To mark ten years on from the 2010 general election, I will be looking back at the election campaign as it happened 10 years ago to the day. Each week I will be doing a recap of the campaign as it happened, including the pivotal moments that decided the victors and the vanquished.
In this first blog, I take a brief look at what happened up until today – 6 April 2010 – when Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the Queen to call the general election.
The election came as Labour’s popularity was already in decline. The controversial Iraq war had cost Labour 48 seats in the 2005 general election and the pressure was on for then Prime Minister Blair to name his date of departure, having indicated he would not seek a fourth term in office.
After a dismal performance in the 2006 local elections, that time came and Blair left his post as Prime Minister, replaced by his Chancellor Gordon Brown. An initial bump in Labour’s approval rating soon waned, however, particularly when the global recession hit in 2008.
Although the UK economy was on the road to recovery by April 2010 and Brown was praised for his handling of the situation, this was not reflected in public attitudes to the government. Polls from ‘today’ put the Conservatives some eight points ahead of Labour.
After struggling to make headway against Labour for three successive elections, the Conservatives elected David Cameron as party leader – a man elected in 2001 as MP for Witney and with no governmental experience.
However, the fresh-faced Cameron worked to move the party more towards the centre-ground and, as the recession hit, was open about the difficult decisions an incoming Conservative government would have to make.
Fresh in voters minds was the expenses scandal, which implicated many MPs for using taxpayer’s money inappropriately, with claims ranging from duck houses to adult DVDs. 149 MPs eventually took the decision not to stand at the 2010 election.
Hoping to capitalise on dissatisfaction at the main political parties was the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg. For him, the aim of this election was to hold the balance of power and use this position as kingmaker to change UK politics for good.
Other smaller political parties also hoped to make progress, with both UKIP and the BNP hoping to win their first seat in Parliament after successful results at the European elections ‘last year’, and with the Green Party targeting three seats to make their first entry.
In Northern Ireland, First Minister and leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson was embroiled in scandal after it was revealed in January that his wife, also a Northern Irish MP and member of the Stormont assembly for the party, had had an extramarital affair and procured loans for her lover to open a restaurant. Despite serving on the council which leased the premises to him, she did not declare her financial interest in the situation. Peter Robinson would fight his seat in Belfast East in the 2010 election amid this scandal.
As well as this the UUP formed an alliance with the Conservative Party, triggering the party’s only MP – Sylvia Hermon – resigned from the party and announced she would stand as an independent in her constituency of North Down.
This sets the stage for what would become one of the most interesting election campaigns of modern times, with a result that would leave uncertainty about who would become the next Prime Minister for several days.
This Sunday (12 April), I will take a brief look back at the highlights of the first week of the election campaign.