Things can only get bitter…

The ‘long campaign’ is less than three weeks old now (less if we exclude the Christmas break) but already we’re beginning to see what the next four months are going to look like. It’s only going to get more petty from here folks. Here’s what you might have missed as you were catching up on emails at the beginning of the week.

The week began with two key events: Ed Miliband’s speech in Manchester to launch Labour’s election campaign, and the Conservative press conference to launch what Labour have (unwisely according to many) called the ‘dodgy dossier’.

Opening the day’s events was Ed’s speech. Apparently Labour will win the General Election “by having millions of conversations” across the country – presumably Ed himself will be kept away – about how their economic policy will be based on fairness for all, not just the Conservative-favoured few. Coupled with Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham taking to the airwaves to claim that a further five years of Tory government will leave the NHS “unrecognisable”, the launch may have appealed to those already won over but offered little new for the unconvinced. In the end it will probably be remembered more for the BBC’s Norman Smith being called a ‘pillock’ by attendees. At least he showed up, unlike ITV and Sky…

Immediately after Ed finished, the Conservatives launched their 82-page cost analysis of Labour’s spending plans. Imitating a similar publication looking at Tory pledges produced by the then Chancellor Alistair Darling in 2010, the analysis was formatted deliberately to look like the Budget document and the Tories took every opportunity to say it featured ‘official Treasury analysis’. The analysis, based on a so-called ‘reasonableness test’ by which “Any statement by a Labour frontbencher that a voter would believe to be a promise to spend money or raise revenue if Labour are elected is counted as a commitment”, suggested that Labour have committed to  £23.26bn of spending commitments while identifying just £2.52bn of cuts and tax increases.

The publication of the report, timed to draw journalists away from Labour, marks what is sure to be the first in a long list of efforts by the Conservatives to force Labour to admit that they will continue the austerity drive should they be in Government in May, or else risk further undermining their economic credibility. Unsurprisingly Labour quickly attacked the report (Ed Balls even ripped it up), while Ed Miliband promptly told the BBC the Tories accusations were “completely false”.

And in case you missed it (which you probably did), Nick Clegg also gave a speech in which he said that the Lib Dems will “provide heart to the Conservatives and spine to Labour” in a future coalition – a statement that will do nothing to heal the bad blood already between the potential (if diminished) King-makers and their potential bedfellows. On a day when accusations and misrepresentations flew free, he said that the Conservatives’ deficit reduction plans are a “con” and that Labour poses a “clear and present danger” to economic recovery. His well-worn defence of ‘difficult decisions’ that need to be taken could very well be repeated for another Parliament to come. Nick has also announced the shape of his ‘Shadow Cabinet’ for the General Election. For those already in a Ministerial role they retain their briefs, meaning importantly that it will be Danny Alexander and not Vince Cable who is the Lib Dem Shadow Chancellor. He has also successfully marginalised Tim Farron by giving him the Foreign Affairs brief, which is not usually a General Election issue. Those suggesting that this could be an attempt to keep the current favourite to succeed Clegg as Leader quiet might not be far off the mark.

If all these accusations and counter-arguments already feel familiar then you’re in for a long few months as the parties repeat their key messages ad-nauseam in the run up to May’s election.

But what about the expected result? The only thing that seems certain at the moment is that there will be no clear winner on May 7th. In fact, it is entirely possible that a close result could lead to the next Parliament being a short one with a second election not far behind. Just before Christmas it was revealed that the Conservatives are already planning for a second General Election in 2015, while yesterday Ladbrokes announced that their odds have shortened to 6/1 on their being two elections this year. A number of media sources have already begun discussing what this might mean, while the Guardian and the FT have even published articles advocating a Con-Lab (yes, Conservative-Labour) ‘National Government’ as the only way to avoid this. Even a Conservative-UKIP coalition was not ruled out by the Prime Minister.

Whatever the result, it’s clear that the next few months will be extremely exciting, bad-tempered and unpredictable. Deliberately misinterpreted statements and posters will once again be appearing up and down the country while all parties will continue to make use of some questionable statistics. To help you through this, Connect will be providing a comprehensive campaign monitoring service in the run up to the General Election on May 7th, providing clients with all the information they need to stay ahead of the game. Our training service will also be running a series of training courses to help you ensure your organisation is prepared for whatever outcome emerges next May.

For more information about Connect’s services in the run up to the General Election please email or call 0207 592 9592.

Lora Shopova