron’s handling of the economy and think the Conservatives are best equipped to run the country’s finances, they still don’t trust the Tory brand. Mr Cameron has admitted that the Conservative election campaign has been a bit boring and that “there is something about me – I always manage to portray a calm smoothness or something.” Unfortunately for him, there is a fine line between smoothness and aloofness, or even arrogance.

Ed Miliband. The more prime-time television exposure Mr Miliband gets, the more people seem to like him. He’s even attractive to young women, apparently. This must be deeply worrying to the Conservative campaign organisers, because it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When pitted against the experienced, smooth David Cameron, Mr Miliband was supposed to have been exposed as not being prime minister material. In fact, Miliband has acquitted himself reasonably well and if he continues in the same vein until polling day the Tories can forget about an anti-Ed backlash.

UKIP. This has been the great non-story of this election. Who could have predicted UKIP’s low profile campaign and the failure of Nigel Farage to dominate the headlines or the televised debates he has taken part in? In fact, Farage has appeared a shadow of his former self. The cocky saloon bar cod-philosophy has gone. UKIP’s poll ratings have slipped from the high point of a year ago, but at 12 or 13 per cent the party can still inflict mortal damage on the Conservatives and in some parts of the country on Labour too.

The undecideds. As ever, this election boils down to turnout on the day and last-minute decisions by floating voters. Most polls suggest that up to a third of people who are likely to vote are yet to decide which party to support. And almost a third of those who say they are backing Labour or the Conservatives concede that they may change their mind. So the politicians betting on a late shift in support one way or another may be on to something.  Mr Cameron, meanwhile, told the Sun newspaper that he wasn’t going to look at the polls from now until May 7 (liar, liar, pants on fire!).

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