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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

They're off....!

So, the election has been called. Gordon Brown has announced the most unpredictable election for a generation. It will be May 6th, just under 30 days time. And in the 48 hours since the election was called we've learned a little about what might be in store on the campaign trail.

Before that, we had a final glimpse at Westminster - the Manure Parliament will be dissolved (can you dissolve manure?) on April 12th. In the final PMQs today, there was a feeling of "not a moment too soon". In truth, this has been a Parliament that has gone on far too long and - with around 145 MPs not standing for re-election - you could almost sense the relief in MPs as they left the Chamber today. For many it has been a bruising time as the expenses scandal took its toll. For others, they have been waiting for this election since Brown marched his troops up the hill back in October 2007 - only to bottle the Election That Never Was.

Tentative steps so far in the campaign. Brown went for a rather clunky launch statement outside Downing Street - understandably using a strategy to promote his Cabinet and strength in depth as an vote-winner. Cameron meanwhile stood alone with a view of Westminster behind him. His Shadow Cabinet - with a further Grayling gaffe over the weekend and continued uncertainty around Osborne - will likely play a backseat role in the campaign. A more Presidential style. If Cameron can last the campaign, this may work. If he gaffes or gets exhausted - the Tory project will suddenly appear thin.

Brown's first day on the campaign trail appeared to play it safe. Stage-managed meetings with party activists passed off as "Brown drops round to a normal house for tea" might not convince the voters for long. The truth is that he will be hating this campaign. He is clearly ill at ease with the voters in person, even though the crowd in Morrisons in Kent gave him a positive reception. He then suffered the first (mild) heckling of the campaign. Sky News enjoyed themselves, running the clips of Brown scuttling away into his car at least twice in five minutes.

Brown is in for a rough ride. Cameron will get less stick on the campaign trail and is easier and more comfortable with the voters, developing a classic sleeves-rolled-up look whether it's a bakery or a hospital ward. He looks as though he enjoys contact with real voters. Brown will be in for more heckling like he had today - especially if he's seen to run away from it or inept at dealing with it. Even Tony Blair famously found it difficult to handle - no doubt Cameron would too. But Brown should be braced for more of this on the campaign trail. He hides himself away or plays safe at his peril.

PREDICTION: Conservative majority of 20

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