Fifty days out from the election, Westminster is a strange mix of speculation, tedium and delusion. No one really has any idea who is going to win on May 7th. As frustrating as that is for pundits, it’s not really a problem. More concerning is the lack of activity in the political operations of each party.
There has been a dearth of real election-related news over the last few weeks, other than the meaningless navel-gazing on television debates. The most read story on the BBC News website yesterday was how a flight had to land early because of “a smelly poo”. There was no domestic politics in the top ten. Politicians are not engaging voters.
But the most worrying thing? Party leaders and their campaign teams seem deluded about the possible outcomes of the election. The men who either will or will not be Prime Minister in a few weeks time are sleepwalking towards their respective fates.
David Cameron and the Conservative Party are unlikely to remain in government. That is the verdict of bookmakers, anyway. Yet if you talk to anyone involved in the election campaign for the Tories, you will hear nothing but absolute conviction that they will stay in office. The absurdity of them losing to Ed Miliband is too preposterous even to countenance, too calamitous to bear thinking about.
Miliband, meanwhile, is the most likely to be Prime Minister, according to the bookies. But so far there has been no sign from the Labour leader that he is a man who is ready to rule the country. The favourite should exude confidence at this stage, his self-assuredness and utter faith that he is soon to seize power should be infectious among voters. Instead, it is the same gratuitously self-deprecating, anti-Prime Ministerial Miliband of old who we see on our screens.
What of the other parties? There is a very real possibility that Nigel Farage will lose South Thanet. It just sort of feels like he will win, because UKIP has done so well this parliament and because he is a party leader standing against a Tory candidate with no incumbency factor.
In reality, he faces a huge fight. Until the recent numbers putting Farage well ahead, all the constituency polling in the seat had him behind. As Farage himself has confessed, defeat here means the end of his political career. It means the end of UKIP as we know them. And yet Farage and UKIP show little awareness of their quite plausibly impending doom.
Nick Clegg, too, is getting in on the self-delusion act. He gave a rousing speech to his spring party conference at the weekend, telling his members “the Liberal Democrats are here to stay… we will do so much better than anyone thinks”. Tell that to his Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, who it increasingly looks like will lose his seat. In fairness to Clegg, the speech was probably just some characteristic good acting. The Lib Dem leader has had an air of melancholy wherever he has appeared in the last twelve months.
It isn’t enough to simply say that our leaders are suffering from complacency. As narrow the tunnel vision of Cameron and the Tories – and of UKIP and Farage – that they will both be fine, is the perception from Labour that they don’t quite expect to get over the line. Is Miliband ready to win? And perhaps more intriguingly for the immediate future of British politics, are the Tories ready to lose?