British General Election Campaigns 1830-2019: Can The Past Inform The Future

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: British General Election Campaigns 1830-2019: Can The Past Inform The Future

DATE: 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm, 01/05/2024

VENUE: Henry Jackson Society and Online

SPEAKERS: Ian Dale, Adam Boulton, Professor Tim Bale

Event Chair: Dr. Alan Mendoza


[0:17] Dr Alan Mendoza

This rather fine book, British General Election Campaigns 1832-2019, which is rather a significant undertaking, edited by Ian Dale and of course, with contributions from Adam Bolton and Professor Tim Beck, amongst others. But why are our guests Interesting? Well, you’ll know Ian, of course, from his LBC radio evening show, which I’ve gathered, just today, you’ve announced will be five on five nights a week, which is great news, or maybe not your scheduling. But great news on there. He’s twice been radio presenter of the year and of course, a regular pundit on many other shows as well; as well as doing the ‘For the Many Podcast’ with Jackie Smith. And he’s obviously also spent 20 years in publishing and in that 20 years, he has, quite extraordinarily, written or edited more than 50 books, which is really quite a quite a good circle. And so more than an academic which I great, although I think you’ve got a fellowship at a university as well – so it just goes to show there is something there. Issues covered include why can’t we all get along? The Prime Ministers, then we have the President’s – 200 years American political leadership, Kings, and Queens, and of course, the British general election campaigns. So thank you, Ian. And we’ll hear from you about a little overview about why you put this book together, and the lessons that it can teach. Adam Boulton is of course a commentator with decades of experience covering the biggest stories in the UK and the world. He was at Sky News from its launch – which was rather a while ago, now until 2021, he did various posts there as obviously the head political honcho and also an editor at large there. Now you can find him of course, on the Sunday morning programme at times at Radio, and he does drive as well. So he’s crossed over from TV to the radio side. And I think you know, it was little aside Ian said, don’t mention this again, or do it doesn’t matter – but the last time these two were on a panel together, Ian fell off into an orchestra pit somehow, so thankfully, there’s no pit here, but it’s great that you’re reunited in person here. Tim Bale, professor of politics in the School of Politics, International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. And in 2008, he won the Political Studies Association, Bernard Crick prize for outstanding teaching; in 2011, the WJ and Mackenzie Prize for his book The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron and he hasn’t stopped there. They’ve been other books since like The Conservatives since 1945; The Labour Party under Ed Miliband; and most recently, in 2020, The Conservative Party after Brexit, Turmoil and Transformation. And Adam wrote a chapter on the 2017 election and Tim on the 2019 election. So we’ll ask Ian to kick off with some overall thoughts. And then maybe we’ll ask you two to give a thought about the particular campaign you wrote about why it was seismic and what it can teach us. And then we’ll get into a conversation, and we will hear from you at home. Don’t forget, if you want to put in your questions, please submit them on the Q7A function, we will pick them up and ask the panellists those questions as well. And of course, you can find the book here. But also, we’re going to drop the link since you can buy it online today.


