As the Second World War neared its conclusion there was some hesitancy as to when the first General Election in almost a decade would take place. Although some constituencies had held by-elections during the hostilities the vast majority of voters had to get back into the rhythm of electioneering.
The widespread expectation was, that having led the nation to victory in the war, Churchill would go on to be elected by a grateful nation to carry it on into peacetime. Such were the crowds that greeted Churchill wherever he travelled during the campaign this result seemed more than likely. Pathe caught him at one huge gathering apologising for his lateness because of the ‘large enthusiastic crowds’ he had already encountered.
Have you ever wondered who governs the countries of Europe? Would you like to know who governed your country more than a century ago? Are you not sure about the partisan affiliation of ministers in your neighboring states? Are you interested in discovering how has the (economic and financial) crisis affected the composition of European governments and party systems?
Now a quick answer to all these questions, and more, is possible thanks to a new research project at the University of Nottingham: namely, the Party Systems and Governments Observatory (PSGo), a new research interactive tool (whogoverns.eu) where data on government formation and party system institutionalization in 48 European democratic states since 1848 can be found. European indicates those countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. Democratic refers to those countries displaying (1) a score of 6 or higher in the Polity IV index, (2) universal suffrage elections (including universal male suffrage only, when historically appropriate), and (3) governments formed and/or relying on a parliamentary majority, rather than on the exclusive will of the head of state. States includes those countries recognized by either the United Nations or the Council of Nations.
Political manifestos are infamously fallible guides as to what a party will actually do if it wins office. That is especially true in these uncertain times when policies might have to be traded away as the price of forming a coalition government.
But a manifesto can still tell us something about what a party stands for, its priorities, and how it thinks it can win votes.
For all that you hear about politicians making easy promises in their manifestos but never then delivering, the evidence is that most pledges in fact get carried out, if the party has a majority to do so.
‘Did BBC help win Labour the 1964 election by cancelling Steptoe and Son?’ asked The Daily Telegraph ‘How Steptoe and Son nearly cost Labour the 1964 election’ said The Daily Mail.The headlines themselves are new, appearing in the last few days, but the story may seem familiar.
Both papers were reporting that Harold Wilson, in the run up to what was a very tight election in 1964, was canny (or paranoid) enough to spot that the BBC planned to repeat an episode of its phenomenally popular comedy, Steptoe and Son in the last hour of polling. Wilson reckoned that the escapades of Albert Steptoe’s unexpected win on the Premium Bonds would be enough to keep vital working-class Labour voters at home and so scupper his chances of victory. In the end a successful lobbying campaign by Wilson led to the programme being pushed back until the polls had closed (it wasn’t cancelled as The Telegraph headline suggests – the BBC still wanted it in its schedules to hold viewers over into its election coverage).
As the results began to be released at the end of the Indian election in May 2014 (which took over 5 weeks to complete) it became apparent that Modi had managed what few, if any, observers would have predicted; a majority of seats for one party: his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As the results rolled in, soon-to-be prime minister Modi preached a message of unity, promising to ‘keep everyone together’, and, despite the overall majority secured by the BJP, to continue to work with his alliance partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Modi was Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002 when a massacre of between 1-2000 Muslims took place. Although he has never been convicted of crimes relating to this massacre, which human rights organisations concluded were abetted by the state, several people associated with the BJP were. Many countries consequently refused him visas (including the UK and the US). These visa restrictions were lifted when it became likely that he would be India’s next premier. That Modi was a controversial choice as prime ministerial candidate can be shown by the fact that one of the partners of the BJP in the state of Bihar resigned from the BJP–led NDA alliance in protest at his elevation in 2013. Many observers were unsure if the BJP would manage to appeal beyond its core base with Modi as their leader.
In August 1931 the Labour Cabinet was at an impasse over the economic measures it needed to take in order to balance the nation’s books. By the end of the month the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, had tendered his resignation to the King only to return to Downing Street – still Prime Minister – but this time the leader of a National Government.
Very soon MacDonald felt the need to appeal to the electorate for a fresh mandate and an election was held on Tuesday 27 October. Just as they had in the previous decade Pathe newsreels gave politicians the ideal opportunity to reach a large and captive audience at the cinema. In this film Ramsay MacDonald is heard making the case – particularly to hard-pressed housewives – for the continuation of the National Government. MacDonald’s appeal to the national interest above that of party and to the world economic crisis (rather than a merely home grown one) sound particularly familiar 80 years on.
There is plenty of research showing that being attractive pays off, particularly in business. Attractive people are more likely to be hired and make more money than the less attractive. There is also evidence that being attractive confers benefits in particular professions.
Attractive attorneys are more likely to make partner early, and patients feel more comfortable discussing their symptoms with an attractive doctor. And politics is no exception. Attractive politicians are more likely to be in election winners in countries around the world, includingBritain.
A few weeks ago word spread that Ed Miliband’s face would hardly feature in Labour’s election campaign leaflets after Guido Fawkes reported the party had allocated just 45 minutes for its 257 MPs to have a photo taken with their leader. David Cameron inevitably claimed Miliband was so unpopular Labour did not expect many to turn up. That is certainly possible. While recent polls show Miliband’s image is improving, his approval rating has long lagged behind Cameron’s, even amongst his own supporters. As of March 2015, 40 per cent of Labour supporters indicated they were dissatisfied with how Miliband was performing as leader, while less than 20 per cent of Conservative supporters said the same of Cameron.
Time will tell how far Labour will avoid featuring Miliband on its campaign materials. But we can plausibly predict what is likely to happen on the basis of the parties’ behaviour in 2010.
James Graham is that precious thing: a dramatist who takes politics seriously. Unlike his peers he does not use politics as the excuse for cheap jokes that exploit Britons’ ill-informed cynicism about those we elect to govern in our name.
His 2012 play This House looked at how Labour and Conservative whips were forced to work together during the minority Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1970s. It was a great success – at least with National Theatre audiences, an overwhelmingly middle class and mature group.
As in This House, so in his first television drama, Coalition, broadcast on Channel 4 on Saturday March 28. Here Graham shows how essentially decent men (and a woman) struggle with an almost impossible situation to make representative democracy work. In the case of Coalition he focuses on the five frenetic days between the 2010 election result and the formation of Britain’s first post-war coalition government, the beginning of what was sold as a new kind of politics.