The Unexpected Mandate: my review of the 2015 election and the unusual parliament that preceded it

After the 2005 general election I published Smell The Coffee: A Wake-Up Call For The Conservative Party. Based on extensive research, this was an attempt to understand why the Tories kept losing elections and what they needed to do about it. In 2010 I followed up with Minority Verdict, which drew on published polling and my perspective from having been involved in the Conservative campaign, to help explain why the party had once again fallen short.

My analysis of the 2015 election, and the unusual parliament that preceded it, appears as the appendix to Call Me Dave, my biography of David Cameron written with Isabel Oakeshott. I am now releasing this as a separate edition – The Unexpected Mandate – to follow my two earlier election commentaries.

In the previous parliament my research was private and shared only inside the party, whereas over the last five years it has been published for all to see. Since I have not therefore needed to revisit every piece of research in detail, this review is somewhat shorter than its predecessors.

The other difference is that, this time around, the polls got it wrong – or, more specifically, no pollster’s voting intention surveys pointed to the outcome on the day. But voting intention polls are only a small part of what opinion research can tell us about the country’s attitude to politics. The central insight of Smell The Coffee was the critical importance of a party’s brand, the overall way voters see it. This has remained a central theme of my work. Since 2010, most of the effort of Lord Ashcroft Polls has been devoted to understanding that bigger picture.

In The Unexpected Mandate I look back over that research to explore the challenges that faced the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, and aim to help explain the voters’ verdict that surprised so many – including the pollsters. More importantly, the evidence collected over the last five years sets the scene for the parliament to come. Can UKIP regather their momentum? What accounts for the Lib Dem disaster and what can the party learn from it? Will Labour continue to ignore the mountain they neglected to climb after 2010? And, critically, does the Tories’ unexpected mandate mean their rehabilitation now complete?


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