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Election experts

After campaigning so divisively, David Cameron must now reap what he sowed

The prime minister after winning his seat in Witney. Stefan Rousseau/PA

So most of the votes have been counted. But as Boris Johnson’s alter ego Winston Churchill once put it, this is not the end, or even the beginning of the end: it is merely the end of the beginning.

The polling achievement

The real winners of the campaign have been John Curtice and his team of exit pollsters. Once again they have proved so devilishly accurate that next time round we can safely skip the actual counting of votes, and just get Professor Curtice to interrogate 22,000 voters from representative seats as they leave the polling stations.

The Camerons voting on May 7. EPA

Some might argue that we could save even more time and money by dispensing with the election campaign in its entirety. If the government had just kept going until May 7 and then suddenly asked members of the public to make up their minds, the result would probably have been the same. After all, the opinion polls told a consistent story throughout, and it turned out that that story was not the one which the voters would end up telling.

It’s not that the polls were necessarily wrong as reflections of what people thought at the time of asking; rather that a very significant number who had answered Don’t Know to the pollsters suddenly decided that they did know after all. The act of marking a paper with a cross is different from replying to a speculative question.

The Tory pitch

Apart from ensuring Professor Curtice’s place in the history books, this election campaign will probably be remembered for the most irresponsible pitch of any governing party. Even at its best the Conservative platform was dubious, starting with the claim that Labour was entirely responsible for the economic crisis. It lurched into promises of NHS spending and cut-priced housing, then reached its nadir with the meaningless pledge of a statutory freeze on key taxes and the attempt to use the SNP bogey to scare sassenach voters. Cameron chose to talk of One Nation in his acceptance speech at Witney, but that nation clearly did not include Scotland.

I formed the view that the Conservatives did not deserve to win the election because of their accentuation of the negative when a clear and unambiguous note of positivity could have prevailed. Of course, the notion of “desert” has very little bearing on political outcomes.

But maybe in a sense the Tories do deserve their surprising success in this election: after all, whether in a cynical coalition or some other arrangement they will have to face to consequences of the campaign they have conducted. They will need plenty of luck, and for the country’s sake as well as their own, one can only hope that they haven’t used up their ration of this rare commodity.

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