UK Politics

Election countdown: 93 weeks to go

Samantha and David Cameron at a fish market
Image caption The leaders of the biggest parties are all off on their holidays - the Camerons are in Portugal

There are now just 93 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

The Commons is in recess and the three main party leaders have headed off on their summer hols. All apparently had one eye on the hard-pressed voter however, as they chose an election-friendly budget airline, according to the Daily Telegraph. And there was no summer ceasefire as GDP figures out on Thursday meant the chancellor and shadow chancellor have had to keep at it on the airwaves. George Osborne put the hours in by visiting night shift workers ahead of the announcement. He says figures showing 0.6% growth means the UK economy is "on the mend" - while Ed Balls countered that many families would not feel the benefit as wages were not keeping up with price rises. Away from the economy the Lib Dems played down suggestions that Nick Clegg was "very keen" on making buses free for under-16s across England. Labour's financial accounts also show they're financially well placed to fight an election - bringing in more income than the Tories and Lib Dems combined. And naturally, all the leaders were falling over themselves to welcome the birth of Prince George.

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. The coalition's main priority has been cutting the UK's deficit. but Labour says it is going "too far too fast". Meanwhile a new electoral force has emerged in the shape of the UK Independence Party...)

Candidate news

Image caption Clarence Mitchell is currently the spokesman for the McCann family

In Brighton Pavilion - the seat currently occupied by the Green Party's sole MP, Caroline Lucas, the Conservatives have selected former BBC reporter - and spokesman for the family of Madeleine McCann - Clarence Mitchell as their prospective parliamentary candidate. Also throwing her hat into the ring for Labour is Purna Sen, chosen from an all-women shortlist of two, who is director of the Programme for African Leadership at the London School of Economics.

The Lib Dems have selected former radical Islamist Maajid Nawaz, who renounced his former views and set up the anti-extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, as their parliamentary candidate in the north London seat of Hampstead and Kilburn. The current Labour MP, Glenda Jackson, is retiring and Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq will be standing for Labour instead, as reported last week. Simon Marcus will run for the Conservatives.

Senior Conservative MP Anne McIntosh is reportedly facing a selection battle in her constituency - not for the first time. The Thirsk and Malton Conservative Association's local executive board decided in January not to adopt her as their 2015 candidate - but this week the Conservatives' national board overturned the decision, according to the Telegraph.

And in an update to the Labour selection row in Falkirk, Scottish police have decided not to hold a criminal inquiry into vote-rigging allegations, having ruled there were insufficient grounds to do so. Unite welcomed the "common sense" response to Labour's allegations and called for two of its members, who were suspended over the allegations, to be reinstated. Labour says it will now pursue disciplinary action. Still no word on who will be fighting the seat for them.

Council by-elections

In Lib-Dem run Kingston Upon Thames, the Conservatives have triumphed in the seat vacated by Lib Dem former council leader Derek Osbourne, who resigned after being arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children last month. Former policeman Terry Paton will now represent the Tories in Beverley ward - reducing the Lib Dems' majority to two. The Lib Dems blamed the loss of the seat on the effect of Mr Osbourne's arrest.

The Tories also had reason to celebrate in East Northamptonshire, after retaining the seat vacated by Michael Finch. Conservative candidate Alex Smith replaced him in the Thrapston Market ward after picking up 43% of votes, says the Northamptonshire Telegraph.

However it wasn't all good news for the Conservatives. In North Somerset, they lost their seat in the Weston-super-Mare North Worle by-election to independent Derek Mead. And in Tulse Hill, south London, Labour boosted its share of the vote to nearly 70% to take the seat while the Tories came in fifth behind the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

The Tories held seats in Elmbridge, Surrey and Uttlesford, Essex but saw a swing of 14.3% and 13.7% to the Lib Dems, respectively.

And in Braintree, Essex, Labour held the seat on a 8.7% swing from the Conservatives.

What the pundits say

With MPs away on their summer holidays, Fleet Street's finest have been left to ponder the potential for another coalition after 2015.

Writing in Conservative Home, Peter Hoskin lists three things in favour and five against a similar arrangement. His conclusion is that the Conservative leadership should be working "to lay the ground" for another coalition but believes not enough is being done at this stage and the chances of it happening again are receding.

In the Independent, Steve Richards argues the Lib Dems are displaying the greatest discipline and unity of the three largest Westminster parties but "the mask will slip" if there is another hung Parliament.

He thinks the Lib Dem hierarchy would struggle to sell the idea of another five years' co-operation with the Tories to their activists, due to the parties' differences over Europe, the NHS, immigration and civil liberties. In this eventuality, he adds, "a separation becomes a little more likely a few months before the election is called".

The influence of Conservative adviser Lynton Crosby continues to divide commentators.

John McTernan, a former aide to Tony Blair, is no political soulmate of the Australian election strategist but accepts that he is "pretty good at his job" and a "professional at the top of his game".

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he suggests Mr Crosby "crisply and ruthlessly" drew a line under the furore about cigarette packaging in a way that David Cameron could not and had also identified the "tender spots" on policy that Labour found most uncomfortable. The opposition "must play the game, not the man" if it wants to defeat him.

But Andrew Rawnsley, in the Observer, believes David Cameron is paying a high price, both financially and politically, for "some rather obvious advice" and "not every senior Tory is convinced that the 'Wizard of Oz' is any more magical than the original".

Lessons from history: May 1972

This long before the first 1974 general election, and the papers were pouring over a set of local election results. Edward Heath's Conservative Party had done badly in inner city areas, but had managed to hold their seat in the Kingston upon Thames by-election (ironically, as you'll have seen in the council by-elections round up, the scene of a Tory gain this week). But the general mood was in stark contrast to the summer sun we've been enjoying. The railway workers were on strike, and the dockworkers had delivered notice that they intended to do the same, both groups asking for higher pay. Earlier that year the coal miners had secured a significant pay increase by striking for seven weeks, causing a national emergency. These strikes became the story of the Heath premiership, and were widely blamed for its downfall.

The problems caused by strikes came to a head in 1974, and two elections were the result. In February the miners voted to strike again and Heath, believing their demands to be unaffordable, called a snap election, asking the country "who governs Britain?" His plan was to win a mandate to beat the strike. Not for the last time, the nation mumbled inconclusively in reply, leaving a hung Parliament with Labour having the greatest number of seats (although the Conservatives actually won more votes). Far from establishing his authority over the strikers, Heath had installed Labour's Harold Wilson in No 10.

Compiled by Alex Hunt, Emma Griffiths, Gavin Stamp and Chris Davies.

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