As families celebrated Easter across the United Kingdom, the election campaign showed no sign of abating. Below, Cicero Elections reviews what happened in the world of politics over the Easter weekend:
UKIP claimed another Conservative defection as Parliamentary candidate Mike Whitehead will contest Hull West and Hessle, a safe Labour seat, for UKIP. The Conservatives claim Whitehead had been fired from the party a week ago and criticised UKIP for trying to score cheap political points.
After polling showed the Conservatives are now viewed as the party of the workers, Prime Minister David Cameron said that 14m working households will be better off with proposed tax cuts (94 per cent according to HM Treasury figures). Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne also refused to rule out cutting the top rate of tax from 45 per cent to 40 per cent.
Labour criticised its Leader, Ed Miliband, for allowing minor parties to target Labour supporters in debates he agreed to. Labour candidates said it was “absolutely crazy” to allow the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Ukip and the Greens to appear alongside the major parties due to fears that they will target Labour voters on either wing of the party.
Labour fears SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon the most, after an assured performance in the debate on Thursday, where she set out an anti-austerity argument that appeals to many Labour voters. The SNP are predicted to take more than 30 seats off Labour in May. The smaller parties will largely appeal to left wing voters (Ukip have appeal across the board) and are able to make undeliverable promises that a major party cannot.
Nonetheless, Labour strategists believe Miliband performs well in debates and secures more support the longer voters are able to hear his arguments.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon used her Monday announcements to focus on the SNP’s commitment to pensioners. Pledging to increase the basic state pension to £160 a week and to resist any increase to the pension age in Scotland on the basis that life expectancy is lower there. Meanwhile the row over the leaked Scotland Office memo continued to reverberate with SNP activists making extensive use of social media to claim that the whole thing was a conspiracy and part of “Project Fear II” as The National put it. The most sensible comment came from Gaby Hinsliff who suggested that outside the bubble of politicians and activists the whole episode would have little impact.
Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg warned that Chancellor George Osborne is a “dangerous man”, whose public spending plans would lead to economic disaster. He has said that Prime Minister David Cameron does not have a “grand vision”, and that he could “live with that”. Osborne’s plans, he said, were “socially and morally unacceptable”.
Clegg said that Ed Miliband, like Cameron, is “a perfectly nice guy, personable”. However, he criticised Miliband for often doing the tactical thing and not supporting votes on issues of principle, such as on House of Lords reform, Syria or party funding.
Clegg is clearly positioning his party for coalition, with his kind words for the other major party leaders, though he is still keen to distance the Lib Dems from Labour and the Conservatives – Osborne is less popular than Cameron and responsible for austere spending plans. Clegg said both parties want to “revert to the status quo”.
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have pledged to match the Conservatives’ commitment to increase the basic threshold to £12,500 in the next Parliament for Personal Income Tax.
A number of senior party figures are positioning themselves to take over the leadership from Nigel Farage should he step down in May. Farage has said that he will not remain as leader if he does not win election to Parliament. Diane James, a UKIP MEP, has said that Paul Nuttall, the Deputy Leader; Patrick O’Flynn, the economics spokesman; and Suzanne Evans, Deputy Chair; could all be contenders. She did not name UKIP MPs Douglas Carswell or Mark Reckless. A female leader has previously been mentioned, so Evans could be a strong contender, as UKIP are less popular with women than with men, and have been criticised for holding sexist positions on a number of policy areas.
Farage’s position has come into question in recent days given the tightening of polls in South Thanet where he is standing to be the MP. Both the Conservative and Labour challengers are putting up a strong fight and the three are tied.