[3:29] Ian Dale

Thank you, Alan. I first had the idea for this series of books back in 2019, when I realised it was the next year was going to be the 300th anniversary of Robert Walpole coming to power as Prime Minister, though it wasn’t called that in 1721. And I sort of looked around it and there were no good books that profiled all of our Prime Ministers, which to that point they’d been 55, obviously now 57. And I thought that was really weird, because, and I looked through the list of 55 Prime Ministers. And as someone who is, I guess, would qualify as a political geek, I thought, well, I haven’t heard of some of these. I don’t know anything about them. And if I don’t know anything about them, presumably a lot of other people don’t know anything about them. So I thought, well, let’s do a book. And I’d already done a two volume series of books on all of the female members of parliament since 1918. Of which there were, at that point I think 420, something like that. So we divided it up into two volumes. So I thought I’d do the same format. So obviously different people that I know we’re experts on different Prime Ministers, but I have to say I did not know an expert on the Isle of Bute. So I then sort of just sent out an email to all my contacts and started to curate a collection of people to write about a Prime Minister, several people wanted to write about three or four. But I’d said no, it’s got to be 55 different essays by 55 different people. And it was like herding cats. Because if you have 55 different people, they’re obviously not going to write in the same style, you can send out a style guide saying, well we don’t want footnotes, we wanted to appeal to a general reader, not an academic audience. But inevitably, you’re going to get some differences. But the interesting thing is, as we’ve gone from Prime Ministers to Presidents to Kings, and Queens, and the next one in September, called dictators; it’s the actually, over the course of the series, the writing styles have got sort of more similar – I think because people have seen the other books, I suppose they know that’s what’s expected. So I had the idea for this one, a bit late in the day, if I’m honest. I was originally going to publish it in June but what I thought, well, what if there’s a May election, so we draw the timetable forward, and actually put it out at the end of March. And I’m just going to start in 1832, because as we all know, political democracy started in 1832. But that was 48 general elections. And it didn’t seem right. So I went back to 1830. So we could make it 50. And the interesting thing is that there’s virtually nothing in the archives anywhere about the 1830 or 1831 general elections. But it turns out, I think two of the most interesting essays in the book are actually on those elections. And one of my LBC colleagues who’s a producer, offered to do 1831. And I said, are you sure, it might be quite a difficult task. But I would say it’s in the top five of the essays in the book – he’s done an absolutely superb job. And I think with most people now you kind of know about general elections in your own lifetime, you remember the first election that you voted in, and you can probably, I mean, I’m sure everyone in this audience can probably go back to 1945. And sort of say something reasonably knowledgeable, knowledgeable about most elections since then. But going back beyond that is quite a journey actually. And the point of the book was to look at partly the campaign’s themselves, but also how election campaigning has changed over the years, and in essence, it hasn’t changed an awful lot. But the same methods that were used in sort of 1885 are still used now, leaflets, posters door to door canvassing, etc. Technology has enabled things to develop. And we always have this debate about when was the first internet election. I remember writing in 2010, which Adam wrote about, I thought it would be the 2010 election and up to that point, it was until you get to the next election until you get to the next one. And this one, which will presumably take place this year is, I think, going to be very interesting, but from a different perspective, in that I think the parties are developing methods of internet campaigning that is sort of subterranean that nobody’s really noticed yet. I remember in 1987, in the constituency I was working in running the campaign with the agent, we pioneered direct mail, targeted direct mail, to particular groups of voters. We didn’t have GDPR in those days. So it wasn’t illegal for me to look through my MP’s casework and think, that that person’s interested in immigration, so you have a standard letter sent out to the people who are interested in immigration, you couldn’t do that now, because of GDPR. But it was a marginal seat, and it had a tremendous effect. And after that, everybody wants to know how we’ve done it. The majority went up by 50%. And I think it was at least in part, down to this innovation of direct mailing, which sounds very amateur now, but at the time, was fairly cutting edge. But I think in this next election year, we’re going to see an awful lot of different ways of campaigning on the internet, but nobody’s really cottoned on to yet. As I say it is like herding cats doing this, because what I’ve discovered over the five books that we’ve done so far, is that if you ask 55 people to write an essay, two of them ghost you when the deadline is coming up, one of them sends in an essay that is almost unreadable and written like a child, and then as an editor, you have to think how do I handle that because inevitably, a lot of the people in these books are relatively high profile. And you can’t just go back and say, ‘well, this is shit, rewrite it’ – I want to say far more or worse things. But I mean, in one of the books, it literally was written by somebody who has a reputation as a professional writer, but it was read as if it was written by a 12 year old. And so I had to rewrite it myself. And I was and I didn’t know an awful lot about the person – I am being very careful not to identify it. So I sent it, I sent the whole manuscript to Professor Alvin Felzenberg, who’s a presidential historian in America. And I said, I want you to identify which of these essays I had to rescue. And he didn’t. And so I told him which one it was in the end, he said ‘I thought that was one of the best ones’. So I was really quite proud of that. And then for this book. On the day on deadline day, the person who was supposed to write the chapter said, ‘Oh, I haven’t started it, and I can’t do it now’. I thought, ‘Oh, thanks a lot’. This is one of my best friends. So I had to then write the article on the 1959 election, which I have to say I was not an expert on – but I really enjoyed it. I don’t know about you two, you did very recent elections, but I literally knew apart from watching Tony Benn swivel around in his chair in his party political broadcast – didn’t really know much. So I spent a lot of the next weekend writing it myself and have a fantastic time doing it. So that’s the genesis of the book. I hope there are certain themes that emerge from it. And it’s so far, I mean, I haven’t seen sort of any, any bad reviews of it. So hopefully, people will enjoy it. And so should we hear from Adam in 2010?

