Like members of rival middle-aged boy bands, all four major party leaders this week climbed aboard their tour buses and started to make their way around the country. And unlike boy bands, they targeted marginal constituencies and started talking policy with the local electoral punters.
The highlight so far has been ITV’s ‘seven-way debate’. Not content with doorstep campaigning, last Thursday night we were canvassed by the leaders on our sofas. The inclusion of the minor parties that could take Westminster seats next month diversified the political opinion, which varied from Natalie Bennett’s ‘save the vertebrates’ campaign to Nigel Farage’s morally dubious line about health tourism in the NHS.
Voters in Bury St Edmunds need not worry about choosing between the SNP and Plaid Cymru, since candidates from those parties won’t quite make it to the leafy confines of rural Suffolk. But this election will leave many wondering about the effect of the minor parties on the fate of the big two. Thursday saw leaders promising very big things for the economy, the environment, Europe and healthcare, and while it is more likely than ever before that minor parties could reach for the levers of power in a coalition deal, it is also worth remembering that government after May will still be dominated by either the Conservatives or Labour.
Leaders, either on their buses or on the small screen, would do better to be more honest about coalition. Astute voters should be concerned that government in the next term will be defined by back-room deals and negotiations, rather than at the polls. What we needed from the Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru were clear red lines and their bargaining chips on the table. What we got was ideological grandstanding and unrealistic promises. In the meantime, Mr Cameron, I hear One Direction are hiring.