Leaders: Partnership speculation too much too soon

Prime Minister David Cameron declared that if Labour got in, the UK risked real poverty. Picture: PA

Prime Minister David Cameron declared that if Labour got in, the UK risked real poverty. Picture: PA

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VOTERS can be excused a wearisome sense of déjà vu over the weekend’s exchange of opening salvos of the election campaign. For a battle set to be the most divisive for decades, a hung parliament widely forecast and all manner of predictions being made about subsequent coalitions, the exchanges offered nothing new or enlightening about the rival programmes on offer.

As if we hadn’t heard it before, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that if Labour got in, the UK risked real poverty with higher annual debt interest charges; Labour said the NHS would be left “unrecognisable” if the Conservatives win; Simon Hughes for the Liberal Democrats said the Conservatives would cut spending “more than is acceptable”.

In Scotland, the SNP, which has ruled out any dealings with the Conservatives, says only a vote for its candidates would help ensure Scotland would get more powers. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson says a Labour-SNP coalition would run Britain into the ground, while Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy warns “vote Labour or you will put Cameron into Downing Street”.

Ukip appears to have ruled out a coalition with Labour and the SNP but has not ruled out a coalition with the Tories.

The General Election, we are told, started yesterday, so we are set for four months of this “dog-whistle politics” – while party spin doctors and pundits speculate endlessly at who might form a coalition with whom in the event of a hung parliament.

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The SNP is tipped to support a minority Labour administration. Desperate Conservatives may form an alliance with Ukip. The Lib Dems will swivel between Labour and Tories, depending on what is on offer.

Such political calculation at this stage is way ahead of the game. Nobody can be sure who will be in a position to form an administration with whom until the votes are cast. And during all this, the ostensible programmes of the parties are barely articulated, still less examined.

We deserve better than this. There is so much talk about coalitions and deals, that it now seems to be accepted that coalition is a virtual certainty. But how can we be so sure? Opinion polls might indicate that possibility, but we have a long way to go before that becomes reality. The 1987 general election was preceded with much hot air about the Liberal-SDP Alliance holding the balance of power. In the event, the Alliance won just 22 seats.

It would be a gross disservice to voters if political debate is dominated by intense speculation over possible scenarios rather than scrutiny of policies and programmes on offer. Political leaders seeking to establish at this stage of the game who they would and would not deal with run the risk of being caught out by events. Anything can happen once the votes are in and, as we learned in 2010, when hard bargaining starts behind closed doors.

Ebola quarantine must be considered

NEWS of a deterioration in the condition of aid worker Pauline Cafferkey after being diagnosed with Ebola is a worrying development and a sombre reminder of the profound challenge that this disease presents to Africa and the world.

It is now clear, as we argued here last week, that a review of the screening process was needed for those returning from Sierra Leone. Yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron raised the strong possibility of a quarantine system if recommended by the government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies.

The public health nurse was part of a team of medical volunteers deployed to Sierra Leone by the UK government. After returning to Heathrow last Sunday, she raised concerns about her temperature, but, despite undergoing seven temperature checks, she was given the all-clear to fly to Glasgow. The following morning she was diagnosed with Ebola and placed in isolation at Gartnavel Hospital campus in Glasgow before being flown south.

It is on the airport screening that policy attention has been focused, though it is arguable that a quarantine system should have been in place before leaving 
Sierra Leone.

As matters stand, returning aid workers could attend Northwick Park Hospital in Middlesex for further observation and tests. However, the screening system last Sunday did not detect an ongoing problem and indeed it was not until her return to Glasgow that Pauline Cafferkey reported feeling unwell.

It is clear that a review of the process is both desirable and necessary. But first and foremost, our thoughts are with Ms Cafferkey and her family as she fights this terrible disease.

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