Midlands 'marginal gains' in race to 2015 election

Sir Dave Brailsford Image copyright PA
Image caption British Cycling's performance director Sir Dave Brailsford's advice is that nothing can be left to chance

"Sleeping in the right position; having the same pillow when you are away and training in different places; do you really know how to clean your hands without leaving the bits between your fingers?"

Nothing, in other words, was apparently too detailed to mention when the performance director of British Cycling was asked about the rationale behind his team's epic gold medal-winning heroics in the Beijing and London Olympics.

It's all part of "the aggregation of marginal gains" - the method adopted by Sir Dave Brailsford.

And, in the political race towards Thursday, 7th May, 2015 there's a similar test for the political parties.

In my last blog post I focused on the Midlands constituencies where Labour must overhaul Conservative majorities if they are to have a majority in the next Parliament.

It is a measure of just what an unusual set of circumstances has been ushered-in by this era of coalition politics that the main party of government should be gearing-up for an equivalent challenge, albeit in mirror image.

As I mentioned last time, Birmingham Northfield, Dudley North, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Solihull, Telford and the Walsalls (North and South) are among the Labour seats which rank high on the Tories' list of "marginal gains" which they will hope to "aggregate" in their team-pursuit of a Commons majority.

Yellow jersey

For more than 30 years, the Midlands electoral race circuit was dominated by the two main parties: first the one, then the other.

But now we seem to be recycling a Seventies scenario: Labour and the Conservatives both hope to win but fear they might lose.

This is why those rival sets of target seats have extra significance as the politicians vie for the yellow jersey.

What's different this time is the emergence of UKIP, the new team on the block who are threatening to take the race onto a different track altogether.

And the Liberal Democrats' experience of being in office, unique in modern times, appears to be leading them towards a electoral strategy focused almost entirely on the 20% of voters they consider most receptive to the sort of message summed-up by Nick Clegg's pledge on free school meals for infant-age schoolchildren.

With Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck in the polls, it is yet again the economy which could present one of them with the opportunity to establish a decisive lead.

We heard during Labour's conference in Brighton the accusation that the more the government "boast" about the economy turning the corner, the more they distance themselves from millions of people out in the real economy who are enduring what Ed Miliband calls the "Cost of Living Crisis".

We hear the Conservatives are planning their own counter-attack on living standards.

But how will this wash in a region where unemployment is still nudging 10%, well above the national average and the second highest in England behind the North East; especially now that the new Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has chosen unemployment as his main economic benchmark?

In the last of my interviews with the main party leaders, this will be one of the questions I will ask David Cameron as he prepares for the Conservative conference in Manchester.

For the answer, I hope you will join us for this weekend's Sunday Politics from 11.00 on BBC One Midlands on Sunday.