So, the “most important General Election of a generation” has been launched after Gordon Brown finally confirmed that he will go to the polls on May 6.
By his own admission, the date was the “least well-kept secret” in Westminster, but the Prime Minister added he is seeking a “clear and straightforward mandate” from the country to carry on the work of economic recovery.
After a final Cabinet meeting he was driven the short distance to Buckingham Palace where the Queen — who was flown in from Windsor by helicopter — granted his request to dissolve Parliament.
Whether this election is about hope, change or fairness — all key words bandied about yesterday — will not be known until May 7, but one thing all seem to agree on is that this is the most close run poll in recent years.
Despite a growing Conservative lead in recent days, a hung parliament remains a strong |possibility because the electoral system is so stacked against the Tories. They must win by 8-10 points to gain a majority.
For the UK’s two main parties the dividing lines are over the handling of the fragile economic recovery. Labour warn savage cuts now could spark a double dip recession while the Conservatives want to start making significant inroads into the staggering £167bn deficit immediately.
But before the nitty-gritty of party policy is thrashed out over the next month, the Prime Minister and Tory leader could not resist indulging in a little personality politics first as they launched their campaigns.
Standing on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street, flanked by his Cabinet, Mr Brown’s opening gambit to the assembled media was about his “ordinary middle class” upbringing — a barely disguised attempt to draw comparisons with Mr Cameron’s incredibly privileged upbringing and Eton education.
“I come from an ordinary, middle-class family in an ordinary town and I know where I come from and I will never forget the values — doing the right thing, doing your duty, taking responsibility, working hard — that my parents instilled in me,” the Labour leader said.
“I’m asking you, the British people, for a clear and straightforward mandate to continue the urgent and hard work securing the recovery, building our industries for the future and creating a million skilled jobs over the next five years.”
In the minutes between the Prime Minister heading back from the Palace to make his announcement, however, Mr Cameron grabbed the attention of the media on the banks of the Thames where he told those gathered around him they did not have to have five more years of Gordon Brown.
Now there is “a modern Conservative alternative that is about voting for hope, voting for optimism, voting for change”, he said.
The Tory leader added: “Let me tell you what I think this election is all about — it is about the future of our economy, it's about the future of our society, it's about the future of our country.
“It's the most important general election for a generation.
“It comes down to this.
“You don't have to put up with another five years of Gordon Brown.”
Mr Brown, dressed in pink tie and pale blue shirt, left Downing Street with his wife, Sarah, shortly before midday and headed off to Kent on the start of the campaign trail, while Mr Cameron headed to a hospital in Birmingham where he rolled up his sleeves and claimed the NHS was his top priority.
Parliament will be formally dissolved on Monday.
From that point, MPs revert to being candidates and lose all privileges as well as access to the |Commons and the new Parliament will be summoned on Tuesday May 18.