As part of the FT’s expert election panel, our three contributors will occasionally be giving their thoughts on the big election news story of the day. Today, we asked who is winning the war of ideas after three days of manifesto launches.
Miranda Green, former press secretary to Paddy Ashdown:
Strong contrasts from the three manifestos and their launches, which is invigorating after a bit of an “inside baseball” start last week. A slightly downbeat active state Labour plan (which anyone who actually uses a lot of public services will ‘get’ but others may not), a strong narrative about active citizenship from the Tories, and now a pitch from the Lib Dems to be honest about the state of the economy and to make some people pay more to even out social disadvantages.
Eek! – the party mentions cuts in print and on the podium. This outspokenness should be popular with the sort of floating voters who are attracted to the Lib Dems and even to the idea of a hung parliament (see today’s Populus poll), and could feed into the commentariat backlash on fiscal policies that Matthew has predicted. Cameron’s overarching theme is now very easy to grasp – an advantage – but can be caricatured as sending us all to live in an episode of The Archers. In the fictional sunny uplands of Borsetshire, of course, nothing actually has a cost attached to it. So he has provided a good rallying point for his supporters but also a clear target for his opponents, whose mission this week is to chip away at that narrow poll lead.
Charles Lewington, former press secretary to John Major:
Manifesto launch week in any campaign tends to produce confused short-term polls on the back of recent headlines. Voter reaction to the three platforms will be difficult to gauge until the weekend – if at all. Gordon Brown’s launch looked truly terrible on TV – with a fuzzy screen background. David Cameron looked confident if slightly bumptious and his exhortation to the nation to help him sort out the country is the right message for an electorate said to be skeptical of all politicians. Nick Clegg will get short term plaudits for trying to be honest but his tax proposals risk positioning the Liberal Democrats on Labour’s left, which will confuse voters. I worry that the Tories have alighted on the ‘big idea’ of the Big Society too late in the day for people to understand quite a complex argument but the headline messages about vetoing council tax rises are good ones and should go down well in the debates – particularly if red and yellow gang up on team blue.
Matthew Taylor, former director of policy, No 10:
There is a genuine message difference between the parties: Labour emphasising renewal led by active government, the Conservatives emphasising government by the people, big society not big state, and the Lib Dems focusing on honesty and fairness. Having said that, in many policy areas it is still hard to sport the difference. I said in Monday’s podcast that we might start to see a commentariat-led revolt in the face of the unwillingness of the two main parties to face up to the fiscal situation. We are starting to see signs of that already with pollsters also picking up high levels of public scepticism. The Lib Dems’ message is the one best tuned into this public mood and Clegg will be trying hard to hit this ‘plague on all your houses’ note in the debate. We may also see the minor parties getting a bit more into the action. The polls seem to be tightening and at the weekend as we approach the half way point of the campaign the parties will need to make a judgement about whether to stick or gamble with their campaign strategies