Sebastian Payne

Campaign kick-off: 15 days to go

Campaign kick-off: 15 days to go
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The general election campaign is beginning to feel a little staid. Maybe there was too much excitement over the attacks and TV debates, or maybe the parties are running out of big policies. But there are still some announcements: Labour will continue its ‘NHS week’ with promises of more health care spending while the Tories will talk up their caring side. To help guide you through the melée of stories and spin, here is a summary of today’s main election stories.

1. Vote Labour, save the Union

The Tories’ attacks on the dangers of voting Labour and getting the SNP have hit a road bump. Two senior former cabinet minsters have suggested that Conservative voters in Scotland should back Labour in the upcoming election, to keep out the nationalists. Norman Tebbit, former Tory party chairman under Margaret Thatcher, has said:

‘From the Tories’ point of view we are not going to come home with a vast number of seats from Scotland. We know that. So the choice is would we rather have a Scot Nat or Labour? I think, on balance, probably a Labour MP would be a more reasonable thing to have.’

Tebbit's remarks follow on from similar remarks by Malcolm Rifkind, the former defence secretary and MP for Edinburgh Pentlands. Although Rifkind does not quite urge Tory voters to back Labour, he can see why they might :

‘I have thought about that question hypothetically and I can’t give 100% assurances as to what my answer would be. I can see arguments in somewhere like Gordon that if people think they can defeat Salmond it would be very tempting.’

This poses a big problem for the Scottish Conservatives. Their leader Ruth Davidson is an impressive figure and has done well to make herself heard but she knows, as does David Cameron, that the Tories are going to struggle to hold onto their single remaining seat north of the border. So the real choice for unionists across Scotland is  Labour vs. SNP. And either way, that vote points towards a Miliband premiership. The question is whether it will involve the breakup of the Union.

2. Shapps denies all

The Guardian reported yesterday that Wikipedia has blocked a user who is alleged to either be the chairman of the Conservative Party Grant Shapps or 'someone acting on his behalf’. The mysterious anonymous user Contribsx was found to be making what the paper describes as ‘unflattering changes’ to the Wikipedia entries of Philip Hammond,, Justine Greening and Lynton Crosby. But Shapps has come out fighting. A Conservative spokesman said yesterday ‘this story is completely false and defamatory. It is nonsense from start to finish’.

On Newsnight last night, Shapps vigorously denied that he was involved in the edits (and managed to get in ‘Ed Miliband and the Labour smear machine’ within ten seconds):

Shapps claims that he has diary evidence that refutes any notion he was personally responsible for the edits. But as the Guardian story pointed out, it could still be someone acting on his behalf. Shapps again denied he sanctioned anyone to do the edits on his behalf. Tracking down who or where ‘Contrisx’ can be is very tricky and it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out exactly who was responsible — unless the Guardian has more evidence coming. But this hasn’t stopped Shapps becoming the butt of Liberal Democrat jokes — such as this witty press release from Paddy Ashdown or what Nick Clegg said this morning:

— Frances Perraudin (@fperraudin) April 22, 2015

3. The money tree grows

David Cameron will announce today an extra 600,000 free childcare places, doubling the number of subsidies places for three and four year olds. The plan will cost a cool £350 million. Switching tack from the recent spate of SNP attacks, the Prime Minister will lay out his plan to tackle a 'shocking' situation, 'where couples were spending as much on childcare as one of them took home in earnings.'

Alternatively, Ed Miliband will pledge today to invest £150 million a year in new equipment to diagnose cancer — as part of its commitment to help deliver one-week cancer tests by 2020. The policy will cost £750 million in total, paid for out of the £2.5 billion-a-year mansion tax fund. But it wouldn’t be an election announcement without some party political fodder. Miliband will reportedly accuse the government of ‘cutting cancer budgets’ while the Conservatives point out that Labour refuses to acknowledge the £8 billion budget gap that the NHS says needs to be filled by 2020.

The Liberal Democrats have also announced plans to increase government pay at least in line with inflation for the next two years, and inline with inflation after that. In a speech this morning, Nick Clegg will say 'workers across the public sector have made enough sacrifices. You have done your bit to help get the country back on track.' And who said we live in times of austerity?