The seven-year rule: why Labour doesn't think Cameron will save the Tories in 2015

History shows that after seven years at the top, politicians' ratings go into decline - and Cameron can't afford to lose votes in 2015.

One of the main reasons why the Tories remain confident that they will be the largest party after 2015 is that David Cameron continues to lead Ed Miliband as "the best prime minister" (by 35-24 when YouGov last asked the question). By framing the election as a presidential contest, they believe they can erode Labour's poll lead. 

But as I argue in my NS politics column this week, such optimism is misplaced. History shows that a well-liked (or, more accurately, less disliked) leader is no guarantee of electoral success. In the final poll before the 1979 election, Jim Callaghan enjoyed a 19-point lead over Margaret Thatcher as "the best prime minister" but the Tories still won a majority of 44 seats. Similarly, in the 1970 election, Harold Wilson's 23-point lead over Ted Heath failed to prevent Labour suffering a decisive defeat.

There is no reason to believe that Cameron's ratings will be enough to offset the toxicity of the Tory brand, not least because he's now been Conservative leader for nearly eight years. As I write in the column, one shadow cabinet minister recently cited Gordon Brown’s "seven years theory" (as distilled in Damian McBride’s memoir) to me as evidence of why Cameron will struggle to deliver a Conservative victory. According to this rule, after a politician has spent this long in the public eye, the voters invariably start to tire of them.

It was after Tony Blair pledged to serve a full third term in 2004 that Brown lamented: 

I’ve already had seven years. Once you’ve had seven years, the public start getting sick of you. You’ve got seven years when you’ve got a chance to get people on board, but after that, you’re on the down slope. I’ve tried not to be too exposed, but it’s still seven years. The only chance was getting in next year before the election. Tony knows that. Every year that goes by, the public are going to say: 'Not that guy Brown, we’re tired of him – give us someone new.'

McBride adds: "We talked a while about the 'seven years' theory. It was clearly informed by the US Presidential system, but GB went through a series of British politicians and made the same point. He argued that Margaret Thatcher – despite carefully rationing her public appearances (a point made by Peter Bingle in his Friday musing) – was on the slide in public opinion even at the time of the 1987 election, and that Churchill had only bucked the trend by continually re-inventing himself."

Thatcher and Tony Blair were insulated from defeat by the large majorities they won in their pomp (both losing votes at every general election they fought) but this luxury is not available to Cameron. Unless he can increase the Conservatives’ vote share (as no sitting prime minister has done since 1974, and that only by the means of a second election eight months after a hung parliament), Labour will almost certainly be the largest party after the election. Miliband continues to retain the support of more than a quarter of 2010 Liberal Democrat voters, a swing greater than the cumulative increase in the Conservative vote between 1997 and 2010. 

Cameron and George Osborne take inspiration from the Tories’ unlikely triumph in 1992, the first campaign in which they were involved, but they have forgotten one important ingredient: a change of prime minister. It was only after John Major replaced Thatcher in November 1990, just 16 months before the election, that the Conservatives' poll ratings recovered to the point where victory was conceivable. 

Will Cameron, who failed to win a majority under exceptionally advantageous circumstances in 2010, be the PM who bucks the seven rule? Don't bet on it. 

David Cameron arrives on October 25, 2013 for the second day of a European Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tim Farron sacks former MP David Ward

The Liberal Democrat leader said Ward's remarks made him "unfit" to stand. 

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has sacked David Ward as a candidate declaring him "unfit to represent the party". 

Ward, who lost his seat in Bradford East in 2015, once said "the Jews" were "within a few years of liberation from the death camps...inflicting atrocities on Palestinians". At the time, the comments caused outcry, and Ward faced disciplinary procedures - later adjourned.

Farron, though, doesn't intend to revisit this particular episode. After news broke that Ward had been re-selected to stand as a candidate, he initially said it was not the leader's job to select candidates, but hours later had intervened to stop it. 

In a short statement, he said: "I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united. David Ward is unfit to represent the party and I have sacked him."

Although Ward has been involved in anti-racism organisations, he has courted controversy with his conflation of Jews with Israel, his questioning of Israel's right to exist, and his tweet in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, in which French Jews were targeted, that "Je suis #Palestinian".

While the anti-Semitism row threatened to knock the Lib Dem's early election campaign off course, Farron's decision may help him avoid the ongoing saga haunting the rival Labour party. In April, Labour decided not to expel Ken Livingstone for his claim that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism "before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews".

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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