Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Off.

The general election has been called, which means wall to wall coverage for the next month or so. The media, of course, set a loaded agenda by telling two stories from the off - on one hand geekishly analysing every pause taken, backdrop chosen and hair trimmed, whilst on the other groaning in anticipation of the fatigue and ennui of the whole thing.

There are, as always, two elections - one for style and one for substance - and every indication this morning is that all parties recognise that style is the more important attribute. Policy has to be packaged, arguments made to fit the bite size chunks on the news, politicians groomed like dogs at a show and a buoyant sense that we're are at an unmissable moment of history maintained.

David Cameron cleverly launched his campaign with immaculate timing, undercutting Gordon Brown's official announcement in Downing Street, by a matter of minutes. He stood on a South Bank soap box, surrounded by activists and with the Houses of Parliament in the background. The whole thing called to mind both Julius Caesar engineering a way to cross the Thames and Henry V at Harfleur. It also of course, despite the fact he's been an MP since 1997, gave a sense of distance from recent scandals. A very, very posh rebel. Robin Hood was an aristocrat, after all. If they can maintain such slick stage management and strong narrative hints the Tories could leave Labour for dead in a few days.

No party will release a manifesto for a week, but the way the hacks and MPs circled each other in mutual need on Parliament green this morning, suggests that this will be a side show.

Off the leaders went Cameron to a hospital in Birmingham, Brown to a supermarket in Kent and Lib Dem Nick Clegg, who provided he plays a straight bat and doesn't cave in to the bigger parties, has a lot to gain this time out, to pound the streets of Watford.

I hope in a few days, once the initial excitement dies down, we'll be able to look at how the parties see our economic future rather than posturing in the moment, but for now the screens are filled with vain bonhomie and a desperate sense of self-control needed so as not to be caught off guard.

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