August is normally political silly season when desperate hacks spend their time trawling through MPs dustbins to try and create a side-bar story for their daily rag. However, with all the chat being about a potential Autumn poll this year the silly season has been quite, quite serious.
The government have been doing the real work, of course, tackling floods, foot and mouth disease, and terror threats. The Conservatives have been doing the real job of opposition - planning for government - and Cameron has been on a roll with the work on housing, GCSE results, crime, tax and now immigration (thanks, in part, to an excellent Newsnight interview). Polls which show Brown's so-called "bounce" being halved in just a few weeks will bear out the fruitful nature of this work. The Conservatives do look frighteningly ready for a general election and the policy launches can easily be pulled into a manifesto.
However the total absence of the LibDems during this time has totally confused both bloggers and the mainstream media. You'd have to be totally misguided to believe that Sir Ming's one decent media foray - pullout of Iraq - was planned, or even a plan to knock Cameron off the telly. This is madness - the story was, if anything, created by Brown's people because they has control of the release of the letter in reply to Sir Ming. If I were a LibDem campaigner I wouldn't be happy with the party yet again banging on about Iraq, it simply makes you look like a single-issue pressure group. Other than that, not a word from our little yellow chums in the LibDems. A cunning plan to avoid silly season? Hardly, with their dire poll ratings (14% reported again today) they need all the coverage they can get.
The EDP has a rather good report on Clarke's efforts to hold onto Norwich South today and I think to some degree his confidence is held in the belief that the opposition is split 3 ways in the constituency. Those LibDems who believe, somehow, that the vast numbers of Green votes will simply come flocking back to them at the first sign of a bar chart or that Tories will vote tactically are barking not so much up the wrong tree as in the wrong forest. All three other parties dislike the Norwich LibDems with a passion. Their PPC is making zero media impact, the council group is dwindling and the campaigning still isn't taking off. They are made mincemeat of in the council chamber and Norwich doesn't feel ready to forgive them for their tenure in office 02-06. I can honestly say that I haven't met a single Tory voter who is ready to vote tactically for them - in fact, most put Labour and the LibDems in the same box. The Tories in Norwich have their USPs in place and will build on those (whoever the candidate is).
The LibDems would have you believe that this is a two-horse race (cue graphic of two horses!) but I am not going to patronise the electorate like they do. I say any one of four parties could win Norwich South. Clarke says he hopes people won't tactically vote. I'd agree, but add that I hope people vote for the party or person they believe in. Politics shouldn't be about choosing the person you hate the least (this is, essentially, the LibDem argument) but about lending your mandate to the candidate whose vision most closely matches your own. My feel from the doorstep is that people agree with this.
If the LibDems campaign heavily on the tactical vote I think that people will reject it. I wonder if all the candidates fighting this election in this constituency would be willing to sign a "positive campaign" pledge and promise to focus on policy and not tactical voting? It sounds like Labour and the Conservatives would ... will the Greens and LibDems? Seats don't get anymore interesting than Norwich South.