By Gareth Owen
Picture the scene; a TV journalist trying to gently coax reluctant shoppers into a white and blue polling booth. This has been my lot for the last few days as I travel the East and West Midlands with ITV Central's "YouBooth".
It's kitted out with a mini camera, and those who take pity on me and my sales patter, step inside to record the thoughts that will be passing through their minds when they step into the real polling booth on May 7th. The results will be seen on ITV News Central over the coming nights.
I am thankful for this, because rather than spending the first few days of the campaign talking to the politicians or to other journalists immersed in the election, I have been talking to lots and lots of voters, completely at random. I won't pretend that these conversations have given me answers about who will win - it's a tiny, unrepresentative sample - but something has struck me about what people have said.
I had been expecting a lot of anger and apathy. "A plague on all your houses". I did get that of course, but the vast majority of people I have spoken to actively want to vote, that they probably will vote, but they genuinely have no idea who to vote for.
If the views of those people who bumped into me in Derby, Nottingham, Telford, Wolverhampton, Long Eaton and Ripley are anything to go by, there is a big opportunity still for one of the parties. In the elections I covered in 2005 and 2010, public mood seemed to solidify much sooner than this. But now, a month out from polling day, there are still a lot of people wanting to be won over; waiting for someone to cut through.
The other thing that struck me came from those who already knew how they were going to vote. The most interesting question was not "who?", but "why?" In many cases the reasons were entirely negative. They weren't voting for a party because of what they would do, but on more occasions than I expected, it was all about fear of the alternative. I kept hearing, almost verbatim, "you can't trust Labour with the economy" or "the Tories only look after their rich mates". It seems the parties' negative messages are working very effectively. If they want their policies considered, they may have to work a bit harder.
My few days on the road with a van, a toolkit and a polling booth have led me to believe that, not only is this election wide open (we knew that anyway), but that it is an election which can still be won with a "moment"; a policy, an idea, a soundbite which captures the imagination and enthuses all of those keen but confused voters in Midlands marginals. They want to vote ... it's just that they haven't heard a positive message they can buy into yet. The parties have four weeks to find a rabbit in a hat.