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Explaining Labour's Landslide

10 Myths About The 1997 Election

Explaining Labour's Landslide

Explaining Labour's Landslide
Sir Robert Worcester & Roger Mortimore

Published 20 July 1999
by Politico's
www.politicos.co.uk and on Amazon.co.uk

1. The public found it the most boring election ever
 
Despite the length of the campaign (six weeks) and the eventual (predicted) low turnout, fewer people thought that there was too much media coverage than in either 1987 or 1992 (p 139). In fact, 1987 was thought by more people to have too much about the election in the newspapers and on TV that either of the successive elections, both of which were characterised as 'the most boring election since the war'.

 
2. Labour would not have won if John Smith had still been leader
 
The foundations for Labour's victory — and a Tory image of economic incompetence (Black Wednesday), hopeless division (Maastricht) and sleaze combined with a renewed image of electability for Labour — were already laid before Smith's death. Indeed, in 1997 Labour would probably have won under Kinnock. (pp 41-99, especially pp 88-91). Labour led the Tories in the polls by 20% in the first quarter of 1994, shortly before Smith's death, not enough for a Blair-sized landslide, but enough for a healthy Labour majority.

 
3. The Referendum Party cost the Conservatives dozens of seats
 
It was six at most, probably fewer — and half of them went to the Lib Dems, not Labour (pp 114-15). Only about half the RP's votes came from ex-Tories, and it is doubtful whether they would have voted Tory again if the RP had not existed in any case. Europe was fundamentally an 'image issue' not an 'issue issue'.
 
4. It was the fault of the Tory party workers in the constituencies
 
True, Labour managed to deliver slightly more leaflets and call on more voters (pp 117-18); but no amount of official canvassing could have offset the effect of Labour's unofficial army of canvassers — around 5 million ordinary voters who said they were so strongly opposed to John Major's re-election that they were advising people not to vote Conservative without even being asked. (pp 119-20).

5. Major and Mawhinney were not to blame
 
When given the opportunity to seize the initiative in the campaign, after the first two weeks were spent swamped in sleaze, the Tories first sent out a man dressed in a chicken suit to follow Tony Blair around (91% of the public thought this was 'a childish gimmick'), and then Major and Heseltine chose to campaign on the threats to the constitution and by the trade unions, respectively, ranked by the public in importance as 16th and 15th — out of the 16 issues we were measuring! (pp 111-112).

 
6. Labour's use of private opinion polls and especially focus groups was a new 'Americanisation' of British politics
 
There was little new in Labour's private polling that was not being done in Labour's private polls in the 1970s, when MORI was Labour's pollster (pp 10-16); what was different was that for the first time the polling information was used effectively by the party leadership.

7. The Tory negative advertising such as the 'demon eyes' poster could have damaged Tony Blair
 
The public dislikes negative campaigning, and although it can sometimes work this was not the case with 'New Labour, New Danger', which seems to have been entirely counter-productive: nearly four times as many electors said that the 'demon eyes' campaign made them more likely to vote Labour as said it made them less likely to do so (pp 92-95).

 
8. Labour's targeting of women closed the 'gender gap' in voting behaviour
 
Only older women (55+) swung significantly more to Labour than men in the same age group. In fact, women of different ages have always had substantially different political views (in fact, young women tend to be less, not more, Tory than their male counterparts), and the position is far more complex than a simple 'gender gap' (pp 243-46).

9. The opinion polls got the election wrong

The 'poll of polls' predicted the Tory share of the vote to the nearest whole number, and was within the standard margin of error for the other parties. Furthermore, polling in Scotland and constituency polls were extremely accurate. (pp 151-53, 185-87). The polling companies have solved the problems which beset their 'predictions' in 1992. Polling is not a crystal ball that can offer predictions of supernatural accuracy, being subject both to the limits of statistical sampling and the behaviour of the British voter that is sometimes unpredictable even to the voter himself or herself. However, even with these necessary reservations, it remains a better guide to the political climate than any of the less scientific alternatives.

10. The pundits got the election right
Nowhere near in most cases. (pp 214-27) Of the 20 pundits on the Reuters' panel of so-called political experts, the average eve-of-poll forecast was a Labour majority of 92, just over half of the 179 majority on the day, and compares to the average 159 seat projection recorded by the opinion polls. Not one of the 20 pundits was as close to the Tory share of the vote as the opinion polls' average.
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Sir Robert Worcester
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