Now that the schedule for the leaders’ debates seems to have been settled*, the shape of the election campaign has become a bit more clear.
We still have three live TV events, even if one isn’t quite a full debate and another isn’t a debate at all. We also have details of the Scottish leaders’ debate, the timing of which means Nicola Sturgeon is going to be taking part in live debates three weeks in a row.
In addition there’s going to be a live interview and audience Q&A with Ed Miliband and David Cameron this coming week, on a programme to be screened jointly by Channel 4 and Sky News on Thursday 26 March. The two leaders will appear in the same studio but won’t be on screen together. The 90-minute programme is being hosted by Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley.
It means the timetable of the election campaign is set to look something like this:
Monday 30 March: Parliament is dissolved by the Queen and the election campaign is formally under way.
Tuesday 31 March:
Wednesday 1 April: Build-up and rehearsals for the first and only full debate, featuring David Cameron (Conservative), Ed Miliband (Labour), Nick Clegg (Lib Dem), Nigel Farage (Ukip), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) and Natalie Bennett (Green).
Thursday 2 April: Full leaders’ debate, lasting two hours and hosted by Julie Etchingham on ITV.
Friday 3 April: Good Friday.
Saturday 4 April: Easter weekend.
Sunday 5 April: Easter weekend.
Monday 6 April: Easter Monday.
Tuesday 7 April: Scottish leaders’ debate, lasting two hours and hosted by Bernard Ponsonby for STV. Taking part will be Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Jim Murphy (Labour), Ruth Davidson (Conservative) and Willie Rennie (Lib Dem).
The first manifestos are likely to be launched around this time. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats usually stagger their launches on consecutive days, so the news could well be dominated by manifestos until the weekend.
Wednesday 8 April:
Thursday 9 April: Deadline for submission of nomination papers by candidates, after which councils can begin printing postal votes.
Friday 10 April:
Saturday 11 April: The smaller parties are likely to launch their manifestos around now, taking advantage of the weekend and the lull in news coverage.
Sunday 12 April:
Monday 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.
Tuesday 14 April:
Wednesday 15 April: Build-up and rehearsals for the second debate, involving leaders from the main opposition parties: Labour, Ukip, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.
Thursday 16 April: Opposition leaders’ debate, hosted by David Dimbleby for the BBC.
Friday 17 April:
Saturday 18 April:
Sunday 19 April:
Monday 20 April: Deadline for registering to vote in the election.
Tuesday 21 April: Deadline for applying for postal votes.
Wednesday 22 April:
Thursday 23 April: Televised leaders’ debates in Wales and/or Northern Ireland could take place around now.
Friday 24 April:
Saturday 25 April:
Sunday 26 April:
Monday 27 April:
Tuesday 28 April: Deadline for applying for proxy votes.
Wednesday 29 April: Build-up and rehearsals for the special edition of Question Time.
Thursday 30 April: Question Time special, hosted by David Dimbleby on BBC1. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are all scheduled to appear, but will be interviewed separately and take questions from the studio audience.
Friday 1 May:
Saturday 2 May: Start of the bank holiday weekend.
Sunday 3 May:
Monday 4 May: Bank Holiday.
Tuesday 5 May:
Wednesday 6 May:
Thursday 7 May: Election day. Polls open from 7am to 10pm.
I’m still assuming that all the parties will wait until after Easter to launch their respective manifestos. This will give the first debate on the day before Good Friday a rather vague and unfocused feel, but I just don’t see how there will be time to get the manifestos out beforehand.
There’s also the chance that other debates will take place, for example between the parties’ economic spokespeople, and there’s still this proposal floating around for an online leaders’ debate organised by the Guardian, Telegraph and YouTube.
Now that we’re on the cusp of the campaign, I feel more confident than I did earlier in the year that there’ll be enough going on to ensure the grind never turns to tedium. Polling day will be here sooner than you think.
*For now, at any rate.