Both fear and loathing – or at least reasonable dislike – are emotional drives which have featured prominently in the general election campaign. Especially in the last few days, Labour and the Conservatives have employed scare tactics to warn voters off voting for the Lib Dems. Fear of a hung parliament is squeezing the latter’s popularity; Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove equated voting for the third party to “succumbing to a sort of blind date politics”.
If it’s not fear of the uncertainty that a hung parliament would bring, it’s the loathing of the “old politics” that is influencing the electorate. As I have commented before on this blog, 13 years of the same government has made change the issue of this campaign. Initially the Tories thought they would be known as the bearers of change, but then the first TV debate graced our screens and ten million viewers were razzle-dazzled by Nick Clegg.
Clearly, conflicting forces are at work. The electorate may want a government that isn’t led by the much-maligned Brown or disingenuous Cameron, but they don’t necessarily want a chaotic hung parliament situation to unfold on 7 May, which would essentially see the Labservatives rule for another five years anyway. Plus our electoral system is so ill-equipped to deal with the current distribution of party support that even those planning to vote tactically are confused about what move they should make.
Combined, Clegg’s success in the first ever British leaders’ debates, the failure of Cameron to sell the New Conservatives to the public, and Labour’s waning spirit have really shaken up this election. Less Clegg airtime and a bit more fight from Labour could have seen them win a fourth term in office. One Guardian poll in particular shows that people still think Brown is the most capable leader, the best in a crisis and best at understanding world problems. It’s his prickly personality that’s the deal breaker – a character flaw that’s certainly been under the magnifying glass due to the TV debates. Conversely, a different Tory strategy which didn’t involve Cameron pandering shamelessly to the “plebs” probably would have yielded different poll results, even taking into account the Clegg factor – but of course, the debates haven’t done them any favours, either.
Polling day will be cloaked in uncertainty. With so many undecideds at this late stage of the game, no one is quite sure what election results will materialise. Will those riding the Lib Dem surge in popularity arrive at the polling station and suddenly revert back to being a Labour or Tory supporter? Will Labour supporters, about to cast their ballot, find that they cannot bring themselves to vote for the governing party in its current tired – if not exhausted – state? Will all the young people who’ve hastily registered in recent weeks swing the vote one way or another? For us first-time voters, it’s great to see big question marks looming over this election. It’s roughly 16 hours until I’ll be casting my vote, and the fact that at this time the result doesn’t seem pre-determined makes this an election to get excited about.