Complain all you like about the way the Tories are campaigning at the moment, but it’s getting the message across. The party has hit on the SNP, which is fascinating the media anyway, as the best line of attack to undermine Labour. Tory candidates report being pleasantly surprised by how much cut-through the Labour-SNP message is getting, while pollsters now say members of their focus groups are raising the issue unprompted.
Focusing on the SNP may well have a number of serious side effects for the Tory party. It may reinforce the perception that they are a nasty, negative party. It may mean they do not give voters sufficient reason to back them, even if they succeed in putting them off Labour. Negative campaigning does work very well in a country like Australia which has compulsory voting, but some British voters may simply choose to stay at home. In the long term, taking up the SNP could contribute to a crisis of legitimacy of the UK government.
But given we are so close to polling day, the long term isn’t something the parties are giving much heed to, any more than a long-distance runner thinks about how their legs will feel the next day when they’re trying to beat someone in the last 500 metres of a race. And the fact is that the Tories are getting their message to the top of the agenda this week.
How is Labour trying to change the subject from the SNP? It’s not, really. The party is holding a special ‘NHS week’. This isn’t quite as stupid as it seems because it is focused on stirring up Labour’s core so that those voters do definitely come out and support the party. But it is not a game-changing bit of campaigning, as non-doms was. The party may need to try a little harder if it wants to spook the Tories again.