Is this a sign that turnout will rise?

Sales of party manifestos rise 160 per cent.

Immediately after the expenses scandal it was often casually assumed that turnout would plummet at the next election. Since then, two developments have made this prediction unsafe.

First, an election that was widely expected to result in a Conservative landslide has become the closest since 1992. Second, the first ever leaders' debates have taken place and dramatically increased support for the Liberal Democrats, particularly among young and undecided voters.

Perhaps the most important reason for the low turnout in 2001 (59.4 per cent) and 2005 (61.3 per cent) was simply that it was always clear which party would win. There was little incentive for voters, particularly those in safe Labour seats, to head to the polling booths. But this time, with a range of possible outcomes, this is no longer the case.

In 2001 the psephologist Anthony King wrote: "Just provide the voters with a closely fought election at which a great deal is at stake and, make no mistake, they will again turn out in their droves."

There are now several signs that he will be proved right. Half a million people downloaded electoral registration forms in the weeks before the deadline and, we learn today, sales of party manifestos are up 160 per cent on 2005. Unsurprisingly, sales of the Lib Dem manifesto have risen dramatically, up 250 per cent since the last election, while sales of the Tory manifesto are up 193 per cent.

Sales of the Labour manifesto currently stand at 97 per cent, compared to the last election, largely due to a print run of just 2,500.

I doubt that turnout will reach the 71.2 per cent we saw in 1997 but a modest improvement now looks likely.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's speech on terrorism will do him more good than harm

The Labour leader's criticism of police cuts and western foreign policy will resonate with voters.

The election campaign, if there was any doubt, has resumed. In his speech responding to the Manchester attack, Jeremy Corbyn did not limit himself to expressions of sympathy and solidarity. He squarely targeted Theresa May on her home turf: policing and security.

The Conservatives' repeated warning is that Corbyn is a "threat" to his country. But the Labour leader countered that only he could keep it "safe". Austerity, he declared, "has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door. We cannot be protected and cared for on the cheap." May, having been warned by the Police Federation while home secretary of the danger of cuts, is undoubtedly vulnerable on this front. Under Labour, Corbyn vowed, "there will be more police on the streets" (despite Diane Abbott's erroneous arithmetic), while the security services would receive whatever resources they need.

Corbyn swiftly progressed to foreign policy, the great passion of his political life. Though it is facile to reduce terrorism to a "blowback" against western interventionism (as if jihadists were Pavlovian dogs, rather than moral agents), it is blinkered to dismiss any connection. As Corbyn noted: "Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home" (the Tory-led Foreign Affairs Select Committee is among those who agree).That the former Stop the War chair has long taken this view absolves him of the charge of crude political opportunism.

Corbyn was also more careful than his pre-briefed remarks suggested to caveat his criticisms. He emphasised: "Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform.

"And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre."

But he maintained his central charge: western intervention has made the world more dangerous, not less. "We must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working," he said. "We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism."

Though Corbyn's arguments have appalled Conservatives (and some in Labour), they are ones that will likely find favour among the public. Polls have consistently shown that most voters oppose western adventurism and believe it has endangered the UK. Corbyn's words will resonate among both the anti-interventionist left and the isolationist right (this is, after all, a country which has just voted to retreat from even its closest neighbours).

The speech, given at 1 Great George Street (in the room where Ed Miliband gave his resignation address), was marred by Corbyn's refusal to take questions. But it was unarguably well-delivered. "Let’s have our arguments without impugning anyone’s patriotism and without diluting the unity with which we stand against terror," he warned in a pre-emptive strike against the Conservatives.

Corbyn's decision to give an overtly political speech four days after the Manchester attack is being widely described as a "gamble" or even a profound error. But the election will now rightly focus more closely on the issue of security - nothing should be beyond democratic debate.

Many of Corbyn's life-long stances, such as unilateral disarmament, do not find favour with the electorate. But there was little in his speech today that the average voter would contest. The Conservatives will hope to turn the heightened security debate to their advantage, ruthlessly quoting Corbyn against himself. But on this front, as on others, the Labour leader is proving a tougher opponent than they anticipated.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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