With just days until polling day, the general election is looking no easier to call.
And whether you are a political geek seeking in-depth analysis of the most unpredictable election in 20 years, or a swing voter trying to make up your mind, The Politicos Guide to the 2015 General Election is a good place to start.
Through contributions from a range of experts, the book profiles the major party leaders and their campaigns, before delving into the details of policy and regional issues.
It gives an excellent insight into the brave new world of four-party politics, analysing the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote and where it is likely to go, the ‘make or break’ opportunity for Ukip and the major challenges for Labour and the Conservatives.
The most interesting content is the behind-the-scenes details of the parties’ campaign machines and the analysis of key battlegrounds, where the authors’ expertise goes far beyond the breakdown you can read in any broadsheet.
The chapter on Labour’s campaign by political consultant Paul Richards, for instance, covers the party’s ground operation and influential figures in its campaign HQ, as well as must-win seats.
Iain Dale’s seat-by-seat prediction of the LibDem vote is also fascinating, although he admits in the foreword he does not have the best track record in forecasting the party’s wins. In the 2010 election, Dale predicted they would win 70 or 80 seats, and he recalls how on LBC’s live election night show, before the BBC poll revealing they had won 57 seats came in, he had said: “If the LibDems win 59 seats I’ll run down Whitehall naked.”
In the chapter on Ukip, the party’s head of press, Gawain Towler, gives a rare insight into what it is like to be part of Ukip, which has come under so much press scrutiny. For example, he reveals that Ukip activists have begun to regard negative stories as a badge of honour. His view may be biased but it is also revealing. He says that what other parties view as “dangerously off-message” is seen by Ukip as “normal” – which is pretty damning, considering what has been revealed about some Ukip candidates. Towler also addresses some of the serious challenges facing Ukip, such as the limitations of the first-past-the-post system.
But while the essay style works well in parts, the book could have been significantly improved by a more varied format. A better use of graphics and data, for instance, would make it far easier to dip into for the less-expert reader.
Another inevitable shortcoming is that the book is not entirely up to date, having been published before the parties’ manifestos and some of the latest political developments. As such, it features little about the SNP, which is proving to be such a crucial force in this unique election, or the surprising turnaround in Labour leader Ed Miliband’s popularity. While the so-called Milifandom of the past few weeks may or may not have staying power, any change in his personal profile – which so much of the anti-Labour campaign has focused on – could prove to be critical.
Another welcome addition would have been more space dedicated to the various potential coalitions and the impact they could have, given that no party is likely to win an outright majority. But those misgivings aside, this is an essential guide for making an informed decision at the ballot box.