Election 2010: Three months to go?

By Alex Stevenson

With just three months to go until the likely date of the general election the character of the coming campaign is becoming clearer and clearer.

Since the new year a serious of ministerial slips have revealed the expectation within government that Gordon Brown will go to the country on May 6th, the same day as local elections are held and the date which politics.co.uk had predicted since November 6th last year.

Under this scenario, shadow leader of the Commons Sir George Young suggested to Harriet Harman on Thursday, Mr Brown would call the election on March 29th and parliament would be dissolved on April 12th.

A general election would take place on May 6th and “some of us will return for swearing in on May 12th”, Sir George said.

“Would the right hon. and learned lady like to confirm or deny that?”

Ms Harman replied: “As for an election date, I shall not be announcing that as part of the business of the house.”

Just three months away from the general election the expenses scandal appears to retain much of its potency, as criminal prosecutions against three MPs and a peer get underway.

The impact of the furore appears to have diminished, however, with councillors telling politics.co.uk public anger is unlikely to have the same tangible impact as it did in last year’s local elections.

Party preparations

The polls in January have remained largely unmoved, with David Cameron maintaining a slender double-digit lead.

A recent poll by ComRes for the Independent put the Labour deficit at just seven points, however, setting up a scenario which would probably lead to a hung parliament.

All three main parties are intensifying their campaigns at local levels. Labour’s efforts in marginals where the Conservatives control the local council are proving especially powerful, as the national party in government seeks to point out what could happen if the Conservatives get in nationally.

Schools and learners minister Vernon Coaker, whose marginal Gedling constituency is controlled by Tory-run Nottinghamshire county council, told politics.co.uk: “You don’t have to wait for a general election to see what will happen in a Conservative government – you can see what’s happening locally.”

The party remains upbeat all over the country, however. A party spokesman said: “We’re really getting a feeling on the doorstep that Labour’s vote is coming back – the choice of who do I want in charge? We are as buoyant as we’ve been in a very long time.”

The Conservatives, whose enduring advantage in the polls means they have long welcomed the prospect of a general election, are finding themselves under pressure to perform as Mr Cameron struggles to secure an overall majority.

Bruce Laughton, Mr Coaker’s challenger in Gedling, said his team was “quietly confident” and praised Mr Cameron as a “true statesman”.

“He’s now perceived by many of the voters in Gedling as a potential prime minister,” he added. “You can pick that up now when you talk to people on the street.”

The Liberal Democrats are also hoping to make progress. Jim Clinkscales, who sits on Southend-on-Sea’s borough council, said his party were benefiting because of the “huge impact” of Treasury spokesman Vince Cable.

“I think the Tories are suffering. Certainly Labour are suffering. We don’t know – but we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” he said. “We intend to take a few lives.”