At Glasgow airport yesterday, I got chatting to a woman working in one of the bookshops who wondered how I thought the proximity of the Royal Wedding so close to elections would play out. Not entirely sure is the answer.
It is certainly not usual for such a high profile Royal event to take place so close to major elections, not just the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assembly elections, but also the referendum on Nick Clegg’s baby, a new voting system.
I suppose the main impact will be that the media, as if not overexcited enough about the wedding already, will be in virtual shutdown-of-any-other-story mode come the last few days, which means the elections and the referendum risk being squeezed out of the national conversation. ANd even though there are a few days between wedding and vote, there will be days of ‘follow through’ as the media refuse to give up on a good thing.
There is an upside to that for those parties and candidates who can best motivate their activists and step up the face to face, door to door campaigning. And certainly one of the reasons Labour did relatively very well in Scotland in the general election was because of that strong organisation rooted in face to face campaigning.
I suppose the other question is how that intangible thing called national mood plays out across politics. My bookshop woman, a Nationalist, was sure it would help the SNP, because there would come a point where people would get tired of the overkill and see it as a very English, very Establishment affair. That optimism did not seem to be shared by the rather anxious comments Alex Salmond made about the timing.
I said to her that I thought for Labour, it played out pretty neutrally, subject to the point about finding the people still persuaded the best use of their time is knocking on doors when the media is wall to wall wedding and a lot of people may not even know the big votes are happening.
We ended up chatting about Willie Hamilton, the Labour MP who made a real name for himself as an out and out anti-Royalist when in Parliament from 1950 to 1987. It does seem remarkable that a man who left Parliament so long ago, and who died ten years ago, was the one who came to both our minds as the most notable out and out Republican. It will be interesting to see if any of today’s intake step out in that direction. I suspect David Cameron would welcome it more than Ed Miliband but who knows? I guess that pre-coalition, a Lib Dem might have ventured into that space, but now they are part of the government, the prospects of that recede a little.
I imagine the Tories will be hoping for two things: less attention on some of the more difficult and unpopular things they will be doing come the spring; and a feelgood readacross to the ruling party dominant in the home counties.
But perhaps the real political significance is for poor Nick Clegg. He will be realising that his referendum campaign just took a bloody big knock, and his mate Dave wasn’t bothered one bit when the Palace consulted Number 10 on the date of the big day.
What with taking the rap for tuition fees, and now having a great Royal bulldozer pile through his referendum campaign, he is not having a very happy coalition right now.