British politics is like cricket – a big score isn’t enough, you have to actually beat the opposition

by John Wall

In cricket you not only have to win but also beat the opposition.

The teams walk out, one is such a hot favourite that when they win the toss and decide to bat many think it’s all over. The ball is hit all around the ground and the score mounts. There is a declaration and the other side bats. Things continue badly, they’re quickly skittled out and the follow-on enforced. Then the pendulum swings the other way, batsmen get dug in and the match is drawn.

Despite a large number of runs and some very good individual performances it’s remembered as an inconclusive stalemate, the captain is blamed and replaced – sound familiar?

This is the vote achieved by the first party in the last ten general elections:

Major (1992): 14,093,007

Thatcher (1987): 13,760,935

Thatcher (1979): 13,697,923

May (2017): 13,636,690

Blair (1997): 13,518,167

Thatcher (1983): 13,012,316

Cameron (2015): 11,299,959

Blair (2001): 10,724,953

Cameron (2010): 10,703,754

Blair (2005): 9,552,436

This is the percentage share:

Thatcher (1979): 43.9%

Blair (1997): 43.2%

Thatcher (1983): 42.4%

May (2017): 42.3%

Thatcher (1987): 42.2%

Major (1992): 41.9%

Blair (2001): 40.7%

Cameron (2015): 36.8%

Cameron (2010): 36.1%

Blair (2005): 35.2%

This isn’t rejection of May and her manifesto, she increased the Conservative vote by 2.3 million and 5.5%, and also got 56 more seats than Corbyn.

May’s problem – back to cricket – is that although she “won”, she didn’t “beat” the opposition sufficiently as can be seen by looking at second party percentage shares:

Corbyn (2017): 40.0%

Callaghan (1979): 36,9%

Kinnock (1992): 34.4%

Howard (2005): 32.4%

Hague (2001): 31.7%

Kinnock (1987): 30.8%

Major (1997): 30.7%

Miliband (2015): 30.4%

Brown (2010): 29.0%

Foot (1983): 27.6%

This was largely because the minor parties were squeezed. In 2015 they secured about a third of the vote, but only a sixth in 2017. About 2/3 transferred to Labour and 1/3 to the Conservatives. There was also an age divide, the young voted Labour and the old Conservative.

2017 can’t be compared with 2010 as Cameron was on the way up and converted opposition into a hung parliament, May converted a majority into a hung parliament.

If Sir Humphrey was asked whether May won he’d probably answer “Yes – and no!”

The campaigns largely passed each other by, May mostly campaigned on Brexit, Corbyn on domestic issues. Brexit was difficult for Corbyn/Labour, so best avoided, but the Conservatives probably believed that the outcome was certain so, in addition to a poor manifesto, little effort was made to attack/refute Labour’s and this probably contributed to the result.

Although her vote and share were impressive May only did half the job and, like the captain of the cricket team which failed to secure an easy victory, any dead parrot or similar analogies are completely appropriate.

Paul Goodman claims that:

“ConservativeHome has only found one Tory MP to date who says that May can lead the Party into the next election.”

And reading about an alleged Tory plot to skip ‘toxic’ generation and install younger face as next leader suggests that nettles are being grasped.

There is plenty of analysis and widespread acceptance that, to be polite, the campaign was poor and there are (many) lessons to be learnt.

Policies to deliver a majority are already being discussed, such as the Tories must tackle the housing crisis if they are to win back younger voters and the Tories must convince the young of the moral case for conservatism.

Incumbency is a double-edged sword, Brexit is uncertain, but you control the levers of power and can use them to pull the rug out from under the opposition. Parents getting begging letters from schools aren’t impressed by being told that funding is at “record levels” – sort it out and it’s one less stick with which you can be beaten.

Corbyn/Labour are ahead of May/Conservatives in the opinion polls but considering May didn’t achieve her objectives, was initially wrong-footed over Grenfell Tower and is, of course, on the way out, this is not unexpected.

Looking across the Commons Corbyn talks about forcing an early general election – despite being 56 seats behind, 60+ short of a majority and with the DUP, even without an agreement, likely to back the Conservatives to keep him out of No. 10 – and preaches to metropolitan Marxists whilst his sidekick impersonates a hate preacher.

It wasn’t surprising that when Chris Leslie said, “We shouldn’t pretend that this is a famous victory. It is good, as far as it’s gone, but it’s not going to be good enough,” he was denounced as “a sad, lonely bitter man”.

