THE BLOG

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like An Election

04/12/2014 12:52 GMT | Updated 02/02/2015 10:59 GMT

The advent of fixed-term Parliaments means that we know when the next election will be. We know when purdah will kick in and given the need for the 'conscious uncoupling' of the Coalition, we are already in a state of permanent election campaigning.

Under normal circumstances, political decision making is not suspended until the weeks running up to an election but we have already seen this come to an end. There is very little happening in Parliament. With the exception of a couple of Bills there is little else taking place. Of course, questions are still being asked, debates taking place and Select Committees undertaking inquiries but not much more substantial than that.

Instead, we are seeing a stream of increasingly political statements being made by both parties of the Coalition without them being 'government policy'. In this environment, the potential for agreement over policies is reduced. Each partner in the Coalition is looking to establish clear blue or yellow water around themselves.

Ministers are also expressing 'personal opinions' so that they will not be limited by the usual constraints associated with being a member of the Cabinet. Whilst they consider that these personal opinions set them free from conventions, such as collective responsibility, they have the desired effect of securing media coverage and showing distance between the Coalition partners.

Set piece speeches are now the norm with all the Party leaders, as well as other leading lights, as they set out their stall for May 2015.

Ministers are busy explaining what they have done, what they would have done differently had they had total power and what they have prevented the others from doing by 'the other party'. This is especially the case for the Lib Dems who desperately need to prove they have achieved something from being in Government. Polls, for instance, from ComRes suggests that voters feel betrayed by Nick Clegg and more people think the Lib Dems were wrong to go into Coalition than right.

The Conservatives are also setting out their future spending commitments. But Cameron and Osborne have already gone further and have announced what their priorities are for when the economy picks up - tax cuts and lowered tax thresholds.

The Autumn Statement has been more about setting out the good news about spending and investment with the General Election in mind. Pre-election Budgets and Statements have always been used for this purpose. But the shift from austerity to having some money to spend has been speedy to say the least. So this Autumn Statement is part of the election campaign.

For all the parties their core issues are being referred to constantly. There is less drift into areas where they feel less comfortable or that are 'controlled' by the other parties. This may be part of appeals to the core voters and to tackle voter apathy by attempting to show that there is a clear choice between different parties; or more to do with the challenge from UKIP. For the Conservatives, they need to get control back from UKIP over Europe and immigration. Labour and the Lib Dems are ceding ground to them on these issues. At least for Labour, by coming back to the NHS they have some advantage over UKIP.

It has, though, also been interesting to note how potential leadership challengers in the Conservative Party have been positioning themselves as well. Theresa May, in particular, has been active in managing her own profile just in case the General Election doesn't quite go according to plan.

But from others, most notably the SNP, there has been some very welcome honesty about their approach to a possibility of being in a Coalition. First Minister and SNP party leader, Nicola Sturgeon has been clear in setting out what they would want from any negotiations. Well, less negotiations and more of set of clear demands.

There is a heightened sense of politics and everything is now big 'p' Politics. Every Government statement, speech and announcement is followed by a clear repost from the Labour Party.

The fundraising dinner season has gone into overdrive as all candidates look for funds to help them fight the General Election. More mailings are going out to members urging them to get involved and / or contribute to the campaign financially.

The only thing missing so far is the on the streets campaign. Whilst there has been a little of that we can expect more in the coming months especially from Ed Miliband who needs to show that he can make a connection with the electorate.

So all the tell-tale signs there. We are already in a General Election campaign and that means it will be one of the longest ever.