This is where the shooting starts

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The Independent Online

As the nation's decision begins to harden into a definite choice, we devote our election coverage to the hidden issues of the campaign. Our opinion poll today suggests that 76 per cent of voters have made up their minds, up from 69 per cent at the start of the campaign. But that still leaves nearly one quarter of voters who say they "may well" change their minds before polling day.

As the nation's decision begins to harden into a definite choice, we devote our election coverage to the hidden issues of the campaign. Our opinion poll today suggests that 76 per cent of voters have made up their minds, up from 69 per cent at the start of the campaign. But that still leaves nearly one quarter of voters who say they "may well" change their minds before polling day.

By common consent, this has been a dull election campaign. Not as dull as 2001, but possibly the second least interesting since 1935. It need not have been so. It is not as if there are no momentous issues upon which the people of this country should be called to decide. But the political class has conspired both by accident and design to suppress debate and restrict the choices available.

The most obvious hidden issue is that of the Iraq war. The Prime Minister will say with theatrical weariness that the decision to join the American invasion two years ago has been endlessly discussed. So it has, but the people have not yet spoken on the subject, and there was always going to be a problem with the issue at an election, because of the official opposition's support for the war. That has put pressure on Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who has been criticised for failing to make enough of the case against the war. As we report today, Mr Kennedy intends to make the most of Iraq in a speech tomorrow and over the remaining few days. That may be an astute tactical judgement, in order to avoid falling into the hole occupied by Michael Howard of being a single-issue party. Iraq has in any case become more of an election issue in the past few days, partly because of the Prime Minister's surprising but ambiguous admission to Jeremy Paxman that the Government had "disclosed" David Kelly's name to journalists.

The second big issue of the hidden campaign has been global warming. Despite the Prime Minister's worthy words last year, that climate change was "probably the most important issue that we face as a global community", no party is putting forward policies that measure up to that challenge. Not the Liberal Democrats, nor even the Green Party, with its unrealistic ambition to return to what some will deride as "a better Middle Ages". More nuclear energy is a serious option, even if we do not support it, but debate about it has been suppressed and postponed by Mr Blair. That is not surprising, even if it hardly shows the quality of leadership to which the Prime Minister often pretends. But perhaps the more dismal failing is that of the opposition parties, because elections are opportunities for them to present an alternative to the policies of the incumbent. Michael Howard can be - and is being - criticised for many things, including his unproductive and mean-spirited opposition to immigration. But his larger failure has been his inability to hold the Government to account over either Iraq or the environment.

Today, The Independent on Sunday reports the voices of groups of voters - "school-gate mums", environmentalists, Islingtonites, Muslims - and exposes the gulf between their concerns and the offerings of the politicians. Let us hope that the priorities of the campaign shift in the final 11 days to give the people of Britain some chance to feel that the choices they are asked to make on 5 May have some bearing on the issues that really matter.

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