In the past we have always had to rely on the Americans for election entertainment.

This included personal slurs and attacks on the opposition, below- the-belt campaign tactics with the odd emotive, moral debate thrown in for good measure.

We are used to watching it all unfold from afar as if it were the latest Aaron Spelling American soap opera offering.

The glamour and the intrigue ensure it is compulsive viewing, and the attraction is strengthened by the fact that the U.S. elections are so far removed from our own and almost solely personality driven.

Our political parties have traditionally approached the General Election in quite a different way. The battle for the keys to Number 10 is fought and won on solid issues such as the economy and taxes and, in true British fashion, we like to play fair and with a straight bat.

As a nation we feel comfortable with this. Yes, it may be a bit stuffy and boring at times and bogged down in detail, but it feels safe.

The razzmatazz and the dirty tricks of the American elections are all very well and good as we look on from across the Atlantic, but do we really want this form of campaigning on our own doorsteps?

The answer seems to be we have no choice because the forthcoming general election has already prompted a new style of political guerrilla warfare much more aligned to our American cousins than our own political past

As the battle commences, politicians from all parties seem to be taking our country's prosperity and economic success for granted, and in these early stages, are paving the way for a war centred around social and cultural matters.

Branded by the Conservatives as "dog-whistle issues," their new tabloid tactics focus on matters which create an emotive, immediate gut reaction response from voters.

Sensitive and controversial issues such as gipsies, immigration, cannabis and abortion are leading the way in their campaign to appeal to basic populist sentiments.

In the same way, Labour is equally prepared to jump on to the band wagon of latest public fads and obsessions. The party is now set to exploit the growing campaign led by TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve children's nutrition and is to make school dinners an election issue by offering parents a right of veto over unhealthy menus.

But surely they don't think we are so nave not to realise this is just another ploy to gain votes, as judging by the amount of potato faces and Turkey Twizzlers being served up in schools today, there has obviously been little interest in this subject before now.

According to Labour, "do it all women," are a key ingredient to election success. Women in their 30s and 40s with careers, families, and, often, an elderly relative to care for, are voters Labour are determined to attract.

I find this simplistic labelling of sections of society patronising.

In previous elections, Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman, who could potentially now be re-labelled Letdown Lady, were the swing voters politicians were all trying to woo.

This time its Labour's "do it all women" and the Conservatives' twentysomething urban elite, Ben and Chloe, and the inhabitants of deprived, former heavy industry areas, Lee and Noreen.

As the huge campaigning resources of the top two parties allow for this bespoke campaigning, the Liberal Democrats aim to focus on the traditional local doorstep campaign to which they are accustomed.

Although at present they seem to be dismissing the opposition's populist, tabloid approach in favour of the moral high ground, the Lib Dems are sure to get left behind unless they acknowledge the power and force of cultural issues in today's society, no matter how unsavoury.

After all, who would have ever thought the General Election in this country would be centred around arguments over chicken nuggets and spliffs.

Updated: 08:31 Saturday, March 26, 2005