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Nigel Harris

The psephological eye

(Winter 1960/61)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 3, Winter 1960/61, p. 30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The British General Election of 1959
Butler and Rose
Macmillan. 15s.

Nuffield election studies are fast becoming definitive statements of General Elections. The present one assembles a vast amount of work, not all of it always in the most interesting direction. The study, however, serves to confirm or reject much of the post-election speculation and mythology. Labour’s ‘fighting chance’ is measured, the multitude of cross-currents assessed, and the impact of nearly two millions pounds-worth of anti-Labour propaganda analysed. The study is balanced, and within its assumptions,, more objective than many who have spoken since the election. It illustrates Labour’s whole approach, accepting the framework of Conservative assumptions, while fighting vigorously for some variation in content; attempting to mesh with current grievances, without challenging the status quo producing them.

Where political controversy is shallow, the job of a political analyst is to compare the relative outputs of gimmicks, the marginal inflections of the mass media, the minute ripples on the Gallup Poll pond. Butler and Rose admit the shallowness of the electoral controversy, and, by implication, the monumental boredom of a majority of the electorate. The crucial determinant of electoral behaviour is left out of politicians’ equations: society at large, the level of employment and consumption, the type and pattern of that consumption, and conditions on the shop floor.

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