[11:47] Adam Boulton

Okay, well, I’m a repeat offender or repeat contributor to Ian’s books, I have to say, I’ve love rather than money, of course. But I have written two books of my own one about Tony Blair, and one also about 2010, about the coalition and the formation of that coalition. In his books, I’ve kind of moved sometimes from people I knew very well, I wrote the count of David Cameron and the Prime Minister’s which in turn was so excruciating, you didn’t think it was worth commissioning. And then I’ve been on two, rather more obscure people. Warren Harding I wrote about in the Presidents, who I think is much underestimated. And in the forthcoming dictators book, I’m doing Alfredo Stroessner. I think you would enjoy that anyway. But this time, I wrote about 2010, which was the campaign in which perhaps I had the most central role I’ve had as a journalist. 2010 was the debate election, and I chaired the second debates. And at Sky News, we also pay quite a significant role in bringing the debates around. And if we go to the theme of our meeting, I regret it, but I have to say that being less than we appear to have learned from 2010 is sort of collective view of British politics and British journalism. But I never want to do that again, which in my view, is a great sign of political immaturity. And perhaps that attitude explains why we’ve had so much turmoil since 2010. I mean, the last time we had a full five year parliament was the parliament that was brought out by the 2010 election. The reason why we at Sky had campaigned so hard to bring about a lecture, debates, was because we felt that, frankly, the way in which previous general elections, going back really, certainly this this century, the television coverage had been extremely inadequate, largely because the era of mass meetings was over. So that if you tried to focus on politicians, particularly party leaders, going around the country, what you tend to find was you bought increasingly expensive seats on the so called ‘battle bus’, which the Prime Minister by and large didn’t travel on. And what happened was, he would get out in key constituencies, and be surrounded by the other people that you, he or she had been travelling on the bus with plus a few people from the local conservative association or CLP. And that was supposed to be dynamic campaigning and going out and meeting the people. And also over that period of time, the reluctance of politicians to engage in extended broadcast interviews mounted. And after Tony Blair’s era, what used to be the staple of election reporting for journalists, which was morning news conferences, basically, since they happen, they didn’t expose themselves in that way. And sat you think back to 1997, you’ll find that all the broadsheets, for example, have two page spreads with their editorial board doing interviews, and all the rest of it simply ceased to happen. And so in 2010, I felt that the best way of we felt that the best way of informing the public was to hold debates pretty much modelled on the discipline the role of the American presidential debates campaig And we at Sky as a news organisation took the view that we were in a position to play a little bit rough and as much as we could offer primetime evening slots, and we were prepared to empty chair one of the three prime ministerial candidates if they declined to take part and we meant it. And I cannot see BBC or ITV being prepared to do that. But we said we’re going to broadcast this with as many of Cameron Brown who turn up and as it turned out, Gordon Brown was the holdout, but eventually he decided to take part, we also took the decision at Sky right from the start, that we would do this as a public service that we would make our programme available for live broadcast by anybody who wanted to do it. And that if there was an agreement for us to do debates, we would immediately work with the other broadcasters, in this case ITV, BBC and Channel Four to work out the rules, to negotiate with the broadcasters and to do three big debates in the campaign. Now, my view is that in a modern age, and we have to accept that quite possibly, the television age is coming to an end, because audiences are fragmented, it was a model campaign, because we were able to have three 90 minute debates between potential Prime Ministers, which were focused by agreement in advance on policy. And the research that has been done, the academic research carefully done by Leeds University does show that there was increased public engagement, particularly increased public engagement by younger viewers who felt that they were better informed. I don’t feel particularly that the debates change the course of the election – that wasn’t the point. The point was to do our job of informing people. Now, the fallout of that was, and you’ll remember that talking about, ‘I agree with Nick’, which again I think was a product, to a certain extent of the way we structured the debates, where we said we’re going to leave out the kind of personal rhetoric, we’re not going to do that. The fallout was a hung Parliament and the formation of the coalition, which, in my view, was certainly we’ve not had a better government since then – we haven’t had a government with an agreed programme that’s going to deliver, we haven’t had a government with stability, with ministers staying in their portfolio so they actually knew what they were doing, for a period of time. The consequence of course, and this is where we come to the discussion is that David Cameron, having exploited the debates to raise his profile had also miscalculated that he thought he would be the runaway star. And once he became Prime Minister, he realised that he hadn’t been the star that if anyone had been the star, it had been Clegg, but Brown had actually acquitted himself quite efficiently. And David Cameron, while continuing to avoid the sort of media scrutiny I talked about, regular news conferences, extended interviews and all that, also put out the line that quotes the debates had sucked the air out of the campaign as if the campaign was some kind of, you know, jolly bunfight which really animated the country, and the broadcasters I have to say, also take a share of blame in as much as BBC and ITV – the terrestrial broadcasters who did have the bigger audiences, always resented the idea of taking the debate away from their executives and having a kind of agreed commission style for organising them, the BBC just basically think they should be in charge. And David Dimbleby in particular, was much more interested in promoting his vehicle of question time than actually building on the idea of the debates. ITV were the only one of the channels who refused to let anyone else have live access to their programme, because they wanted to maximise their audience, and they wanted to sell their advertising around it. And in the subsequent elections we’ve had since then, in my view all the programmes that have been done, builders debates have been mockeries, of what a proper election debate should be with ‘gang bangs’, and hundreds of different party leaders with no real discipline in the discussion by the leaders and no focus, and they haven’t been worth watching. The problem is that the public has got some broadcasters very little instead. And, you know, as Ian says, a large amount of the election, if we can ever put our finger on it is going to take place on the internet, in close groups, in selecting groups, and the standard of that debate in terms of honesty and informing the public I would put to you will be greatly diminished. So the lesson of 2010 was, I think, we did it the right way, but there was not an appetite to go on doing it the right way. And that’s why I think, you know, some of the elections, which you’ve had since, and none of us can barely remember. And it’s also factor, I think, in the unstable governments, we’ve had a number of Prime Ministers, we’ve had that. So that that is my conclusion. Over to 2013


