A  cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland is closing Britain’ airports and hogging the news bulletins. It has everything the election lacks – great pictures,  a direct and tangible impact on real people, a touch of science and wonderment too it. Small wonder the news organisations are diverted from a campaign which is clearly failing to ignite public interest despite an unclear outcome.

Similar quantities of hot air have been spewed out in advance of tonight’s TV debate. Endless clips of Nixon and Kennedy – have littered our screens (and even some front pages). After months of bigging it up, broadcasters have joined the expectation management game, worrying that perhaps it will be too boring (subtext: we want more fireworks next time – perhaps a panel led by Simon Cowell and a buzzer to shut up the candidates). Read more

Are there any women on any of the main parties’ top teams who do not embarrass the leadership? I only ask because one of the most striking subtexts of this election has been its utter masculinity. It is hard to recall an election in recent times which has been so single-sexed. The only women who we have seen regularly are Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron. At times it has seemed that this is a contest being held entirely in a monastery  – or perhaps the 1920s.

It is not unusual for political parties to have an A-list of people who get to monopolise the airwaves. Come election time the cabinet and shadow cabinet is filled with disgruntled second raters who the party spin machines have concluded do not press the voters’ hot button. But in all previous elections, the parties would not have dreamed of having no women on the A-list. They always managed to find at least one, who dutifully sat in on all press conferences, wearing a bright jacket and was allowed onto Newsnight. Read more

The Independent’s lead story caught my eye this morning. It wasn’t especially surprising but it raised the interesting notion of tactical voting.

The Indy led with a story that Lord Adonis, the widely respected transport secretary (and former FT journalist before his career plummeted downhill!) has called on Lib Dem voters to vote tactically to keep David Cameron out. Well, yes I’m sure he has; it’s the kind of the thing you do if you are a Labour cabinet minister – especially if you are a former member of the SDP and Liberal Democrats, as his Lordship is. Incidentally, Lord Adonis speaks only of seats where a Lib Dem vote could damage Labour. He says nothing about what Labour voters should do in Lib Dem/Conservative marginals. Given his intelligence this may simply come down to practical politics and an assumption that Labour voters will get the message anyway but a true commitment to a joint effort to keep the Tories out requires Labour supporters to vote Lib Dem where they are the main challengers to the Conservatives. Read more

Some years ago – actually nearly 20 – when I was a junior reporter on the Daily Telegraph I was assigned the less-than-plum election job of finding out how celebrities would be voting. It wasn’t very difficult. Each party had someone whose job it was to co-ordinate the celeb endorsements and so it was just a matter of getting the lists and ringing up the named individuals to check they were indeed supporting the party in question (Jeffrey Archer had compiled the Tory list and some of those on it were rather surprised to be accused of backing John Major or at least were reluctant to be identified as such.) Read more

The FT’s election panel kicked off its campaign watch today. Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair’s former policy chief, Charles Lewington, one time Conservative communications director, and Miranda Green, former press secretary to Sir Paddy Ashdown, joined me for the first of a regular series of discussions designed to guide you through the tactical minefields of the campaign. They placed their bets on the outcome and revealed the events and issues the parties will most fear as the election unfolds. You can watch the video below. Read more

Many will have picked up the echo of Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” in David Cameron’s pledge to fight for the “great ignored”. But my colleague Richard McGregor reminds me of an even more striking parallel. The Australian prime minister Robert Menzies delivered a famous speech in 1942 on the ‘forgotten people”. Click on the preceding link to read the full text but here is a key quote:

Quite recently, a bishop wrote a letter to a great daily newspaper. His theme was the importance of doing justice to the workers. His belief, apparently, was that the workers are those who work with their hands. He sought to divide the people of Australia into classes. He was obviously suffering from what has for years seemed to me to be our greatest political disease – the disease of thinking that the community is divided into the relatively rich and the relatively idle, and the laborious poor, and that every social and political controversy can be resolved into the question: What side are you on?  Read more

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. Read more

FT - Armchair electionThe British economy is like Wayne Rooney. No, no, I’ve got one: the Labour government is like the Flower-pot men. Oh hell, this could get very depressing.

As I write this, the Sky helicopter is hovering above Downing Street, hoping to catch every moment of Gordon Brown’s scintillating four-minute drive to Buckingham Palace and trying presumably not to crash into the ITV and BBC choppers. I’ve never been clear why we need these expensive aerial shots . . . you may not like the prime minister but he’s not OJ. Is someone worried he might suddenly make a dash to the airport fly to Algeria and seek political asylum? Read more