REASSURINGLY, LABOUR'S landslide victory last year was caused not by poster campaigns or party political broadcasts, but by real political events: a gigantic economic blunder and a Labour leader with enormous electoral appeal. And yet, acres of newsprint have been given over to analysing spin and hype.
It is more than a year since the election, and the books are coming out (Why Labour won the General Election of 1997, edited by Ivor Crewe, and The Unfinished Revolution: The Inside Story of New Labour, by Philip Gould). Looking back at the opinion polls between the elections of 1992 and 1997, there were only two events that caused significant effect: Britain's humbling withdrawal from the ERM in late 1992, which led to a collapse in the Conservatives reputation for economic competence, and a consequent drop in their poll rating of more than 10 points, and Tony Blair's accession to the leadership, which added a further 10 points to the already large Labour lead. Otherwise, all we have is a gentle narrowing of the gap between the two main parties up to the election itself.
How could it be that the mighty brains and huge budgets of the political campaigners had next to no effect? Because the nature of the battle in an election is akin to trench warfare - each side knows how to fight, each has a stock of shells that they fire at the other, but it all just cancels out. If one side stopped they would quickly be overrun, so it is a necessary activity and, as in the First World War, capable of making small gains, but not the stuff of dramatic advances and retreats. The political strategists are well aware of all this, which is why they have sought to break out from the constraints of the official election period itself into the more open period before the election is declared. …