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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Sadiq Khan gives Jeremy Corbyn's supporters a lesson on power

The London mayor doused the Labour conference with cold electoral truths. 

There was just one message that Sadiq Khan wanted Labour to take from his conference speech: we need to be “in power”. The party’s most senior elected politician hammered this theme as relentlessly as his “son of a bus driver” line. His obsessive emphasis on “power” (used 38 times) showed how far he fears his party is from office and how misguided he believes Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are.

Khan arrived on stage to a presidential-style video lauding his mayoral victory (a privilege normally reserved for the leader). But rather than delivering a self-congratulatory speech, he doused the conference with cold electoral truths. With the biggest personal mandate of any British politician in history, he was uniquely placed to do so.

“Labour is not in power in the place that we can have the biggest impact on our country: in parliament,” he lamented. It was a stern rebuke to those who regard the street, rather than the ballot box, as the principal vehicle of change.

Corbyn was mentioned just once, as Khan, who endorsed Owen Smith, acknowledged that “the leadership of our party has now been decided” (“I congratulate Jeremy on his clear victory”). But he was a ghostly presence for the rest of the speech, with Khan declaring “Labour out of power will never ever be good enough”. Though Corbyn joined the standing ovation at the end, he sat motionless during several of the applause lines.

If Khan’s “power” message was the stick, his policy programme was the carrot. Only in office, he said, could Labour tackle the housing crisis, air pollution, gender inequality and hate crime. He spoke hopefully of "winning the mayoral elections next year in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham", providing further models of campaigning success. 

Khan peroration was his most daring passage: “It’s time to put Labour back in power. It's time for a Labour government. A Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street. A Labour Cabinet. Labour values put into action.” The mayor has already stated that he does not believe Corbyn can fulfil this duty. The question left hanging was whether it would fall to Khan himself to answer the call. If, as he fears, Labour drifts ever further from power, his lustre will only grow.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.