By the mid-sixties their television show was pulling in a regular audience of over 10 million viewers. In one year they had made more Las Vegas appearances than Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr combined, and having shared the stage at the Hollywood Bowl with The Beatles were now receiving more fan mail a week than the Fab Four themselves. They were: Pinky and Perky.
The two chirpy, high-pitched puppet pigs (created by a Czech husband and wife team Jan and Vlasta Dalibor) were part of an extremely lucrative merchandising campaign, proving popular – thanks to their early evening slot in the TV schedules – with both children and adults. The BBC had recognised their commercial worth and Pinky and Perky became the first film made by the corporation aimed exclusively for overseas sales
All this was put in jeopardy when Harold Wilson decided to try and extend his wafer-thin majority with an election in March 1966. At the time of the announcement Pinky and Perky were trotting their way through a series of programmes based on the theme of ‘You, too, can be a…’. The swines had their eyes set on the ‘top job’: they had decided they could be Prime Minister. The BBC were worried that this episode would upset their need for strict impartiality in the lead up to the vote.
As Britain’s longest-ever election campaign reaches its final excruciating moments, Russell Brand announced his support for the return of a Labour government.
A celebrity endorsement is not usually a matter of great political moment. But in a campaign which has failed to engender much enthusiasm, Brand’s announcement created a splash – for journalists at least. For Brand is no ordinary celebrity and his announcement marks a complete turnabout in his attitude to voting.
In 2013 Brand told the BBC that he had never voted and would never do so, because of “the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations”.
He encouraged others to abstain as the only way to bring about change. From that moment the media anointed Brand the leader of those largely urban, mostly young and often poor Britons disenchanted by a political system that did not represent them and expected them to bear much of the burden of austerity. A millionaire comedian maybe a paradoxical tribune of the streets, but that is what Brand effectively became.
In a previous post we discussed how approximately half of British voters hold multiple party preferences. For these voters, the electoral attractiveness of their second-best party is the same or almost the same as for their best party, which makes it easy for them to switch their vote intention during the campaign.
At first sight this may look like people are spoilt for choice – but there is a caveat. Electoral preferences were measured, for each party separately, on a scale from 0 to 10. A tie at the top could mean quite different things, depending on the strength of preferences that are tied. Indeed, those who rate two parties each at 10 on this scale are well served by the party system, as they have two options to choose from on polling day, each of which they find excellent. But if the two best parties are tied at 7, it suggests that neither of them are particularly electorally attractive.
As someone who has spent a fair share of my time watching films about World War Two, hoping to find what they tell us about the past they depict and the present in which they were made, I think Cameron’s choice of A Bridge Too Far as his favourite war film says more than he intends.
Presumably Cameron hoped he would appeal to elderly and nostalgia-ridden Telegraph readers who – if the content of the paper is anything to go by – have a view of the past dominated by benign monarchs and brave British soldiers. Yet, for a Conservative it is a paradoxical film to choose. Released in 1977, the last time Britain struggled to recover from an international crisis and its own economic and social problems, A Bridge Too Far depicted not a victory but the worst Allied defeat in World War Two. It was closely based on real events. In the late summer of 1944 General Bernard Montgomery persuaded Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower that Germany could be knocked out if they dropped an unprecedented number of paratroops behind enemy lines to capture all the Dutch bridges they needed to cross the Rhine.
By the time of the first General Election of the 1960s Britain had seen 13 years of Tory rule. Over that same period the nation had also begun to embrace the medium of television. Whilst something exotic and geographically limited in 1950, ownership of a ‘set’ had steadily risen throughout the decade and by 1964 around 17 million homes had one. At the same time the limited schedule of a single channel had grown to three competing services by the time Alec Douglas-Home went to the country in October of 1964.
