Three weeks left: Duels, polls, and pool on the UK campaign trail

Campaiging heats up.
Campaiging heats up.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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With just three weeks to go until the UK’s May 7 general election, polls show the Labour and Conservative parties achingly close. There’s little indication of who’ll pull ahead.

Promises, promises

The Labour Party released its manifesto on Monday, followed closely by the ruling Conservative Party on Tuesday. Labour sought to reaffirm its heritage as the party of anyone who works (ie, most adults), using the word 169 times in the 83-page document. “For me, the privilege of serving as Prime Minister in our country would be for one purpose alone: To work every day to help build a country that works again for working people,” wrote party leader Ed Miliband, in his foreword.

The Conservative pledge puts the economy first, along with warnings that recovery was still “fragile” and that its opponents couldn’t be trusted to finish the job of pushing through an austerity program and maintaining the growth that it says it started.

In a departure from the norm, the Conservatives present their manifesto in a part-conspiratorial, part-dictatorial second person: “Your job, your home, the mortgage you pay, the school your children go to, your local hospital, your pension – all these things depend on a strong economy.” In all, the text uses “you” and “your” more than 400 times in 86 pages.

There is no pre-arranged timetable for the various parties to publicly make their pledges, but by the end of Thursday the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the UK Independence Party and the Scottish National Party had all publishes their manifestos too. Claims are being fact-checked by a nonprofit organization dedicated to the task and a panel of academics to ferret out any inaccuracies.

Photo Op of the week: Looking statesmanly

Presenting the manifestos gave the candidates an opportunity to stand on podiums and be photographed in poses that made them look like they really have a grip on things.

Image for article titled Three weeks left: Duels, polls, and pool on the UK campaign trail
Image for article titled Three weeks left: Duels, polls, and pool on the UK campaign trail

David Cameron’s suggestion that his Labour rival is a bogeyman coming to derail the economy got an unintended boost. The prime minister made a point of donning a hard hat again to make it clear he is willing to go to the most dangerous of building sites for his people.

Let’s settle this, the 18th century way

If there’s one thing the campaign has lacked so far, it’s duels. But that could all be about to change. A man claiming to be a Polish prince has challenged Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-Europe UK Independence Party, to a sword fight in Hyde Park.

Farage has been vocal about wanting to rid Britain of many immigrants, including those from Poland. He told Sky News that he could probably find a sword if he had to, but wasn’t intending to accept the offer.


Frenzied polling isn’t providing much clarity. The Press Association has the two main parties exactly level in its latest poll of polls: YouGov sees Labour inch ahead with one extra point. But in a system that relies on an aggregation of local races rather than a single national total, it’s hard to be precise. Some “swing” constituencies could be decided by just a few votes.

To help undecided voters (at least, those who don’t intend to read the collective 100,000 words of the five main manifestos), interactive charts are appearing that present the policies of all the leaders—and even allow you to play a game to find out who might form a coalition with whom.

Odds and ends

When Labour was handing over the reins of power five years ago, Liam Byrne, then chief secretary of the treasury, wrote a letter to his successor that was meant to be a wry joke. “I’m afraid there is no money,” it read. He probably wishes he had never tried to bring levity to the treasury. David Cameron brought it up during the last leaders’ debate, and in the first line of his introduction to the party’s manifeso as evidence of Labour’s flippant attitude to the country’s finances.

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, faced an awkward moment when a child told him he would like to vote for UKIP to “get all the foreigners out of the country.” The UKIP message clearly resonates with some. To others, it sounds so crazy that Farage has all but overshadowed erstwhile jokers at the Monster Raving Loony Party. But don’t worry. They still exist:

Finally, can Ed Miliband play pool, some ask? (Spoiler: Yes, he’s a ninja.)