So, who won day one? Labour will feel they spent far too much of yesterday talking about their strained relationship with business, after the party’s advert in the Financial Times backfired spectacularly.
Siemens and Kellogg’s both publicly expressed their dismay at being thrust into the centre of a party political row by the advert, which implied that the companies supported Labour’s position on the European Union. The embarrassing story topped news bulletins throughout the day and top Labour figures were forced to firefight on live TV. All in all it was a pretty minor skirmish, and Labour will be pleased that it was pushed well down the running order for the evening news programmes. But any time spent raising questions about the party’s struggles with business is good news only for the Tories.
Immigration also re-emerged as a tricky subject for Labour yesterday. Over the weekend the party put up for sale on its website a mug decorated with the slogan “controls on immigration”. It was quickly dubbed the “UkipCup” and widely condemned by senior Labour politicians. Diane Abbott described it as “shameful” and an “embarrassment” while Sadiq Khan said he wouldn’t buy one and Chuka Umunna insisted “I don’t wish to be photographed with any mug at all”. Good thing he wasn’t standing next to his leader.
The Greens took full advantage, hitting back with their own mug complete with the words “standing up for migrants”. All good fun, but there is a serious point here about a massive intellectual divide on the left. Ideologically, the Labour leadership support immigration. They also know it has great benefits for the country’s economy. But if Labour appears weak on immigration, especially after its record in the Blair and Brown years, the party will haemorrhage working class support to UKIP. In an election campaign, votes come before principles.
There was at last some good news for Miliband come the afternoon. The party had secured the support of Hollywood star Martin Freeman, aka Tim from The Office, who had kindly agreed to appear in a punchy election broadcast. This was a great coup. He is a very popular actor and it was a very good video. But Freeman isn’t Tim from The Office. He is a movie star worth £10 million, not your average Labour supporter. It even emerged that his partner Amanda had declared herself bankrupt over a £120,000 tax bill. Not ideal for the party that harps on about making sure rich people pay their taxes.
What about the Tories? David Cameron had a relatively quiet day, other than a visit to see the Queen. The footage of him travelling from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace, then back to Number 10 for a speech outside the front door, was carried live by the broadcasters and will be on the News at Ten tonight. These are invaluable optics for Cameron, reminding voters that he is the Prime Minister, a statesman. No other politician can compete with imagery like this.
Soundbite for the cameras sorted, Dave then travelled to Chippenham with the Tories’ big blue battle bus. Just one slight problem: the PM didn’t actually do the whole journey in the bus. He went by train and was then picked up by the bus a few minutes out of town so he could ride in for the photographers. Expect many more little bits of campaign trickery like this over the next five and a half weeks.
Labour had the best of the good news stories and the worst of the bad news stories today. But the thing that will be most apparent to voters at home are those pictures of statesman Cameron visiting the Queen and calling the election outside Downing Street. He looked like the Prime Minister today. Miliband didn’t. For that reason, the Tories won day one.