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The Maggie Thatcher 1979 experience: Why leader and “best PM” ratings are not necessarily the best guide to how people will vote

March 26th, 2014

CON GE2015 hopes are too reliant on Miliband’s poor ratings

The Times is leading on polling about Ed Miliband’s PM ratings which are not good for Labour. There is no doubt that on almost every measure when put up against Cameron he does worse – sometimes by quite a margin.

But you have to put these sorts of numbers into context. The PM ratings trend chart above is from the last general election that the Tories were returned to power with an overall majority – May 1979.

As can be seen as polling day, May 3rd 1979, got closer Callaghan’s lead on this measure got wider.

    At the time I was an editor with BBC News and remember vividly how much reliance senior Labour people were placing on the polling gap between Callaghan and Thatcher. This was the straw that the red team was clutching to.

Time after time we were assured that the polling clearly showed that Mrs. Thatcher was unelectable and I have to admit that I found this convincing.

As we all know the Tories won an emphatic victory with an 8% lead on votes and an overall majority of 44 seats and went on to secure majorities in the next three general elections. They remained in power for eighteen years.

Mrs Thatcher, however, continued to trail in the MORI “best PM” ratings for another year until Jim Callaghan stepped down.

Mike Smithson

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