Mark Steel: Who's run off with the inheritance?

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Suddenly this election is hilarious. In David Cameron's broadcast he looked as if he was about to say: "Look, I mean it's NOT FAIR, I was MEANT to be Prime Minister and we were winning and having a baby and EVERYTHING and now you've RUINED it Clegg you beastly thing I HATE you," and start crying, while George Osborne handed him a hankie, then looked into the camera and said "NOW look what you've done. Vote Conservative on May 6th." When they can keep calm, the Tory argument against voting Lib Dem seems to be, "Look, you idiots, there's no point in letting him win, can't you see he can't win?"

Several Tories have sneered that as the polls changed after the TV debate, democracy has been reduced to a political Britain's Got Talent. So, for the next one, Cameron will come on with a dancing dog. And his first answer will be: "My vision for education is we need small government, and big society, but let me express that like this", and play a backing track of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top", while a Jack Russell jumps over an umbrella.

One Tory MP said on BBC news: "We should never have agreed to let Clegg have equal status in the debates". Quite right – he should only have been allowed to take part by carrying the drinks on a tray. Or by sitting at the edge with a lemonade, occasionally calling out, "Haven't you finished yet? How much longer, I'm bored".

Michael Portillo said the change in the polls was entirely down to Clegg looking into the camera during the debate. So if Lorraine Kelly off GMTV had taken part she'd have said, "Ooh my Lord the economy, my it's such a lot of money don't you think", but because she speaks into the camera she'd now be on course to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.

Some of them dismiss the idea that anything's changed at all. Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail derided the supposed increase in Lib Dem support as: "Broadcasters talking it up to build themselves an audience for the next programme". That's a conspiracy theory to impress the people who think 9/11 was organised by the CIA.

It's as if someone's swiped their inheritance. Maybe they'll insist on all the channels having a debate, in the hope that Clegg will be caught out on the Shopping Channel when someone asks: "If you proceed with your plan to abolish the bottom tax rate for those earning below £19,000 per year, that could be worth £95 per annum. So should that be spent on this pair of absolutely stunning diamante ear-rings reduced from £225 or this gorgeous set of crystal glasses, hand-made and simply delightful?" While the presenter shouts "Mr Clegg!".

Some Tories want to counter Clegg by yelling about immigration, and one Labour MP has issued a leaflet saying the Lib Dems plan to "give the vote to paedophiles". Because that's the perfect way to respond when people announce in their millions that they're sick of negative campaigning – you reply: "Yes all right, but that ponce will give the vote to paedophiles".

What the Labour and Tory arrogance ignores is that even if the swing in Clegg's favour is flimsy, as it's due to one TV appearance, much of the support for Brown or Cameron must have been even flimsier for it to be so easily prised away. For several years, and especially since the Iraq war, many Labour voters haven't really voted for "Labour" but for "Oh blimey, pwww, Labour I suppose".

At some level Labour seem to understand this, so in this campaign they've tried to be the people's anti-banker party, which might work if they were more honest and said: "Over the last 13 years we've thoroughly licked every wealthy banker's arse. And do you know we're worn out, so if we're elected we're going to have six months off before starting again! Vote Labour".

And if the Lib Dems win, nothing fundamental would change, but at least we'd have the novelty of having to work out why the Prime Minister is a tosspot rather than knowing it from the start.

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