So what can be concluded from the opening skirmishes? Three messages stood out. Nick Clegg is new; Gordon Brown doesn’t want you to ruin the recovery and David Cameron is fighting this election “for the great ignored”. The BBC’s Nick Robinson has an interesting post on his blog about the images which stand out from the first morning.
One striking facet of the morning was the extent to which the leaders were protecting themselves from the public. It can’t stay that way of course, but the first hours were spent entirely among the faithful. Well, to be fair Gordon Brown was with the cabinet – so perhaps that’s not entirely true.
Mr Cameron perhaps stole the style points with a rather nice stump speech to a collection of Tory party workers who happened to be milling around Westminster Bridge. This was where he delivered his pledge to fight for the great ignored. According to the Conservative leader they are:
“Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight. They start our businesses, operate our factories, teach our children, clean our streets, grow our food, keep us safe. They work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law.”
“They’re good, decent people – they’re the people of Britain and they just want a reason to believe that anything is still possible in Britain.”
“This election is about giving them that reason, giving them that hope”.
So if the “great ignored” are the young, old, rich and poor, black and white gay and straight, who exactly are the unignored? Who have the parties been listening to exactly? The idea behind this phrase is a good one – a reworking of Nixon’s “silent majority”, but does it work? People may feel ignored but do they actually want that suspicion confirmed?
Actually that was the official text. In delivery, Mr Cameron omitted the gay and straight line, which is a pity because he’s already in a bit of a jam with gays after the weekend spat in which his would-be home secretary was taped suggesting he sympathised with B&B owners who wanted to ban gay couples. The gay community has been pretty active on Twitter over the last hours on this issue and as you can imagine there is little sympathy for the Tories. Pink News was quick to tweet the omission.
Mr Brown stood on the steps of Downing Street with members of the cabinet – and launched his campaign with some rather pointed remarks about his background, noting that he was from “an ordinary middle-class family”. These were virtually his first words – first words he knows David Cameron cannot utter. Labour strategists have already been burned trying to run crassly class-based campaigns but this rather more nuanced version might seem less blatant. Mr Brown gets to portray himself as a man closer to the population, who shares their upbringing and values. The more substantial message was the the Tories would wreck the recovery. This is a staple message of an incumbent – don’t let the opposition ruin things. It is almost the only strategy available to Labour.
Nick Clegg opened the day with an address to a dozen party workers inside party headquarters before venturing outside his HQ to say the same thing again. His buzzword was “new”. Only he was new, only by voting for him could voters get something new. Vince Cable, the party’s Treasury spokesman, was close at hand. Mr Cable, who is seen by many as something of an economic seer, is regarded as a big electoral asset. His face is every bit as prominent on the party battlebus as the party leader’s and despite the fact that he can mix it as much as any politician he is regarded as an almost saintly figure above the fray. This is a double-edged sword. His presence makes Mr Clegg look even more the ingenue and he can’t help what seems a permanently disapproving look on his face. This morning he looked on like Mr Clegg’s slightly disappointed form-master.