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This fragmented, endless General Election campaign is devoid of big ideas

February 9, 2015

I am struggling with this endless General Election campaign. It is, of course, an inevitable consequence of the move to fixed-term Parliaments, a reform I am still largely in favour of. However, a glance across the Atlantic should have been enough to prepare ourselves for months of campaigning.

We'll be exhausted by the time Polling Day finally arrives on 7 May

We’ll be exhausted by the time Polling Day finally arrives on 7 May

What is disappointing is the way the political parties have responded to this challenge. They are using the electorate as one giant focus group to test an endless stream of disjointed policy initiatives lurching from the health service one day, to education the next and the economy the day after – and so on. There is little sense of an overarching theme with any of this except, tellingly, from the Scottish Nationalists. There should be no mystery as to why the SNP continues to poll strongly – it has its big idea and remains stubbornly focused on it.

The absence of a coherent narrative joining together the daily diet of unrelated policy initiatives is crippling the main parties. The polls aren’t moving because they are not engaging the electorate (just exhausting us) and they are not engaging us because we have no real sense of the vision of what they are offering for the next five years. We have a vague of what they stand for and don’t stand for and they are playing around the edges of that hoping that one day, one policy will hit the mark and shift just enough floating votes their way to make a difference. It is a directionless, passionless form of campaigning that deserves to fail.

Manifesto damp squibs?

What would shake up the political agenda would be if one party was brave enough to stop test marketing policies and publish a manifesto that communicated a vision, a sense of direction and built a powerful narrative linking its policies. My guess is that in this elongated General Election campaign the manifestos will be a damp squib, little more than a collection of the policy announcements we have already heard and which have got a vague thumbs up from the pollsters. I expect this will be true of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. This may create further opportunities for the minority parties already upsetting the establishment apple cart.

The SNP already seems well-equipped to avoid this trap but the opportunity is also there for the Greens and UKIP to make further inroads into the votes of the mainstream parties by creating a simple, strong and focused narrative. UKIP will attempt to do this around its simplistic anti-EU message and would do well to avoid making too much fuss of the manifesto Nigel Farage is meant to be writing after its complete abandonment of its 2010 manifesto. The Greens are quietly creeping up on the outside but don’t seem to have found the accelerator pedal yet: there is time.

Lack of campaigning momentum

The barrage of daily policies currently being inflicted on us also highlights another looming problem with this campaign: how will the parties maintain, let alone build, the momentum as polling day approaches? They can’t rely on the TV leaders’ debates to do that alone if they haven’t developed a strong core message by then. I see a real danger that the debates could become just another squabble about whatever policy initiative happens to have grabbed the attention that day, turning them into an extension of Prime Minister’s Question Time and further turning the electorate away from political debate and the political process.

There is a big prize to be won by the party bold enough to break away from the present fragmented, directionless, uninspiring mess.

From → Politics

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