A week into the campaign and the two main parties are locked in a deathly embrace on around 34 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives are up marginally over the past month and Labour fractionally down. There is no daylight between them in terms of share of the vote, but on these figures Labour would end up as the largest single party in a hung parliament – or would do were it not for the SNP surge north of the border.
So far, nothing much is happening between the two main parties. But the impression remains that David Cameron and Co have had the better of the opening exchanges. They have been able to stick to their chosen battleground of the economy and business and we have heard relatively little of Labour’s strongest suit – the NHS. Nor has Labour been able to make our flesh creep with dire predictions of the effects of the cuts the Tories are planning for the next five years. At least Ed Miliband did not trip over his shoelaces in the leaders’ TV debate.
Yesterday, Cameron was on firm ground as he extolled the delights of “money back Monday”, highlighting the £200 boost for 14 million working households from the latest rise in the personal tax allowance, and promising more to come, including a long overdue increase in the 40p threshold.
He sounded positively Thatcherite as he said there was no such thing as public money, only taxpayers’ money. Ed Balls was reduced to giving his history lesson, saying that families are £1100 a year worse off over the past five years. If true, whose fault is that? How about the Labour ministers, Balls and Miliband included, who crashed the car in the first place back in 2008? It would be surprising if the worst recession in 100 years had not hit living standards. The more pertinent question is which party is best placed to restore them over the next five years? On that count, the Tories are well ahead. Labour badly need to get off tax and onto health and public services.
In many respects, the real election battle lies elsewhere – with the SNP and Ukip. Nicola Sturgeon’s assured performance in the debate last week has dented Labour hopes of recovery in Scotland. According to the Daily Mail, she is now both “Queen of Scots” and “The most dangerous woman in Britain” and on course to take at least 30 of Labour’s 41 seats north of the border.
With the Tory-supporting press straining every sinew to stop Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage is in danger of being overshadowed. Ukip’s poll rating has slid from 17 at the start of the year to 14 now, but that is still plenty big enough to hurt the Conservatives. And he was boosted yesterday by a poll showing that half the electorate agree with his call for curbs on free HIV treatment for immigrants and the defection to Ukip of the Tory candidate in West Hull and Hessle.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right sums up the predicament of both Miliband and Cameron as they head into the second week of the campaign. Miliband is haemorrhaging seats to the uber-left SNP in Scotland; Cameron is stuck on an election losing 34 per cent because he has not clawed back much support from Farage.
Expect Miliband to move left north of the border and Cameron to shift right down south.