ʼ92 reasons to be cheerful. Or not

Why the 2010 election isn't 1992 all over again.

Polls apart

Labour optimists often cite the 1992 election, the last time a governing party won against the odds, as evidence that their side could still pull off an unexpected election victory. But compare Labour's poll ratings now to the Tories' ratings then, and the two pictures look rather different.

Back in February 1992, the Tories were actually ahead of Labour in the polls, averaging 41.7 per cent, while Labour languished at 39 per cent
(see chart). Later polls showed Labour pulling ahead but rarely by more than 2 to 3 per cent.

So while it is true that the polls underestimated support for the Tories (who eventually won 41.9 per cent of the vote to Labour's 34.4 per cent), they never suggested that a Labour victory was a fait accompli.

By contrast, the Tories are averaging 38.8 per cent in the polls, compared to Labour's 30.6 per cent. Due to the anti-Conservative bias of the electoral system, the result may be a hung parliament - but only if one assumes a uniform national swing. As the Tories enjoy a disproportionate lead in the marginals, they are likely to secure a comfortable majority with a lead of 5 to 6 points.

Labour has reasons to be cheerful at the moment, as the economy returns to growth and Tory unity shows signs of fraying. But the 1992 precedent is not one of them.

Eaton graph

Independents' day

One of the biggest upsets at the last election was in Blaenau Gwent. After resigning from the Labour Party in protest over all-women shortlists, Peter Law stood as an independent and overturned a Labour majority of 19,313. Could a similar thing happen elsewhere this year?

The Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson is considering standing for the Socialist Labour Party in Liverpool Wavertree (notional majority: 3,038), following local anger over Labour's decision to parachute a Londoner, Luciana Berger, into the seat. Elsewhere, the left-wing MP Bob Wareing, who was deselected in favour of the former minister Stephen Twigg, is standing as an independent candidate in Liverpool West Derby. Labour officials who have lined up Jack Dromey, the trade unionist and husband of Harriet Harman, to replace Siôn Simon in Birmingham Erdington have been warned that they risk attracting similar opposition.

Unlocking votes

Five years after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that it was illegal for the UK to prevent prisoners from voting, the government is still procrastinating. In 2009 ministers promised to give all criminals jailed for less than four years the vote but, fearful of a backlash from the right-wing press, they have yet to do so.

Now, lawyers are warning the government that thousands of prisoners could sue if they are barred from voting in this year's election. Campaigners are calling for a last-minute amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill, due to enter the Lords this month. Perhaps, since the expenses scandal may soon put some of them behind bars, MPs will be prompted to oblige.

All right on the night

It looks like election night has been saved. The government has thrown its weight behind a Tory amendment aimed at forcing councils to start counting votes within four hours of polling stations closing. At least 52 local authorities had been planning to delay until the next morning, prompting fears that the result would not be known until the weekend. Labour MPs have been granted a free vote on the matter, which is likely to be put to the Commons before May.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Everything you know about Islam is wrong