Andrew Marr's Election Diary: After the first week of election campaigning, have we learned anything?

30 May 2024, 15:17 | Updated: 6 June 2024, 12:29

Andrew Marr's Election Diary: After the first week of election campaigning, writes Andrew Marr
Andrew Marr's Election Diary: After the first week of election campaigning, writes Andrew Marr. Picture: Alamy
Andrew Marr

By Andrew Marr

So, after the first week of election campaigning, have we learned anything?

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Absolutely: apart from the fact that the Labour polling lead seems remarkably strong and the Tories are struggling to dent it with eye-catching policies designed for older voters, there are other interesting lessons.

Election campaigns are just normal politics on steroids, and sometimes on acid.

Although this election timing was a huge surprise, all the main parties had their plans already in place - nice, controlled, photogenic events to persuade voters about their seriousness and their interesting ideas – and in every case, these plans have been derailed, indeed whacked sideways, by events.

For the Tories, it was, of course, the - completely unpredictable - arrival of spring rain, drenching Rishi Sunak as he launched the election; then pratfalls in pubs and at the birthplace of the Titanic.

For Labour, it was the furore over the treatment of Diane Abbott and being forced to respond to a Conservative attack over whether or not they would raise VAT.

For the Liberal Democrats, it was falling into Lake Windermere.

For the SNP it was the Michael Matheson affair; the former Scottish health secretary suffered a parliamentary barn and fine for using taxpayers' money to fund his children’s iPad roaming bill on holiday but the SNP leader John Swinney backed him anyway

Nobody controls the political weather any more than they control the other kind. Stuff happens.

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Events, as former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, once famously pointed out, tend to occur.

Strategists may plan their campaigns with dry, forensic attention to detail but then what actually happens is more like skateboarding down a muddy, zigzagging mountain path wearing big banana boots, without any idea of what’s round the next corner – and no rails to protect you.

So, policies are proudly unveiled and come apart at the seams. Then they’re hurriedly amended or binned.

Reputations are suddenly made, suddenly lost.

TV cameras and radio mikes instructed to point in one direction, swivel around to something more interesting… quite often a real, live, voter with something pungent to say.

And for us, the voters, it is all a great entertainment but also an illumination.

We find out who our would-be leaders really are under pressure. We learn who is allowed to give media interviews and who is gagged and shoved in a broom cupboard – and therefore, where the party’s weak spots are.

We are suddenly forced to think hard about what matters most to us, tax rates or the state of our schools, immigration or economic growth.

All the time, at an accelerated rate, our country is being changed by this campaign.

Old faces are departing - goodbye Michael Gove, goodbye Sajid Javid - and new politicians are waiting in the wings, people we don’t know yet but who will have a massive influence over our lives in the five years ahead.

What will the next lot actually do? Can we trust what they say?

We have another five weeks to try to find out: after that, once again, the voters lose control and the politicians have it back.

Let’s not waste that time.