Yesterday, it was feeling like this election campaign was going to be a long haul of staged photo opportunities and announcements of policies that we’d already heard dozens of times before. As John Lanchester discusses here, thanks to knowing when the election would be for years everything was feeling very flatlined, with some quite ridiculous attention being paid to polls fluctuating within the margin of error. Four more weeks of that without even a full-scale debate to distract us on the way was starting to feel like a bit much.
Then last night things got interested. Labour launched a policy that hadn’t been endlessly trailed, discussed, accepted and processed for most of the past five years and for a brief time, no one quite knew how to deal with it. It was a moment of genuine interest in an election campaign that has been sorely lacking in them, and has continued to be throughout the day.
Proposing to get rid of non-dom status is both a good policy idea (it makes the tax system fairer and may well raise more money) and a good campaign issue, especially to launch as a surprise. If other parties support it, then Labour get to say they’re setting the agenda, and if they reject it, then they have to put themselves on the side of the super-rich who don’t have the numbers to shift many polls.
Or you can try what we saw today which is to carp about the details, take comments out of context and not realise that you’re doing a very good job in helping them keep the issue in the headlines, usually combined with an explanation of just what non-dom status is, which doesn’t usually help the cause of keeping it. The most interesting thing for me was the footage of Ed Balls talking about the issue in January being brought out as though that was some trump card that destroyed the policy when it could just as well be seen as ‘politician changes his mind in the light of new evidence’, which I thought was something we wanted to see more of? The interesting comparison here is with recent Tory tax announcements in which they’ve taken to proclaiming the originally Lib Dem policy of raising the tax allowance as their own, but no one in the media regularly challenges Cameron about he used to say we couldn’t afford it.
Interestingly, removing non-dom status is another tax policy with a Lib Dem pedigree, as Vince Cable has talked about it for years. Naturally, this was seized on by Nick Clegg who pointed out that both the big parties were borrowing Lib Dem tax policy, which showed how essential the party’s ideas…sorry, I was in a parallel world for a moment there. Instead, he waffled a bit about being in the middle and helped reinforce the Tory message by claiming ‘the wheels had come off’ Labour’s policy.
Still, things are now interesting, and perhaps this isn’t going to be the sole event of interest in the elction. Perhaps Labour have other new policy ideas up their sleeves, or might it push the Tories to scribble ideas on fag packets to try and get some momentum back?
Elsewhere, it feels like a brainstorming meeting in the Green Party hit on the idea of ‘boy band’ and then got stuck:
It’s a party election broadcast in the fine tradition of British sketch comedy – someone had one moderately amusing idea and then stretched it out far beyond the point where everyone got the joke. However, it’s been shared much more on social media than any other election broadcast I an remember, has had articles written about it and will probably get a lot more attention than a bunch of people talking earnestly against a natural background while policies flash up on screen would have got. The cynical part of me wonders if that was the plan all along.
And finally, it seems that those of you wanting lots of detailed policy thinking from your candidates should be moving to Weymouth to hope you get a pamphlet (‘leaflet’ seems far too small a word) from Mervyn Stewkesbury, who’ll give you his opinion in great depth. That the front page includes the advice ‘if you want to know more about myself read Appendix 1 Page 9’ gives you some idea of how detailed his ideas are.
Remember that the nominations for the election close tomorrow, so you’ve only got till 4pm to get those papers in to the Returning Officer. If you’re not standing, do spare a thought for all the council staff who’ll be having to check the nominations are valid, and all the various journalists typing in long lists of names for general and local elections so we can all see who’s standing.
One interesting day down, let’s hope there are more to come.