Analysis: The manifestos will probably not define the election campaign

Julie Etchingham, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Ukip leade

Julie Etchingham, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Ukip leader Nigel Farage, Labour leader Ed Miliband, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister David Cameron during the 7-way televised leaders debate at the ITV studios in MediaCityUK in Salford. Ken McKay/ITV/REX/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Today Labour will be the first party to launch its manifesto.

While this will be a historic moment, I suspect it will not be a defining occasion.

These dossiers do go into our political archives, but as events, they are unlikely to change public opinion.

We might remember the slogans. In 2005 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?' for the Tories?

Or the more successful 'New Labour because Britain deserves better' manifesto when Tony Blair swept to power.

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UKIP's 486 page detailed manifesto which called for taxi drivers to be required to wear uniforms, for British weights and measures to be 'safeguarded' and for the burka to be banned in public buildings, has long been quoted back to the party.

And even more painfully for the Liberal Democrats their 2010 'Change that Works for You' manifesto and its pledge on tuition fees, which was subsequently broken.

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But, while these documents will no doubt be studied by political historians for many years to come, it was certainly not the manifestos that were the memorable moments of the last election.

In 2010 this was Gordon Brown's 'Gillian Duffy' moment – when the then prime minister failed to realise that his microphone was on as he described a potential voter who had raised concerns about immigration as a 'bigot'.

And then there was 'Cleggmania' – the moment when both David Cameron and Gordon Brown said 'I agree with Nick' during the first ever leaders debates.

The 2015 election campaign has yet to throw up either of these.

The seven-way leader debate, like the polls, showed no clear winner.

The little girl who was captured with her head down (actually it turned out in shyness rather than despair) next to David Cameron has been a key image in what has been a stage-managed campaign, and that has hardly been a game-changer.

While defence secretary Michael Fallon's personal attack on Ed Miliband over his betrayal of his brother has attracted attention and criticism, it has not had the same sting of an unscripted cock-up.

Both the Labour leader and David Cameron seem to be holding their position, fearful of losing the support they already have.

The fixed term parliament act has made this a lengthy run-in, and much of the meat of the manifesto, and at least direction of travel, has already been announced.

And any morsels of policy have been the subject of fierce fighting for months.

All the parties have been eying each other and dripping out nuggets, with a bit of oneupmanship.

Labour promised not to raise VAT and suddenly it was a Conservative policy to. The Liberal Democrats have promised the £8bn for the NHS, and suddenly the Tories have too.

I suspect voters become increasingly cynical as politicians squirm amid questions about how these grand gestures will be paid for.

So while the parties will hope that their glossy manifesto launches will be the moment they pull away, I suspect it will not be.

There will be a sub-text, and most people will not be blinded by the clutch of promises.

The rise of the anti-austerity parties – the Greens and the Scottish National Party – seem to have shifted the narrative away from the huge fiscal challenge that is the backdrop of this election campaign.

While Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Labour will talk about budget responsibility and long term economic plans, I suspect none of the manifestos will include the current national debt figure, complete with all its zeros.

The Liberal Democrats set out their plans yesterday, but there was little talk of the jobs that will inevitably go in Whitehall efficiency savings or how much more County and City halls will have to cut their budgets.

It will be hard for voters to draw conclusions about how the big numbers – both in spendings and savings – will translate locally.

And leaders will be anxious not to draw 'red lines' in the likely event of having no overall majority – they know they need to leave room for manoeuvre for coalition negotiations.

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