Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Behavioural politics, day 14 of 30

As the second week of the campaign draws to a close, it's becoming clear that (whatever the parties want to announce) the media's only interest is in the fights debates on Thursday evenings.

There's a small window for policy announcements today - about four days after the debates, the gossip has died down a little - but tomorrow it will pick up again in advance of Thursday's foreign policy debate.

So what are the parties doing to take advantage?

Not much - most of the discussions are meta-conversations about whether a vote for the Lib Dems will let David Cameron in, or let Gordon Brown in, or if a hung parliament will be good for the Ulster Unionists or bad for the bond market.

But if we can ignore that, there a few other issues showing through the fog:

  • A Labour candidate in Birmingham has created a leaflet claiming that the Liberal Democrats want to give paedophiles the vote. A risky tactic - it may well work emotionally, pushing a combination of buttons to do with fear, fairness and outrage, but it may also confirm the perception that Labour is doing old-style politics as usual.
  • Nick Clegg has announced £3 billion of spending on green jobs. Under normal circumstances this would be a good tactic, because those who are in favour of greenness will find it quite salient while those who don't care will not feel the pain. But in this campaign, focused as closely as it is on fiscal responsibility, any spending announcement is risky. This may be used against him in the remaining weeks.
  • Gordon Brown continues to look busy and prime ministerial, fighting the Icelandic ash cloud.
  • Criticism continues of David Cameron for his inconsistent campaign strategy - is it Big Society, attack Labour or attack the Liberal Democrats? It's hard to fight on three fronts: no matter what financial the resources the Conservatives have, the key resource of attention is limited and there isn't enough time left to successfully communicate three separate messages.

    The BBC's summary of the day proves this. It claims "David Cameron is concentrating on his Big Society idea" and then goes on to illustrate it with two quotes that have nothing to do with the Big Society - one attack on Labour and one tactical warning against the Lib Dems. There is a report of a Big Society speech but, to my mind, it's still much too abstract to sway many votes. He might manage to get the message across if he keeps at it for the next fortnight.
All parties suffer from a built-in disadvantage today: there's a much bigger story on the loose and only the most obvious bits of the political campaign will seep through to majority consciousness. This favours the Lib Dems because it reduces the rate of change: the longer they stay at the top of the polls, the more believable they become. If they can make it through the next debate without slipping back into third place, there should be enough momentum to see them through to May 6th. Therefore, despite their paedophile-voting, deficit-increasing policies, they get top ratings again today.

Ratings: Liberal Democrats 7/10, Labour 6/10, Conservatives 5/10.

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