Bored yet? Well hold on tight - there’s another month to go of General Election 2015. Four weeks today this country will be going to the polls on May 7 to place a cross on the ballot paper, and the end result has never been so uncertain.
By this time in 2010, Nick Clegg already had at least one gleaming TV debate appearance under his belt, and his popularity was in the ascendency. The talk in the first week of April 2010 was how well the Liberal Democrats were doing, and how they had captured new voters’ hearts. An entire generation of university students were team Clegg, totally convinced they offered something fresh and new.
Five brutal years on however and the Liberal Democrats are fighting for many of their 57 seats. Only ten of these are considered safe, and it’s all to play for in Berwick-upon-Tweed where Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the Conservative candidate and has already embarked on an intense A1 based poster campaign, perhaps hoping to drill her name into the minds of passing motorists over Alan Beith’s Lib Dem successor Julie Pörksen.
As former Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said ‘a week is a long time in politics’, and exactly how engaged the country will be in a month is becoming increasingly hard to tell.
So far 2015 has been one of the most curious elections in living memory. While 2010 had one dominant narrative - the rise of Nick Clegg - this time around it’s as though the political story could splinter off into a multitude of different directions.
One colleague likened the race so far in 2015 to the close run election between Conservative John Major and Labour’s Neil Kinnock in 1992.
‘Even to the last you couldn’t call it’, he said.
But is this even a race between the two biggest party leaders, David Cameron and Ed Miliband? Are voters just hedging their bets on either side of a broad ideological line and expecting it will be a Coalition of either the right or left.
With the feeling you’ll vote for one party, but end up with one, potentially even two, political bedfellows for the next five years, it seems those without strong convictions are struggling to navigate their way through the quagmire.
Here’s a summary of what the Journal’s political team has overheard among friends, on social media, on the bus and in the corner shop on General Election 2015 so far:
* UKIP’s early rise now feels to be tired with few solid and memorable policy offerings beyond immigration and grammar schools. However Nigel Farage did make a success of his seven-way leaders debate appearance on ITV last week according to the polls. He might want a change from sinking pints in a Margate pub before too long though and it’s expected he’ll be boarding a train to Blyth to try and rally some support against Labour’s Ronnie Campbell before the month’s out.
* With a month to go, the country’s undecided voters still remain worryingly undecided. The choice in the North East between Labour and UKIP is a realistic toss-up some people are contemplating. Radio 4’s Today Programme hosted an entire debate at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle just last week on this very issue. Not only that but the decision between Labour and Conservative is also coming to the fore, especially those who have small businesses and feel Labour has not made enough positive noises policy-wise for them so far.
* Some who voted Lid Dem in 2010 say they can’t again out of pride following the collapse of the promise not to raise tuition fees. Yet they don’t want to vote Labour because they don’t like Ed Miliband. They don’t quite describe him as Jeremy Paxman so unkindly did on the first TV debate as a ‘Noth London geek’, but there is still a reticence there from the great undecideds over whether they feel he is leadership material.
* Meanwhile die-hard Labour supporters in Northumberland are shouting at David Cameron for not answering a straight question, repeating the same lines about ‘having a plan’ and that one must ‘stick to that plan’ and that ‘said plan’ is most definitely ‘WORKING’.
“I do fear we’re getting them for another five years,” said one 63-year-old Labour voter. His wife meanwhile, a one-time card carrying member of the party, didn’t watch the last TV debate because it was two hours long. Friends their age who have always been politically engaged aren’t even voting this time around.
* Others are convinced the Conservatives have done a very good job in Coalition, and that Chancellor George Osborne is the only safe pair of financial hands in town. People are understanding of austerity, and even hark back to the Margaret Thatcher rhetoric that it’s been tough, but at least the country is moving again, even if that’s not in the realm of public service spending. Some are scared at exactly what the Conservative line ‘we must save £1 in every £100’ actually means.
“That’s just a nicer and less scary way of saying they’re going to make £30bn worth of cuts,” said one Newcastle student.
* We’ve also learnt that Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP appears to be more left than Labour, if we cast aside the recent alleged leaked memo on her desire to see Cameron back in No.10. She talks a good leftie talk, and offers an alternative to austerity. There will be public spending - and she speaks out passionately on tuition fees, that ever burning issue that all politicians must now have a plan for.
* Sadly however, with four weeks to go we still hear the argument ‘they’re all the same’. This has never been more apparent than the comments on Facebook following the seven-way leaders debate last Thursday. Of course they’re not all the same, but it’s the fault of every party on the ballot paper if they can’t do enough to distinguish themselves during the campaign trail.
Most worryingly of all is the number of people who won’t vote at all. With a month to go, the discussion is as much about whether to get to the polling station at all, as it is about which party to back.
Such a fragmented landscape with four weeks still left to play for means there is now an intense amount of ground-work needed from candidates fighting for their seats, and for their party’s nationally so that they end up in the strongest position come the evening of May 7.
Polling cards are now starting to drop through people’s letter boxes if they’ve already registered to vote, however many thousands of people are still unable to make their mark due to a change in the administration system.
Newcastle City Councillors have done much good work to claw back as many potential voters as they can - getting 4000 people back on the register who had been dropped from lists since 2010.
However the deadline is fast approaching to make sure you can have your say and April 20 is the last chance to register.
A splintered playing field has left people unsure where to turn and General Election 2015 will no doubt yield unpredictable results for the future of the country’s political leadership. Yet not participating at all would be the saddest narrative of them all.
*To register to vote, go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote and make sure you have your National Insurance card number.