UK Politics

Little public appetite for electoral fray

David Miliband and David Cameron
Image caption Campaigning hard - but is anybody listening?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary a zombie is, among other things, a re-animated corpse capable of feeding on human flesh.

Having had a sandwich lunch very recently with a couple of MPs I know, I am happy to report that description is a little exaggerated when it comes to the mother of Parliaments.

That said, no-one would describe the legislative programme of the coalition government as exactly packed, leaving plenty of time to focus on yes, you guessed it, the forthcoming election on 7 May.

It is common wisdom among the politicians and in the media that this is the most fascinating election since, well, whenever.

Don't pundits always claim this about most elections in most countries?

In one sense - and perhaps the most important sense - it is definitely true; namely that it's impossible to predict the outcome.

But in another sense it is all proving rather predictable.

The two biggest parties, the Conservatives and Labour, are fighting the same kind of campaign they fought as far back as 1992.

The Conservatives, as then, are warning that every Labour government ends in economic chaos.

And Labour, as then, is saying the Conservatives are a party of the rich that can't be trusted with public services. Pretty negative as well as predictable.

But there is something that is interesting and very different to the 1990s - and what will make 2015 a real brainteaser.

British politics is no longer a straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour.

Multi-party election

A quick glance at the most recent opinion polls suggests that even between them the two big parties barely get more than 60% support.

Compare that with the general election of 1951 when 96% of the electorate either voted Conservative or Labour. Wouldn't Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband love that?

It is the rise of UKIP, the Scottish National Party, the Greens and what happens to the votes of the unpopular Liberal Democrats that make this such a difficult election to call.

And it is why many commentators are predicting another coalition after May or even a period of political instability and a further election.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves - the campaign has only just begun and doesn't actually start officially under British electoral law until 31 March.

One can't help fearing though, based on what's happened so far, that the campaign will be a bad-tempered affair played out in front of one of the most sceptical and anti-politics electorates in the Western world.

All the evidence suggests the British voters are still sore after the MPs' expenses scandal of 2009 and the financial crash just before that and tend to view all mainstream politicians as much of a muchness - or as UKIP calls them, the LibLabCon.

And in case you thought this anti-politics sentiment is confined to Britain, and this will be familiar to anyone listening or viewing any of the BBC's Democracy Day coverage this week, this sense of a gap between the politicians and the people and a lack of big ideas is a feeling widespread in Europe.

It is put into sharp context by interesting research from the millionaire, one-time deputy chairman of the Conservative Party turned polling specialist Lord Ashcroft.

Despite all the frantic campaigning activity of the parties since the new year, his polling suggests half the electorate either haven't noticed or don't care.

Well, it is early days.