It’s also telling that a reason for avoiding major changes to the shadow cabinet was to not “break up a winning team”, then there are things that just leave you speechless such as the repeated claims that Jeremy Corbyn is actually PM and when the likes of Ian Lavery suggest that Labour might be a too broad church the conclusion is obvious.

Some accept that there are lessons for Labour, but this is largely parts of the left close to the real world, like Progress, that many Corbynistas see as closet, if not actual, Thatcherites. As Richard Angell wrote:

“While the general election confounded many expectations about Jeremy Corbyn, it also confirmed that ‘one more heave’ will not work and that to win, Labour must win over people who voted Tory.”

On June 8th the Conservatives received a nasty shock whilst Labour had a pleasant surprise.

Labour did better than expected meaning that the Conservatives didn’t get a majority.

Many in Labour contend that this was because of Corbyn and they’ll get a majority with the same leader and similar policies; full ahead both and left hand down a lot.

Most Conservatives believe that May wasn’t very good, the manifesto was poor and they underestimated Corbyn, so a new leader, better policies and not underestimating the opposition will deliver a majority.

Every politician, with the possible exception of the LDs, wants to believe that people vote for them rather than against their opponents. In 2010 the LDs became part of a coalition government and their support dropped. A certain amount went to UKIP, a switch from a europhile to a eurosceptic party, but this was because UKIP had replaced them as the anti-establishment party of protest.

During the campaign the Conservative lead reduced as Labour’s share increased. If most of this was because voters were attracted by Corbyn rather than turned off by May, Labour has nothing to worry about. If the opposite was the case next time Labour will be fighting the last election.

John Wall is a former member of the Conservatives

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21 Responses to “British politics is like cricket – a big score isn’t enough, you have to actually beat the opposition”

  1. Malim says:

    WHo thinks the next collection will be held in University term time?

  2. Ed Myatt says:

    Kind of a repetition of Mr Wall’s last thin effort, with a cricket free gift thrown in. Assertiive, insubstantial. Who does he think he”’s kidding. Ans. himself.

  3. steve says:

    An excellent article, thank you John.

    Currently Corbyn is surging ahead of May in the polls. We are therefore entering a dangerous period.

    And frankly, as was seen, May is not up to the task of leadership and has all the charisma of yesterday’s chip wrapper.

    But, on a note of optimism, she has held out an olive branch and suggested the possibility of cross-party consultation. This should not be seen as a offer to Corbyn but an overture intending to attract anti-Corbyn Labour MPs into the Tory fold.

    This would make a lot of sense. But Labour MPs need to act fast. May is about to be ejected so a vacancy will shortly arise. Woiuldn’t it be wonderful if one of Labour’s young Blairites were to lead a Tory-New Labour anti-Corbyn coalition? I believe the marvelously charismatic and dynamically talented Chris Leslie would be the ideal candidate for such and role.

    So come on, let’s join with the Tories and kick socialism into touch once and for all!

  4. John P Reid says:

    I know several people who voted labour in the sixties, switched to wither the liberals or the SDP in the 80’s and said their second choice in the 80’s but by the 90’s their second choice was labour

    The fact is, there’s been several people who switched to the libdems from labour in 2017′ who’s second choice is Tory, very few libdems second choice is labour, but it could be, if say Owen smith had become leader, labour may have done worse due to his call for a second EU referendum, but several libdems would have had him as a second choice,not the Tories,

  5. Anne says:

    Prior to the election May was seen as a sensible, safe person and the best of the bunch but during the election the real May personality became apparent and it was opposite to the original perception. She most certainly has a hard streak to continue as if nothing has happened – however there is no talent in the Conservative Party to replace her – they are better looking to the next generation.
    On the other hand people’s perception of Corbyn is also changing and he is becoming to look and sound more PM material- he also has a better team around him. Kier Starmer and Barry Gardiner are better Brexit negotiators. People are still suspicious of Corbyn and are still uncertain but he appears to have touched on issues which are topical such as student loans, NHS funding, school funding, housing etc which seem to be offering a better future for the U.K.

  6. Tafia says:

    Anne, you seem obsessed with Kier Starmer – a politician who in reality is actually quite lightweight. You say Kier Starmer and Barry Gardiner are better Brexit negotiators.. Just to remind you, both have different positions over BREXIT – so at least one of them is wrong, and neither of them have the same position as their current party leadership. That’s before you reach the fact that your claim is totally false as neither of them are involved in the BREXIT negotiations therefore cannot be better negotiators.

