I don’t like the current tone of the campaign. I don’t like electioneering that bases itself on personal attacks. I respect Charles Kennedy no end for refusing to join in with Michael Howard in calling Blair a liar, even though it could well have proven popular with some of the LibDems’ more rabid supporters. If you want to draw attention to the way in which Blair may or may not have manipulated process, the increasing secrecy with which he makes decisions, or specific policy areas on which he has failed in the last parliament or on which he cannot hope to deliver in the next, fine. But, please. Don’t reduce a general election campaign to name-calling. [Me, April 28th, 2005]
I’ve been re-reading items I wrote for another place five years ago. The 2005 election was a curious one – the hype going into it was of a Tory fightback. We got that, of course, but not by much. That talk was fuelled by real antipathy for Blair – the strength of which is easy now to forget, in these days of disillusionment with Brown – and the deep scar across the body politic which was the Iraq war. Perhaps consequently, I wrote of the 2005 election campaign as a scrappy, nasty affair, in which sitting Prime Ministers were called liars, Opposition leaders used disgraceful language when discussing immigration, and Charles Kennedy was a reasonable but often unheeded voice.
What a difference a parliament makes. For all that a resurgent Tory party depresses me, this campaign has actually – beyond all expectations – been a more positive affair. Yes, we’ve had the usual nonsense – no major party standing up for immigrants, scraps about leaflets and smears, and most glaringly a lack of detail from all questions about the cuts which will be made to public spending – but, by the same token, perhaps because, thanks to Nick Clegg, this campaign made the election so close, we have had actual debate. Dog whistles have been at a minimum – though when he was on the ropes Cameron resorted to them a little – and, though the left remains split, it is not so viscerally as before.
I remain ambivalent about the campaign’s most obvious innovation – the TV debate. But, talking to some non-voters the other day, each admitted that they were more likely to vote as a result of them. That, after all, is what it’s all about – and 2005’s turnout was only a little over 60%. If the 2010 campaign increases that desultory number, as it seems likely to do, then – whatever the outcome – it has achieved something positive.