Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Election Fever, part 94...

Nick Clegg emailed me today. Well the address was from "LIBDEMLEADER-SUBS2010@emarketing...", but with the Leaders Debates starting tomorrow, appearance is everything. He's a very busy man.

Yesterday was the launch of the UKIP manifesto. Never knowingly intentionally hilarious, the basement venue meant the quad of joint leaders - for that is how it looks - squashed together like naughty schoolboys outside the head's office. I concede very well tanned, wrinkled schoolboys, although it has to be said their current down with the kids leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch closely resembles Monty Burns on ether...

It was "Honest Malcolm" who seemed to get the most laughs yesterday. He bumbled along with pretty heavy handed delivery of every over-rehearsed line - something about not wanting to order the octopus at a Brussels restaurant, or at least not to claim expenses for it - then tangled himself in knots over the policy on tactical voting.

In short, UKIP would prefer voters to choose the Tories, but not too many Tories, because that would cause a Conservative victory, thus causing the end of the nation as we know it. I assume, therefore, that m'Lord would prefer UKIP voters talk to each other by means of telepathy to ensure that, like Goldilocks, the number of votes given to each Conservative candidate is "just right".

Lord Malcolm of Used Cars then had a manifesto blank. On the proposed burqa ban, a journalist asked about the intention to extend the ban to private buildings. "We haven't said private buildings," protested Malcolm. "Yes we do, it's on page 15," whispered one of the joint leaders. "I will hand you over to our policy chief," blustered Lord Octopus.

It was this "policy chief" - Duncan, a normal name to offset his double barreled surname - who turned up on SKY News later in the evening to sink into a quicksand of interview failure.

"You say in the first line of your manifesto that, in year one, you will reduce public spending to 1997 levels...?" barked the interviewer
"Yes" answered Duncan
"Can you tell me what public spending levels were in 1997?"
"No".

There will be no UKIP hilarity tomorrow during the first ever Leaders Debate, live on ITV1. Despite the constraints strapped onto the debates by the 76-point rule book - which includes, bizarrely, one rule indicating exactly when the three men can shake hands - I remain optimistic that something good will come from this new curiosity to our election campaigns.

Lord knows this has been a pedestrian campaign so far.

"I'd rather watch paint dry," comments my mate on the prospect of watching tomorrow night. "No, actually, I'd even watch dry paint, just stare at the walls for an hour, to be honest..."

Nick Clegg, having successfully seen off a petulant Jeremy Paxman on Monday night, is in the strongest position. He needs to polish off a few soundbites, otherwise all is well. Gordon Brown has the most to lose, given how disastrous he is during live television, with his almost autistic preference for answering with pre-prepared lists of statistics.

David Cameron needs a good showing after a rather ho-hum reaction to the hard-backed "power to the people" manifesto on Tuesday. If he can avoid starting every sentence with the very Blairite "Look...", he could be onto something...

It's not looking good, though, this election. Still seems distant and abstract. It's missing a vital policy difference - National Insurance contributions just ain't snappy enough - or an incident around which the campaign can turn. Unlike American elections, from which the Leaders Debates have been adopted, an election over here happens in shorter, sharper bursts. We've just been lacking the burst so far...

Is it a measure of the election - or your humble Doktorb - that the excitement could come when the 90 minute interview starts tomorrow night ?