UK Politics

Election countdown: 97 weeks to go

There are now 97 weeks to go until the scheduled date of the next UK general election. Here's the state of the race.

First things first... election campaign gold from 2010

The campaign week

Spend, spend, spend - or perhaps more accurately cut, cut, spend - has been the theme of the political week with Chancellor George Osborne setting out his spending plans for the financial year which starts six weeks before the next election (ie in 91 weeks). His Lib Dem junior in the Treasury Danny Alexander then unveiled a big package of infrastructure projects for that year. Labour says all this was a sign of the coalition's economic policy's failings. For those who may have doubted that the election countdown was under way, a host of commentators, including the BBC's Nick Robinson, noted that the Spending Review was designed to create election divining lines.

The state of the polls

Recap for new readers

David Cameron's Conservatives went into coalition with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats after the 2010 general election. Ed Miliband replaced Gordon Brown as Labour leader a few months later. The coalition's main priority has been the economy and cutting the UK's deficit. It has hailed progress in getting Britain "back in shape", but Labour says the coalition has been cutting "too far too fast". Meanwhile a new electoral force has emerged in the shape of the UK Independence Party...

Candidate news

A torrid week for Labour as a row erupted over the role of the trade unions in candidate selection.

The party's biggest financial backer Unite threatened legal action in a battle over the selection of a candidate in Falkirk, the seat vacated by Eric Joyce after he was convicted of assault.

Unite General Secretary Len McLuskey has accused the Labour of a "smear campaign" after the party took over the selection process.

Labour reportedly took action after finding evidence constituency members had been recruited to the party by Unite without their knowledge, allegedly in an attempt to influence selection.

Unite has accused the party of failing to put the allegations to it but says it makes no apology for trying to get more trade unionists elected to Parliament "as opposed to Oxbridge-educated special advisers".

Labour was also in a spot of bother in Merseyside, where a suspended Liverpool councillor, Jake Morrison, quit to stand as an independent against MP Luciana Berger.

The 20-year-old, the city's youngest elected councillor, said he was a "community campaigner" who did not need to stick to a script and talk of a possible coalition with the Liberal Democrats after the general election made him "want to vomit".

Elsewhere, Labour revealed the man it believes can unseat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam - Oliver Coppard, the head of a South Yorkshire environmental scheme, reports the Yorkshire Post.

Former teacher Mari Williams has been selected from an all-women shortlist to fight Tory held marginal Cardiff North for Labour, reports Wales Online.

Another Labour all-women shortlist has been unveiled in Stockton South, a Tory-held marginal, reports the Evening Gazette.

In nearby Hartlepool, 30-year-old forge worker Shane Moore has made an early bid to be the Conservative candidate, earning the unanimous backing of the Tory executive committee in the traditional Labour stronghold, reports The Hartlepool Mail.

Meanwhile, Simon Marcus, the Conservative candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn - one of the party's top target seats in London - has attacked Labour's choice of an all-women shortlist in the contest succeed Glenda Jackson as its candidate as "patronising," says The Ham and High.

Council by-elections

Labour defended a previously marginal ward in Milton Keynes on a huge swing from the Tories, with UKIP coming second in the Bletchley and Fenny Stratford contest.

This is the third poor performance by the Tories against Labour in a marginal ward in three weeks - all in middle-England constituencies.

Labour saw its majority slashed when UKIP came from nowhere to second place at a Salford City by-election in the Weaste and Seedley, confirming that Nigel Farage's party can take votes from Labour as well as the Tories.

But the party took UKIP's seat in the Cleadon and East Boldon ward for South Tyneside Council, ahead of the Tories, in a contest triggered by the untimely death of UKIP councillor David Potts.

Labour also triumphed in the Primrose ward, seeing off the UKIP challenge by 755 votes to 520, reports the Shields Gazette.

Conservative candidate Gary Conde claimed victory in Thursday's Rutland County Council Ketton by-election with 330 votes.

Lessons from history: 97 weeks before the 1970 election

On 30th July 1968 all eyes were on Prague, the capital of what was then Czechoslovakia. Czech First Secretary Alexander Dubček had initiated a series of reforms, including moves towards freedom for the press and freedom of movement. These reforms offended the Soviet government in Moscow. Meetings were ongoing between Dubček and the Soviets, but they failed and the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia less than a month later. A spirit of revolution could be seen in many places across the world, notably in the anti-Vietnam war movement, which was at its height during this period.

Although 1968 did see protests and demonstrations in Britain, British politics was dominated by more prosaic issues surrounding the then Labour government's handling of the economy. Harold Wilson's administration had been forced to devalue the pound the year before, but seemed to recover during 1968, and was widely expected to win the forthcoming general election by political commentators. The election of 1970 looked to be going Labour's way until three days before polling, when a poor set of trade figures came out, reviving fears about Labour's economic competence. But it was still widely seen as something of a surprise when Edward Heath's Conservatives won a majority of 31.

Your feedback

Plenty of you remain uncertain (to put it kindly) about the idea of such a long election countdown - see last week's round-up for more. But Dylan Williams is one of those who likes it and asks if we can expand it to include more regional news. The answer is that we'll try to do so, via the candidate news section. Don from Bristol obviously didn't enjoy the US election or Papal election coverage - he suggests that in revenge our countdown should be "broadcast to excess" in the US and Italy. John from Inverness doesn't want to wait 97 weeks for an election - he says it's time "Nick Clegg grew a pair" and dissolves the coalition. Piers from Gosport shows no fears about predicting the result of the next election. For the record (and for checking in 2015) he reckons it will end up being Labour first, with UKIP second.

Compiled by Alex Hunt, Brian Wheeler and Chris Davies.

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