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Matt Woods: A glut of government advertising could point to an early general election

Picture 7 Matt Woods is Secretary of Cleethorpes Conservative Future but now lives and works in London. He is better known to ConservativeHome readers as "Cleethorpes Rock" and, in his Platform debut, wonders whether Gordon Brown might call the general election sooner than most of us all think.

Whilst recent polls might be pointing towards a Cameron victory at the next election - and all bets seem to be on that being in May 2010 - there are developments that might suggest an election is a lot nearer than we might have thought.

In advance of the last two general elections there has been a marked increase in government advertising spending in the run-up to polling day. So the pundits may be pointing towards May 2010, but the glut of adverts paid for by government may tell their own story. 

Recently, new adverts have cropped up on our screens for, along with those warning us of the perils of smoking, saturated fat, binge drinking, STDs, drug abuse and deadly computer games. Then there are those drawing our attention to those stock "get tough" issues of benefit fraud and car tax evasion, and imploring us to claim tax credits. Chuck in S'ralun Sugar's apprenticeship plugs (or is that plugs for The Apprentice?) and the ad department at ITV must be asking themselves "600 job cuts? What 600 job cuts?".

I'm sure no-one disputes the importance of preventing STDs and drug abuse and promoting healthy lifestyles, but why now and not, say, six months ago, or one year ago? (If, indeed these adverts do any good and are a fit and proper way for taxpayers' money to be spent). There's a message here from Labour: Government knows best, we're the Government, we're on your side and looking out for you, so get ready for more of it.

We know that it's not just TV advertising where Labour has form. The famous "communications allowance" has been misused by many a Labour MP, using taxpayers' cash as a blank cheque to propagandise the electorate with their own money. Why should we expect any different from a party Tony Blair said was "the political wing of the British people themselves"?  To Labour, the state and the party are one and the same.

Many of the adverts mentioned above are notable in that they are unapologetically a New Labour Production: Left-wing celebrities such as Jenny Eclair (tax credits), Germaine Greer, Bob Geldof and Alan Sugar (NS&I) are among the actors in Labour's great taxpayer-funded party political broadcast.  We know Labour loves the chance to make people dependent on the state, and on everything from bankers to bailouts, the message has been that the clunking fist knows better than you.

Faced with this, David Cameron is forced to tread a tightrope above a flaming pit of both his own Right-wing, who think he's selling out to the Guardianistas on public spending, and the Labour/BBC spin machine ready to tell the nation that the Tories are poised to sack nurses and charge OAPs for air.

The battle lines on the size of the state are being redrawn. While it may seem like David Cameron is preparing to go along with the big government model of New Labour, there are signs that he is softening the electorate up for a hatchet-job on big government. The banker-bashing and talk of regulation is the sugar lump on which the drops of harsh economic medicine will be dripped, prior to being fed to the voters. Labour will hope the patient gags on the honesty pill: they still want the voters to think they can have it all (including the government programmes being advertised ad nauseam at the moment on TV).

Why, though, would this point to an election? The odds are still very much on May or June 2010, but there have been signs of a poll-lead wobble in recent weeks. Add to the mix the fact that Gordon Brown will next week be welcoming his new best friend to Britain for the G20, some tub-thumping on international regulation and a bit more banker-bashing - and a photo opportunity with St Barry could be the perfect springboard for a 4th June poll.

A G20 bounce, a Tory lead of only 10% and the prospect that many voters will stick with the devil they know may just be enough to get Gordon Brown thinking.


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