Lansons Conversations

Day 10 – Good day – bad day

It’s been Nick’s week, no contest. The Lib Dems have pulled back in the overall race this week with a more than competent manifesto launch – with more details than the other two parties on costs – and culminating in the first of the leaders’ debates where, to universal acclaim, Nick Clegg was declared the decisive winner. If the poll bounce that is being predicted by some today does feed through consistently this weekend then a scenario of the Lib Dems closing the gap on Labour is more likely than not. And on that basis the Conservative lead may also diminish – and we’ll be firmly heading for hung Parliament territory – albeit hung in a slightly different way. So far so good then for the third party which is now reaping the benefits of a strategy which is about showcasing their case for Government rather than relying on knocking any of the two other parties. But this is probably as good as it gets for Clegg and co. Sustaining his performance at the next two debates might be easier than sustaining the campaign across thecountry. And while a national TV appeal to nearly 10 million voters can hardly do any of the three leaders any harm, it was always recognised that Clegg had most to win and Cameron perhaps most to lose from the contest. This was true, although Cameron gave by far the most convincing sign-off to camera, an indication of things to some as he can only be moreconfident in future debates of not only sidelining the Prime Minister on policy detail, but also not allowing Clegg to have free rein as the ‘acceptable alternative’. So a good week too for Cameron’s Conservatives with the most thoughtful of the three manifestos being critically well received, even by sceptics, and showing that the communication advantage continues to be with them. The problem with this week is that too much emphasis has been given to documents that the mass of the electorate will not read or care about. A survey in The Times newspaper this week showed that even informed voters mistook Conservative policies for Labour and vice versa. So the manifestos have been for the media and political cogniscenti this week and, more than likely, have had their day. On balance the Labour party has had a bad week. Even though the Prime Minister coped reasonably well in a format that was not to his liking in the TV debate, he failed with his jokes and failed to marginalise Cameron by siding with Clegg. ‘I agree with Nick’ or ‘I think Nick would agree with me’ is hardly a convincing message or ringing endorsement of a successful party that has been in power for thirteen years and is confident of securing yet another mandate. The Labour campaign is not off the rails by any means but a slew of weekend polling that puts them further behind the Conservatives – and possibly even in some, third behind the Lib Dems based on the debate ‘bounce’ – would be a disastrous start to the final three weeks of campaigning. And so the campaign continues into week three proper where expectations will be high for the Lib Dems to capitalise on the debate and punch through in marginal seats where they have a real chance. For the Conservatives the Lib Dems now are a real fear as a resurgence for them in the polls squeezes, or is likely to, their vote in some marginals. Labour have to get their big beasts out – which could remind voters why they do not still want them – and get momentum into their campaign. So a fascinating week ahead which is rounded-off by debate two on foreign affairs next Thursday. We score Clegg ahead this week, followed by Cameron, with Brown a distant third.