Pathe nonetheless continued to produce its round ups of the news and the General Election was no exception. Under the headline ‘Election Warms Up’, Pathe gives a rather glamorous account of campaigning across the country taking in the ‘youngest woman putting up for the House’, Liberal candidate for Chigwell, Gudrun Collis (alas she came third out of three) and a particularly energetic Patrick Jenkin running(!) between houses as he canvasses. There is the added glamour too of a trio of celebrity candidates as Pathe catches up with the campaigns of ‘handsome Lord Edward’ Dexter in Cardiff, comedian Jimmy Edwards (and moustache) in North Paddington and Screaming Lord Sutch standing against Labour leader Harold Wilson, but seen here campaigning in London. Sutch had announced that he would contest Wilson’s seat in order to fight discrimination against long hair and to seek knighthoods for The Beatles, however his nomination papers were rejected. The newsreel closes with shots of the two main party leaders: first Wilson at an election press conference (remember those?) and finally Douglas-Home facing a hostile crowd armed with ‘He Wants Polaris’ placards in St Pancreas.
Opinion polls published in the run up to the general election are mostly based on questions that ask which –if any– of the parties one intends to vote for. Such questions are seemingly simple, and lend themselves to a straightforward projection of vote shares. Yet, they also pose some problems when trying to gauge the partisan preferences of the public, let alone the ways in which the outcome may still change. The limitation of these questions is that they implicitly assume that people have a preference for just a single political party. We know, of course, that this is not true, as some people are genuinely torn between two parties. Relatively little attention is given, however, to how many such people there are, between which parties they hesitate, and how easy it is for them to switch. In this blog post, and a few that follow in the next few days, we look at such multiple party preferences.
The long-awaited visit has finally taken place. Xi Jinping’s first official visit abroad this year was to Islamabad, previously postponed due to the September 2014 dharna (sit-in) organised by Imran Khan’s PTI. “I feel as if I am going to visit the home of my brother” said Xi Jinping ahead of his trip to Pakistan in an editorial published in the Daily Times, a tradition that the Chinese President inaugurated last fall at the dawn of his South Asian tour to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India.
The arrival saw a red carpet welcome at the airport, and a reminder of the Pakistan and China’s long-standing joint defence cooperation with four JF 17 Fighters accompanying Xi’s plane as it entered Pakistani airspace. While reiterating the intangible dimension of Pakistan-Chinas’ “all-weather” narrative, the more tangible, substantive part of his trip was yet to come.
As elections day nears, we are no nearer an understanding of who will govern after May 7th.
One possible coalition that has become hotly contested is that between the Labour party and the Scottish National Party (SNP), first proposed by Nicola Sturgeon following the party leaders’ televised debates, when she “extended a hand of friendship” to Ed Milliband and to UK voters, in order to establish an ‘anti-austerity coalition’ against the Conservative party.
The reaction of the British media was to condemn this eventuality, with responses that ranged from the alarmist to the cautious: Piers Morgan declared in the Daily Mail that Nicola Sturgeon was “the world’s most dangerous woman”; Matthew Parris warned in The Times that the SNP would put the Union in “mortal danger”; Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times that SNP’s main interest was limited to “how much it can extract” from the UK.
At the 2010 election there was a considerable pro-Labour bias in the electoral system. Despite a 7.3% lead in votes over Labour in Great Britain, larger than had been achieved in outright victory by Ted Heath in 1970 and Margaret Thatcher in 1979, the Conservatives finished 19 seats short of an overall majority. The bias in the electoral system was estimated to have been 54 seats in Labour’s favour, such that if the two parties had achieved the same vote share, Labour would have won 54 more seats than the Conservatives. This bias in the system was actually considerably smaller than that estimated at the 2005 election, (111 seats). Labour had won an overall majority of 66 seats on a vote share of just over 3% more than the Conservatives in Great Britain. They had won 93 more seats than the Conservatives in England despite polling 70,000 fewer votes.
Having governed, in coalition and as a single party for eleven years, the Labour Government which had scrapped back into power in 1950 was looking increasingly lethargic and directionless. As this Pathe film notes, ‘with a hard winter ahead and with the threat of a split in his party’ Clement Attlee in 1951 decided to put his case once more to the country in hope of a greater majority.