Thursday 23 May 2024

Analysing the costs and benefits


One of the most misremembered political events of the past was the way in which Harold Wilson called the 1966 election just after England won the World Cup and swept to victory on the back of the feel-good factor which resulted from the win. It’s utter nonsense, of course – the world cup final was on 30th July, 17 weeks after the election on 31st March. Yet many people still remember, albeit not always fondly, the football effect on Labour’s victory. But if we really want to see the potential impact of a football game on an election, we need to look at 1970, when England were knocked out in the quarter finals just four days before the election, and a generally expected Labour win became an unexpected Tory win.

Whether Sunak has calculated the impact of the Euros on his party’s chances is an unanswered question. The group stages finish a week before the election and the first knock-out stage ends just two days before polling day. Historically and statistically, it’s likely that England will make it through the group stage, so he might be making a safe-ish bet up to that point; but the possibility of an England defeat in a knockout round just days before an election looms large. The more hyped the possibility of winning, the bigger the likelihood of failure – another lesson from sporting history. (He will almost certainly not even have considered the progress of Scotland’s team in the same event; the election will, as is always the case, be lost or won in England.) Following the inexplicable urge felt by senior male politicians (I’ve never understood why they feel such an urge, but it does seem to be a very gender-specific infection) to claim to support a football team, Sunak has opted for being a Southampton supporter, although I’m sure that I’m not the only one who’s a little dubious about the claim, and indeed about any claim he makes to be interested in, or to follow, football.

Whether, or to what extent, a football result really affects the outcome of a General Election is a moot point; whilst it’s hard to believe that millions of people are just waiting for the final whistle before deciding how to vote, it’s entirely believable that a general feel-good factor will benefit incumbents – just as a feel-bad factor will benefit the opposition. I did once read a book on politics which described voting as an essentially irrational act: voting according to the outcome of a football game seems to fit the description rather well. Sunak, on the other hand, seems to genuinely believe that the electorate will carefully weigh up the manifestos of the parties and use a spreadsheet to arrive at an assessment of which is the most financially-rewarding for them personally, and then cast their vote accordingly. Even if his belief in his own competence and ability to deliver were justified (and it’s not a belief which stands up to much objective analysis), the assumption that voters would then:

(a) conclude they will be better off under the Tories, and

(b) vote entirely selfishly on the basis of that cost-benefit analysis

underlines his inexperience in practical politics, and the extent of his detachment from the way people ‘feel’ about the way things are going in general. I’ve knocked on tens of thousands of doors in my time, but it only took me a very small proportion of that number to realise that voting behaviour is far more complex – not to say inexplicable, or even inscrutable – than that.

Still, it gets him off several rather vicious-looking hooks which have been dangling in front of him. He’ll no longer have to find ways of sending someone, anyone, to Rwanda against their will, just as one example. He'll delight the tobacco lobby by dropping his bill to ban smoking for anyone currently under 15. He can stop justifying the increase in NHS waiting lists, the levels of immigration, and the cost of living pressures on families - those all become someone else's problem. And on the fifth of July, he’ll be free to announce that he’s standing down and going off to California to polish his family fortune without waiting to be pushed out. In any spreadsheet setting out the costs and benefits to Rishi Sunak personally of calling an election now, the result looks a lot more favourable than many have been assuming. It just doesn’t include anything remotely political.

1 comment:

Gav said...

Your mention of Harold Wilson reminds me of his assertion that "[devaluation] does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued." In one sense he was right, of course. It was still worth exactly £1.