A few days ago, Ed Miliband had his five key manifesto pledges set in stone. Literally. In a move that has already become the stuff of political and social media legend, he had an 8’6 limestone slab engraved with his own promises to the electorate. Fortunately for him, “I will not do a deal with the SNP” does not feature amongst them. This is following David Cameron’s bizarre pledge to create a law saying he has to set a certain something in law, by law, a law that could be undone by him or any other prime minister anyhow. As if we didn’t have enough coming constitutional crises already without the Tories wanting to enshrine in law a law that makes it against the law not to pass certain laws.
It all points to one of the striking features of this election: the two largest parties pretending that the old duopoly is still intact while simultaneously having to live within the multi-party world via sheer necessity. The Tories attacks on the Labour-SNP possibilities being a beautiful example – oh, the two party system is dead for the other guys, but certainly not for us. I understand that parroting the “we’re still on track for a majority” shtick is needed to keep some sort of momentum going with the ground troops, but what I find odd is that both Labour and the Tories genuinely seem to be hiding their heads in the sand in regards to “the new politics”.
It’s as if Labour have convinced themselves the SNP surge will die at the last minute, at least somewhat (Murphy and Douglas won’t really lose their seats, will they?), and the Tories think all the Kippers will “come home” on polling day, getting them over the line to a working majority. They seem unable to truly comprehend that the age of majorities, one that lasted from the end of the Second World War until 2010, is now definitively at an end. Unless the two parties radically invent themselves somehow and get it just right I can’t see it returning anytime soon. The Conservative Party and the Labour Party as we have known them over the past seventy years may be dying. Whichever one manages to navigate the new terrain better than the other may be able to cling on for a bit longer.
You’d think the Tories would have the upper hand in this area having been in coalition for the last five years, but no. They seem more deluded about being able to get a majority on May 7th than Labour is. They had a plan: blame everything on the Lib Dems as both a shielding mechanism and a way of crushing the Lib Dem vote, something that would allow them to take those seats in the South West that prevented a majority in 2010. It seemed to be going so well at first, with the Lib Dems slipping massively in the polls and the Tories actually gaining seats in the 2011 local elections. Now they can’t face up to the idea that they may have got it completely wrong.
Perhaps all it will require for reality to finally hit Labour and the Conservatives good and proper is for Labour to have a SNP related nightmare for a few years and for the Tories to have actually lost to Ed Miliband. But I doubt it: delusion runs deep in the tribes of old. But whatever they do, reality is what it is. Trying to set the past in stone won’t make it hold against the tide.