The masked activists, the pickpockets, pocket-dwellers, pipers, puppet masters -- the explicit content of the Tory general election campaign has been rabidly anti-Nat, but it has been clear for some time that it's real target was always Ed Miliband and his Labour colleagues. In a narrow sense, the ploy has been understood as a tactical opportunity for the Tories to slap UKIP back in an electoral vice, reclaiming votes in embattled marginals.
This Tory campaign has been widely derided. Those Antipodean (and North American) electoral whizzes are, unsurprisingly, not worth their hire. But in this respect at least, the Conservatives have shown cunning, initiative, and an awareness that you have got to get your retaliation in first in politics. The Independent's leader, endorsing the coalition, puts this now central point of the campaign discourse clearly.
“For all his talk of no deals with the SNP, Miliband is bound to rely on that party to get his legislative programme through. This would be a disaster for the country, unleashing justified fury in England at the decisive influence of MPs who – unlike this title – do not wish the Union to exist. If that were to be the case while Labour were the second biggest party either in terms of vote share, or seats – or both – how could Labour govern with authority? They could not. Any partnership between Labour and the SNP will harm Britain’s fragile democracy. For all its faults, another Lib-Con Coalition would both prolong recovery and give our kingdom a better chance of continued existence.”
At the risk of labouring the bleeding obvious, political legitimacy doesn't just exist out there, in the ether. That's pure superstition. Legitimacy isn't like an Act of Parliament, an authority to be appealed to, chapter and verse, section and clause. That is pure superstition. It is worked at, argued for, sometimes hard won and sometimes given away for a farthing. And if this Tory campaign has achieved one thing, it has carpet bombed the legitimacy Labour's best and surest way back into power extremely effectively. It helps to have the reactionary press on your side, I grant you. You get a finer, clearer echo from the Mail, Sun, Express and Telegraph.
The Conservatives' future may still hang by a shoogly electoral peg, deprived of sure friends, unable to secure a necessary majority for themselves, but as Alex Massie observes with characteristic clear-sightedness, they've bound and gagged Ed between the Scylla of the SNP north of the border and the Charybdis of the increasingly crotchety plain people of England, who've heard quite enough about frigging Scotland, thank you kindly.
What is remarkable, however, is that the Labour Party has, at every turn, colluded in the undermining of its own position, conceding the Tory logic and competing with their own Nat blasting. A more long-sighted politician would have recognised that allowing your opponent to truss you up like a kipper may afford some temporary respite, a bubble of breathing space in a tough campaign, but is only deferring your troubles. A more courageous politician might try to lead and shape public opinion, rather than biddably taking their opponent's bait, line and sinker. The worm isn't worth the hook.
But like a flailing man at sea, pulled beneath the suds, Ed Miliband has scorned the lifebelt and is seeking to bargain with the very waves drowning him.