Today marks the point at which the election campaign is cranked up as the first of a flurry of party manifestos is released to the public, for us to consider, digest, compare and pull apart.
The parties will be hopeful that their carefully put together documents, for so long agonised over, will provide the dynamite with which to fire a crater between them and their opponents in the polls.
Labour is first up, having launched its manifesto in Manchester this morning. The party has used the launch to attempt to win back the long-held initiative from the Conservatives over fiscal responsibility, promising the introduction of a “Budget Responsibility Lock” – a pledge against the introduction of any “additional borrowing” over the course of the new Parliament.
The promise of a “fiscally conservative” Labour Party is a symbol of the topsy-turvy politics that has enveloped the election campaign in recent days. Over the weekend, the Conservatives have also stepped on to equally unsure ground, promising that they would fund an £8bn increase in the NHS’s budget per year by 2020 – a clear attempt to shake off the party’s image as the destroyer of the National Health Service.
The duel announcements show a willingness from the main parties to venture from their natural territories and to seek support from areas of the electorate that they have not yet managed to tap into. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband know that, in order to win the outright majorities they crave, they must attract support from outside their natural support bases.
Little is known about the detail of the Conservative manifesto, expected to be launched tomorrow, but with the Crosbyisation of the party’s campaign and the favouring of often repeated mantras and attack politics, some may be sceptical about the inclusion of a ‘show stopping’ announcement.
Party focus – challenger parties
With only four weeks to go until polling day, we will be looking at the parties likely to command a share of the seats in Parliament following the election. This week we focus on the smaller challenger parties that are seeking to fire shockwaves through the Westminster establishment.
The largest of those is likely to be the SNP, which is increasingly expected to deliver a series of devastating defeats to Labour in its long-held seats north of the border. Whilst the two parties may be natural partners in the event of a hung Parliament, the SNP would go much further than Labour and end austerity in Scotland outright, whilst seeking more and more fiscal powers.
Like the SNP, Plaid Cymru will also be hoping to wrestle seats off Labour in Wales, and is seeking similar devolutionary powers including additional funding for the region to the tune of £1.2bn each year.
If Labour may be forced to work closely with the SNP, on the other side of the political spectrum the Conservatives may have once looked to UKIP for support in this age of fragmented politics. It looks increasingly likely however that David Cameron will not be able to rely on a torrent of new UKIP MPs to prop up his Government. Support for Nigel Farage’s party is decreasing rapidly from the 20 per cent high it enjoyed following its success in the European and local elections in May 2014. According to Opinium’s latest polling figures, Nigel Farage’s party is now polling at 11 per cent.
The Greens too will be looking to build upon their one parliamentary seat in May. Their announcement that they would seek the introduction of a 60 per cent rate of higher income tax may be too radical for some but their inclusion in the recent leaders’ debate would have delighted those in the party yearning to be taken seriously in Westminster.