Look left, look right...turn away Photo: Ashley Cowburn
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Lib Dems unveil their first election poster - at 8.20am, in the rain

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, launched the Liberal Democrat's first election poster this morning - it rained, and the crowd looked bored.

It’s 8.20am. It’s raining. And I’m standing opposite the House of Lords, with a dozen Liberal Democrat activists. Two of them are wearing yellow ties and an older chap – donning a fedora – has opted for a yellow waistcoat. Unfortunately, they are all holding orange signs. Much like the “alternative” Lib Dem budget, today’s poster unveiling was a damp squib. Political bloggers, Guido Fawkes –  whose chicken enthusiastically stomped around College Green at the Greens' poster launch –  didn't even bother turning up.

“One, two, three, give us a cheer!” shouted one supporter, holding up the Lib Dem diamond plaque, as Danny Alexander walked towards them.

“Wheyyyy” around four or five of the dozen supporters cheered, half-heartedly.

"That's the spirit!" shouted back the one enthusiastic Lib Dem on planet earth. 

Silence. 

"Can we go home now?" 

Everyone look at the young Lib Dem  Photo: Ashley Cowburn

But wait: Danny Alexander has arrived. THE POSTER IS UNVEILED. On the left-hand side of the poster is Ed Balls, trying to pout. On the right-hand side is George Osborne, with an invisible hook in his mouth. Written on the poster: "Look left, look right, then cross Liberal Democrats". 

I look to the left and see the miserable Lib Dems. I look to the right and see the photojournalists heckling Alexander: "giz a pose Danny!" I look to my shoes.

"The truth is," Alexander declares, pointing his hands left and right in an attempt to confuse everyone."The economic recovery that we're enjoying, would not be happening without the Liberal Democrats...when you look to the next Parliament the biggest risk to that government - the biggest risk to that success - are owned by Labour and the Conservative party. 

"We have an opportunity for light at the end of the tunnel. But the Tories want to switch the lights off. The Labour party on the other hand have no plan... they'll take us back to the mess that they created." 

"AYY!" interjects the old chap with the fedora. 

"And so, our message to this government," Alexander continues "the Liberal Democrats are the only party that can keep this government going..."  

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.