Lansons Conversations

Day 24 – Good day – bad day

Harold Wilson’s oft quoted ‘a week is a long time in politics’ will be repeated ad nausuem this weekend as the days tick away to May 6th. Given an assessment of the campaign week just finishing it’s a reasonable bet that Gordon Brown and the Labour party wished that they had more time to recover their position in the final few days, while for Cameron, and probably Clegg, the poll date cannot come soon enough. In reality all the parties enter the final straight in difficult positions. It’s been a disastrous week for the Labour party and especially Gordon Brown. We’ve said enough about wobbly Wednesday but the way in which pretty much all of the media sentiment is now against the party, and the Prime Minister personally, illustrates how the herd instinct of the press is such a powerful force that it appears little can save Labour from a poor third place. Even the returning Messiah, Tony Blair, while trying to inject his own dated magic will conclude that there isn’t much life left. Yes Labour will stay strong in parts of the country and the electoral system could act in Labour’s favour, but this election has demonstrated very clearly that the badge of progressive politics has moved from them to younger politicians who offer a different vision. Labour’s own progressives – The Milibands, perhaps Johnson, too, – will publicly try and suggest that the upstarts Clegg and Cameron offer nothing new, it’s the same old Tories, and the Lib Dems have no substance. Privately, though, they encourage tactical voting to beat the Tories by all those committed to ‘progressive politics’. Fundamentally, Labour has to recognise in the remaining days of this campaign, a public sentiment that actually wants anything other than the Labour party. The real winner of the leaders’ debates has been the watching and listening public who have shown in their immediate indications of support that tribalism is a thing of the past. But it is not necessarily plain sailing for Cameron’s Conservatives. His own performance at the third debate was a further improvement on the second but he hasn’t enough time to differentiate himself from Clegg. The real difference is that Clegg will not form a Government on his won, while Cameron could, but Cameron knows that Clegg has damaged the Conservative vote in some areas by appealing especially to the young, and new voters, who will propel Lib Dems into Parliament at the expense of Conservative who would have won had it not been for the surge of support. Labour will also be damaged by this too, but the decline in their core support will mean that second placed Conservatives will win where they wouldn’t have been in a position to do so before, as the Lib Dem resurgence will bring them up the rankings too. Cameron’s task in this final week is to hold his nerve, stay bold in his rhetoric and project a vision of the future – not a picture of austerity which the electorate know is coming anyway – that rallies his supporters to get out their vote. History will judge whether he can do it, but he knows he cannot do it alone, so the big beasts will be out and more money poured into where it matters. Nick Clegg probably sits uncomfortably in second place at the moment. It is real squeaky bum time for him. His campaign has been run on a shoestring budget anyway so a final push will exhaust him and his team as they dream of a result that could give them near a hundred seats. It looks a two horse race at the moment, but the momentum is likely to be with the Conservatives buoyed by an inevitable show of support from this weekend’s papers. Cameron may well rely on the support of other parties come May 7th, especially the Unionists, to try and form a Government – but Clegg could still have a say.