[23:11] Professor Tim Bale

Well, I do hope you can remember the 2019 election because that’s what I’ve written about, but also because I’m not going to go into detail on that election precisely for that reason. What I thought I’d do instead was kind of compose a list of sort of do’s or don’ts for the parties. Mainly, I think, probably aimed at The Conservatives because they’re in government. But I think you know, the do’s and don’ts apply to the two main parties. So in no particular order, here they are. The first one is you need to have a reason or rationale for calling the election, which is going to convince people that an election is necessary at the time you call it. And clearly, that’s something that Theresa May failed to do in 2017, but Boris Johnson and his team were able to do in in 2019. And to understand in some ways The Conservative campaign in 2019, you have to understand that it was a reaction to the 2017 campaign during which everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And that the main aim in 2019 was in some senses to do everything completely differently from the way they’ve been done in 2017. And you will see echoes of that all the way through these do’s and don’ts because the second one on the list is make sure that your campaign is tailored to your leaders strengths. So if you haven’t got a particularly charismatic, light on their feet leader, don’t make it a particularly presidential campaign. That’s what they did in 2017, unfortunately, but in 2019, they did have a leader who was capable of carrying that kind of campaign. Next one concerns the manifesto. And I would suggest it might be boring for the public in there might not be particularly democratic in some ways, in terms of kind of a Socratic dialogue during the election, but the manifesto should be fairly minimalist. In terms of its promises, it shouldn’t really be a particularly surprising document. And that was one of the problems in 2017, because it most certainly was. And you obviously have to make sure that the sums within that manifesto add up, which isn’t always the case, particularly on the Labour side, and we’ll come back to that. Fourthly, the campaign director, and it was Isaac libido, as you know in 2019, must be in full charge of the campaign. And one of the things that went wrong in 2017, was the fact that there was a kind of disputed leadership of the campaign, and the campaign director has to have a direct access to the leader. The fifth one concerns voter identification, which parties have to do, because essentially, elections are about identifying who might vote for you and getting them out to the polling booths. And that has to be reliant on canvassing not on algorithms. One of the problems with the 2017 campaign, which was corrected in 2019, was the conservatives, partly because it was a snap election just didn’t really have very reliable data on the kinds of people that they needed to get to the polling booths on election day, that was sorted I think for 2019. Their information about where their voters were, it was much better, obviously, you can try and use various sort of social media targeting techniques, but actually, in the end, they don’t really replace the ability to knock on doors, find out the kind of people who are going to vote for you and try and get them out there. Next one will be getting IT sorted. Again, this seems a kind of dull, boring thing to say, but in 2017, the Conservative Party’s IT was a complete mess, and 2019 they had got it sorted and was therefore they were therefore in a much better position, I think to handle that election campaign. Next one will be don’t overdo the parachuting of favourite candidates into constituencies at the last minute because it really pisses off local campaigners and in that event, they are less likely to do the kind of work that you need them to do on the ground. Next one, and it refers to something we’ve already talked about, which is the rise of the internet and digital campaigning – you need to get a digital team who not only are good at creating kind of viral content, and I think in 2019 you’d have to say that that was definitely the case for the Topham and Guerin firm, the New Zealand firm that the Conservatives hired, but they also have to really know what they’re doing when it comes to buying space for the adverts etc, that they create. So they have to know where to put that content. And they were very, very good at doing that. And incidentally, it’s not Twitter, I should say it’s much more now YouTube, Google in particular is very important. Obviously, and this could be relevant this time around, particularly if Nigel Farage does come back as the reform UK leader, try and convince your challenger party to stand out in as many constituencies as possible. That’s not always possible but if you can do it, that’s great. On debates which Adam has talked about a great deal, you do need to do them. I think avoiding debates is a real problem if you’re a leader or being seen to avoid debates. However, you need to limit your appearances in them and Boris Johnson did debate Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. But what he did also do was, of course, avoid any really tricky long form interviews. And you remember the controversy that we had when he avoided doing an interview with Andrew Neil, after Jeremy Corbyn had agreed to do one on the basis that Boris would do one as well. And if you are ahead, in the opinion polls, take comfort from the fact that a so called board draw, which was the verdict on the debates in 2019 is as good as a win as far as you’re concerned. As long as you don’t drop a bomb in the debates, then if you’re in the lead, that’s fine. The next one will be don’t do too many personal attacks on your opponent if you’re the leader, leave that to your friendly media. There were too many of those I think in 2017 and Boris Johnson actually avoided doing that in 2019. He just let the Mail, the Sun, etc. get on with attacking and de-legitimising Jeremy Corbyn. Next one would be if you’re criticising the other party and its manifesto, the most powerful critique is always where’s the money going to come from, your sums don’t add up. If you are The Conservative Party, this is the next one, do absolutely anything and everything to make sure that the NHS is not on the media’s agenda. It really is absolutely toxic for the Conservative Party. And it is, gold dust for the Labour Party. And you can see this in the 2019 campaign. The Tories, you know, fought a great campaign, but the Labour Party still managed to get the NHS coming up in terms of voters views – what the most important issue is, and it’s, it’s, it’s not a good one for The Conversative. Secondly, if you are The Conservatives, make sure that your friendly newspapers, recycle CCHQ press releases as if they are genuine stories. That’s always very important for a Conservative campaign. The next one would be to remember that pictures really are worth 1000 words. And if you think about the 2019 election, one of the overriding images that you may have of that is Boris Johnson driving is JCB bulldozer through the Styrofoam wall and getting Brexit done. That image I think was incredibly powerful. If you are way in front, as the Conservatives were in 2019, make sure that you do spin to the media, the idea that they’re still everything to play for that your private opinion polls are showing that the race is tightening, that, you know, there’s a genuine chance that the opposition could pull it off at the last minute – that’s really important because you need to mobilise your voters to come to the polls. And then finally, make sure that when those voters do go to the polls, what they’re thinking of is what you want them to think of. So in other words, the question that you say this election is about needs to be the one that they are asking themselves as they cast their ballot. And in 2019, it was very much do you want to get Brexit over so that the government can get on with the really important things that most people actually care about? As to what that question is next time around? In July, June, October, December, January? Who knows.

