The high-decibel tussle between political spin and substance got off the firing line on Monday as Britain’s parliament was dissolved ahead of the 7 May elections widely seen as the most unpredictable one in living memory, with pundits forecasting another coalition.
Going by the daily cut and thrust of politics, Britain has been in election mode since 1 January, but the discourse got an edge on Monday with the formal election process set in motion with the dissolution of the House of Commons.
Election will be held to 650 seats in the House of Commons. In 2010, the Conservatives had won the largest number of seats – 306 – Labour won 258 and Liberal Democrats 57. The Conservatives and Lib Dems formed a coalition that lasted the full term, despite predictions to the contrary.
Prime Minister David Cameron travelled to Buckingham Palace for his last appointment with Queen Elizabeth before the elections. Print, airwaves and online space was flooded with rival political claims amidst indications of continuing apathy towards politics in vast sections of the public.
Rival parties have imported spin doctors who were part of winning campaigns in recent years in the United States and Australia. The spin versus substance clash is as much about party policies as about party leaders, particularly Cameron (Conservative) and Ed Miliband (Labour).
The battle lines are clearly drawn: The Conservatives have been focusing relentlessly on the economy and leadership, while Labour is concentrating on the future of the National Health Service and the cost of living.
The Liberal Democrats are promising to cut public spending less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour. The upstart UK Independence Party have been focusing on immigration and proposing to introduce an Australian-style points system.
Latest opinion polls refused to budge from the neck-and-neck race between the Conservative and Labour parties, with either not in a position to win a majority. Pundits have been busy setting out different scenarios of coalition.
The most likely ones are two: a coalition between Labour and the resurgent Scottish National Party (SNP), or a repeat of Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition. Smaller parties like UK Independence Party and Green Party are wild cards.
The maverick London mayor, Boris Johnson, who is contesting the election, believes that a Labour-SNP coalition will mean the Scottish tail ‘wagging the English dog’. According to him, the Tory record on economic recovery during 2010-1015 will return the party to power.
The Cameron-led coalition has partly succeeded in meeting its promise on economic recovery, since the budget deficit has been reduced only by half since 2010. The promise was to eliminate it by the end of this parliament.