In amongst all the usual clichés about “the only poll that matters is the one on polling day” and “our canvassing returns are excellent” one sure insight into what a party’s is really planning and how it really thinks are going is where it sends its party leader around the country.
The campaign visits this weekend by Nick Clegg illustrate in public what I’ve heard from party campaigning sources – an aggressive move against Conservative seats combined with a long list of possible gains from Labour.
The visits this weekend are to:
Burnley – one of the main Lib Dem targets from Labour, which even when expectations were that the Lib Dems would finish third was a main target
Harrogate – nearby Lib Dem held seat with incumbent MP standing down (Phil Willis*)
So far, so obvious. But then also:
Newport East – not on many pundits lists of possible gains for the party but a seat where we have made dramatic progress in recent elections
Redcar – despite the clue from party president Ros Scott visiting the area at the start of the campaign, I think every pundit has missed the Lib Dem opportunities in this seat, particular as the incumbent MP Vera Baird ran into expenses problems such as claiming for two Christmas trees for her home
It is seats like these two, which do not feature in most outside “top seats to watch” lists but the party has already been putting in significant effort for some time, that give campaign insiders strong hopes for a large number of seat gains.
And then there are these three seats also being visited by Nick Clegg over the weekend:
Two are Conservative held and one (Colne Valley) the Conservatives have treated as if it’s a Labour-Conservative battle. In the case of all three – and a significant number of other seats – support for the Conservatives is sufficiently soft that there are now real hopes of gaining the seats.
It is not just Nick Clegg who is hitting the campaign trail heavily in the last few days of the campaign. So too are Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown and (in a positive sign of how things are going against the Conservatives in Eastleigh) Chris Huhne.
In addition, the party is also spending considerable extra campaign funds supporting extra last week campaigning in a range of Conservative seats across southern England which, until the first TV debate, almost everyone (including most of the candidates) were assuming would be comfortably held by the Conservatives, despite the nominally small majority. But that was back when overall there was a national swing from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. Now it’s the other way round.
Over two million pieces of direct mail are also going out on the last few days to reinforce the “You can make a difference” theme.
People have a once in a lifetime opportunity to overturn the political and party systems as the election increasingly comes down to a contest between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, with Labour struggling and third in most polls and losing the support of its previous roots in progressive opinion, such as The Guardian.
* I worked on Phil’s campaign when he was first elected in 1997. Not only has he been a great MP for his community and a strong asset for the party, I learnt much from that campaign. Thank you Phil.