Where it all went wrong – and right: journalist unpicks Election shock

Journalist and author Tim Ross gave QE boys an inside view of the 2015 General Election, with its surprise result of an overall majority for the Conservatives.

In his lunchtime talk to the flourishing Politics Society, Daily Telegraph Senior Political Correspondent Mr Ross shared first-hand accounts from his confidential sources as he explained why journalists, including himself, who predicted a hung Parliament got it so spectacularly wrong. He has outlined his analysis in a book, Why the Tories won: The Inside Story of the 2015 Election.

Labour’s first mistake, he said, was Ed Miliband forgetting to mention the budget deficit in his 2014 party conference speech. This was exploited by the Tories who claimed it showed that cutting the deficit was not a key Labour priority. Mr Ross recounted tales from Labour insiders of how the Labour leader reacted.

""With the polls putting Labour and the Conservatives level-pegging on 35%, Labour also suffered from the Conservatives exploiting voters’ fears of a Labour-SNP coalition. Labour made matters worse by refusing to quash any suggestion of such a coalition until late in the campaign.

Mr Miliband compounded his conference error by going off-script in the final leaders’ debate when asked if New Labour had overspent. Overall, the right-wing media magnified his vulnerabilities, depicting him as weak or weird, with The Sun running the notorious photo of him eating a bacon sandwich next to the headline ‘Save our Bacon’ the day before the election.

David Cameron also made gaffes and errors – such as confusing West Ham and Aston Villa and, more seriously, letting slip that he would not seek a third term as Prime Minister. Such errors did not, however, prove costly, Mr Ross said, largely because they were not really exploited by Labour.

""Overall, the Conservatives:

  • Were better disciplined, with their 5.45am first strategy meeting of each day, putting them at an advantage over Mr Miliband, who was ‘not a morning person’ and ordered Labour’s equivalent meeting to take place at 7.30am
  • Had better strategy, appointing Lynton Crosby, the since-knighted Australian election strategist, and throwing all their resources at a shortlist of 100 target seats
  • Were better prepared, having built up a database of different types of voter in the months leading up to the election – Labour were taken aback by this ‘stealth tactic’
  • Had more resources, spending them effectively on targeted Facebook advertising – a total of £1.2m, against Labour’s Facebook spend of only £16,000.

""Asked how long he thought Jeremy Corbyn would last as Labour leader, Mr Ross said he thought an imminent coup unlikely, with Labour moderates not yet sufficiently organised nor ready to challenge such a large mandate.

He predicted a modest comeback for the Liberal Democrats in 2020, since they would be seen as a ‘sensible alternative’ to the Tories.

Mr Ross was accompanied on his visit by his friend Paul March, an Old Elizabethan who in the early 1990s was one of the first Politics students of teacher Liam Hargadon, who is now Head of Politics and Head of Year 12.

Mr Ross’s book is available in the Queen’s Library.