Mike Smithson almost nailed it this week with a simple question: Is speed of rebuttal going to be decisive? The internet makes campaigning more febrile than ever, that much is certain; but what does Smithson mean by ‘decisive’? The week has seen two battles in which blows have been traded so rapidly that the main news bulletins have struggled to keep up: the first, which revolved around Labour and Tory plans for National Insurance, and whether business was right or not to back the latter, resembled a rapid game of Stop The Bus; the second, in which Labour said David Cameron was like Gene Hunt, and Cameron said thank you, probably disappeared under the radar altogether. Most people are not plugged in to the constant rebuttal feed; by the time they get their news at 6pm or 10pm, the story has gone through so many iterations that its muddled.
These are issues the parties will need to finesse if either of them are to win a decisive victory on any given topic. It has been a bad week for Labour, who are back down to a double digit deficit, but stories like today’s headline Observer piece will still have traction, if they can be given room to breathe. The Tories have been successful not just at defensive stifling, however, but offensive policy announcement. In an interview in today’s Telegraph, William Hague promises new cancer drugs and an opt-out from the European Public Prosecutor programme, both of which are just the right side of emotive and offer the much longed for clear blue water at relatively little actual cost. Labour need to match this sort of effort, whilst underlining their essential superficiality; calling Sir Stuart Rose deluded doesn’t quite cut it.