What are the lessons from 1979?

What are the lessons from 1979?


Can we expect the same Lib Dem squeeze?

Having been watching the BBC Parliament re-run of the 1979 general election results programme on and off since 9am I’ve been trying to think of the lessons that might help us to predict the next general election – almost certainly in 2010.

The common themes are very marked. A possibility of the return of the Tory government; a Labour party that had some massive challenges on the economy to face and a big squeeze on the Liberals.

That last point is critical. What’s struck me is in many of the seats the Tories won 30 years ago, how important the squeeze was on the Liberals was. Where Labour and the Tories were slugging it out the Liberal vote went down and the pattern seemed to be that the Tories were the main beneficiary.

I think that Clegg’s party is going to suffer in the same way next time. The only consolation is that this will largely be reflected in the national vote share.

Many of the 2010 Tory targets were won by Blair’s Labour in 1997 and the extent to which Lib Dem supporters from 2005 go with with one of the main two parties could be critical.

On a wider issue there’s little doubt that the outgoing Labour PM, Jim Callaghan, was much more popular than Gordon Brown is today. Amazingly given the final outcome he seemed to hold big polling leads on the “who would be best PM”. Brown used to have that in his favour but no longer. That’s good for Cameron.

But the Tories need so much on their side if they are to pull off a victory. The swing required is so much greater than in 1979 and the party starts from a much lower base. Even if you look at it in terms of the “notional” 2005 result based on the new boundaries Cameron needs to make 114 gains simply to get over the magic 325 seat mark for an overall majority. That’s a massive ask.

Anyway – let’s enjoy the rest of the evening.

Mike Smithson

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