And They're Off (or how to survive the election campaign)
With today's long-anticipated announcement that the general election will be on 6th May, the phoney-war is over and real electioneering can commence.
For the next month, prospective MPs (backed-up by their Party machines) will be trying to convince us why we should vote for them. With the opinion polls narrowing over recent weeks and apparent differences in policy opening up between the Parties (at least on reducing the budget deficit) this could prove to be one of the most open elections for a generation.
We can expect Party Manifestos to arrive soon (after a week of Parliamentary ‘wash-up' where any remaining bits of legislation that can be saved are agreed), and they will give us a better idea of precisely what each party is offering the electorate. But since the election date has been expected for the best part of a year, the Parties have effectively been campaigning for months, giving us plenty of policy-teasers in advance of their manifestos. So we've got a pretty good idea of what's on the menu.
During the election campaign, Urban Forum will be taking a look in detail at the main Parties' policies and assessing what they offer community groups and civil society. We'll be particularly keen to see what they have to say on; bank reform, community involvement in planning and urban design and on strengthening participatory democracy. These form the backbone of our '10 Big Ideas for 2010', and are the issues our research has highlighted as being necessary to give citizens and community groups a real say over the decisions that affect them.
But before then, here are some essential resources to help you get to grips with what the Parties have to offer and cut through the spin to get to the facts:
The BBC's election 2010 site, allows you to select an issue - housing, local government, pensions, civil liberties etc - and compare what the parties have to say on the subject (including many smaller parties and those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
Along the same lines, but taking things a stage further, is Unlock Democracy's Vote Match tool, which asks you whether you agree or disagree with a number of statements. It then suggests which parties your views are most closely aligned with, taking account of whether any particular issues are priorities for you.
I also really like Channel 4's ‘Fact Check' website, which pores over the endless Party claims and counter-claims, to assess whether or not they are being ‘economical with the truth'. Their detailed investigations are invaluable to anyone who wants to delve beneath the rhetoric to understand what's really going on.
And finally (for now) for those of you who prefer to leave the spin-doctors to practice their dark arts on their own, the Guardian's Datablog has all sorts of data relevant to the election. This includes things like constituency data (taking account of boundary changes), government spending (by Department) and how much each MP claimed in expenses.