Fear of change

The final leaders’ debate on TV last night was perhaps the most illuminating of the three, partly because it focussed on the economy, forcing Brown, Cameron and Clegg to be a bit more specific about their plans, but mostly because it was clear that the parties had settled on the message they were going to project in the last week of campaign.

Cameron and Clegg continue to offer the prospect of “change”, though the credibility of their promise is rather undermined by the fact that, as rich, white, ex-public schoolboys, they are clearly members of the political elite they affect to disdain. Clegg has the advantage of leading a party that hasn’t been in power for a century, which might persuade voters that he will bring a new perspective to running the country, but Cameron can truthfully say that the electoral arithmetic means that only he can realistically aspire to form a majority administration and actually put his program into practice.

Brown mentioned “change” a lot too, but only to highlight how risky and scary it was. He was by far the most negative in the debate, attacking his opponents’ plans rather than promoting his own. As incumbent he can’t promise lots of reform, as people will only wonder why he hasn’t got round to it before now, and in the current financial climate he won’t want to draw too much attention to his record. The strategy he seems to be adopting is to tacitly admit that mistakes have been made, while asserting that the other lot would mess things up even more.

I think that Labour party stategists must have realised that they have no chance of winning a majority of seats, though the way their vote is concentrated means that it is possible they will be the biggest single party even if they poll relatively poorly. What they have to avoid is falling to third in share of the popular vote; the Lib Dems would find it very difficult to enter into a coalition with Labour in those circumstances, paving the way for a Lib-Con pact, or, more likely, a minority Conservative administration. To this end Labour are trying to get their core support to turn out by raising the spectre of a return to the dark days of Thatcherism.

This might just work. No one who lived through the early 80’s in a working-class community will have forgotten the pain of those grim times, and hatred for the Tories still runs deep. The prospect of another Tory government, especially one headed by an obvious class enemy like Cameron, may be enough to motivate traditional Labour supporters to overlook recent history and vote for Brown.

So it’s still all to play for. I don’t want to make any guess about the outcome just yet, but I will put my prediction on the record sometime before polling day.

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