Notes on the Election

David Runciman

One reason this election is so hard to call is that history offers a very unreliable guide. For each preferred or predicted outcome there is a historical pattern from which to draw comfort. If you think the Tories should win you can point to the fact that almost no government in the modern era has been turfed out of office after only one term. The exception is Heath’s 1970-74 administration, so unless you think Cameron is Heath – and maybe he is – then everything suggests he’ll be given another turn. This is sometimes taken as evidence of the basic sporting instincts of the British electorate: people don’t like to rush to judgment and want to allow newcomers a fair crack of the whip. On the other hand, no government in modern times has increased its share of the vote from one election to the next (even Macmillan, who added seats when he went to the country in 1959, scored a lower vote share than Eden had four years earlier). The Tories barely scraped together enough votes to form a government last time, so they have almost no wriggle room. If they lose more than a handful from the total they polled in 2010, they will lose office. History indicates that Cameron should certainly win this election; it also suggests that he can’t win it.

The full text of this essay is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in