Now that the TV debates look on balance more likely to happen than not, I’ve had a go at putting together a timetable for how the election campaign might unfold.
As in 2010, the debates would give the campaign three distinct peaks, although this time they would come once every fortnight rather than weekly. Add in some key dates we already know about, such as the deadline for voter registration, plus a few public holidays, and the timetable could look something like this.
30 March: Parliament is dissolved by the Queen and the election campaign is formally under way.
1 April: Build-up and rehearsals for the first debate.
2 April: First debate, hosted by ITV.
3 April: Good Friday. News focuses on debate winners and losers.
4 April: Easter weekend.
5 April: Easter weekend.
6 April: Easter Monday.
7 April: First manifestos likely to be launched. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats usually stagger their launches on consecutive days, so the news is likely to be dominated by manifestos until the weekend.
9 April: Deadline for submission of nomination papers by candidates, after which councils can begin printing postal votes.
11 April: The smaller parties are likely to launch their manifestos around now, taking advantage of the weekend and the lull in news coverage.
13 April: The first postal votes could be sent out as early as today, meaning people could start voting in the election from this point onwards.
15 April: Build-up and rehearsals for the second debate.
16 April: Second debate, hosted by the BBC.
17 April: Usual comment and analysis on the debate winners and losers.
20 April: Deadline for registering to vote in the election.
21 April: Deadline for applying for postal votes.
23 April: Televised leaders’ debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could take place around now, as well as any live debate between the chancellor and his opposite numbers.
28 April: Deadline for applying for proxy votes.
29 April: Build-up and rehearsals for the third debate.
30 April: Third and final debate, hosted jointly by Channel 4 and Sky News.
1 May: Headlines full of winners and losers, plus “best of three debates” and so on.
2 May: Start of the bank holiday weekend.
4 May: Bank Holiday Monday.
7 May: Polling day.
The big assumption I’m making is that the parties will wait until after the first debate to launch their manifestos. I don’t see how there will be time to do it before – unless they don’t bother waiting for the dissolution of parliament, of course. This would at least allow the participants of the first debate to talk about actual policy pledges.
The second half of April could be the time when the country really feels the tedium of the campaign, particularly the fortnight between the second and third debates. Ironically, this is the point when most of those who have applied for postal votes will be filling them in and sending them off.
By the time the final week of campaigning comes around, I suspect we’ll all be glad of the bank holiday on 4 May.