08:24 Monday 5th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: MPs return to the Commons today after the Christmas break with a little over four months to go before the General Election. And this morning each of the three main parties are holding key news conferences to focus on their priorities. Joined by our political correspondent Paul Rowley. Paul it feels like the General Election campaign is already in full swing. Just looking at some of the papers this morning, you’ve got David Cameron wooing UKIP on the front page of the Times, you’ve got one of the Labour Shadow Justice Secretaries on the front page of the Independent. It is all getting very political.
PAUL ROWLEY: It is, even though officially the campaign only begins at the end of March when Parliament is prorogued as they call it, to allow formal campaigning to begin. But let’s be honest Dotty, it’s underway. The sequence begins at ten thirty this morning, when Ed Miliband will host a Labour event in Greater Manchester. When he stops talking, Nick Clegg will hold his London news conference at Westminster, not in a Government building for once but at the Liberal Democrat’s headquarters, primarily because he’s going to be slagging off his Coalition partners the Conservatives. And then around mid-day an array of Tory cabinet ministers led by George Osborne the Chancellor will join forces to have a pop at Labour. All this a matter of one hundred and twenty two days before election day itself on May 7th.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what are the opening sallies looking like?
PAUL ROWLEY: They’re all saying ‘we’re better than the other lot. Vote for us’.
DOTTY MCLEOD: They always say that Paul.
PAUL ROWLEY: Absolutely. The difficulty is there’s not much money to play with, so differentiating themselves is difficult. Ed Miliband’s pitch was he wants to speak to .. well not him himself but his party .. to four million voters in the run up to polling day. Their campaign will focus on the NHS, which is their strongest card. The Conservatives will focus on the economy, because they’re going to accuse Labour of making almost twenty one billion pounds worth of unfunded spending commitments. And in turn, Nick Clegg will say the Tories, their spending plans are a con. The only party that’s saying anything newer it seems is the UK Independence Party. They have something which is almost a U-turn. Nigel Farage their Leader has announced he’s giving up the booze, not permanently but just for January, after the Christmas revelries. So no more photo-opportunities this month at least in pubs with a pint in his hand. But then again, as to next month, there’ll be another .. what .. three months drinking time until the election itself.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes. And I ask this with a degree of trepidation Paul, are we going to be getting this all the way up to polling day?
PAUL ROWLEY: I’m afraid so. I think the risk is that the voters are going to start tuning out. I always think it’s a bit like the World Cup. You only get to be interested once it’s under way, and the closer you get to the final. So I think you’ve got to be standing by Dotty for a daily dose of claims, counter-claims, denials, rebuttals, mind-boggling figures from each side. The intensity will arguably be greater than ever, primarily because there is everything to play for. If you believe the opinion polls, it’s impossible to call this one. labour and the Conservatives seem to be neck and neck. Neither appear to have enough votes to win outright. So it could mean a minority government possibly for the party with the most seats, maybe another coalition involving the same or maybe different parties next time around. If they can’t come to an agreement, possibly we might have to have, dare I say it Dotty, another General Election, if they can’t resolve it. So maybe this four month election campaign could go on even longer.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Now Paul, you’ve worked in political journalism for a very long time. Has it always been the case that attacking the other parties has been such a big part of the strategy?
PAUL ROWLEY: Well it’s always been an American strategy, and obviously we tend to borrow things from over there, even though it’s often done reluctantly. I think the difficulty is now, because in the old days it was more ideological, so you’d get Michael Foot in 1983 on the left for the Labour Party, Margaret Thatcher on the right for the Conservative party, David Steel for the Liberals and David Owen for the Social Democratic Party in the middle. Now because we haven’t got that ideology in the same way, because they’re all going for the centre ground, they’re all going for marginal seats which will swing this election, I think the easy tactic is to blame the other lot and say we’re better than them. I think there is a danger that the voters will tune out though, that’s my worry, until the days leading up to polling day itself. But brace yourself Dotty. We’re going to have a long campaign.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Paul we will talk to you I am sure very soon.