How to (Almost) Lose an Election
The Tory 2010 campaign, from the perspective of a minor participant, and a warning to Labour
Any Conservative still hoping that the 2024 election might resemble 1992 or 2015 is in for a severe disappointment. One only needs to compare the relative approval ratings of John Major, David Cameron, Rishi Sunak and their opponents to know this is a lost cause. At this stage in the electoral cycle the newly installed Major had a towering 46pt advantage over Neil Kinnock, according to MORI. Cameron had an 8pt lead. Sunak is 26pts behind Keir Starmer.
While, of course, no election exactly resembles its predecessors, finding a good historical comparison can nevertheless be illuminating. And if I were working for Labour it would be 2010 I’d be worrying about. A year out from the election Cameron’s Conservatives were averaging just under 20pts ahead in the polls and Cameron was 27pts ahead of Brown. Almost an exact replica of where we are today, except in reverse. At the election the Tories won by just 7pts, and missed out on a majority. Cameron was extremely lucky that he had a willing coalition partner in Nick Clegg. If Labour find themselves in this position it will be much trickier for them. The most likely scenario would be a short minority government followed by a potentially risky attempt to secure a proper majority.
This then seems the more plausible risk for Labour. Not a shattering fifth term of Tory government, but a highly constrained minority administration where, given the difficulties the country faces, they would struggle to make ground. A majority, and a good one, would obviously be far preferable.
So it is useful to consider what happened to the Tories back in 2010 and how Labour can avoid the same traps. And it will be particularly cathartic for me to do so as I was there in Conservative Party HQ, a reluctant and lowly participant in a dismal campaign - the most miserable professional experience of my life.