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The thin line between electoral success and failure

Tomorrow is election day, and we’ll soon know the makeup of the next Government.

But how should we judge the relative performance of the political parties? Here are some guidelines to help decide whether they’ve had good or bad campaigns.


A few short weeks ago Conservatives were up to 20 points ahead of Labour in the polls, leading to talk of landslides and three-figure majorities. But according to Theresa May’s former director of communications, the PM would have privately been pleased with a majority of 50, suggesting a colossal failure of expectation management has taken place. This, combined with the Tories’ manifesto missteps, Mrs May’s anodyne message and style, and Labour’s better than expected performance, has led to a tightening race.

The Conservatives lead on the crucial questions of leadership and economic competence, suggesting a Tory victory is still the most likely outcome. However the campaign has exposed weaknesses in Mrs May’s operation and dented her authority. Should she win, the size of the majority and scale of her inroads against Labour and the SNP, will determine whether she can push her ‘blue collar’ Conservative agenda and plot a more moderate course on Brexit.


Campaigning comes easily to Jeremy Corbyn, whose relaxed ‘Monsieur Zen’ style has resonated with many and led to a steady rise in Labour’s ratings. There are however signs Labour has not been seriously trying to win this election. Mr Corbyn has spent much of his time visiting safe seats, and his party’s manifesto included populist proposals to spend more on health and nationalise key industries which appear designed to appeal to Labour’s base.

There have also been efforts to redefine success. Prominent Corbyn supporters including the union boss Len McCluskey have suggested that 200 seats – a net loss of 26 since 2015 – should be regarded as a “successful” result, in an apparent attempt to ensure Corbyn, or another leftwinger, can remain in charge.

Should Mr Corbyn fail to achieve this benchmark, he will come under huge pressure to resign. The key question is whether Labour’s new supporters turn out in sufficient numbers, and in the right places, to enable him to hang on.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats bet big on opposing Brexit, a strategy which does not appear to have resonated as ‘Re-Leavers’ – former Remain voters who are now resigned to Brexit – have  emerged. At this stage the Lib Dems would probably regard a handful of gains as a good result. Look out for potential leadership challenges to Tim Farron, who has struggled to cut through and show gravitas, from either Vince Cable or Ed Davey should they be returned in their former seats in Twickenham and Kingston.


After the SNP won 56 of 59 Scottish seats last time, the only way appears to be down. Some losses do seem inevitable as their governing record has come under fire and the Tories have made inroads under their assured and personable Scottish leader Ruth Davidson. Net losses in the low single digits, with the spoils divided between the SNP’s opponents, would be manageable. Losses in double figures and including big beasts like Westminster leader Angus Robertson would be a blow and put a second independence referendum on ice.

And finally – the pollsters

Similar to previous elections this campaign has seen huge questions raised over the accuracy of the polls: those published this weekend showed leads the Conservatives leading Labour by between 1% and 12%.

Whatever the outcome on Friday morning, it won’t just be our political leaders with questions to answer about their performance during this campaign, but the pollsters too.

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