With just over a month to go until the UK’s May 7 general election, parliament was dissolved on March 30 and the campaigning began in earnest. Hopeful candidates, nervous incumbents, spin doctors, and assorted hangers-on have fanned out across the UK to drum up votes.
Here are some of the week’s highlights:
Matters of debate
The only televised debate—still a novelty in the UK—was held near Manchester and featured seven parties, mainly because David Cameron had insisted on it. The set was strangely reminiscent of a game show. The smaller parties impressed the most, particularly Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party, who won the night according to YouGov.
The most memorable exchange came when Nigel Farage of the far right UK Independence Party blamed some of the problems of the National Health Service on HIV-positive migrants. Leanne Wood of the Welsh National Party shot back that he should be ashamed of himself, eliciting spontaneous applause from the audience.
The name of the night’s first questioner, Jonny, was used so many times by leaders keen to show they were listening to the people that it became a running joke on Twitter.
A poll-of-polls by the New Statesman puts the Conservatives and Labour almost completely neck-and-neck at 34% each. UKIP is in third with 13%, followed by the Lib Dems with 7%.
Photo opp theme of the week: food and drink
David Cameron and George Osborne navigated a keg maze; Osborne made a pizza; Labour MP Tristram Hunt took to the kitchen; and Lib Dem candidates in Scotland went straight to the source.
A Liberal Democrat press conference on mental health was overshadowed by reality TV star/professional simpleton Joey Essex. In an interview with party leader Nick Clegg, the things Essex learned included that it’s Clegg not “Leg,” and it’s Liberal Democrats instead of Liberal “Democats.”
Ed Miliband felt safe enough to speak at a factory in nothing but a business suit; Lib Dem MP David Ward donned protective eyewear at a manufacturing plant; but David Cameron gave it the full hi-visibility-vest-and-helmet treatment at… the supermarket Sainsbury’s. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg fearlessly faced down some hedgehogs in a sweater and slacks.
A voter in a same-sex marriage told her local Tory candidate she didn’t want any more campaign letters from him. He replied that he didn’t want to hear from her either, to widespread opprobium.
The mayor of London, a potential future challenger for leader of the Conservatives, started tweeting.
Candidate Jeremy Zeid was replaced after writing on Facebook that Israel should “do an Eichmann” to US president Barack Obama—in other words, kidnap and imprison the leader, as with Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann—in retaliation for the US declassifying documents on Israel’s nuclear program.
“The key problem afflicting the UK economy is not austerity or the cost of living but something that hardly ever gets mentioned in British political debates: Productivity,” writes the economist Karl Whelan in an essay, If The UK Economy Is Doing So Well, Why Does It Feel So Bad?.
Whelan looks at changes in GDP per person—not just overall—to divine why people still feel unhappy even though the economy is apparently on track.
Data viz of the week
The Financial Times put together an excellent seat-by-seat look at the key election battlegrounds, grouped into four themes, from the rise of the SNP to the decline of the Liberal Democats, er, Democrats.
Odds and ends
Ed Miliband told the world he was tough—”Hell yes I’m tough enough.” He also thinks actress Rosamund Pike is tough—tough enough to be the next James Bond, in fact. Nigel Farage’s face continues to amuse in new, and now interactive, ways. Twitter wants political journalists to do more selfie stick-based reporting. Meanwhile, the party faithful can show their support with a dizzying array of merchandise, from Labour’s “Controls on immigration” mugs to UKIP-branded condoms, Lib Dem letter openers, and Margaret Thatcher-themed greeting cards.