26 October 2015

The other road to 2020

I posted here last month about the prospects for Jeremy Corbyn (Labour’s new Leader of the Opposition), out to the 2020 general election by looking at some of the statistics relating to his 13 predecessors in the last 60 years. Of course, not all Prime Ministers begin as Leaders of the Opposition. If a Prime Minister dies or resigns, his or her party chooses a new leader who succeeds to the Prime Ministership. Their challenge is to legitimise themselves by winning the next general election.

Looking back at the 2015 election, apart from the dismal performance of the opinion polls and the prediction machines which fed off them, there were two striking features of the outcome: the rise to dominance of the SNP in the Scottish constituencies and the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, particularly in SW England. But a third aspect of the campaign is likely to become almost as significant. In March during an interview in his constituency home, David Cameron told James Landale, the BBC’s deputy political editor that:
"There definitely comes a time where a fresh pair of eyes and fresh leadership would be good, and the Conservative Party has got some great people coming up - the Theresa Mays, and the George Osbornes, and the Boris Johnsons. 
"You know, there's plenty of talent there. I'm surrounded by very good people." 
He added: "I've said I'll stand for a full second term, but I think after that it will be time for new leadership. "Terms are like Shredded Wheat - two are wonderful but three might just be too many."

Perhaps in years to come we will find out whether there always was a long-term plan to make this intention clear prior to polling day. On the other hand, I do wonder whether Cameron would have been quite so forthcoming if it hadn’t been Landale, a man with the unusual characteristics of being both an Old Etonian like Cameron and being taller than the PM. From personal experience I know that, if you are well above the average male height, the occasional encounter with someone who looks down at you is disconcerting and Cameron I estimate as around 6 feet 1 inch (1.85m).

Anyway, back to the statistics. The table below shows the six PMs who had greatness thrust upon them, rather than having to take on the worst job in British politics first. The data is so sparse that conclusions are even more difficult to draw than in the previous post – apart that is from the Tories seeming better at this particular evolution than Labour.

Looking at the successors to Cameron mentioned above and elsewhere, as far as age is concerned Teresa May could be at a disadvantage and John Major would be a good precedent for George Osborne. On the other hand, President Hillary Clinton and Jeremy Corbyn would both be in their early 70s in May 2020.

As to when the take-over should be, 2018 might be the year to bet on if the Tories maximising their chances of success is the determining factor. But the outcome of the EU referendum might bring things forward to 2017 or even 2016.

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