Election 2010: Assessing the campaign as end approaches

Election 2010: Assessing the campaign as end approaches
# 05 May 2010 19:55 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. There is a purity to the end of an election campaign. Gone is the grandiloquence, the rhetoric of the early stages, the vision of the manifestos, APA reports quoting BBC.
Instead we see the parties are they really are, their messages shorn to the bone, the exhausted desperation in their eyes as they struggle on for the last vote that in an election as tight as this could make the difference.
Thus Labour’s appeal to the electorate: do not risk all on the Tories - they would threaten the recovery and cut child benefits for the middle classes. Thus the Conservatives: only we can see off Gordon Brown and ensure the change you are desperate for. And thus the Liberal Democrats: do not waste this moment, this opportunity of a generation to transform anger over expenses into lasting political reform.
But all three party leaders know just what we know, namely that no one can really predict how this election will play out. It is one thing to lose knowing the game is up; it is another to lose when success has been within reach.
So this is what the election has come down to. The early skirmishes about national insurance seem from a distant age. Who can recall the detail of the manifestos, the Tories’ "big society" and "great ignored" members of society, Labour’s "future fair for all", the Lib Dems’ "change that works for you"?
We shall soon forget the heckling, the media scrums, the spoofed posters and election broadcasts, the walk on role of a tanned former prime minister. The promise of an internet election failed to emerge, the twitters and the blogs talking above all to each other, not the electorate.
But two things will linger in the memory. The television debates changed the balance of power in this election, introducing Nick Clegg to an electorate seemingly hungry for change, keen for an alternative to what we can perhaps for a few more hours safely call the two largest parties.
The Lib Dem leader revealed himself to be articulate and passionate, comfortable in his skin and in a format that his two opponents struggled at first to master. Whether this signals the political earthquake that some hope for depends still on how people vote on Thursday; some polls are suggesting the Clegg starburst is on the wane.
And of course the name of Gillian Duffy will live on, a moment in the election that revealed the prime minister raw and unplugged. Or plugged, as it turned out. The polls suggest Mr Brown’s decision to call this Rochdale pensioner a bigot may not have changed public opinion that much, merely confirming existing views rather than changing minds. But some Labour candidates on the ground disagree, saying it will depress the party’s vote.
I wrote earlier that there is little time for grandiloquence at this stage of a campaign. There is one exception. In recent days, the prime minister appears to have found a late breath, a voice he perhaps had lost in office and has rediscovered now the finishing line is near. In his speech to an audience of religious community organisers on Monday, he relaxed into himself and let rip with the oratory of an old school preacher. Not to everyone’s taste perhaps, and its electoral impact uncertain, but authentic Brown nonetheless.
As for David Cameron, he has put few feet wrong in this campaign, maintaining a discipline and energy throughout, learning the new discipline of the television debate, improving his performance each time.
His aim, above all, to reassure voters that he has the right stuff to lead the nation. But his vision of a "big society" that would transform public services in this country, what his manifesto called an "invitation to join the government of Britain", was perhaps sprung on the electorate too late with many voters still struggling to understand what it might mean for them.
So enough is enough. Decision time is almost upon us. This is, let us not forget, a general election of 649 separate contests - the voters of Thirsk & Malton must wait until May 27 because one of their candidates died. There will be unexpected results, swings will be local as much as national. The Greens are fighting to win their first seat in parliament. UKIP are challenging the Speaker in his Buckingham constituency. The voters of Barking are being courted by the British National Party. Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists are arguing that their MPs could make the difference in a hung parliament.
And yet, after all this, after all the millions of words, the hours of television, the leaflets, the canvassing, the speeches and the relentless travelling, thousands of voters are still telling the pollsters they still have yet to decide which argument they find most convincing, as many perhaps as 40 per cent of voters across the country. Their decision in the coming hours will make a difference. But few know how.
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