[32:36] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Fascinating, really fascinating, thank you all of you for the overview you’ve given of your various campaigns and where we go from here. We’ve had a million questions coming online on this, which is great. But as you’re here in this room, I’m going to let you have the first dibs. I can tell there are a few people who want to ask questions here. We’ll take all, let’s start at the back and just work our way forwards. Yes, Yes.


[33:01] Question 1

We had three prime ministers during this parliament. Every time it changes, there are calls for election. Do you think television has made British elections more presidential?

[33:21] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Good start that. We’re going ask in rows, so yeah, go ahead.

[33:25] Question 2

Yeah, very good. I noticed the book takes a long view from 1830, that was the day of rotten boroughs. When I look at what’s happened to when parliamentary constituencies have been reorganised over the past several decades, it seems to me that the number of sort of pseudo rotten boroughs have increased – the number of constituencies that have been deliberately divided into two main parties, and one of them is generally safe labour seat or safe conservative seat. Add in phenomenon of the abuse of the postal voting system to create a block, so very simply, do you think that the political culture of this country is more or less democratic than it was maybe 50 years ago?

[34:07] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Thank you. And we’ll go there.

[34:10] Question 3

Is there any possibility of a “Cambridge Analytica” type scandal for this election?

[34:16] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Let’s take those three, you can answer whichever ones you like. Adam, why don’t we start with you, and we’ll go around this and mix it up.


[34:25] Adam Boulton

This charge about elections coming up presidential and the media being responsible. I think whether or not we would have debates, British politics is presidential. The Prime Minister has extraordinary amount of power in terms of setting the agenda for legislation, in terms of appointing the ministers who can do it, and as we’ve seen recently, in terms of payments to public bodies, so you know, yes, an election takes place at constituency  levels and it might be very important that we have MPs connected to their constituencies. But nonetheless, the evidence is that party loyalty and the Prime Minister is the major factor, the two major factors in who people vote for. And therefore, I think giving exposure to that, and particularly given exposure to policy is very important. As far as changes of Prime Minister without having elections, it has ever been thus, in British politics, I mean, we’ve had rather a lot of it recently. It’s taken place many times in the past. As far as the rotten boroughs question goes, I think one of the strengths of British democracy is the Boundary Commission and the fact that we try and proportion the constituencies without gerrymandering in remarkable contrast to United States, for example. And actually, I think, quite a lot of constituencies do change hands, many more than districts do in in congressional elections, for example. And we may be about to see that again. So I am not convinced by your thesis that rotten boroughs exist, or are being creative.

[36:36] Professor Tim Bale

I’ll push back slightly on that, because if you look at the research, there are fewer marginal constituencies now than they used to be. So you know, I think I’m not sure the exact numbers, but I mean, there were sort of, well over 100, possibly 120 or 150 constituencies, that are kind of in play at most elections, but more recently, it’s down to sort of 70 or 80 constituencies that are in play. So, there is an extent to which you know, we’ve got more safe seats, as it were, and fewer constituencies that could flip. But of course, you know, if we see a labour landslide this time around, you know, that’s, that’s going to be quite different. As to the Cambridge analytical one. I mean, who knows? I mean, I think their role and their ability to actually kind of predict using these kinds of psychometric models that they use was partly overblown, to be honest. You know, I think it was a good sort of advert for people who do that kind of thing. But I think there’s not that much research that backs it up. But it could happen again, I guess.

[37:43] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Iain, what do you have to add on?

[37:46] Iain Dale

On the last question about the fact we’ve had three prime ministers in three years, or whatever it is. This is not new – it happened in 1922, 23, 24. It happened 1831, 32. So this is not a new phenomenon. And I think one of the things that the last few years has brought out is the lack of understanding among ordinary people about the concept of parliamentary democracy. And they assume that because a lot of people do vote for the Prime Minister, I mean that people vote for all sorts of different reasons, some might vote for the local candidate, but not that many specifically do that. Some might vote for a party, because their family history, we’ve always voted that way. But every voter has probably a different reason as to why the way that they vote, I don’t think I think we’ve become more presidential, there has always been a presidential aspect to it. But you have to have a basic understanding of the British Constitution, such as it is to understand why this happens and the knee jerk reaction that every time there’s a change of Prime Minister “oh we must have an election”. And when I try and explain to my listeners, well, this is not how it works. You may think that’s how it should work. And there may be a political party, who might want to change the system to how that would work, and then you can vote for them. But until it changes, this is the system we have, and for all its creeks. On the second question, I’m kind of with Adam on this, in that there’s no such thing as a safe seat, actually. Ask Michael Portillo if he thinks that sort of there’s such thing as a safe seat, this whole argument that “it’s not fair” is for the birds because you can make it unsafe seat by voting a different way. The Liberal Democrats obviously complain about this, but the current voting system does not work in our favour. That’s quite obvious. However, I don’t think that a system has been invented that is sort of 100% fair to everybody. And Adams point about the constituency is absolutely vital. And so far, I’ve never discovered a form of PR that can replicate what we have at the moment because inevitably in PR you’d to have a much bigger constituency, so your multi members and conservative voters will automatically gravitate to the Conservative MP of that constituency, even if they knew their name, which they probably wouldn’t in a multi zone, multi member constituency. The way to create unsafe seats is to vote for a different party, and people are quite free to do that. But if they don’t, somehow it’s the system that’s to blame. We get the politicians we deserve because we vote for them. It’s as simple as that, in my view. I don’t really know enough about Cambridge Analytica to comment on that.

