A heightened sense of politics has been apparent since the start of 2015, but now Parliament has officially ‘prorogued’ we pass from the long campaign into the short campaign with just six weeks to go until the General Election.
Here are a few events to look out for that could make the polls, and the betting markets, go haywire as the big day approaches:
Who will be 2015’s Gillian Duffy?
When Gordon Brown rocked up in Rochdale back in April 2010, he could never have imagined the fuss he’d cause by being caught on camera calling lifelong Labour voter (and grandmother) Gillian Duffy ‘bigoted’.
In 2001 it was mullet-sporting farm protester Craig Evans who stole the civilian limelight when lobbing an egg at then-Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who retorted with the old one-two
Seven years later, Joe the Plumber, AKA Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, made a mug out of Barack Obama on the 2008 US Presidential Election campaign trail, checking the former Chicago senator’s progress as he was skyrocketing towards power.
With so much media coverage there’ll surely be some flash points, and Prime Minister David Cameron has a famously short temper, which was clearly in evidence during the first ten minutes of his leaders’ interview with Jeremy Paxman.
Expect the PM’s schedule-keepers to work the campaign of their lives.
How will Labour compete with the Conservatives’ massive financial advantage?
Remarkably, Ed Miliband’s party were reportedly just under £12.5m in debt 18 months ago, making them more than five times worse off than the Tories, who were said to be around £2m in the red.
With Cameron’s crowd currently 21/50 favourites to win the most seats at the General Election, ahead of Labour at 9/5, and Conservative headquarters pumping out attack adverts on every billboard and YouTube video they can afford, Miliband’s task in the ground war is stark.
In practical terms, this might mean you see much more of your Labour candidate than the Tory equivalent as the reds attempt to gain momentum from the grass roots up.
Where are the Liberal Democrats?
Poor Nick Clegg at least looks likely to keep his Sheffield Hallam seat, as the backlash from 2010’s trebling of student loans doesn’t seem quite strong enough to knock him of his perch, but the Lib Dems are struggling.
They’ll be lucky to retain half of their 56 seats, and coalition looks nowhere near as likely as five years ago, with the SNP set to have the whip hand of the minor parties if negotiations are required.
To make matters worse, the Lib Dems seem to have disappeared off the radar completely, obscured by the Cameron/Miliband palaver and the increasingly interesting situation in Scotland.
The first of Clegg’s two chances to speak to the nation comes in the seven-way debate next week, which will feature leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems, Ukip, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.
The other opportunity is an edition of BBC Question Time featuring the Deputy Prime Minister, Cameron and Miliband (and David Dimbleby, of course) screened on the last day of April, just a week before the polls open.
Clegg desperately needs to impress, not like in 2010, when he clearly overpromised, but by trumpeting his party’s achievements in power, such as raising the income tax threshold, blocking many of the Tories’ more draconian policies, and overseeing a recovery that seems a lot stronger than many thought it would.
However, judging by his dreadful debate performance against Farage over the EU last year, and the yellows’ sluggish start to the campaign, it may have been better if he’d have just taken a job in Brussels a year ago, and handed the reins to left-leaning leader-in-waiting Tim Farron.
The fact that Clegg has stayed the course is to his credit, but the Lib Dems will do badly.
Is that Alex Salmond sneaking back into Parliament?
It seemed a bit off when Salmond quit as leader of the SNP after a closely-fought Scottish independence referendum in November, when the Yes campaign did far better than many were predicting just six months out from polling.
Alas, the burly 60-year-old looks set to lead an entourage of 30, perhaps even 40, SNP MPs to Westminster, which will be a remarkable feat after the Nats managed to take just six constituencies in 2010.
New SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already had to insist to reporters that she will lead any negotiations her party might enter in with Labour after the poll, but moderate Miliband supporters will no doubt have been spooked by Tory posters of their man depicted in Salmond’s pocket.
There are few operators as canny as the Scot, but he better be careful. Labour have already ruled out a formal coalition, and hostilities between the two left-of-centre parties could contribute to handing Cameron the Premiership without a single Tory being represented in Westminster from Scotland.
When the big day comes, how will Ukip fare?
Nigel Farage and co are 33/1 to gain the most seats at the election, which is worryingly short.
There’s not really a lot to fear from Ukip socially, as the British people are a largely sensible bunch who wouldn’t take kindly to being told gay marriage, to give an obvious example, is an abomination that needs to be abolished forthwith.
The economy, on the other hand, and the NHS in particular, could end up in pretty perilous positions if the purples were to take charge, but that’s very unlikely to happen.
Ukip are polling at around 13% at present, and may well be squeezed during the campaign. Rather brilliantly, Tory defector Mark Reckless is likely to live up to his name by losing Rochester and Strood less than a year after a limp by-election victory.
They’ll be lucky to end up with five MPs.
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