We are near the end game – in fact, nearer than we think. For political leaders desperate to melt the glacier of apparent electoral indifference, time is now very short.
First, as John Major would say, there is the not inconsiderable matter of an imminent Royal Baby. The Duchess of Cambridge is now reported to be overdue to give birth to her second child, which would rightly be a matter for national rejoicing and renewed pride for all 64 million of us in having won the first prize in the lottery of life and being born British.
There would also be much rejoicing in the newsrooms of what was once called Fleet Street. Faced between a choice between another front page story on what is widely regarded as the most boring election in living memory and adorable pictures of the newly arrived fourth in line to the throne, there will be little need for an editorial conference. Conspiracy theorists will, of course, conclude that the whole thing is an establishment smokescreen designed to aid David Cameron or Ed Miliband depending on the precise nature of their delusions.
If there were any election fever – and no one’s diagnosed it yet – the arrival of Prince George’s younger sibling will sweep all talk of hung parliaments, late surges, Lynton Crosby and Ed Miliband’s sandwich-eating skills to the back of the book. There alongside the crossword, reports of League One football matches and ads for stair-lifts, the election will sit until a news editor, almost certainly working for The Independent, is brave enough to insist that the country is crying out for details of Nick Clegg’s latest bribe on nursery school funding.
In fact, if we are not careful, May 7 could pass without anyone remembering they were supposed to go out and vote.
But the royal confinement is not the only threat to the democratic process. Next Monday is a bank holiday, guaranteeing a bout of severe weather and continued electoral amnesia.
Most of us will be too busy keeping warm or trying to get out of the rain to spend much time contemplating the West Lothian Question – although we all know we should.
Already, the dreadful earthquake in Nepal has knocked the election off the top of the news list, a reminder that in the great sweep of things, the precise make-up of the House of Commons on May 8 is not necessarily the most riveting spectacle on the planet.
Perhaps it was this realisation that galvanised Mr Cameron yesterday as he unveiled his manifesto for small business. The word ‘unveiled’ hardly did the PM justice. He didn’t so much unveil his plans as rip open their packaging with his bare hands. Read Michael Deacon’s splendid Daily Telegraph sketch of the event in the unlikely setting of the Institute of Chartered Accountants if you want the full flavour, but Dave was a man transformed.
Enraged by claims that he was gently drifting down the river to a leisurely defeat, Cameron didn’t so much deliver his message as bawl it out at 100 decibels. To quote Deacon: “IF I’M GETTING LIVELY IT’S BECAUSE I FEEL BLOODY LIVELY!” blared the Prime Minister. “I REALLY FEEL SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS ELECTION!” he added, as if anyone hadn’t got the message yet.”
Dispirited Conservative supporters will be reassured to learn that their leader is feeling “bloody lively” and will be hoping that in the few windows of communication left to him, he might yet make the opinion polls crank out of first gear.
But time is short and another leaden item on the Crosby grid is not going to capture the imagination of a curiously detached electorate. Many Tory MPs, battling to hang onto their seats, would like their leader – and his senior colleagues – single-mindedly to focus on the threat of a Red-Tartan alliance capturing the levers of power and to find sufficiently arresting language to bring this spectre to life. Nine days left to save our country – and so on to the last 24 hours before polling day.
Such an approach would have the merit of also encapsulating the central message of the Tory campaign – don’t let Labour (with some help from their wild-eyed Scottish cousins) wreck the recovery.
Pious souls will dismiss this as the politics of fear. But fear is part of politics.