In the battle for the ’agenda’ the Conservatives had two
clear chances to score. On Wednesday the main news story could
have been ’Unemployment down again’ and on Thursday ’Inflation
Instead, Labour dominated the airwaves with a row about the date
on which Parliament was to be prorogued and the political mood
music was all about Tory sleaze.
But perhaps the most significant Tory misjudgement concerns the
much heralded Blair/Major TV debate. Research in the USA
indicates that when two political candidates agree to debate on
TV the polls tend to ’freeze’ until the debate is broadcast. It
is as if the voters were suspending their judgment until they see
the two protagonists head-to-head.
The perceived wisdom is that the candidate running behind in the
polls should try to get the debate aired as quickly as possible,
but Major seems perfectly happy to allow discussions over the
format to drift on and the debate itself to take place a week or
two before polling day.
If that happens Labour is likely to remain 20 points ahead for at
least another month.
Verdict: Week one to Labour
On the face of it, the campaign started well for Labour. They
drowned out two key examples of outstanding economic performance
The Tories suffered incumbent Government syndrome again, and the
awkwardness of the timetable gave Labour a propaganda coup.
However, through it all the personal John Major factor seemed to
shine out. He made it presidential by stepping out alone into
Downing Street to announce the election date. It was reminiscent
of ’put up or shut up’ at the time of the leadership contest.
Then he was off to Luton with the soapbox on which he raised his
game to victory in 1992. That was a good start. The straight and
honest John Major - now cast as the underdog - signalled his
intent to fight on the streets. If Labour overdoes the attack on
’honest John’ it will backfire.
Verdict: Week one to Labour by a whisker
Sun, sleaze and soapboxes have been the flavour of the week. It
was the Sun wot spun it at the beginning of the campaign with
their support for Labour. If I were part of the Labour team I
would have preferred the Sun to act after Easter. This will be a
long campaign and the Sun’s declaration is a great story which
would have boosted the campaign at a later stage.
The sleaze story is bad news for the Tories and hats off to the
Lib Dems for first whipping up the storm in Prime Minister’s
Question Time. However a word of warning on the sleaze angle. If
enough newspapers overdo it then I believe the general public
will get bored.
The Conservatives have put forward a powerful message as a result
of kicking off the TV debate. The debate puts across a powerful
message about the election being a two horse race. This can only
do damage for Lib Dems in seats where they are challenging the
Verdict: Winners of the week are the media - they’ve managed to
write about themselves again. Losers are, as ever, the