TALKING POLITICS: Is this the longest General Election campaign in history? I blame Nick Clegg

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
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When the breakfast TV news reported on Monday that the General Election campaign was “about to officially get under way”, it didn’t go down too well in our house.

“I’m bored of it already,” groaned my better half, “and it hasn’t even started yet!”

It wouldn’t surprise me if that reaction was repeated up and down the land, because in reality we’re already well into the longest election campaign in recent history.

And, as so often seems to be the case these days, it’s easiest to blame Hallam’s own Nick Clegg.

Every previous General Election was called by the Prime Minister of the day, generally at a time to suit their own party.

A fatally wounded premier could limp on until the very last election date allowed by law, as John Major did in 1997, but more commonly Prime Ministers would pick their moment, waiting until the polls and focus groups looked promising before making their move.

In 2011 it was Mr Clegg who introduced the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, part of the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Introducing the legislation, he pointed out that the status quo tended to give the government of the day an unfair advantage. The 2011 Act took the timing out of the PM’s hands and replaced it with a standard five-year term between elections.

But the problem with knowing the exact date of the next election years in advance is that the build-up to that date inevitably begins much sooner.

One fascinating aspect of this has been seeing the Liberal Democrats gradually distancing themselves from their coalition partners, a slow-motion break-up that has been going on for at least half of this Parliamentary term.

Their problem is that, as junior partners in a coalition that has become near-indistinguishable from a Conservative government, the question becomes: what are the Lib Dems for?

If you think this government is doing a good job, why wouldn’t you vote Conservative? If you think they’re doing a bad job, why would you vote Lib Dem? As Mr Clegg was bluntly asked last week at a Hallam constituency debate hosted by The Star: “Do we hear the death knell for your career?”

Mr Clegg’s key challenge in the next five weeks will be to convince voters, both in his Sheffield Hallam constituency and in the wider electorate, that his party has made its mark on this parliament – and not just on its length.

WATCH: Full video of the ONLY debate between Nick Clegg and his Sheffield Hallam rivals