UK Politics

Election countdown: 99 weeks to go

David Cameron, with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg behind, at the State Opening of Parliament

There is now less than 100 weeks to go until the scheduled date of the next UK general election. Here's the state of the race.

The story so far:

David Cameron's Conservatives went into coalition with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats after the 2010 general election. Ed Miliband replaced Gordon Brown as Labour leader a few months later. The coalition's main priority has been the economy and cutting the UK's deficit. It has hailed progress in getting Britain "back in shape", but Labour says the coalition has been cutting "too far too fast". Meanwhile a new electoral force has emerged in the shape of the UK Independence Party...

The state of the polls

Stat of the week

7 - the number of years of austerity facing the UK, according to two leading think tanks. That takes us through to the 2020 general election...

The campaign

A big, defining week for Labour, as the two Eds, Miliband and Balls, tore up their party's historic commitment to universal benefits and said they would stick to coalition spending plans in the first year of a Labour government.

The Observer's political editor Andrew Rawnsley said it represented the "first painful steps on a long and hard road" back to power for Labour.

But James Forsyth, writing in the Mail on Sunday, argued "Labour's attempt to show they are a party that can be trusted with the economy is hugely undermined by the leadership's insistence that they did not spend too much before the crash".

And some influential figures in the Labour ranks were very unhappy indeed. Neal Lawson, of think tank Compass, warned it would undermine social solidarity.

David Cameron went on the offensive over Europe, in a speech that was seen by many, including the BBC's deputy political editor James Landale, as an attempt to take on UKIP's arguments, even though, as usual, he did not mention Nigel Farage's party by name.

Mr Cameron also launched an all-party Business for Britain campaign, which the Daily Mail said would "risk coalition unity by urging voters in Lib Dem seats to bombard their MP with emails, web messages and tweets demanding they back a law on holding a referendum on Britain's relationship with Brussels".

Nick Clegg, meanwhile, continued to set the Lib Dems apart from their coalition partners, blocking controversial Tory-backed childcare ratio plans.

Evolving election pitch

Conservative: We're sorting out the economy, don't let Labour wreck it. We've worked with Lib Dems in the national interest. But vote us in to power on our own and we'll finish the job without them holding us back on things like welfare reform and replacing Trident - and we'll give you, the British people, the chance to vote on EU membership.

Lib Dems: We're now a serious party of government. We've worked with the Conservatives and done things you know we didn't want to - tuition fees and some spending cuts. You can trust us with the economy, but we have a heart too. Don't let Labour wreck the economy and don't let the Conservatives govern without us being there to keep them in check.

Labour: We're ready to go back into government. The coalition's economic policy has failed - our plan for slower cuts would have worked better. We've also learned lessons from last time in power - we'll be tough on spending and control the welfare budget and immigration. And we'll be tough on bankers as well.

UKIP: Vote for us and we'll take the UK out of the European Union. That'll solve most of our problems - we'll have control of our borders, we'll save billions of pounds we currently pay the EU and we'll be able to, for instance, deport people without lengthy court battles. Don't trust any of the other parties - it's time for a change, and we're the only ones offering it.

Candidate news

Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly, who successfully sued the BBC for age discrimination, is up against 22-year-old local councillor Vicky Fowler in the battle to be Labour's candidate in Nuneaton, according to Nuneaton News.

Labour has selected local NHS worker and longtime party activist Karin Smith, to replace Dawn Primarolo as its candidate in Bristol South, one of the party's safest seats.

Former minister Mike O'Brien was selected by Labour to fight for the North Warwickshire and Bedworth seat he lost to the Conservatives at the last election.

Council by-elections

Voters go to the polls nearly every week in different parts of the country, with the results pored over by election strategists for signs of which way the political wind is blowing.

This week, Labour's Steve Battlemuch won a landslide victory at a council by-election in Wollaton West - wiping out the last remaining Tory stronghold in Nottingham. Nottingham South is a must-win marginal for the Conservatives.

However at Walkergate, in Newcastle, UKIP scored 27.2%, coming second and slashing Labour's margin of victory by two-thirds.

Labour clung on to Woolston, a Southampton City seat, by 133 votes from UKIP, with the Tories 27 votes further behind in third place.

The ward is in marginal Southampton Itchen, currently represented in the Commons for Labour by former cabinet minister John Denham.

Labour gained Kirklees Borough, West Yorkshire, from the Tories, on a swing from Conservative to Labour of 7.4%.

Behind the scenes

David Cameron's election strategist Lynton Crosby told Tory MPs to get stuck in to Labour, showing them private polling which suggested voters think they are weak on welfare, the deficit and Europe.

Civil servants are to hold meetings with Ed Miliband in the autumn to prepare for a Labour election victory, according to the Daily Mirror. Such talks are routinely offered to opposition parties ahead of an election.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has agreed to play a role in the Conservative Party general election campaign, according to The London Evening Standard. He will stage solo rallies and join David Cameron in marginal seats but has declined to accept a formal role, the paper says.

Lessons from history: 100 weeks before the 2010 election

On 3 June, 2008 things were looking good for opposition leader David Cameron. His party had recently won its first by-election in 26 years, and opinion polls were predicting that it would win a majority of over 100 seats in the next general election.

The big political issue of the day was Gordon Brown's Labour government attempting to increase the amount of time that the police could detain terror suspects without charge to 42 days. The plans were controversial, with civil liberties campaigners and many Labour MPs criticising the measure as being too authoritarian. Mr Brown's difficulty in persuading his MPs to support his government's measure was in part a result of his personal unpopularity and perceived weakness. His authority had suffered several setbacks, including "the election that never was".

What followed provides a salutary lesson on how external events affect politics. If you had looked at the financial news in June 2008, you would have found a great many worried experts talking about a credit crunch, and about mounting losses at an American bank called Lehman Brothers. In September 2008 Lehman's collapsed, and the world plunged into recession. Alarmed at the amount of debt the UK was building up, shadow chancellor George Osborne promised that he would make big cuts in order to balance that nation's books. It was this, says Professor Tim Bale, an expert on the Conservative Party, that meant at the election "Labour may have been a busted flush but it was still able to scare enough voters about the Conservatives' intentions to deny them an overall majority".

And another thing...

Speculation has been growing about whether or not there will be prime ministerial debates during the 2015 general election campaign. They were generally seen as a success in 2010, especially in terms of getting younger voters to tune in. One possible stumbling block could be whether or not UKIP's Nigel Farage should be allowed to take part. Listen to the Media Show for a more detailed discussion.

Compiled by Alex Hunt, Brian Wheeler and Chris Davies.

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