Back to the polls

LESS than 11 months after Britain went to the polls for one of the most remarkable General Elections in living memory, our politicians are back on the campaign trail.

How the landscape has changed in that time.

Lest we forget, it was only a year ago that Gordon Brown was still the nation’s gaffe-prone Prime Minister, David Cameron an inexperienced and unproven leader-in-waiting, Nick Clegg a wildly popular rank outsider.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The shift for Mr Clegg and his reluctant followers, in particular, to a party of government and Public Enemy Number One, has been astonishing.

And it is they who would seem to have most to fear when the country returns to the polls on May 5.

Ed Miliband – who a year ago was merely the Foreign Secretary’s little brother – yesterday launched Labour’s campaign with the predictable message that a vote for his party is a vote against the swingeing cuts to council budgets imposed by the coalition Government.

And while he remains rightly susceptible to the charge that he has thus far failed to lay out a credible alternative, his line of attack will nonetheless resonate strongly with voters in towns and cities across England as they witness treasured libraries, day centres, care homes and swimming pools being closed in their droves.

Lib Dem-held cities such as Sheffield and Hull look particularly vulnerable if supporters decide to punish party leaders for propping up the Tory Government.

For Mr Clegg, the stakes could hardly be higher.

If his party fails to hang on to such key strongholds, the grassroots murmurings which have plagued him for months could erupt into full-blown revolt.

But for Mr Miliband, too, the pressure is now on. These elections represent the first public judgement on his own party leadership.

Expectations are high. If Mr Miliband cannot deliver decisive gains now, questions will quickly begin to be asked if he ever will.