UK Politics

Election countdown: 94 weeks to go

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Media captionDavid Cameron says Lynton Crosby "never lobbied me on anything"

There are now just 94 weeks to go until the scheduled date of the next UK general election. Here's the state of the race.

The week at a glance

This was the week that the Conservatives decided to take on Labour over the NHS, seen by BBC political editor Nick Robinson as something of a watershed moment.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Labour shadow Andy Burnham went toe-to-toe in the Commons, with Mr Hunt claiming Labour had cared more about protecting its reputation than patients, Mr Burnham accused him of "playing politics with people's lives".

David Cameron's general election strategist Lynton Crosby was the other big story of the week.

Labour's allegation is that Mr Crosby was behind the decision to shelve plans to strip cigarette packets of their colourful branding. Tobacco giant Philip Morris is a client of Mr Crosby's lobbying firm.

Ed Miliband got a laugh at Prime Minister's Questions when he accused Mr Cameron of being the prime minister for "Benson and Hedge funds".

Mr Cameron said Mr Crosby "has never lobbied me on anything" and was paid by the Tories to advise on how to defeat Labour - adding, to Conservative cheers at PMQs, that Labour's showing suggested that even this advice might not be needed.

The Labour leader sought to keep the row going by calling for an inquiry, but as MPs headed off for their summer break, it was, according to most newspaper reports, the Tories who had a bigger spring in their step.

Mr Cameron even cancelled a planned reshuffle in case it spoiled the mood.

The state of the polls

The Guardian/ICM poll, above, gave Labour a jolt, putting them on level pegging with the Conservatives. It wasn't great news for UKIP either.

It could be dismissed as a rogue, one-off survey and a useful reminder not to put too much faith in opinion polls this far out from a general election, with voting intention still very fluid.

Or it could be an early indication of the way public sentiment is moving. We shall see.

The YouGov poll for The Sun, below, released on the same day, is more in line with recent trends. On average, YouGov's polls have been showing a seven point lead for Labour this month.

Candidate news

Drama in North London this week as Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq (pictured) triumphed in a hard-fought contest to be Labour's candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn.

Ms Siddiq is the niece of Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina and granddaughter of the country's founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

She beat fellow Camden councillor Sally Gimson and Sophie Linden, deputy mayor of Hackney council and former special adviser to David Blunkett.

The contest, in a key marginal, was triggered by the retirement of veteran Labour MP - and Oscar-winning actress - Glenda Jackson.

It was thrown wide open after Fiona Millar, partner of Tony Blair's former communications director Alastair Campbell, quit the race.

Hundreds packed in to the selection meeting, which ended in a brawl outside the venue, the London Evening Standard reports, as Labour members clashed with demonstrators protesting about housing.

Elsewhere, Unison trade union organiser Natasha Millward was selected to fight Tory-held Dudley South for Labour and Chris Oxlade, a county councillor, got the Labour nod in Tory-held Crawley.

Matthew Maxwell Scott, a former speechwriter for the director general of the CBI, was selected by the Conservatives to try and unseat Lib Dem MP, and deputy Commons leader, Tom Brake in Carshalton and Wallington.

Former BBC Radio 4 Farming Today presenter Rebecca Pow has been selected by the Conservatives to fight Taunton Deane - currently held by Lib Dem minister Jeremy Browne.

Westminster City Councillor Lindsey Hall, who has led the fight against organised benefit fraud in the area, will stand for the Tories in Westminster North, a Labour-held marginal.

A full list of the Conservative candidates selected so far is available on the Conservative Party website..

Two Lib Dem MPs, Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) and Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) were reselected by their local parties.

Council by-elections

An interesting result this week in Brighton, where Labour took the Hannover and Elmgrove ward from the Green Party, which saw its vote fall from 53.3% in 2011 to 38.7%.

The by-election was seen locally as a vote of confidence on the city's Green Party minority administration, in the wake of a refuse collection strike.

But it's a worrying sign for Caroline Lucas, Britain's only Green Party MP, who is hoping to retain her Brighton Pavillion seat in the face of a strong Labour and Tory challenge. Labour's candidate will be selected from an all-woman shortlist on Sunday.

Elsewhere, it's been a good week for independents. Simon Cole defeated a Conservative challenge in Exning ward of Forest Heath District in a contest caused by the resignation of a Lib Dem councillor. The Lib Dems did not run a candidate.

Independent candidate Grenville Jackson gained the Sleaford Holdingham ward of North Kesteven District Council after the resignation of another independent.

What the pundits say

Self-styled Blairite Dan Hodges - a persistent thorn in Ed Miliband's side - seized on the two contrasting opinion polls released on Tuesday.

"Frankly, it doesn't matter whether Labour's lead is nine points, zero points, or somewhere in between (for what it's worth, I think somewhere in between is probably the most accurate reflection of the respective party's current standings). Labour's lead simply isn't anywhere near big enough," he writes in his Telegraph blog.

"The next election is David Cameron's to lose. And at the moment he isn't losing it, he's winning it," he adds.

Tory tails are certainly up, writes Rafael Behr in The New Statesman, because they think they are winning the key arguments on welfare, immigration and the economy.

But David Cameron is keeping his options open about forming another coalition with the Lib Dems in 2015 because he knows how difficult winning an outright majority will be.

"Given Tory misgivings about Cameron, he has done well in recent weeks to instil confidence in his MPs that Labour can be beaten. For his next trick, he needs to persuade them that they can win," he writes.

Finally, Paul Goodman, writing on ConservativeHome, has some advice for Mr Cameron on how to deal with the Lynton Crosby issue.

"Pay Crosby whatever it takes (to drop his other clients, that is) and to put him completely in charge. No more conflicts of interest, real or imagined," he says.

Lessons from history: February 1948

This far out from the 1950 general election the Labour government, which had won an unexpectedly large landslide victory in the election of 1945, was using its time in power to set up the NHS and the modern welfare state.

The post-War years were also a time of rationing and austerity, when there were real food shortages. The Times reported, with almost perceptible glee, that Britain had secured a deal to import 80% of Denmark's "exportable surplus of bacon" until September of that year, a deal which would clearly have gone down well with a nation wanting to enjoy a full English.

The effects of austerity featured heavily in the election itself, with Labour at pains to point out that their reforms meant that children were healthier and better fed than ever before, and trying to distract from the rations and the queues. Labour won the 1950 election, but only with a tiny majority of only 13. Their government struggled on for a year, then fell and was replaced by the Conservatives in a fresh election held in 1951.

Compiled by Alex Hunt, Brian Wheeler and Chris Davies.

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