David Cameron is facing the most important fortnight of his political life.
The PM has just two weeks to convince voters they must back him or be landed with a Labour-led government propped up by the Scots’ Nationalists.
The polls have effectively not moved since the campaign began at Easter.
At the end of the third week of the General Election campaign, the numbers suggest the Conservatives winning the battle but losing the war.
They predict the Tories will command the most seats but Mr Cameron will be unable to form a majority with the Liberal Democrats and others – and that inevitably, Ed Miliband will become Britain’s 74th Prime Minister.
The Tories have thrown the kitchen sink at the electorate. The right-to-buy, inheritance tax giveaways, matching Simon Stevens’ demand on NHS spending, have all been pledged.
Underpinning all this has been their economic record.
Yet the national share of vote predicted in poll after poll has stubbornly failed to shift.
On the Labour side, Mr Miliband and his communications team have played a blinder.
His appearances have been strictly controlled. He’s been repeatedly seen at the lectern, making speech after speech to well-chosen audiences.
There’s been no unscripted, unplanned activity.
No room to put a foot wrong, and as a result, no accidents have happened.
Labour have their own headaches.
Scotland looks almost certain to be a bloodbath for Mr Miliband’s MPs. Even leader Jim Murphy could lose his seat in the carnage.
There is an understandable frustration in Conservative HQ that the long-anticipated surge for the incumbent has failed to materialise.
Yet there is a hope emerging in Tory circles.
The chances of a Labour-SNP informal government are now – suddenly and without warning – gripping the media. It’s hard for Labour to get heard. Indeed, Mr Miliband has spent the week being cross-examined on this which is far from his winning ground.
Many in England are aghast about the perceived “fairness” of such a result.
Nicola Sturgeon is not standing as a Westminster MP, yet has stated publicly she would lead SNP policy negotiations with Mr Miliband which would dictate how English people were ruled.
Others worry about how Labour and the Nats could work together as they gear up for crucial 2016 Holyrood elections.
In these, the SNP would be determined to keep their momentum going so they could realise their dream of a second referendum on breaking up the United Kingdom.
It’s hard for many to see how the two parties could govern successfully in Westminster whilst fighting a bruising and bloody battle north of the Border.
It’s too soon to say whether or not this issue will have an impact on the polls. Many believe it’s too tight to call. Others point to “shy” Conservatives who don’t want to tell the pollsters how they will vote.
Mr Cameron, George Osborne, William Hague and Theresa May have been camped out in the West Country for weeks. They believe there is a great opportunity to take more than 10 seats from the LibDems here.
Optimists in the blue corner privately believe Mr Cameron will do enough to win between 295 and 300 seats. Combined with a depleted LibDem outfit, it would probably be enough to hand the Premier a fresh mandate.
But there will have to be a late swing to the Tory cause if this is to take place.
And those around the Prime Minister are braced for a two week slugfest to get to the finishing line, hoping that in the end, the British electorate will prefer Mr Cameron to Mr Miliband.
Private polling gives the Tories a strand of hope: when voters are forced to choose between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, they choose the Conservative leader by a factor of two to one.
STATE OF THE RACE
THE WEEK THAT WAS
High A number of positive polls, including a Comres poll suggesting UKIP are unlikely to win 10 safe Tory seats which were previously thought attainable and two national polls showing a 4 percentage point lead over Labour.
Low Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested the Conservatives are planning the “biggest cuts in the industrialised world”.
High In Labour’s NHS week, the party announced they would invest £150 million in cancer diagnostic equipment in England – and would recruit 1,000 more nurses into training this year as part of their aim to have 20,000 more nurses by 2020.
Low The latest constituency polling in Scotland from Lord Ashcroft revealed Labour could face a “wipe out” in Edinburgh.
High Following accusations that Grant Shapps, or someone close to him, had been editing Wikipedia pages of rivals, the Lib Dems achieved positive coverage for their press release satirising the Conservative Party Chairman.
Low A poll found that only 6% of final year university students would vote for the party – bad news for Nick Clegg who is defending the university seat of Sheffield Hallam.
High The SNP unveiled their manifesto this week which aimed to set out an “alternative to austerity” and position the party as a force for UK-wide change. Nicola Sturgeon promised voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that the SNP would use its influence after the general election “responsibly and constructively” to deliver “progressive change.”
Low A film was released this week of Alex Salmond joking that he is already writing the Labour Party’s first budget. The clip was used by the Conservative Party to highlight the influence the SNP would hold in the event of a minority Labour Government.
Richard Desmond, the owner of the Daily Express newspaper donated £1m to UKIP this week in addition to a £300k donation last year. The funds will greatly strengthen UKIP’s campaign, which is also being given favourable coverage by the Express UKIP has promised more money for Wales as it launched its Welsh manifesto this week.
The party has said that it would scrap the Treasury’s Barnett formula, claiming that it currently favours Scotland. Instead UKIP would give Wales its EU regional grant cash in full.
Leaders of the six main political parties in Wales participated in a debate on Wednesday night, televised on ITV Cymru Wales. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said her party wanted to end the “obsession” with cutting services in Wales and pledged to bring the deficit down over time.
Leanne Wood told the Sunday Politics that Plaid Cymru would be prepared to work with Labour in the event of a hung Parliament but would not offer “unconditional support.” She said she would look to secure the best possible package of measures for Wales. Earlier this week, Ed Miliband ruled out a formal coalition with Plaid but left open the option of a supply and confidence arrangement.
Green Party Leader, Natalie Bennett claimed on Wednesday that she would turn down the role of Environment Secretary if it were offered to her as part of a post-election coalition, insisting that her party can better achieve its goals in opposition. A Green Party candidate has been criticised for proposing that swings be installed at bus stops instead of benches. Tina Rothery, who is standing against George Osborne in Tatton, said the idea is backed up by studies that found they would be “playful and fun.”
THE DIGITAL ELECTION
This week we are looking at Twitter activity for parties other than Labour or Conservative. With over 80,000 mentions, the SNP leads. UKIP are in second place with almost 60,000, but the Greens, Plaid Cymru, and – most notably – the Lib Dems are well off the pace.
The SNP’s lead is unsurprising given the media discussion of a potential Labour – SNP coalition this week. However, when we examined who the most influential Twitter accounts were talking about, a different pattern emerged.
The chart below shows the comparative levels of positive or neutral conversation from national media outlets or journalists in the top 40 most influential Twitter accounts over the last week.
The Greens and the Lib Dems are jointly in the lead, with fourteen influential media accounts tweeting something positive or neutral about them. The SNP trail, with only 9 accounts.
Indeed, most of the top national media outlet/journalist accounts have tweeted negatively about the SNP this week, reporting Conservative attack lines as the basis of their tweets. They have also been negative about UKIP.
The data emphasises the importance of assessing not merely how much conversation is occurring around a brand, but also who is discussing it and how. While the SNP are winning in terms of volume of Twitter conversation, the sentiment around their brand from the online influencers who matter is mixed.
BEST OF THE PRESS
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The Tories pay a high price for their low reputation
The Triumph of Nicola Sturgeon
No wonder the Tories are panicking – David Cameron can’t win the election
Labour and the Tories are destined to fail unless they transform themselves completely
Politics will be poorer if Clegg is kicked out
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