Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

10-point guide to Election 2010

Election pictures

BBC Political Reporter Brian Wheeler's guide to election 2010.

IT REALLY MATTERS THIS TIME

Remember all those earnest articles in 2001 and 2005 telling you how vitally important it was that you paid attention and voted in that year's general election? Well, they exaggerated. But this time your vote really does matter. For the first time since 1997 there is a realistic prospect of a change of government. Your vote on 6 May could help set the course for Britain for decades to come.

THE TV DEBATES WILL DOMINATE
David Dimbleby
David Dimbleby will preside over the third of the TV debates

This is the biggest innovation for 2010. They may not produce a single, election-deciding moment (the rigid format and desire of the three participants not to mess up could see to that). But the novelty factor alone will ensure that Britain's first televised prime ministerial debates will make riveting viewing. They are also certain to dominate everything else that happens in the campaign. And the leader who performs best will hope to gain enough momentum to carry them all the way to Downing Street.

THE INTERNET WILL ALSO DOMINATE
You Tube
Many of us will be following the election on the internet

OK, so it might not feel like it to the average voter, drowning in a sea of election leaflets and unable to find anything decent to watch on TV, but this will be the fastest-moving election campaign ever. For those in the thick of it, it will feel like being in a speeded-up film. Thanks to the internet and social media, every policy announcement and poster launch will be instantly picked apart by political opponents, bloggers, journalists and thousands of armchair pundits - demanding instant rebuttal. Confident statements of fact will fall apart in minutes under the weight of mass scrutiny. Mad rumours and rows will erupt from nowhere on Twitter or YouTube, only to disappear again just as quickly. How much impact any of this will have on the eventual outcome of the election is anyone's guess, but it will be great fun for political anoraks.

SLOGANS WILL MATTER LESS

The Conservatives want change. Labour want fairness. The Liberal Democrats want fairness and change.

POLICY WILL MATTER MORE

As with all recent elections, there is very little between the main parties on the overall philosophy - the deficit must be tackled, there will be spending cuts and, in all probability, tax rises in some form. But with the economic recovery hanging in the balance, the nuances are absolutely crucial. Expect to see them tested to destruction in the television debates, giving the lie to claims that they are all about personality and trivia.

THE BATTLE OF THE WIVES
Sarah Brown, Samantha Cameron and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez
The leaders will not be leaving their wives at home this time

Which one is your favourite? Sarah, Sam or the other one (as Private Eye cruelly dubbed Nick Clegg's publicity-shy wife Miriam)? The leaders' wives (another gift for sub-editors everywhere) will be all over this campaign in a way we have not seen before in the UK, especially since Samantha Cameron announced she is expecting the couple's fourth child. Like Sarah Brown, she is seen as her husband's "secret weapon". You're not voting for them. Just remember that.

IT COULD GET PERSONAL
Conservative election stunt
The fun has already started...

It wouldn't be a general election without a bit of mud-slinging, but with the character of the party leaders under the spotlight like never before, it could get pretty nasty out there. Particularly if the main parties reach the stage where they think they have nothing to lose. The Tories have scored big in the past by portraying Gordon Brown as a ditherer and a bully who is unfit to lead the country. Do you really want five more years of him, they will ask repeatedly. Labour think they are on to a winner by warning people not to trust David Cameron. Do you really want to be governed by a lightweight "toff" who's all spin and no policies, they will ask. Of course, the party leaders themselves will stay well above any negative campaigning. But, thanks to the miracle of the internet, their supporters can do the dirty work for them. Keep watching your inbox for some truly vicious "viral" videos.

THE LOCAL FACTOR

The days when you could predict whether a constituency will go blue or red based on the national "swing" are rapidly disappearing. People are much less tribal in their voting habits than they used to be. And this election could be fought on local issues more than in the past. The fact local elections are being held on the same day in many parts of the country could enhance that effect.

LIES WILL BE TOLD

Not a new development admittedly. Like war, the first casualty of a general election campaign is often the truth. And the parties are already engaged in lurid flights of fancy about what their opponents' policies might mean for you, the voter. With the polls tightening, it can only get worse. It's no use complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority - they gave up regulating party political ads years ago. Just keep a healthy scepticism and watch out for dodgy claims about what rival parties will do if elected.

NOBODY KNOWS THE RESULT

Don't be fooled by the pundits. This is one election where nobody really knows what is going to happen. There are just too many unanswered questions. What impact will last year's expenses scandal have, if any? What about the surge in support for smaller parties, such as UKIP and the Greens? What about the nationalists and the latest controversies in Northern Ireland? Will turnout go up because it is a close contest, or plummet because of disillusionment with politicians? All these questions and more will be answered over the next four weeks. Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.




MOST POPULAR ELECTION STORIES NOW
ELECTION FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
But now comes the difficult part - making it work
Why has Eton College produced 18 British PMs?
Frantic talks on who will form the next government

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific