(Geddit? GEDDIT? You know, the band that did the theme tune to that time travel film. What was it called? Bridge to the Future or something?)
The story today is that Hughes has diverted his fire away from Campbell and onto Huhne. Earlier today, I speculated that this was a miscalculation based on jitters about Huhne overtaking him. It is certainly a bad idea to attack the candidate in third place, it only gives them credibility. What’s more, at this point candidates need to start repeating the message, the message, the message and Hughes’ best message is that he won’t be a caretaker leader.
But the more I think about it, the more I think this must be a deliberate face saving measure. In essence, Hughes has looked at his own internal polling, seen that he’s in third place, and has decided that finishing in a face-saving second must be his main priority from now until 2 March. The hope must be that his mudslinging, combined with Campbell’s, will start to stick and Huhne’s support will start to slip under sheer relentless attack. Anyone who has fought an election campaign when Labour and the Tories start sharing lines of attack in the interest of preserving a two-party “status quo” will recognise this tactic.
As for Hughes’ manifesto, one has to ask: what’s the point? We’re back to litany politics here – lots of policy bites and “themes” but no overall message or structure. It is an example of everything we’ve been doing wrong with Lib Dem campaigning in recent years. What’s worse, by being too specific, it means that if elected he is simply letting himself in for years of policy battles and accusations of U-turns. All candidates are open to this, but the other two have attempted to walk the fine line between detail and vision. Hughes plumps straight for detail.
And it has to be pointed out that this thing should have been wheeled out last week. Launching a manifesto after a good 20% of the electorate have already physically voted is just plain daft.
There has been a curious lack of fire in this campaign. My assumption has always been that Simon would do better than the media expected because of his natural charisma and ability to do a good speech. He has those qualities, but too often his campaign has been about fighting the battles of yesterday. Too much of his manifesto sounds like it came out of policy papers from the mid-90s: he’s refighting old battles. If Campbell is a Bridge to the Future, then Hughes is a Tunnel to the Past.