If I were the kind of Mondeo-driving, 2.4 kids type that political parties supposedly try to 'triangulate' around, who would I be thinking of voting for next month? Dunno - far too many hypotheticals there.
The fact that I live in one of the UK's safest seats means that my vote is one of the most worthless in the country. Even if I lived in a "key marginal", I'm employed in the public sector, in perfect health and, most importantly, childless, meaning that I count for very little anyway in the eyes of parties and their spin doctors.
Labour, we all know about. There are all those issues, like illegal wars, the surveillance state, privatisation, etc, that unshaven, rollup-smoking Reds like me get worked up about, but about which the mythical Everydad couldn't give a flying monkey's.
The problem with the Tories is simple. They haven't changed. They're still exactly the same party that they were in 1997.
Between their landslide defeat in 1983 (caused primarily by the brief popularity of the SDP/Liberal Alliance rather than any contentious manifesto pledges or post-Falklands nationalist sentiment among the public) and Blair's election win in 1997, the Labour Party did a huge amount of public soul-searching and changed both what it stood for and how it operated. Clause Four was rewritten, the Trade Union block vote was abolished, their position on the EEC/EU flipped from anti- to pro-, lefties were thrown out, they became supporters of the nuclear deterrant, and so on.
Conversely, in the 13 years since John Major was hounded out of office, the Conservative Party have... changed their logo to a drawing of a tree. They're still desperate to find ways to cut the taxes of the super-rich at the expense of the other 90-odd percent of us, their knee-jerk EU-refusenik stance seems to operate nowadays at the level of a race memory, they still aren't comfortable with the existence of homosexuals, they're still convinced that society's ills are all down to the breakdown of the nuclear family, they're still horribly antagonistic to the public sector, they're still ropey on green issues - they still support fox-hunting, ffs. And this is the leadership we're talking about here, not some recalcitrant old scrotes who won't get with the programme. The alleged differences between the "modernising" Cameroon wing of the party and the Bufton Tufton types out in the sticks are, on inspection, minimal. Rather than spending their years in the wilderness looking for a new approach and ways to shed the 'nasty party' image, they've just sat there and waited for the public to get tired of New Labour.
The problem I have with the Lib Dems, meanwhile, is this. They're the Apple of the political world. They have a small, loyal fanbase, who stand by the party despite it representing their interests no better than either of the two main parties and who have projected their own ideals on them. The way that some Apple enthusiasts talk about the company and counterpose it to the 'evil', 'corporate' Microsoft, you'd think Steve Jobs was running some kind of worker's cooperative, rather than a large corporation who make personal computers that are slightly different but no better or worse overall than their rivals'. Similarly, I know quite a few people who're socially liberal and economically centre-left who sing the praises of the Lib Dems despite Nick Clegg's party being neither of those things. The same hypothetical fag paper than can just be squeezed between Labour and the Tories can also completely fill the gap between them and the Lib Dems (although, granted, there is the odd pleasantly surprising moment - Cable having a go at bankers, Clegg blasting Policy Exchange for Islamophobia, and the response of some LDs to what is now the Digital Economy Act - cancelling out the Orange Book, daft "mansion tax" plans and Sarah Teather).
From what I can see, a lot of people buy into the LD brand, seemingly as a way to be seen to be 'thinking different' without actually having to do something risky, like support an actual left-of-centre party. Witness the massive sigh of relief among the LD-heavy Badscience-fanboy community when they discovered that the genuinely centre-left and socially liberal Green Party had a dubious position on the crucial issue of stem cell research - "thank Dawkins for that - we've got an excuse not to vote for them now" exlaimed the Liberal Conspirator/New Scientist-reader crowd - who hate the idea that the party that matches their positions on the most issues is a party containing badly-coiffed anorak-wearers who don't share their religious belief in the power of [Pyke]Science![/Pyke] to sort everything out.
You could argue that the Lib Dems are bigger and more electable than smaller but better groups. It would therefore be ironic if Clegg became kingmaker in a hung parliament. We know from experience (in Scotland) that the LDs' price for support in a coalition is the introduction of proportional representation, which would make smaller parties a viable prospect.
Anyway, it looks like I, as opposed to any marketer-created fiction, will be voting for TUSC (also known as the 'comprehensive news blackout party'), in the absence of anything better, next month.