Landale online: The general election starts here


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Let it be recorded for posterity that on Monday, 23 May 2011, amid all the hoopla of the Obama visit, the injunctions row and the threat of a volcanic ash crowd, campaigning for the next general election quietly began.

With almost exactly four years left before they go to the polls, both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition gave speeches in which they at last found something to agree about.

Politics, they said, is about more than just cutting the deficit. Other stuff is important too.

Thus David Cameron in Milton Keynes: "Everyone knows that sorting out our nation's finances... is this government's most urgent priority.

Cameron said Big Society will create ''a country of do-ers and go-getters''

"But too many people think that's the limit of our ambitions...that all we care about is balancing the books. Wrong. I want to balance the books to achieve the things I really care about."

And the thing he really cares about is creating what he calls a "stronger society" with strong families, communities and relationships.

"So as our debts are paid off, this is what I want to endure as the lasting legacy of this administration."

Note that use of the word legacy. One year in and it is already nagging away at the prime minister's mind.

And as for Ed Miliband, he said this: "Cutting the deficit matters. And the argument about how we do it matters too.

"But our politics cannot be reduced just to a debate about the deficit without considering the consequences for our country."

The consequences, the Labour leader said, would be a generation of young people held back by the cuts that the government is introducing to pay off the deficit, finding it hard to find a job, a house, a place at university.

Ed Miliband: "For the first time for more than a century, the next generation will struggle to do better than the last"

"David Cameron's benchmark for his government is simply deficit reduction. The benchmark I set for a future Labour government is much more than that. It is about improving the chances for the next generation."

To fulfil what he calls his "promise of Britain", he would repeat the bank bonus tax to create jobs and build houses, do more to support the family and focus on the environment.

These priorities, he said, "will be central to our work and our next manifesto".

Note that use of the word manifesto, four years away from polling day.

Note too, Mr Miliband's decision to give his speech at the Royal Festival Hall, the place where in another age, another time, a bleary-eyed young fellow called Tony Blair stood on a platform in front of cheering crowds and declared: "A new dawn has broken, has it not?"

A few reflections:

1. Both party leaders seem to be trying to park the deficit as a political issue.

On the basis of these speeches, both appear to be making the assumption that the economic crisis will work its way through and are moving their focus accordingly on to what happens next.

Mr Cameron is polishing up the Big Society as his legacy, Mr Miliband is trying out his big new idea of the Promise of Britain.

2. Optimists would say this is good strategy.

Elections tend to be won on the promise of sunlit uplands to come, not in gratitude for leaving the slough of despond.

On 7 May 2015, both main parties will need what political eggheads love to call "a forward offer". In English, this means a coherent promise to make life better.

3. Pessimists would say that it is wrong to make complacent assumptions about cutting the deficit.

This process is still on track, many people have yet to lose their jobs and see their incomes squeezed further.

The economy is not out of the woods yet. And to base a political strategy on deficit reduction coming to a seamless end in 2014 - one way or another - is bold to say the least. The next four years will be unpredictable.

The bottom line is that the debate about 2015 has begun.

It was not that long ago when political discourse was centred on the deficit alone - the scale and speed of the parties' relative spending cuts, and their impact on our daily lives.

But the caravan, it seems, has moved on and already the politicians are looking to the next general election.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Spirit-of-56 is closest to the button.
    Anthony Sampson, Nick Cohen, Simon Jenkins, Phillip Blond - U may not agree with their polemics but their critiques have not been adequately repudiated. The last 40 years have been a silent disaster for liberty and opportunity managed by 'Left' & 'Right'. If we deny this then we are complicit. If ever the grand Old Parties return we may finally see the light!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Mike S... OK it was a tangent. Fair comment but so what? If U ignore the facts UR being pig ignorant of what needs 2 change! Ed et al are professional politicians & frankly do not care... They have sybaritic tastes; the difference between them + the Whig/Tories is as thin as paper. They will NOT be sensible but will B governed by minority issues + continue PFI etc whilst all our children burn....

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    20. adamcollyer
    Ed Miliband would invest in the economy, to build jobs and thereby boost the tax base. In this way he would attempt to reduce the deficit and, eventually, the debt itself.
    Bear in mind that, as the Tories are continually droning, for every £8 that they would cut, Ed would cut £7. The difference lies in where the cuts are made and how other money is invested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "as our debts are paid off" says Cameron!

    Who does he think he is kidding? Even in his most optimistic plans, he is only planning to eliminate the deficit (i.e. the rate of new borrowing). He has no plans to "pay off our debts".

    In fact, according to his plans, we will be paying more than £80 billion a year in interest on the debt in 2015.

    And Ed Miliband wants to spend even more. Good grief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    18. Spirit-of-56
    I can't comment on what Labour will bring forward at the end of the day but I feel secure in suggesting that ALL of the bright ideas are to be found AWAY from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties at the moment. Has anyone seen the latest revision-down of growth figures? Has the BBC? There doesn't appear to be anything on this site.


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