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Sunday 10 May 2015


English preferred steady George Osborne to flaky Russell Brand

'It's the economy, stupid' - Bill Clinton's mantra - won the election for the Conservatives, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

WINNER AND LOSERS: Labourís Ed Miliband, the Liberal Democratsí Nick Clegg and the Conservativesí David Cameron

For anyone who hasn't been paying attention, the Conservatives, whom the poll of polls had predicted would win 34pc of the vote and struggle to cobble together a shaky coalition, won 36.9pc and hence 331 seats out of 650, giving them a majority of 12. (Actually, it's better for them than that, because the four Sinn Fein MPs obligingly refuse to take their seats.)

Labour, predicted to win 33pc, actually won just 30.4pc, giving them 232 seats. Eight of the nine polls surveyed had overstated Labour's share and all had understated that of the Conservatives.

On Thursday night, at 10.00pm, the BBC election programme released an exit poll giving Conservatives 316 seats and Labour 239: pollsters and commentators including Alastair Campbell - once Tony Blair's spin doctor, who makes a handsome living at home and abroad out of pronouncing on politics - rubbished it.

Baffled hacks and pollsters are now all over the media beating their breasts and trying to explain how they called the general election wrong. I don't need to join them, because, reader, last week I wrote in this very newspaper: "The other day I put a bet on the Tories to win the election." And I did, and yesterday I took delivery of my £375 winnings.

The English are pragmatists: they don't warm to David Cameron but think him competent. Unlike the fantasist nationalists of the Celtic fringe who think the English taxpayer has huge pockets, they know money has to come from somewhere and that you can't help the poor and the sick if there isn't any. They voted out the Liberal Democrats lest they go into coalition with Labour, which is why Nick Clegg as well as Ed Miliband, had to resign.

The realisation that "It's the economy, stupid" was what won and kept Bill Clinton in power. It was the belief that Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne knew what they were doing and that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls would probably crash the economy that won the election for the Tories. Many of their voters told no one because they don't like being accused by the left of being heartless, bigoted and choosing fear over hope. But when it's your job and your home you're worried about, it's perfectly rational to be afraid of voting for a politician who seems a bit flaky, has a distaste for business and is very keen on state intervention in everything.

The day of the election, Campbell, who has 303,000 Twitter followers, had tweeted his blog on "Why I think Miliband will become PM, why he deserves to, and why that is best for Britain".

An inveterate pusher of his own books, he had also favoured his followers with "Omens everywhere. After 10 weeks WINNERS is still in top 10 - at Number 10 - it must be the section on @David_Cameron being a loser".

He followed this with a picture of the comedian Russell Brand (who has 9.66 million followers and 100,000 subscribers to his YouTube TV channel) laughingly saying "David Cameron? You're 'avin' a laugh!' at a photo of Cameron making a speech on the campaign trail.

Reality had intervened the day after and Campbell tweeted his new blog: "We got it wrong. Now we must have the soul-searching and honest debate we have perhaps avoided too long". "Sometimes," he told us, "when advising people I work with, I will say beware the dangers of being so deep inside your own team's bubble that you end up believing your own propaganda and lose sight of what is really happening…That does appear, looking back at what I have been saying in recent days and weeks, to have happened this time to me, and many others."

The bubble that called the election wrong included the people who kept saying on Thursday night that "no one had predicted this", which caused me periodically to shout at the TV. By "no one" they meant the only people who matter to them - their bubble-companions who reinforce each other's prejudices. Vast teams of people are paid to find out from polls and focus groups what people want to hear, what policies they want and what should be in the manifestos. They think it can all be done by numbers and algorithms and forget about real people.

It will have been clever young people who told Miliband it would be cool to be interviewed in Brand's kitchen and they will have rejoiced when Brand - who had been telling everyone not to vote - changed his mind and endorsed Ed. Instead, people who instinctively thought Miliband a bit weird now saw him backed by someone they think mad and moved ever closer to voting Tory.

The unsung hero of the election is George Osborne, who didn't mind being unpopular, mostly fought off all the advisers and commentators who urged him to change course, and has a relationship with Cameron of mutual trust and respect that is rare between prime ministers and chancellors. Margaret Thatcher fell out with Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe, John Major was betrayed by Norman Lamont, Gordon Brown and a team that included the two Eds terrorised Tony Blair, and Brown then treated his own chancellor, decent, able Alastair Darling, with rudeness and contempt.

Osborne's loyalty to Cameron has been rewarded with the title of First Secretary of State, which means he'll be the key figure in the EU negotiations. When Cameron retires voluntarily before the next election, Osborne might beat Boris Johnson for the leadership. He is, after all, steadier, and he never forgets "It's the economy, stupid".

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards