General election 2015: countdown to least predictable outcome for 70 years
The parties are planning their campaigns for next May but without knowing what the voters really think.
Driving through Trafalgar Square just before the 1979 general election, James Callaghan, the Labour prime minister, reflected to his aide Bernard Donoughue: “Sometimes it does not matter what you say or do, there is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves. I suspect there is now such a sea change, and it is for Mrs Thatcher.”
One year before the general election in May 2015, few outside the core of blind party loyalists would pretend British politics has reached such a settled state. There is no tide in the affairs of men, just eddies springing, swirling and dissipating. Britain may have an army of pollsters and, for the first time in its history, a fixed date for the general election, but the outcome is perhaps the least predictable of any in postwar history.
Political strategists are drafting and refining their campaign war books for the coming 12 months. Battle plans, ad agencies, grids and dividing lines are being prepared for the long and short campaigns and, for once, the strategists, even the coalition-seeking Liberal Democrats, can believe with reason this is not an act of futile vanity.
What happens between now and polling day matters. Events, dear boy (and girl), are there for the parties to shape and win. Yet on all sides there is a wariness about reading the public mood. The public’s evident disconnect with politicians is felt as much in the other direction. The politicians are grappling to gauge the public mood – the depth, permanence and source of the popular revolt reflected in the rise of Ukip is only a symptom of a wider malaise.