Pundits were calling the 2010 election the first “social media election” – and while they’re doing that again this time, as the establishment parties hurl hundreds of thousands of pounds at Facebook and Twitter – the truth is that this will go down as the dirtiest general election campaign, potentially in British history.
Both Labour and the Conservative parties have drafted in expensive, American-style attack campaign strategists, and of course Mr Cameron also has the benefit of of Mr Lynton Crosby of Australia; although a fat lot of good it did them in Rochester and Strood last year.
What this means, in practical terms, is that our election campaigns, traditionally marked by playful newspaper headlines and upbeat party political broadcasts, will more likely becoming a US “tear chunks out of one another” affair. It’s a great shame, and I have personally said that I want to have no part of this. But we’ve seen it already, not just aimed at me, or Ukip, but both Labour and the Conservatives are going full pelt.
The Conservatives, in government, have quietly pushed through a rise in campaign expenditure limits – which is good news for them because their coffers have been filled by big business, pro-EU, interest groups. Labour will, as it has always done – rack up the debts for this election campaign while remaining heavily reliant on trade unions funding to get them by.
We can see the effects of it already. Expensive video campaigns, artificial social media statistics, well-staffed attack units within each of the parties’ headquarters, and more. But Ukip, as a party that doesn’t have huge resources, and one that doesn’t believe in negativity in our political sphere, will not go down this route.
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
OK, so you might see the odd, humourous YouTube video lampooning the Tory chairman for his latest attempt to get one over on us – such as the drastically mishandled defection last weekend. But for the most part, I think our politics deserves better than this. I don’t want to see our airwaves flooded with negative adverts about people’s personal lives, or problems they had in their distant past, or leaflets that tell blatant lies.
Instead, I feel that British politics should set a higher bar. In the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, I think we need to adopt a policy of being above nastiness or the proliferation of deceitful election material.
Personally, I’d like to see the Electoral Commission being a bit more toothy when it comes to this stuff, because even though Ukip announced a costed way of delivering £3bn more per year to the NHS, Labour were busy flooding people’s postboxes with a claim that I wanted a US-style insurance system in the UK. I have never said that. And yet they manage to get away with misinterpreting what was effectively me praising some elements of the French healthcare system. Quelle horreur!
Unsurprisingly, Labour’s own political adverts now contain Americanised spelling, and come with a fundamental misunderstanding of what the British electorate expect from their representatives; decency, truth-telling, and an end to the days of Alastair Campbell-type spin. Not a furtherance of it. That’s why at this general election, the only thing I’ll be “weaponising” – as Mr Miliband once remarked about his use of the NHS as a political football – is the truth.
It is the truth that Ukip will attempt to project at every juncture. And if you catch me intentionally doing anything other than that; well then don’t vote for us, because I cannot stand how gutter-like our politics has become, and I do not wish to play any part in it.
The ban on smoking goes too far
Dry January is coming to an end – finally! While I think it’s probably worthwhile for people to do, I have to say I haven’t been sleeping any better, nor do I feel any better! That might be due to the hectic schedule I’ve had this side of the New Year, but if I can be perfectly honest with you, I can’t wait for a pint of bitter in my local. I only hope the weather holds up so that a smoker like me doesn’t have to stand outside in the snow between drinks.
One of our 100 Reasons to Vote Ukip, which was released earlier this week to mark 100 days before the election, stated that we are anti-plain packaging for cigarettes, and would amend the smoking ban to allow restaurants, bars, and pubs to establish a well-ventilated, indoor smoking room.
I’ve received a fair amount of correspondence on the subject in the past week – some for, some against – but I think we should be very clear about this. If there is a privately owned or rented commercial property, I don’t think it is necessarily the role of the state to tell people what they can or can’t do inside, within reasonable limits. I think an outright smoking ban is unreasonable – and if proprietors want to offer their customers a choice, without getting in the way of non-smokers, then I don’t see a particular problem. We’re grown-ups after all, aren’t we?