As we reach the end of a long and rather subdued election campaign, which party gets the gold star for best performance? Much has been made of the lack of classic moments this time around. The EdStone, #Milifandom and Cameron's "career-defining" slip are all very well and good, but they won't steal a place on the list of all time election greats.
Fraser Nelson, speaking to The Spectator's daily podcast, sided with Ed Miliband's campaign. An unusual move for a right leaning pundit, the magazine's editor claimed Labour were simply more energetic over the past few weeks. As Nelson is someone with obvious Tory leanings, I feel it's acceptable for me to speak out too. The Liberal Democrats have unequivocally put up the best fight since Parliament dissolved at the end of March.
For my part this is a big point to concede, my hue is most certainly blue and I've spent time working for the party. I don't think David Cameron et al. have performed badly, they've hammered home their key message, avoided disaster, and convinced the electorate that an SNP tie up is potentially perilous. But those in the yellow corner get first prize.
Polling during the campaign has remained completely flat, one almost feels sorry for John Curtice as he's wheeled out to make yet another non-committal judgement. However, if you squint enough, jam your nose close to the screen, there's just the slightest hint of a Lib Dem upsurge over the past few weeks. It's nothing to write home about, perhaps as little as .5%, but it's a start for a party that was widely predicted to fall flat.
A poll from Lord Ashcroft today chimes with this finding. When compared with other main parties Lib Dem voters are far more likely to have joined the crew over the last month.
Here's my top four reasons why. Firstly, theirs has been a fun and at times humorous campaign, the party has remained resolutely positive despite public criticism of their record. It's the oldest rule in the book: in the face of dire prospects, turn that frown upside down. A snazzy manifesto launch, albeit hit with a few snags, projected a funky image that differentiated them from competitors. When Joey Essex got it wrong, the party's name was changed to Democats, when the media went for Grant Shapps, Paddy Ashdown trolled him with a droll press release.
Secondly, they have consistently been on the front foot, defending their record and attacking their coalition partners. The scene was set in the seven way leaders' debate where Clegg described the choice between Cameron and Miliband as "dismal". The Lib Dem leader's attempts to detach and disentangle himself from the Tories is a smart and necessary move. His argument that coalition is now Britain's natural form of government stands in contrast to those wearing blue and red rosettes.
Thirdly, focus groups consistency identify the reversal on tuition fees as the party's biggest bugbear. There's no doubting that the man on the street agrees: "broken bus, broken promises" shouted one passer-by on seeing that the yellow campaign coach had blown a gasket. While a wholly unideal backdrop to any campaign, Clegg's position on the u-turn has remained steadfast and believable. He attributes the reversal to two powerful motives: the necessities of coalition government, and a patriotic conviction that decisions were made for the good of the country. If this form of governing is here to stay, expect plenty more of this down the line from parties of all colours.
Lastly, core campaigners, so crucial to Lib Dem gains in years gone by, have been kept motivated and typically boisterous. Labour has made much of their goal to reach out to 4 million people on the campaign trail, and announced they'd exceeded that target yesterday. By comparison the Lib Dems have quietly reached a similar goal, in far fewer target constituencies. Their relationship with the media has remained strong, receiving a good quantity of coverage in excess of what one might expect. They've also been backed by an impressive range of outlets as a partner of choice in any future government.
The problem is, when voting stops at 10pm today, will the results show anyone noticed? The party has viciously targeted 30 seats in an attempt to stop the very real prospect of a total drubbing. I can't see it going any other way, try as they might just too many floating voters feel let down. As Ashcroft shows today, only 68% of Lib Dem supporters say they will definitely put their cross next to that yellow bird.
Also posted on MHP Communications' website here.