First published in Clarity: March 30 2015
The Conservative Party and David Cameron wasted no time today in highlighting who they saw as the number one threat to the future prosperity of Britain. Ed Miliband. Announcing the dissolution of parliament and the start of the General Election campaign, Cameron repeatedly name checked Miliband, highlighting the stark – and pre-ordained – choice now facing the voters. It was a thinly veiled threat: either stick with the land of bounty and promise created by the Conservatives, or subject yourselves to five years of high tax penury under Miliband.
“Ed Miliband pays lip service to working people while planning to hike taxes and increase debt. After five years of effort and sacrifice, Britain is on the right track. This election is about moving forward – and as prime minister here at Number 10 that is what I will deliver.”
The whole speech read more like Cameron’s Kevin Keegan moment than the words of a statesman – “And I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it” – would have had much the same effect. But no matter, the time has passed. Let the “Battle Bus” race to 10 Downing Street commence. All of the major parties have them this time round. Cameron has pledged to visit all four parts of the UK to explain how he has turned the country after inheriting a nation “on the brink.” If you want to catch him, just head to your nearest factory, warehouse or supermarket.
That’s right. If you thought that this campaign was going to break the mold, then you might be in for a disappointment. Most likely, it will plod along conventional lines. Because contrary to what voters think, it’s not televised debates that inject life into election campaigns, its photo opportunities, hard hats, and high-visibility vests. These are the things that energised the Scottish referendum debate, not Alex Salmond, and certainly not the positive picture of an independent Scotland he tried to create. Much easier to scare people into rejecting the alternative.
That’s not to say that Miliband or Nick Clegg will be doing anything much more original. Expect to see photos of Miliband eating his breakfast, lunch and dinner, and standing in suburban kitchens, all from flattering angles. And Clegg? Well we don’t really know what to expect. He stated today that the era of single party government was over, but little else. Certainly no longer the radical outsider, he instead chose to characterise himself as the tepid water that could dilute ideological excess in the post single party government era. “About the very last thing the country needs” he said,” is a lurch to the left or the right. And yet that is exactly what the Conservative and Labour parties are now threatening … That is a dismal choice.”
This is a curious statement, considering how monomaniacal British politics has become. Trying to find the middle ground between the Labour and Conservative parties could prove a difficult task for Clegg, and in supporting tuition fees, deficit reduction, welfare reform, and a referendum on EU membership, he has made it difficult for himself. He’ll have plenty of time to consider his options aboard the Lib Dem battle bus, steered expertly by Paddy Ashdown. And with no three way debate, there is no effective way for him to differentiate himself.
These are early days, and hopefully the cynics will be proved wrong. Perhaps it is wrong to focus too much on the televised debates as a focal point of an election campaign. Perhaps Cameron is right. But one thing is for sure. Closely coordinated events are not a superior method of fighting a campaign, because no matter how many factories and supermarkets you visit, no matter how many “40-year-old black men from Plymouth” you meet, it’ll never equal debating a real issue. Like the future of the Union, or the NHS, or zero hour contracts. But then again, we don’t want to suck the life out of the campaign by getting bogged down by things like policy!
Stay tuned for more.