    Grasp reaility – in all probability neither party will be led into the next election by it’s current leader and most of the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet ministers most certainly won’t be Cabinet/Shadow Ministers after it as they will have been on the wrong side of BREXIT and thus will be irrelevant politically. The Labour Party will have been through two revolutionary party conferences by then and possibly even split and will be a totally different and far more hard left wing than the current hobvbled two-headed beast of party looking one way, PLP the other.

    The next election (probably the summer of 2019 after we leave the EU) will be cataclysmic along the lines of 1945, 1979 and 1997 and the party that wins it will be the party the public perceives as more keen to get on in our new post-BREXIT status.

    BREXIT will happen and we will leave in 2019 either with a deal or without one. That is the choice Parliament will be given to vote on – accept whatever deal is on the table or we leave with no deal (in all probability it will be no deal and we will have wasted two years on pointless talks when we could just walk away tomorrow with no deal) – even the EU itself has hardened it’s position – “there is no rowing back” is the exact quote. BREXIT will re-shape British politics from top to bottom in 2019 for generations to come.

  7. John Wall says:

    @Ed Myatt – I’ve been looking round listening to the mood music. Yes, it’s more qualitative than quantitative but I reckon that the Conservatives are close to unanimous that they need to change – starting with a new leader. On the other side I reckon that most in Labour believe they’re alright as they are.

    @steve – methinks you’re extracting the Michael:-) Considering the mess May made – how’s that for alliteration – I’d be surprised if Corbyn/Labour weren’t ahead in the polls!

    @Anne – I don’t have any idea who’ll replace May but go back to 2005 and Cameron came from nowhere. Considering where Corbyn was, there was only really one way to go! In the wider world I doubt that Barry Gardiner, Keir Starmer, etc are any better known than their equivalents in the Conservatives – it’s only sad people like us who watch DPs, PMQs, etc.

    Corbyn – like Miliband – had some attractive offers, but it was – largely because of Conservative complacency I suspect – not really scrutinised. It was – a bit like the 2015 Conservative manifesto – not intended as a programme for government and it certainty wasn’t “fully costed”.

    I’ve seen criticism – from the left – to the effect that the tuition fees policy would benefit more middle class than working class students. I recall – just before polling day – Corbyn talking about writing off historical student debt. My view, and I don’t think I was unique, was that it was a policy, pledge, etc that would be enacted if he got into No. 10. But last Sunday Angela Raynor was on the Marr show saying that it would cost £100bn and, consequently, just an “aspiration”. Did that “encourage” fairly recent graduates to vote Labour?

  8. Janine Edwards says:

    Blair wasn’t really Labour. He was Tory-lite.

  9. John Wall says:

    @Tafia – I don’t disagree with much of what you say.

    By the summer of 2019 we’re out and if the result is “good”, or can be plausibly spun as “good”, I’d expect May’s replacement to think about an election, maybe in the Autumn. By then there could be negotiations for trade deals with, for example, the US underway and there should be a fox hunting free manifesto.

    On the Labour side the McDonnell amendment may have been passed and the Luciana Berger situation may well have been replicated many times.

  10. John p Reid says:

    So why did you quit the Tories then John Wall?

    Are you familiar with labours dwingdling vote in working class areas North of England at the expense of the Tories and Essex?

  11. Anne says:

    John I agree with you – I don’t known who will replace May – there is no one immediately in the frame – but my suspicion is that it will be someone from the next generation – the name Debbie Allan springs to mind.
    I also witnessed Angela Raynor state on the Andrew Marr show saying that reimbursing student debt would be more an aspersion rather than an actual policy. Although I have read somewhere that student fees in England are well above those countries with comparable economies. Also it is quite a high interest rate in paying back this debt.
    My feeling is that Corbyn is still in the lead. I have mixed feeling about his proposed interest in his nationalised programmes. I am perhaps in favour of nationalising the railways – this business of guards on trains has still not been resolved. It must be a nightmare for people who use the railways for commuting.

  12. Tafia says:

    @John Wall I’ve seen criticism – from the left – to the effect that the tuition fees policy would benefit more middle class than working class students.

    Just as an aside – and also as a mocking taunt to all you Corbynistas and stupid students who believed him, despite Corbyn/Labour’s manifesto regardiing tuition fees, the Welsh LABOUR government yesterday voted to increase them. The excuse given – “our universities must be able to compete domestically and internationally”

    Expect to hear this continually thrown at Labour during PMQs etc for the next few months should the bring up U-turns. After all, it would be rude not to !!

