Election campaign

The ‘unknown knowns’ that could disrupt the weeks before polling day

One of the reasons often trotted out for the Tories’ surprise win at the 1970 general election is the publication of some unexpectedly poor trade statistics in the week of polling day.

I’ve always thought it rather daft to link the cancellation of the sale of a couple of aeroplanes directly to the defeat of Harold Wilson’s government. More plausible is the idea that the bad balance of trade figures fuelled and confirmed public sentiments that were already latent, if not very evident in opinion polls: that Labour could not be trusted to run the economy, and that it was worth giving the opposition a chance.

The trade statistics certainly didn’t help Wilson’s campaign, however. Labour could have been better prepared for the bad news, had they known it was coming. But they didn’t, and this has prompted me to check to see what announcements are scheduled for the days and weeks leading up to next year’s general election. Might there be a trap lurking in the calendar for one of the parties?

Throughout the campaign we’re due the usual monthly economic announcements: the latest interest rate decision (9 April), inflation figures (14 April) and unemployment statistics (17 April). We’ll also hear the first estimate for UK economic growth during January-March (28 April).

Any one of these could contain a piece of grim news that may shape that day’s electioneering, or help reinforce a particular message one party is trying to promote (both in its own favour or at the expense of a rival).

The week of the election is going to be an odd one. We’ve got a bank holiday on the Monday, and on polling day itself there’ll be commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of Germany’s surrender in the second world war, plus the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania.

One of the first engagements of the next prime minister (or the current one, if negotiations for a coalition are still ongoing) will be to attend the official events marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day over the weekend of 9/10 May.

Also on polling day we’ll hear the latest EU interest rate decision, and data for mortgage arrears and repossessions for January-March.

There’s just as much chance of any of these things having an impact on the election result as none of them at all – or of something utterly unexpected turning up to nudge the swing voter or the undecided towards this or that party.

One thing it is possible to say now, however, is that the likely closeness of the result (see my latest prediction) will encourage all parties to pay even more attention than usual to their campaign calendars.

At least none of them will have a major football tournament to worry about.


One response to “The ‘unknown knowns’ that could disrupt the weeks before polling day

  1. No doubt there will be a Budget in March, and a new tax year starts in April, but not much time to pass a Finance Bill before Parliament is dissolved.

    What else? Events, dear boy, events.

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