Reach out.... who'll be there?

Long gone are the days when the party conferences dominated daytime TV schedules for the best part of a month. Those tedious hours of composite motions replaced, largely with property shows.

And for most people, that means conference season need not trouble their lives, save the occasional clip from the leaders’ speeches on the 6 o’clock news.

That’s probably a good thing, though for those who’ve suffered through the last few weeks, we’ve had some pointers to how the phoney war will be fought ahead of the full-on election campaign.

The main Westminster parties are so focused on shoring up their core vote they have little time left to think about how to reach out to anyone else.

Those floating voters could float towards anyone who pays them some attention -- and so far the only ones doing that with any success are UKIP.

David’s Blue Day

Conservatives look at Nigel Farage with a growing sense of dread. Ahead of Douglas Carswell’s likely UKIP by-election win, stopping Tory voters defecting next May is David Cameron’s chief obsession.

Hence the promise of more austerity, a further squeeze on benefits, and of course that in/out EU referendum.

UKIP isn’t the only worry -- Mr Cameron’s also determined to stop disenchanted middle-class voters drifting towards Labour.

The promise to raise the higher rate tax threshold to £50,000 is worth almost £2,000 a year to someone earning that much -- these high earning professionals are the people who were lured to New Labour by Tony Blair.

Losing them now -- as the UKIP army marches in from the other side -- could prove fatal.

Critics will question how a big tax cut for the well-off -- largely unfunded beyond a vague promise of “savings” -- is affordable while cutting spending elsewhere to bring down the deficit.

But that’s a problem that could be solved after the election -- first the Tories have to win it.

Is Ed dead in the water?

Even more than David Cameron, Ed Miliband is focused on core supporters. The promise to boost NHS spending started to fall apart under analysis, but the Labour heartlands love it, and the mansion tax was the cherry on top.

But there was little to appeal to floating voters, even some left-leaning Lib Dems would find little to cheer in Mr Miliband’s modest list of proposals.

It seems the party’s concentrating on getting out the one-third of the electorate who are very likely to vote Labour -- drifting ahead of the Tories in the Commons and perhaps into coalition.

Yet once again we hear whispers of disquiet within Labour, the fear they can’t win with Mr Miliband in charge.

It’s inexplicable such concerns are being made public so close to an election. It’s far too late to change leader, almost too late to fundamentally alter Labour’s message to voters.

The time for ditching Ed Miliband passed long ago -- a message that doesn’t seem to have made it to their own backbenches.

Meet Mr 9-percent

It was inevitable the Liberal Democrats would toughen up attacks on the Conservatives as the election got closer. But, like so much in coalition politics, Nick Clegg’s got to tread very carefully.

It would strain credibility for many voters to hear MPs who’ve spent the last four-and-a-half years in government with the Tories, suddenly complain about how ghastly they are, and how they never really liked them at all.

Expect to hear more attacks accusing the Tories of planning an all-out assault on the poor, and Labour of learning nothing from the economic collapse. All while trying to leave enough room to forge some kind of working relationship with either after polling day.

The mood among Lib Dem activists probably leans towards trying to work with the Conservatives once more -- though this could be because so many of their left-facing supporters have deserted them since 2010.

The real worry is how many MPs they’ll be left with after May 7th. If enough Lib Dem voters switch to Labour, the Tories could pick up half a dozen marginal seats without even trying -- only a UKIP surge in those constituencies might save the Liberal candidates by splitting the Tory vote. 

The Lib Dems make up around one-sixth of the current Coalition strength in the Commons. A nightmare result, halving their numbers to around 30 or so MPs, would mean they’d be less than one-tenth of any future governing coalition. That would mean fewer cabinet posts, less influence, a weaker veto power and fewer Lib Dem policies. Polls suggest only around one-third of the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010 seem inclined to do so again. Reaching out to the rest of that group is the party’s vital task in the coming months.

It seems they’ll do that, not by talking up their own achievements in office, but instead warning of horrors avoided -- effectively: “If you think the Tories were bad in the last five years, imagine what they would have been like if we hadn’t been there to stop them”.

This may be the new Lib Dem role in the age of coalition. Not setting out their own policy programme, acting instead as a restraining influence on both Labour and the Tories -- to the left of one -- to the right of the other.

Making plans for Nigel

Until this year’s European and local elections, most people in the three main parties had presumed UKIP would fade as the General Election approached.

Once people start thinking about who should run the country, attention often shifts away from the fringe parties.

But UKIP could go into next year’s campaign defending two seats, and with Nigel Farage poised to take another. Their support makes it almost impossible to predict some results -- UKIP aren’t just a threat to the Conservatives -- they’re taking votes in Labour heartlands too.

If you’re angry at the current government, and disillusioned by the opposition, there’s few other homes for your protest vote.

The UKIP threat has made the other parties more tribal -- making sure their core vote stays loyal is the top priority.

How they’ll win the additional support needed to govern remains a mystery.