Before a general election, there is always a mood in the air, almost possible to capture, yet still hard to define. In 1997, there was almost no doubt that the Tories were going to lose, and Labour was going to win. The Tories were in denial until the polling day, and they were utterly shell-shocked with the result. The party couldn’t recover in 2001 or 2005. Perhaps it hasn’t completely recovered yet.
In one respect, 2010 feels a bit like 1997. Labour is in denial like the Conservatives were then, and – even worse – it is hoping for the perverse prospect of gaining disproportionately more seats than its share of votes would warrant. The Labour campaign message has become relentlessly negative towards the Tories. It reminds me of the Tories’ tactics in 1997, which were pretty negative. It shows that the ruling party has run out of ideas, and it has no convincing record to be proud of.
In another respect, it doesn’t feel like 1997. The Tories don’t look as if they are going to win decisively. That is very different from Labour in 1997. It is partly due to the ‘LibDem surge’, but also because Mr Cameron has not ‘done’ a Mr Blair. Perhaps no one could, since Mr Blair was the first of the kind. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg are, in some respect, successors to Mr Blair. They are not and cannot be a transformative figure in the way Mr Blair was.
If there is a mood in the air in 2010, then it seems to be a yearning for change, but tinged with anxiousness and uncertainty. Like 1997, the electorate wants a change from the incumbent government, but it is not convinced by the Tories, and the Liberal Democrats are hampered by the electoral system. The economic situation is fraught with danger, and cuts will come, yet no party seems to have clear or honest answers, and vagueness surrounding the notion of fairness that all parties want makes for muddled waters.
This election is the most important in recent years, because the outcome can change the shape and the future of Britain. The next parliament and government will have to tackle huge economic problems, and will need to grapple with electoral reform.