According to one opinion poll today, 40 per cent of people have yet to make up their mind how to vote next Thursday. If true, and I doubt it is that many, there is still an awful lot to play for in the last week of the campaign. But may be there is something in the idea that the nation is in a total muddle over the election.
Take The Sun newspaper, the paper that supposedly won the 1992 election (the one that most closely resembles this contest) for the Conservatives with its parting shot: “”If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” Just to underline the point, the Labour leader’s head was imprisoned in a light bulb.
And pity the poor Sun reader living on the border with Scotland. This morning, if he turns his white van north before picking up a copy of the paper, he will be urged to vote SNP so it can fight harder for Scottish interests at Westminster. But if he turns south, he gets a different message: “The Tories alone can prevent a nightmarish Labour Government, propped up by the saboteurs of the SNP.”
Confused? I don’t blame you. One tweet this morning put it rather neatly: “So, The Sun is backing the Tories to stop SNP influence, whilst The Scottish Sun wants us to vote SNP to get rid of the Tories? Got it?”
Not that David Cameron will complain. With the latest poll suggesting Nicola Sturgeon’s tartan army could take all 59 Scottish seats, Cameron knows that Ed Miliband is facing the “ajockalypse” north of the border. Meanwhile, The Sun’s endorsement of the Tories is a genuine boost to their hopes of fighting off Labour in the English marginals and holding most of their current seats.
The likelihood remains that this lacklustre contest will end with the Left bloc (Labour, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid) having more seats that the Right bloc (the Conservatives, Ukip, the DUP and may be the Lib Dems – also facing wipeout in Scotland) and so forming a government of sorts. But the whole thing looks desperately unstable.
Newspapers, The Sun included, don’t have the power they did back in the days when “Welsh windbag” Neil Kinnock was given the full tabloid treatment. But they can still sway votes and, more pertinently, create a mood in favour of or against a particular party or leader. As for The Sun, its facing both ways stance must be a commercial calculation. It likes to be on the winning side and it likes to sell papers. And, of course, over the past 35 years it has backed both the Tories and Labour depending on their standing in the polls.
Ed Miliband should not be too downhearted. After his visit to the Hoxton kitchen, he has the endorsement of the repulsive Russell Brand, who just happens to have nearly 10 million followers on Twitter. But that does not equate to an extra 10 million votes since the youthful ‘Milibrands’ are not noted for their ability to get their names on the electoral register or get out of bed at the right time.
The campaign has reached the point when policy announcements, such as Cameron’s promise not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance in the five years of the next Parliament, lose their force, if they ever had any.
Former Chancellor Lord Lawson makes this point in The Spectator this week, dismissing a “flurry” of Tory election giveaways as either “expensive or unwise” because they undermined the Tory mantra of fiscal discipline.
Instead, the focus will shift to tonight’s final TV ‘debates’ in which the leaders of the three so-called major parties (Cameron, Miliband and Clegg) will be quizzed separately by a carefully selected BBC audience of leftwingers (65 per cent of the studio, according to reports). For all that, this probably represents Dave’s last chance to break through the sense of ennui that has pervaded this campaign since the start.
The truth is there is a lot at stake on May 7, not least the survival of the UK as a coherent political entity. A red-tartan alliance will spook the markets, damage or even derail the economic recovery and make the country all but ungovernable as the English wake up to the fact that they are being ruled by a party, the SNP, that has no interest in their welfare and is actively working for the overthrow of the system of government that has served them well for 300 years.
The challenge facing the PM is to bring home to the nation in the starkest terms what is at stake next week. He desperately needs an English backlash to cripple the Labour advance and deny the Miliband-Sturgeon alliance the numbers they jointly need to form a minority government. It is a tall order, not least because many people down south would be happy to say good-bye to the turbulent Scots.