[40:39] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Fair enough. Right, another round. Start there.

[40:43] Question 4

Do you think this coming election though, is different? I mean if you compared it with previous elections, back to 1830 and so on, does this time feel different? Because three prime ministers in a short space may not be unusual, but I mean, it seems to me there is an unusual degree of weariness and disenchantment with politics of a kind I can’t remember in my lifetime. And there’s also, you know, one party with a huge lead in the polls. Is it different? Or can you see past examples really replicating this sort of situation?

[41:17] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Thank you. Yes

[41:20] Question 5

Question in a little statement. The question is, how likely that we would have an election in January? Aren’t we supposed to have an election this year? Because the five years are up? Or is there a bit of a leeway until January? I’m sorry, if this was addressed before and I was late. And the other things a little statement, I noticed there are mainly men here. I intend to be the first lady leader of the Labour Party, and to lead it in the general election. In the next election, not this one, and lead it to victory to become the First Lady Labour Prime Minister, but also the first Jewish Prime Minister.

[42:04] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Right, let’s move over there after the statement of intent.

[42:08] Question 6

I’m not sure I follow that. But I just wanted to know what our thought of Lord Finkelstein’s sort of general view that whilst was we all are really interested in elections and campaigns and Adam’s debates, most people that he knows them. So I just wanted to know what sort of huddle generally thought about that. I mean, for instance, like the 2019 election, yes, Johnson won, but he had lots of sticky moments that campaign, though that are easily forgotten now, like, when he took the phone off the journalist, when he hid in a fridge when he got an ice block to replace him in a debate.

[42:46] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Again, thank you.

[42:51] Question 7

Thank you. Could you comment on the generational threats of the Conservative Party, and perhaps in your elections that you focused on the role that 18 to 24 year olds, and 25s to 34s, played in those elections and use your crystal balls to look forward into future elections? Particularly, if Labour do as they suggested they might do, including voting for 16 to 17 year olds? Is there any way back for the Tories?

[43:15] Dr Alan Mendoza


[Inaudible] Let us start this time with Iain.

[43:20] Iain Dale

Can’t read my own writing here. Does it feel different this time? To an extent, I think it does. I mean, there’s always been a disenchantment with politics and politicians. I mean, if you go back to the 18th 19th century, you look at the cartoons at the time and the things that were said, even on the floor of the House of Commons, you can make analogies to today. It’s very, very rare that you get anything new happening in politics. It’s usually happened at some point in history before, but we’ve forgotten about it. I think it feels different this time in the sense that we all kind of think we know what the result is going to be – that there will be a change of government. But I doubt whether any of us would agree on how big a labour majority might be. Because you can make any number of arguments as to why it might only be 30, or it might be 250. And my suspicion is that the minor parties are going to play a massive role in this and that it won’t be the brilliance of a labour campaign or the awfulness of a conservative campaign, that dictates what Keir Starmer’s majority might be, it will be the ability of Reform UK to take votes from which makes seats marginal which mean that Labour could win them or the Liberal Democrats could win them. And on the other side, you’ve got George Galloway and the Green Party doing the same thing on the left, because there are plenty of people on the left who are very disenchanted by the direction of the Labour Party who will be looking for an excuse to basically virtue signal and not vote Labour but solve their consciences of remaining opposition and vote for George Galloway or the Greens. And I think in some in some marginal constituencies that could have an effect and it could mean that Labour when fewer of those constituencies and they otherwise might do. So I think when we get to 10pm, on election night, it’s actually going to be quite exciting, even though we know the result. It’s not going to be a 2001 scenario, which was probably the most boring election apart from John Prescott, of any recent election. On the second question, January, I think the rule is that you have to call the election within five years. So it has to be called by mid December. So the last date is January the 25th, that it could be held. I don’t think many people expect that to happen,  I mean, unless you really are desperate to sort of [Inaudible]. I haven’t looked at the length of service of each Prime Minister to work out, if Rishi Sunak soon that might leap over somebody else if he holds out to the bitter end. But I mean, people always say, and I’m slightly diverging here, if Rishi Sunak goes off after the local elections because they’re a disaster, and then somebody else takes over why would they want to take over as prime minister or because they would have been Prime Minister, it’s better to be Prime Minister than not to be Prime Minister I would have thought. I won’t comment on your chances of becoming Labour party leader. On the generational issue, there are a hell of a lot of shy young conservatives out there or even people who don’t necessarily identify as conservatives but would be in favour of free markets or people who are on the right. You never hear about them in universities anymore, because of reasons that we all know. I remember when I was in university for the 1983 election and at a very left wing University in Norwich. And I could not believe what I was seeing with all the Conservative posters going up in student windows, I’m literally every other one had a Tory poster in there. And I remember Mark seven who some of you will know, he was there at the same time. And he said to me, sort of decades later, he said, I just knew that this landslide was coming when I saw those Tory posters go up and student windows. Now, okay, that was a very different time, very different politics. But the assumption that all young people are left wing, I’ve never quite bought into that. Look, Tim will know better than I do, but there is a trend for at 18 to 24 age group to vote more for left wing parties over the decades. But the day that the Conservative Party gives up on the youth vote will be a very sad day. But they’ve almost given up on the 24 to 35 age group, the people who in my generation will be looking to buy a house. On the way here, a friend of mine wanted to get a buy house for £395,000 at a £75,000 pound deposit and was told by the mortgage company that he and his wife knew joint income of £180,000 to get a £325,000 mortgage. Now luckily, they have got that, but  what normal couple in this country is earning £180,000 pounds in that age group. And that, I think, is a far more important demographic to the conservatives, in a sense, to the 18 to 24 one, and they’ve lost that as well.

