Election 2010: Two months to go?

By Alex Stevenson

Conservative leafleting is “bombarding” marginal constituencies up and down the country, with two months to go before the likely date of the general election.

Labour campaigners in marginals up and down the country have confirmed to politics.co.uk they are struggling to match the sheer volume of literature being pushed through floating voters by Tory activists.

It follows a week of controversy over Michael Ashcroft’s targeted funding for campaigns in the swing seats likely to determine the outcome of the election.

“We are up against a huge amount of money being poured into the seat by the Conservatives,” Labour’s candidate in Barrow-in-Furness John Woodcock said.

“This is being seen right across the country – there are people who are being bombarded with glossy material that’s got the candidate on it, and also stuff that clearly comes from Conservative head office which doesn’t mention the seat but is Tory material.

“Posters are going up all over town. They feel they can try and just win people over by flooding the campaign with money.”

When confronted with these revelations a Conservative party spokesman suggested that campaigning two months before an election was not necessarily unusual.

Labour remain upbeat despite the concerted Tory efforts in swing seats.

“We’re the underdogs but we’re fighting back,” a north-west spokesman said, in comments backed by a south-east spokeswoman.

“They are fighting really hard, no one takes any places for granted,” she reported. “They’re out every single day knocking on doors.”

The governing party have deployed ministers campaigning at the weekends, like Jack Straw, Andy Burnham and the Eagle sisters in the north-west.

And “tweet-ups”, like the one attended in February by John Prescott at Manchester town hall, are seeing Labour using the online community to boost electioneering efforts.

The last month has seen Labour’s deficit in the polls narrow to around six per cent. In the marginals where Labour had an advantage of between six and 14% in 2005 the Tory advantage has reduced to just two points, according to a YouGov poll.

“What we’re finding on the doorstep agrees with the much improved poll rating,” Labour’s candidate in the West Midlands marginal of Nuneaton, Jayne Innes, said.

“We started picking it up in the ten days before that. We noticed something tipped. Things are looking quite good.”

Albert Owen, the MP for Ynys Mon who faces a substantial challenge from the local Plaid Cymru candidate, remained similarly upbeat.

“The last six or seven weeks have been good,” he said. “If I were my opponents I’d be worried. They’re not making headway.”

While Labour activists claim many voters are cynical about Conservative plans for the economy, opposition campaigners are being buoyed by public attitudes towards the recession as polling day approaches.

“We’re finding a lot of disillusionment with the Lab government,” Mr Woodcock’s challenger in Barrow, John Gough, said.

“They had so much they could have done in the 13 years.”

Overall morale within the Tory party appears high despite the struggling poll ratings. “All the hard work over the past couple of years is paying off,” a spokesperson said. “It’s a crucial time to keep up that momentum.”

There are hints that, despite the heavy Tory leafleting, the public mood may not be as won over by David Cameron’s advances as the opposition would like.

Maggie Throup, who is standing for the Conservatives against Liberal Democrat Lorely Burt in the super-marginal Solihull seat, believes the only real test will come on polling day.

“What matters is what people are saying to me on the doorstep,” she said, before adding: “That’s going in the right direction, but there’s a lot of doors to knock on, a lot of people to meet.”

A Tory party spokesperson told politics.co.uk: The general feeling on the ground is all the seats that matter are working really hard. All the hard work over the last couple of years is paying off… and all the key seats are buoyed by the reception they’re having. That matters more to them than the national poll.”

Aside from the Labour-Conservative struggle, the biggest development comes today with the launch of the Scottish National party’s (SNP) general election campaign.

Polls over the last year have favoured the nationalists but a YouGov poll published last weekend put Scottish Labour firmly in the lead.

“The Labour/Tory fight is a phoney war,” campaign coordinator Stewart Hosie told politics.co.uk.

“Scots know that both parties would cut Scotland’s budget and weaken the ability of the Scottish economy to recover from the deepest recession. Only the SNP is determined to ensure that economic recovery is sustained and not strangled by the £800 million cut to the Scottish budget announced by Labour in London.”

With two months to go the Liberal Democrats appear to face more pressure from the Tories than from Labour, with constituencies like Solihull seeing them facing great pressure.

In Somerton and Frome, where the party’s Commons spokesman David Heath faces a tough fight to hold on to his slim majority against Tory candidate Annunziata Rees-Mogg, Conservative leafleting also appears to be having an impact.

Many ‘natural’ Tory-backers have pledged to support Mr Heath, but many of them are simply saying ‘I just want a Tory government’, one insider admitted.

Gordon Brown is expected to call the election for May 6th, two months from today. After some last-minute speculation that the polling day might be moved forward politicians from all parties are working towards the date originally predicted by politics.co.uk on November 6th last year.

Under a putative timetable proposed by shadow leader of the House Sir George Young last month, the prime minister will call the election on March 29th, the House will adjourn on April 1st and parliament will be dissolved on April 12th.

Swearing-in of new MPs would then commence on May 12th, Sir George predicted.