Tom Richmond: Tory campaign failings squander public’s trust

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BY rights, this should be David Cameron’s election to win – today’s economy is far healthier than the sick beast that the Tories and Liberal Democrats inherited from the last Labour government five years ago.

Yet, if the Prime Minister is to be the beneficiary of a decisive late swing comparable to 1992, the last time the Conservatives secured an overall majority, it will be in spite of Mr Cameron’s efforts.

He has presided over one of the most lacklustre campaigns in history. He has under-estimated Ed Miliband and the Tory leader took it for granted that he would be returned to office. There has been a prevailing sense of entitlement rather than the Conservatives, the traditional party of work, having to graft for victory. The unfortunate and probably unfair sobriquet “dodgy Dave” is beginning to stick.

The Tory approach has also been ultra-cautious – there has clearly been a reluctance for Mr Cameron to risk being heckled or jeered. Yet this is precisely what elections should be about – leaders meeting the people rather than party hacks waving placards for the cameras.

And then there is the economy – supposedly the Conservative Party’s strongest suit – and the desperation on the part of the Tories in the wake of disappointing GDP figures.

This is what drove Mr Cameron’s cobbled together announcement of a five-year “tax lock” – legislation promising no increases to income tax, VAT or national insurance before May 2020.

Coming from the leader of a party that promised no VAT increase in 2010, and then imposed such a rise once it was in office, such a commitment sounds slightly hollow. It also leaves the Chancellor with little wriggle-room in the event of wider financial turmoil, such as Greece’s exit from the euro. The Tories seem to have forgotten Harold Macmillan’s “events, my dear boy, events” maxim. If Mr Cameron was sufficiently trusted, he would not have felt the need to make such a rash promise.

And then there was George Osborne’s Yorkshire plan of action for the first 100 days of a Tory government. Top of the list was expanding the M62 to a four-lane “smart motorway” from Leeds to Manchester. This is already taking place – it’s not going to happen by magic overnight. Yet item number two – “upgrading the A1 in Yorkshire to motorway” – is the most disingenuous. This is not new – it was first signalled in 2010 and the announcement was recycled on December 1 last year when the Chancellor unveiled a £6bn programme of infrastructure improvements. Long-awaited widening schemes in South and North Yorkshire are still years away from being completed.

However, with stunts like this, is it any wonder that David Cameron is struggling to win the one argument – economic trust – which is so critical to his re-election?

I SEE Nick Clegg wants his party to run the Department for Education and Skills in the event of his party playing a substantive role in the make-up of the next government.

There is much merit to this – Mr Clegg’s party has stressed a willingness to work in partnership with teachers in order to raise standards. It is also a tacit admission that the Lib Dems spread themselves too thinly with their insistence that they should have at least one Minister in every department.

However, with Business Secretary Vince Cable indicating a strong personal desire to be Chancellor, I hope the Lib Dems are not getting presumptuous – they actually need to get enough MPs elected in the first place to even be in a position to hold the balance of power.

NEIL Kinnock’s son Stephen is on track to become the Labour MP for the South Wales seat of Aberavon next Thursday. Yet I am still intrigued how he will be able to juggle his duties at Westminster when he spends so much time in Copenhagen with his wife Helle Thorning-Schmidt – the Prime Minister of Denmark.

Kinnock junior denies that this will be problematical. “There are people in the Army who are in similar situations or people with international careers who have to spend time apart from their family,” he said. I remain to be convinced – especially given his family’s preference for first class status when it comes to the political gravy train.

IT’S not just the prospect of another Kinnock at Westminster that is likely to worry some; it is also the possibility of the government benches containing MPs like Mhairi Black.

Who is she? She is the Scottish Nationalist candidate who could – if the opinion polls are correct – topple Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, in Paisley.

Why is this perturbing? She is an idealistic 20-year-old University of Glasgow student who appears to be very immature judging by her reaction to Labour councillors during last year’s referendum campaign. “It took everything, every fibre of my being, not to put the nut on one of them,” she said.

I can only assume that the SNP was not expecting to win this seat when Ms Black was selected and that this speaks volumes about Labour’s disarray north of the border.

HAS Ukip no shame or tact? I refer to the election posters that party activists have nailed to trees surrounding the entrance and exit to Rawdon Crematorium in Leeds. Is Nigel Farage’s party incapable of realising that the dead cannot vote, and that the election will be the last thing on the minds of the grieving?

SPORTS pundits continue to misuse the word ‘legend’. In the past week, it has been used to describe Marathon runner Paula Radcliffe (no Olympic medal to her name); tennis player Tim Henman (no Grand Slam final in his career); footballer Steven Gerrard (no Premier League title) and snooker’s show-pony Judd Trump (no World Championship). It also detracts from true legends like AP McCoy who became champion jump jockey when John Major was still PM, and held the title for 20 successive seasons, before retiring last weekend. His longevity is worthy of all the plaudits now being bestowed upon this true icon of global sport.

SHOULD polling stations be discarded in favour of new technology? Broadcaster Clare Balding thinks so. Her argument is this: “Everyone says online voting is not secure enough and yet we have online banking for millions. Staggering. It would transform turn-out and engagement.”

However, let me put forward an alternative view. Elections should not be treated like reality TV shows; they determine the future governance of the country. There is still something special about the civic duty of walking to the polling station, thinking of the deeds made by forebears to protect the liberty of Britain and then casting one’s vote. It should not be sacrificed lightly.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk