As voters throughout the land beg for mercy, this interminable election campaign chugs relentlessly on. The leaders’ debates may be over, apart from a residual buzzing in our ears, but we’re now in a period called “36-hour non-stop talking”, as our lords and masters criss-cross the country in cars, buses, trains and helicopters – you’d have thought hot-air balloons would be more appropriate – in a last-gasp attempt to not-win the election more impressively than the other parties.
Nick Clegg was revelling in his crack-of-dawn photo-call at Land’s End this morning, as he unveiled his plan to travel the length of Britain thanking each remaining Lib Dem voter personally for his or her support, and his advisers anxiously tried to point him in the right direction so he didn’t accidentally walk off into the sea.
The Lib Dems still have hopes of shamelessly hitching their wagon to whatever bunch of charlatans grabs power, and this time they’ve even thought up some Red Lines (buzz-phrase alert) to make their opinions look relevant. Cynical observers, or as they’re nowadays known “the electorate”, can’t help but compare these policy positions to sheets of lasagne: they may look firm at the moment, but as soon as the heat’s on they’ll soften up and be submerged in a load of mince.
Meanwhile, David Cameron has rolled up his sleeves, knocked back a jeroboam of espresso and declared himself “pumped up”, a sure sign he’s absolutely terrified. The Tories have put a massive amount into this campaign: slander, obfuscation, hyperbole, bribery –in fact, everything expect the slightest indication of where they’ll slash £12 billion from welfare – and yet poll ratings remain unco-operatively static, like a mule embedded in cement.
“We’re aiming for an absolute majority,” insists Dave, though everyone knows that’s as likely as Jeremy Clarkson opening a charm school. Propeller-headed party strategists are already working on alternative scenarios, including a rose-garden smooch with Nigel Farage, a tearful reconciliation with never-say-no Nick and, in extremis, Dave digging his fingernails into the carpet and having to be dragged out of number 10 by a hydraulic pulley system.
Ordinarily this would all be academic to Scottish voters, but these days the tectonic plates aren’t so much shifting as doing an eightsome reel. Only tactical voters, nursing their wrath to keep it warm, stand between the SNP and a near clean sweep, and depending on whether you read the National or the Daily Mail, Nicola Sturgeon is either a stadium-filling superstar, scourge of the Establishment and paragon of progressive politics or the most dangerous woman in the universe, defacer of Barbie dolls and harbinger of the Apocalypse.
One thing’s for certain: the SNP have caught the eye of Middle England, and not necessarily in a good way. Press coverage has generally represented them as a horde of barbarians at the gates, smelling of yak-piss and bent on mayhem.
This presumably lies at the heart of Ed Miliband’s recent statement that if he’s asked to do a deal with them, the answer will be “hell, no”. I say “presumably” because it’s never quite clear what Ed’s on about, even if you’re an experienced translator with advanced training in balderdash. Fortunately he’s getting his thoughts chiselled on a monolith, so that gives us a fighting chance.
Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see the how the “no deals” policy affects Labour MPs’ behaviour. Perhaps they’ll have to wear la-la-I-can’t-hear-you ear muffs in the Commons restaurant, in case an SNP MP offers to pass the salt. Or they’ll be obliged to slam a door in their own faces rather than allow Stewart Hosie to hold it open for them, and hurl themselves under any taxi that Pete Wishart offers to share.
So many permutations, denials and caveats, so much uncertainty. But if we end up with a prolonged post-election stalemate, is there one possibility we haven’t identified?
Is it conceivable there could be a grand Labour-Tory coalition, or at least an agreement for Labour not to intervene while the Tories insert the last few sticks of dynamite into our public services? Those who’ve suggested this have usually been considered wild conspiracy theorists who also believe that Martians are trying to contact them via their kitchen utensils.
But isn’t it a teensy-weensy possibility, for the good of the nation, of course, with the future of a new royal baby to consider? What a fiendish twist on the usual SNP complaint: this time Scotland might vote neither Labour nor Tory and get both. The Queen wouldn’t just be purring, she’d be doing cartwheels through the cat-flap.