Before the 2010 election the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, suggested that whichever party won the next election would become so unpopular that it might be out of power for a generation. This does not necessarily seem to be the case, as opinion polls show that voters share the blame for the country’s austerity on the last Labour government, the current coalition and the state of the Eurozone.
However, have there been elections in the past when the losing party eventually breathed a sigh of relief that it was not in power. There are three which seem to fit the category of a good election to lose – 1929, 1970 and 1992. Other governments have come to grief over their own mishandling of the economy or through homemade problems, but these three elections probably would have doomed whichever party had won.
Ramsay MacDonald’s election victory of 1929 was five months before the Wall Street Crash and the ensuing depression. Ted Heath unexpectedly won in 1970, only to be faced with a cocktail of international wars, fuel shortages, terrorist attacks and industrial unrest. (The sudden death of his chancellor of the exchequer, Iain Macleod, one month after the election just added to his woes). John Major revived Conservative fortunes after Margaret Thatcher’s departure and won the 1992 election with an all-time record vote, only to be hit with the Pound being expelled from the Exchange Rate Mechanism just four months later.
Handled differently, the circumstances of the First World War, the Winter of Discontent and many other problems could have saved the government of the day, but it is difficult to see how Stanley Baldwin would have done much better had he been elected in 1929, or Harold Wilson in 1970 or Neil Kinnock in 1992.
Politicians may not look back fondly on lost elections, but some elections are arguably good elections to lose.