Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

FOR the People of Scotland, [...]; COLUMNIST PAUL LINFORD

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

FOR the People of Scotland, [...]; COLUMNIST PAUL LINFORD

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL LINFORD

FOR the people of Scotland, 2014 was the year of decision, the year they finally got to decide whether to become an independent country or remain part of the United Kingdom.

For the rest of us, however, it was merely the preamble to the year of decision, the opening skirmishes in a general election battle the outcome of which will not finally be settled until the night of May 7, 2015.

But if the Scots at least managed to deliver a reasonably decisive result in the September 16 referendum which saw them reject independence by 54% to 46%, there is no indication as yet that May's contest will be similarly clear-cut.

For if there was a single overarching theme to the political year 2014, it was the inability of both the two main parties to make a decisive breakthrough in the battle for the hearts and minds of the public, ahead of what looks set to be the least predictable election of modern times.

Labour began the year with a fragile opinion poll lead; the Tory calculation had always been that this would melt away like the last snows of spring once the economy started improving, and so, to an extent, it proved.

Party leader Ed Miliband's relentless focus on the "cost of living crisis" which had paid rich dividends for the party in 2013 had far less traction in 2014 as the recovery started to gather pace.

But although the gradual improvement in the economy had eroded some of Labour's previous support, it did not translate into a convincing Tory lead, perhaps because the recovery continued to be very unevenly felt across the country.

While unemployment nationally fell significantly below the 7% threshold set by the Bank of England to trigger a review of interest rate policy, in the North East, there were some months in which the number out of work actually went up.

The failure of the two main parties to capture the public's trust or even imagination coupled with mounting contempt for the 'Westminster elite' inevitably left the way clear for another party to capitalise on the growing "anti-politics" protest vote.

Ordinarily this would have been the Liberal Democrats, but they continued to be shackled by their increasingly loveless Coalition marriage with the Tories. …

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