[48:43] Adam Boulton

Well, I mean, the point of the book, and the point of elections is they do change things. So, I think that you know, and although there’s a certain measure of political disillusionment, and political engagement, the majority of those people eligible are likely to vote. And on this occasion, they may change things. I mean, it’s been our thing to say but I’m a great believer in the pendulum in politics, which is that you know, one party is in power over a period of time lord, actors, right, that tends to corrupt, they become exhausted. They use up their human resources and everything else. Meanwhile, the other party that has been kicked out having reached that state has had a period of time to regenerate itself. And I think that will go on and I you know, I don’t think even if it’s a massive landslide, I don’t think that means that the Conservative Party will never win another election, you know, I could go with or Tim knows better than but he’s written books about it, you know, the most successful election winning machine ever. As far as younger voters are concerned. I think that they will reconstitute themselves over time, around different beliefs. I mean, you know, we certainly know young people aren’t left wing. In fact, there’s, for someone of my age quite alarming portion of young voters who favour authoritarian governments and, you know, want a strong leader who put things right and aren’t too bothered about democracy now. I think that’s unhealthy. But nonetheless, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be labour supporters forever although I think Iain’s absolutely right on the question of not becoming properly owning. And you know, what I think one of the most sort of shocking figures that’s come out of the many, many subjective opinion polls that have been taking place is that the so-called crossover age where a sample voter is more likely to vote, conservative than labour is now 70. I mean, most of the elections are covered, it’s been, you know, down towards 40. So that that is a, you know, one of the descriptions of the Conservatives problems, and it may also go some way to explain some of the policies, which they’re following this. I agree with you. It is one of the great questions unanswered questions as to why the Labour Party has not had a female leader. Which we shall see what happens, but I think we get some measure, perhaps of why we hadn’t had a labour female leader, when we look at the degree of opprobrium that’s been directed in the direction of the deputy leader.

[51:39] Professor Tim Bale

I mean, I’ll just talk about the Conservative Party, I guess. I mean, I think Ian and Adam are right to say that housing is a big one. And that’s something that the party has to wrestle with, because clearly, it does have a very, very strong kind of NIMBY faction within it, which is opposed to building more houses. And to be honest, although you can read all sorts of sophisticated analysis to say that, in the end, house prices don’t depend on supply, I would suggest that actually they do. And unless we build more, we’re going to find it more and more difficult for young people to be able to find housing in the areas they need it. But I also think for the Conservative Party, they do need to wake up and smell coffee when it comes to liberal values. You know, however much there may be a market among young people born into more free market solutions. And I think, you know, Adams, and right to say there is potential there. I’m afraid most young people and it’s not just young people who go to university although they’re on the cutting edge of that regard a lot of this kind of anti-woke stuff is just completely ridiculous and irrelevant. And it may play well in the Mail and the Express, and it may be a way of making sure that some of those voters who voted Tory in 2019 for the first time come back to the party in 2024. And it may prevent some leakage if you’d like to reform UK, but in the long term, I’m not sure a party, you know, that is just absolutely obsessed with bashing what they regard as the kind of culture war issue will be able to win over young people.

[53:25] Iain Dale

And I disagree with that, to an extent. Andrew Tate. His influence, which I find inexplicable, and I’ve really struggled to understand it. His influence on the sort of young, I would say, 13 to 28 age group. I don’t think anybody in mainstream politics has got to grips with. And this has really brought home to me, because of my famous fall I have to go to a gym every week and have a personal trainer. And he’s 25. And in the first session, I told him what I did, and he goes, now this Margaret Thatcher was she all about who’s she. So I gave him my little lecture on Margaret Thatcher. And then he said, what do you think of Andrew Tate? And I said to be honest, I mean, I know who he is. And he then went on to tell me how he didn’t agree with him on everything. But he’s got a real point on a lot of things. And I went on to tell me which points he agreed with and it slightly horrified me. And I did a talk at a school in Ruislip last year. And instead of doing a tour, they got a 16 year old Asian lad to interview me. And he proudly showed me his list of 40 questions at the beginning, which I took from him and ripped up. And I said these only questions just ask me your first question now. I’ll answer it and we go from there. And honestly, it was like being interviewed by Michael Parkinson, he was amazing. But the only question that he asked me that I couldn’t answer was about Andrew Tate. And you’re thinking you’re being asked about Andrew Tate and the class, that 150, sort of 14 to 18 year olds there, they all knew who he was. And I had heard of him, but I couldn’t really answer the question. And I think that’s something that we, in the Westminster world and the media as well, have to really delve into a little bit more than that. You’re right. I mean, I would never have thought that my niece could ever say to me, that there are openly gay and lesbian kids at her school walking around hand in hand. And it could never have happened in that age. So I mean, there are there are hugely welcome changes on this front. But let’s not pretend that social conservatism if that’s what we call, it doesn’t still exist among young people.

