For what is a critical General Election, and one which will have unpredictable ramifications, the volume is strangely muted. Being unable to contemplate the stage-managed face-off between Cameron and Miliband, preferring the congenial surroundings of a Scottish bar, the small amount that I was able to stomach on catch-up confirmed all suspicions. Apart from being a platform for the superannuated egomaniac that is Jeremy Paxman, Cameron lived down to all his patronising stereotypes while Miliband was being given a rough time on the basis he is probably more intelligent than the average television pundit.
Perhaps more telling is that, although these two are the plausible choices before voters as Prime Minister, the undergrowth of the campaign will take on massive importance as the parties realise that the electorate is not a mass of amorphous sheep. Cameron has clearly been advised not to come across as an out-of-touch millionaire, which is unfortunate as it is about his one remaining claim to being genuine. Minimum wage and zero-hours contracts don't resonate with him, where he can rely on both his mates and his trust funds to maintain him in the lifestyle to which his class has become accustomed.
Miliband is starting to fire a little more, which is just as well. There is every reason to challenge the Tory orthodoxy that cutting services and farming out profits on what remains to cronies does not make an economic policy nor a recipe for a happy country. The language of the left has been too defensive over the last two decades, and promoting at least some form of redistribution and rebuilding people's stake in society is something that Labour should have been doing since 1997. It may be too late, but some rhetoric on these lines will persuade a few more to vote tactically. If Labour strategists are wise, they will tone down their national attacks on the Liberal Democrats, to encourage the maintenance of Liberal MPs where the choice is them or the Tories, and to secure credibility if the balance of Parliament requires tacit support for progressive measures.
Watching Nicola Sturgeon's performance at the SNP conference was interesting. The sophistication and cunning that Salmond bequeathed is clearly providing a framework within which they will play the system. In positioning the SNP as a mainstream centre-left party that will play a non-particularist role in determining post-election policy she will whip the Tories into a frenzy of hypocrisy, while reassuring the mass of electors that they have little to fear from bolding the Unionists to account. The Tories were quick enough to impose UK policy on the Scots during the 1980s and 1990s, despite their questionable legitimacy, and for them to turn round and accuse potential legitimate representative as having no rights to vote accordingly is the kind of breathtaking idiocy that we have come to know and love from this discredited bunch of authoritarian oligarchs.
Where the SNP cleverness emerges is that their first minority administration was effectively propped up by the Tories. It is hardly reasonable for Cameron and his attack squad to make out that the SNP are a bunch of eye-popping irresponsible lunatics when they have run Scotland effectively for eight years, and where their own sporran-swinging loons were effectively prepared to tolerate them in power. This is surely being held in reserve for the next phase of viciousness.
Given that Cameron himself has turned himself into a lame duck, by announcing that he would not presume to serve a third term as Prime Minister, the task of the opposition becomes much easier. When he then attempts to suggest that the election is a straight contest between him and Miliband, then it makes the choice much clearer - as for all his faults Miliband has not given the impression that the second half of the next Parliament will be spent in a revolting jockeying for position amongst the third-rate crypto-fascist fellow-travellers.
The Conservative Party, in seeking to assuage its right-wing, has demonstrated over the last five years that the reformist agenda was a confidence trick. The choice of Theresa May, George Osborne or the Blond Buffoon postulated by Cameron as potential successors was either a poisoned chalice or a recognition that the party is rapidly catching up with the Kippers in terms of petty bourgeois, southern England irrelevance.
For those looking for encouragement, Sturgeon made electoral reform for Westminster a condition for SNP support for any administration. Making it clear that the constitutional settlement is not out of bounds, and that the irrelevance of a bipartisan electoral system in a pluralist society will not go away, will do something to reclaim the issue as solely a Liberal Democrat preserve. The reform of politics is not just about electoral reform, but until there is a genuine opportunity for the majority to influence electoral outcomes this will perpetuate apathy.
In an election where the outcomes are uncertain, the next few weeks will be interesting. A narrative that reasserts a progressive, compassionate majority agenda and rejects a further five years of papering over the neo-con cracks is within the grasp of the electorate. It is to be hoped that those politicians who have any stake in a vision of change will behave in a way that makes a post-election consensus feasible and where the arguments for humanity take precedence.