Believe it or not, there was yet another televised election debate tonight, this time on Channel 4, called the ‘Everything But Brexit’ debate. The Tories had refused to take part, and while their decision will have been partly down to their ongoing battle with the broadcaster, which they have accused of being biased, they will also have viewed tonight’s programme as an opportunity for them to make their central election pitch without even turning up.
This debate worked in the Conservatives’ favour because it was chaotic, with the representatives of the five parties who did turn up constantly talking and even shouting over each other and the presenter Cathy Newman. At times it sounded like a school playground at the end of term when everyone is tired, including the teacher. Most of the aggression was staged: Labour’s Angela Rayner and the SNP’s Philippa Whitford repeatedly went for Jo Swinson over her party’s support for Coalition cuts, while Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price was busy complaining about Labour’s handling of the NHS in Wales. All wanted to get their messages out, even if that involved joining the cacophony and hoping they might still get picked up by the microphone.
We are now in the closing arguments stage of the election campaign, with the party leaders switching from new policy announcements to driving home the points they hope will get votes into the polling booths and backing their side. The Tories are particularly keen to warn about the dangers of a hung parliament, and Boris Johnson will again be trying to contrast his ‘get Brexit done’ pledge with the prediction that anything other than a Tory majority will lead to more ‘dither and delay’ for the next few years. The Prime Minister will tomorrow start a tour of Yorkshire and Humberside, visiting leave-voting seats where he will make this case. The Conservatives are keen to emphasise that while the current forecast is for a majority of 38, many of the seats they need to win are on a knife-edge. They are privately worried that if voters think this is in the bag, they will either be tempted to stay at home, or give the Tories a bit of a kicking by voting tactically. So we will see a squeeze message designed to send those would-be Tory voters running to the polling station.
Meanwhile Labour will be closing in on its ‘choice’ line, that voters can opt for more austerity and unfairness under the Tories, or ‘real change’ and a fairer country with Labour. Rayner used this very line tonight, saying: ‘The choice is more austerity, or real change under Labour.’ The party will also talk about the prospect of a better cost of living, with its promises on cheaper rail fares, a higher minimum wage, no tuition fees, and so on. And, of course, it will major on the NHS, warning about Tory privatisation and cuts, and promising to tackle growing waiting lists.
As well as what they say, it’s important to note where the leaders choose to make their final pitches. Johnson may be in Yorkshire for the start of this week, but he made an unexpected visit to Chingford this afternoon, where Iain Duncan Smith is fighting off a very successful and vocal campaign from Labour candidate Faiza Shaheen. We may see the foreshadowing of any Portillo moments in surprise campaign visits, and understand whether Labour in particular is on a more defensive footing in these final days.