[55:58] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Can I just quickly jump in on that? Because I’d be ignoring people who are watching and there are loads of questions coming in. Quick one about disinformation on that basis and social media. How much of a problem do you think this is going to be in future elections? I mean, you mentioned Andrew Tate, someone who is well known for, perhaps, you know, having views that would not be mainstream is wrong in the wrong word here, I think it might not accord with reality, and having an influence. And are there any elections you can point to in the past where we’ve had similar problems? And how do we get around them? Tim should we start with you? And just come back quickly now? Do you know anything about that?

[56:40] Professor Tim Bale

Disinformation? Well, I mean I think it’s clearly a much more serious problem than it ever used to be because of social media. I think it is something that we are going to have to kind of struggle with, it’s very difficult for mainstream media to do very much about because people are looking to other sources for it. I mean, we can have sort of full facts and fact checkers and things like that. But you know, the once the big lie is out there, it’s actually very difficult necessary to defend against it. So I mean, I do worry about deep fakes and AI, maybe not at this election. But certainly the election after this one, I would have thought they’d become so sophisticated, it is going to be very difficult for people to tell the difference between something that is, you know, mocked up, and something that is real.

[57:29] Adam Boulton

I think that the famous example of a something fake back during the election is the [Inaudible]. So it has happened before. I mean, my view is quite straightforward. I mean, I’ve got to admit here, a long time ago, after Iain had been working in politics, we had lunch and I said, what are you thinking of? And he said, I think I want to go into broadcasting. And I said, forget it, because you’re basically tainted. I can’t see where you’ve got a future now. And I was 100%, wrong, because of the direction in which broadcasting has gone. I think there are two problems. The first is that I do, as I think I’ll probably make clear, believe it in the sort of standards that mainstream broadcasting has been subjected to. And I think it’s blatantly apparent that Ofcom, the regulator, is not prepared to hold broadcasters to those standards. Partly, I think, because they feel that if they were to try and impose them on some of the right wing channels, they wouldn’t get the support from the government. Certainly, they wouldn’t have gotten support from the government or the previous Prime Ministers. But I think there’s a secondary problem, which is not one that regulators can do anything about, which is that people are moving away from linear broadcasters who effectively can have control of the message to all the many things that digital technology makes possible, including YouTube and all that. I think it’s impossible to regulate that. And I think that it’s not so much putting out fake stuff, it’s putting out unregulated, nasty stuff. I mean, Andrew Tate would be one example, that I think something could catch alight in the course of this election campaign. We’ve only got to look at you know, the way Trumpism has worked in the United States. And we in the mainstream media are going to be in a weakened position to combat that because the audiences are migrating but also some people who call themselves broadcasters will be playing that game from the start. Notably, I mean, I find it extraordinary that someone can be the 53% owner and the president of a political party standing in the general election, but apparently, it’s okay for him to call and self-participate in news broadcasting but that’s where we are.


[1:00:24] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Any last thoughts Iain?

[1:00:26] Iain Dale

Very, very briefly, what is a lie? Because what is a lie to me may not be a lie to you. There are degrees of lies. But there’s a bill introduced into the Welsh parliament yesterday, to which seeks to criminalise politicians telling a lie. Well, I mean, it’s not unusual for a politician to exaggerate the truth. But does that count as a lie? You go back to any election campaign in this book, and there will be examples of politicians, maybe through party political broadcasts. They’ve got a point to make. And they use a specific example to make it but it’s not quite the whole truth. I remember the war of Jennifers Ear in 1992. I mean, there was there was a truth to that. But it was so exaggerated that it was a bit of a lie. The Labour tax bombshell in 1992. They came up with figures to prove it. But of course, Labour would have said, well, that’s an utter lie. So I don’t think sort of misinformation is anything particularly new, but the extent of it is that the internet allows this and it allows a story to get out there. I’m sure, Adam and I both been at the wrong end of this where something gets out there. And you then prove that it’s not true. But the fact is that 3 million people have read the story that says it is and 20,000 might read the denial. And I don’t know what you do about that. I agree with Adam, I think there’s a lot of aspects of this that are impossible to regulate.

[1:01:59] Dr. Alan Mendoza

Gentlemen, thank you for coming and giving us some insights into the past and of course crucially, how they can inform the present and future. I think it was testimony to the wide range of topics so we had so many questions appear on different subjects, but you handled them all wonderfully. And can I suggest you come and buy the book now; Tim’s got a few minutes before he has to run away if anyone else would like him to sign and I think Iain will happily do the same. And at home do the same. But thank you once again, please join us in showing the speakers our appreciation.


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