"...if you were going to name the 2010 election, what would you call it?"
The opening book in the ‘Nuffield’ election series – The British General Election of 1945 – lists a series of ‘named’ elections: 1874, when the Liberals went down in a flood of gin and beer; the Midlothian election of 1880; the Khaki election of 1900; the Chinese Slavery election of 1906; the People's Budget election of 1910; the 'Hang the Kaiser' election of 1918; and the 1924 ‘Zinovieff letter’ election.
It’s noticeable that since then, it’s difficult to think of similarly ‘named’ elections. February 1974 is sometimes called the Who Governs Britain? election, but that’s about it.
Why is this? Re-reading the 1945 study (whilst preparing the 2010 study), I was struck by the fact that even then, the study’s authors, R. B. McCallum and Alison Readman, were sceptical that in reality these issues had ever been so dominant. They point out that in 1945, the key issue of the election was housing – yet no one will know it as the housing election.
My theory (and that’s all it is) is that the reason we don’t name elections in the way we used to is largely because we now know so much more about what how the public vote, what drives them (or not), and we know that their motivations are usually so mixed, and complex, if not often contradictory, that it’s ludicrous to think that any one thing decides an election.
Take 2005, for example. That could easily be labelled as the ‘Iraq election’, given the extent to which national debate focussed on the consequences (and justifications) of the 2003 war. But we know that for voters Iraq came relatively low down the list of concerns.
Similarly, this one could have been called the ‘Expenses Election’, although again we know that expenses was relatively low on voters concerns, and – a handful of seats aside – it’s difficult to see much evidence that expenses mattered. Even with the 1983 contest, which could easily be known as the ‘Falklands Election’, there is plenty of good evidence which argues that the Falklands war was much less significant than people think.
But if you were going to name the 2010 election, what would you call it?
Professor Philip Cowley