“The national polls aren’t reflected here” is a refrain I’ve heard from party sources on all sides. So here’s what we may have been missing while blinded by the big scary numbers:
Most sources in marginal seats tell me that a worrying number of voters are still undecided. “The more seasoned among us know this is unusual at this stage,” one Tory aide tells me.
But there is fear mainly among Labourites in (non-Tory/Lab) marginals that these apparently floating voters are “Kwiet Kippers” rather than shy Tories (Erewash is one example of these seats; there are also nerves in Heywood & Middleton). “Have we made good the ground we lost in 2010 among blue collar workers?” asks one senior Labour politician. “I fear not quite.”
Conservatives, on the other hand, have been relieved at the Ukip threat falling away. “I thought they’d be a real bugger,” says one Tory MP in a northern marginal. “But they’re always going to Labour wards, which is fine by me. I’m not worried at all – it’s better than 2010!”
Tories tend not to fear timid Ukippers as much (“Have you ever known one to be quiet?!”).
The Tory campaign has been bad – but they’ve distracted from it
There is a definite feeling among Conservative party sources that the campaign has been disappointing. “Negativity has been a real big problem; it’s been all about voting against something rather than voting for what you believe in. It’s obviously been an active campaign, but maybe too active,” one former aide to a minister says.
A senior Tory MP in a safe seat suggests, “I thought the candidates – new ones and old hands – would be complaining by now. I thought there’d be noises-off everywhere about the campaign and Cameron. But because it’s neck and neck, people have stayed quiet; they know they’d be crucified.”
It’s a cliché, but by most accounts, Labour has by far the better ground game. Its regional office structure and activist resources make its pavement pounding superior.
The Labour campaign has been good – but they’ve distracted from it
Most Labour activists have been buoyed by Ed Miliband’s performances in the campaign. It’s generally thought his confidence and sense of humour have had an outlet – whether it’s been via a television debate or a chance encounter with a hen party.
Even Mili-sceptics in the PLP have been impressed. “Two months ago I was wondering whether he could walk down the street without tripping over his own shoelaces, but he’s had a transformation – he’s set out a vision and looks so positive,” says one regular critic. “The more the press attack him, the more people seem to warm to him,” says another.
But some are frustrated by certain elements of the campaign distracting people on the doorstep. “Ridiculous things, like that big stone, have distracted people rather than reinforced things,” says one party source. And some candidates fighting marginals have found the untargeted leafleting from Labour HQ an irritant: “It just distracts from our own literature,” says one. “‘A Better Plan’, or whatever. All that Newspeak.”
London is expected to be a triumph for Labour tonight, though organisers’ nerves are still jangling. I hear some seats they hope to win aren’t yet tied up (Battersea, Ilford North), some marginals are uncomfortably closer than constituency polling suggests, but others are giving London campaigners a confidence boost (eg. Brentford and Isleworth).
There are concerns about the spread of Labour activists through London – it is too uneven. Some wards in certain constituencies have been flooded, while certain mainstay seats have been left without back-up.
But there is far more for Labourites to be cheerful about here – promise is holding up, and the weather in London is far better than yesterday, which is positive for Getting Out The Vote.
In contrast, the Tories are struggling in London. “The further away I get from London, the better things look,” one MP informs me.
Too big a deal
A number of Labour sources are concerned that the narrative has focused too heavily on doing deals in government, rather than on actual policies (though this is not their leadership’s fault). “There’s so little cut-through for the air war,” one observes. And this is not unique to Labour. Tories, too, report a remarkable lack of policy knowledge on the campaign trail.
Lynton hits home
I hear from a number of Labour sources that the Tories’ attack line – about Labour being held hostage by the SNP – is working. “It’s definitely, definitely got through to people,” says one Labour politician. “Obviously I disagree entirely with the premise, but Lynton Crosby has done the job on that particular line.” This explains why Ed Miliband was so eager to rule out even the slightest possibility of a deal with the Nats.
Polling suggests the SNP is on the verge of storming Westminster. But there are concerns in Scotland that the party won’t win as many seats as the numbers suggest. One insider reports a “revolutionary feeling” in the air, but also “apprehension” and “disbelief” at the polls’ suggestion it could win 50-plus seats. There is a “lurking fear” that unionist tactical voting in Scottish seats could keep more of the SNP candidates out of Westminster than expected.
The Lib Dem vote has spiralled into the electoral abyss, but apparently the party is surprisingly confident about its seats in Scotland. As George points out, the SNP’s performance 11 Scottish Lib Dem seats could determine who becomes Prime Minister. One senior party source reports that there is still all to play for in even the most difficult Lib Dem Scottish constituencies (“we could be the story of the night!”). Labour sounds far gloomier north of the border, and not only because of the polls; some organisers feel the central party has “given up” on them – they’re even having trouble affording office equipment.
One observation uniting all MPs and staffers is that this has been “a long election”. There is no appetite for a second one, and Labourites in particular express concern about their ability to get the same number of activists back out onto the streets in a few months time.