Election 2015

Is this campaign duller than usual? If so why?

This was meant to be the most exciting election in British history. The first in living memory where no-one dared to predict the outcome. That still remains the case, so why are some complaining about the campaign being dull?


Boredom through the ages

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You think this is boring? Some would argue that it doesn't hold a candle to the 2001 election, despite John Prescott's best efforts to enliven proceedings by punching a voter.

The Daily Mirror tried to capture the mood of the electorate on its front page, shortly before polling day, with a picture of the party leaders apparently asleep, with the headline: "PS: Exciting isn't it?"

Even in 2005, with debate raging about the Iraq War, there were complaints about how boring and stage-managed the whole thing was.

Going further back in time, the 1955 election was, by all accounts, another classic for connoisseurs of watching paint dry.

But all of these contests were relatively predictable and that's one thing this election isn't. So what else is going on?


Avoiding the public

The leaders of the big Westminster parties seem to be going to greater lengths than ever before to avoid meeting actual voters at this election.

They don't want to risk a "Gillian Duffy" moment.

Jonny Dymond, the BBC's Conservative campaign correspondent, explains: "Because you don't want that narrative broken, and you certainly don't want to squander the advantage, you do everything you can to protect your man - because you don't look prime ministerial arguing with a weeping mother.

"This is fine and entirely logical. But the product is this shiny, artificial, horribly boring campaign which only comes even vaguely alight when the unruly mob that is the electorate intrudes upon it."

Conservative strategists are said to believe this election could be a re-run of 1992, when a late swing to their party handed an unexpected victory to John Major. But the Tories deployed a move in that campaign that we haven't seen so far in this one.

Labour leader Neil Kinnock was the frontrunner so his press handlers were keeping him on a tight leash to avoid any unforced errors.

"Image is all: Kinnock's minders may be paranoid at times but they know that one gaffe could blow everything," wrote Blake Morrison in The Independent.

Mr Kinnock probably did more walkabouts than today's leaders, who are ferried from one tightly-controlled photo opportunity with party supporters to the next, only glimpsing the people they hope to govern through the tinted glass of their battle bus windows.

But in 1992, John Major got out his soap box and loud hailer. On one occasion, in Cheltenham, he took on a crowd of angry protesters, telling them: "No mob ever taking to the streets is going to stop us coming out and talking to the ordinary decent people of this country."


Is the media to blame?

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Media captionThe BBC's Arif Ansari goes behind the scenes on the Lib Dem campaign trail

Today's party leaders only seem to meet ordinary voters in the carefully-controlled atmosphere of a workplace or a TV studio, where hecklers and troublemakers can be kept under control.

Confrontations with the public are so rare that when they happen it becomes the story, overshadowing whatever the politician was trying to say. So the control exerted by the parties becomes tighter still.

As the BBC's Arif Ansari revealed in his report from the Lib Dem campaign trail, this is a far more stage-managed campaign than in 2010.

Advance teams visit each campaign stop to ensure the public are kept at a safe distance and the leader only meets carefully-selected individuals. All the big parties do this.

Lib Dem campaign manager Don Foster insisted that Mr Clegg was meeting the public but, he added, "having said that I suspect if you talk to the security team around Nick Clegg, they would simply ban him from doing it".

Somebody else with security headaches is Nigel Farage, who has had a more low-key campaign than many expected. The UKIP leader has hired his own security staff to protect him from the protesters who are increasingly disrupting his public appearances. But he does not get the same level of police protection as the bigger party leaders.

Lower profile party leaders, such as the Green Party's Natalie Bennett, have an easier time. She has been spotted handing leaflets to passers-by outside her local Co-op in north London, apparently unrecognised.


Avoiding the grand gesture

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Modern election campaigns are all cosy chats in coffee shops and leaders showing us round their kitchens. There is precious little drama.

Mass rallies are a thing of the past - thanks largely to a single event on the eve of the 1992 election.

Neil Kinnock's Sheffield Rally, when the Labour Party filled an arena with 10,000 fervent supporters for an orgy of backslapping and premature celebration, has gone down as one of the biggest campaigning disasters in history.

Mr Kinnock arrived by helicopter and was introduced to the stage as the "next prime minister" when, suddenly overcome by emotion, he launched into what sounded like an impression of an American soul singer or possibly Mick Jagger: "We're awright! We're awight!"

Modern history lecturer Martin Farr recently showed a clip of the Sheffield Rally to his students.

"They were shocked by the bombast and triumphalism of it," he says. The memory of that occasion lives on now - with rivals trying to liken to it the commissioning of an 8ft piece of stone with Labour's pledges carved into it.


Does it come from America?

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Media captionEd Miliband meeting supporters in north London

Maybe we can live without the rallies, but something else is not quite right about this campaign, argues Dr Farr, of Newcastle University.

"There is no structure, it has been rather formless," he says.

"In the past there would be a structure to the day. The leaders would face an interrogation from the media at the morning press conferences. They are trying to avoid personal scrutiny,"

There have been exceptions - the Jeremy Paxman leader interviews, the Question Time leaders special - says Dr Farr but apart from Nicola Sturgeon, who has been touring Scotland "like a rock star", the leaders have restricted themselves to "very anodyne, very boring" events where they are unlikely to face tough questions from journalists or the public.

Part of this might be down to the influence of the American advisers hired at great expense by Labour and the Conservatives.

"The campaigns are becoming more like those in America, where the leaders don't meet the public," says Dr Farr.


Social media and The Fear

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Image caption Ballot Monkeys satirises the fear-driven election campaign

The sheer volume of material generated by election campaigns has also changed things, with the ceaseless torrent of updates on social media making it more difficult to focus on the bigger picture.

"When election news was rationed it mattered more because it was a scarcer commodity. There is a sense that the embarrassment of riches is devaluing the currency of political reporting," says Dr Farr.

The highly localised nature of campaigning has also changed the campaign: "Elections are now a series of by-elections."

Andy Hamilton, co-writer of Channel 4's Ballot Monkeys, a satire on life aboard the leaders' battle buses, thinks social media has created an "atmosphere of extreme caution and fear" because "now there is no such thing as a nobody".

"Some obscure junior figure in the party, who says the wrong thing on Twitter suddenly becomes a huge story," he told BBC One's This Week.


It's not too late

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Media captionBBC's Carole Walker explains what happens on a Conservative campaign stop

With polling day approaching fast, the leaders of the two biggest parties have started to venture out of their comfort zones in an effort to break the deadlock.

A "pumped up" David Cameron has ramped up the rhetoric and indulged in some mild swearing to demonstrate that he is up for the fight.

Ed Miliband has risked mockery by agreeing to be interviewed by Russell Brand.

The final few days before polling day could see more of this. In 2010, Mr Cameron embarked on a manic 24-hour tour of the country on the eve of polling day.


Maybe the action will really begin on 8 May?

One of the biggest factors sucking the life out of this campaign has been the debate about what will happen after the polls close.

If, as seems likely, there will be another hung parliament, this might yet turn out to be one of the most exciting post-elections ever.

And who knows there could even be the prospect of another one to come later this year. Now that would be fun...