  13. buttley says:

    with all the figures & percentages above, i looked at Labours results for the post war period, the last twenty elections.

    2017 12,874,284 39.99
    2015 9,347,326 30.4
    2010 8,606,518 29.0
    2005 9,567,589 35.2
    2001 10,724,953 40.7
    1997 13,518,167 43.2
    1992 11,560,484 34.4
    1987 10,029,270 30.8
    1983 8,456,934 27.6
    1979 11,532,218 36.9
    1974 11,457,079 39.3
    1974 11,645,616 37.2
    1970 12,179,341 43
    1966 13,064,951 47.9
    1964 12,205,814 44.1
    1959 12,215,538 43.8
    1955 12,404,970 46.4
    1951 13,948,605 48.8
    1950 13,266,592 46.1
    1945 11,995,152 47.8

    Corbyn comes in at tenth for vote share at 39.99%

    But fifth for popular vote with 12,874,284

    a 20 year high, in support

  14. John Wall says:

    @John P Reid – I left the Conservative Party a little while ago as some unpleasant things happened and I was on the receiving end. My political sympathies are still primarily in that area though.

    @Anne – do you mean Heidi Allen? There is always the option of emulating the LDs and skipping a generation the other way:-)! I’m not sure how UK tuition fees compare internationally but, from my point of view, I don’t want to be hypocritical as I went to university and had no fees and received a maintenance grant – but only about 10% went to university in those days. Unfortunately the egregious Blair devalued degrees by increasing the number of students too quickly. I’d certainly like to see changes and agree about the interest rate. Something else that could be done is to move to two year rather than three year courses, the annual fee might go up a bit but the living costs would reduce.

  15. John Wall says:

    @buttley – For quite a while there were, effectively, only two parties so each would get in the mid 40s per cent. Look at the shares in 1951, 1955 and 1959 – all where Labour came second. To some extent the LDs kept Margaret Thatcher in power in the 1980s.

  16. buttley says:

    @John Wall

    “To some extent the LDs kept Margaret Thatcher in power in the 1980s.”

    Undoubtedly, which is why the breakaway issue needs to be forced sooner rather than later, or history will repeat itself.

  17. John Wall says:

    @buttley – I have no stake in Labour, just looking in. Nobody knows exactly when the next election will be but I suspect that the “truce” won’t last forever – some will buckle under, others will go. History and First Past The Post warns against forming a new party. There are some who clearly aren’t Corbynistas but have been around for a while – they might decide to “retire” at the next election, i.e., jump before they’re pushed!

  18. john P Reid says:

    Buttley, for every vote the SDP took off the labour party in the 80’s they took one off the tories too, regading it being the 5th highest vote, well that’s because theres 20 million more people in the country than 65 years ago

    for instance when the SDP folded in 1990, John Major got 1million more votes in 1992 than Thatcher in 1983

    also as Balir got 40.9% of the vote in 2001 and as you said Jez got 39,9% in 2017 how is it a 20 year high

    jasmine Edwards if Blair wasn’t labour and labour got 38% of the vote on a 71.9% turnout in 1974 October, and actually got less vote sin England than the toresa t that election… tehn labour hasn’t actually won a election in England with a majority or more than 40% of the vote since March 1966?

  19. John P Reid says:

    Buttley just to point out, it shows on your figures Corbyn came 11th on vote share since the war

  20. buttley says:

    @ Johm P Reid

    “for every vote the SDP took off the labour party in the 80’s they took one off the tories too”

    Maybe you remember it that way John, but the numbers say otherwise.

    Labour haemorrhaged 3,000,000 votes at the 1883 election to SDP/Lib

    That was a swing of -9.3% for Labour & 11.6% gain for SDP/Lib’s

    The Tories took a hit of -1.5%, about 200,000 votes.

    which needs to be viewed against an 8.1% surge for them in 1979.

    In 1987 Labour clawed back 3.2% of its vote, from the SDP/ Lib’s

    The Tories Vote went down 0.2%

    Your assertion is disputed, because its wrong.

  21. John P Reid says:

    Buttley, your assuming that person who voted labour in 79′ didn’t go too the Tories in 1983 and that, as Tories from 79′ went to the SDP in 83′ too, it means that not the very vote the SDP got was ex labour,

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