As with other post-election books such as Britain at the Polls, Britain Votes 2010 edited by Andrew Geddes and Jonathan Tonge faces a dual challenge. On the one hand the growth of online political coverage means there is much detailed analysis which appears months before books such as this come out, and on the other hand the revitalisation of the long-running Nuffield general election series means there is less room for a successful book such as this.
Britain Votes 2010 therefore, whilst a decent successor to the previous titles in the series, is also a book in part in search of a purpose. It is not helped in this search by some at times poor production quality, the contents page in particular being a striking example of how spacing and leading can make a huge difference between professional appearance and not – and the opening sentence of one chapter is marred by a reference to the 2005 election that should read 2010.
There are flashes of genuine insight and some chapters provide material not replicated elsewhere, in particular Justin Fisher’s on party finances which traces the story of how the Conservative Party regained its place as Britain’s richest political party and deftly questions how much benefit the extra cash actually brought it. He also highlights the importance of phone calls and direct mail in Conservative Party expenditure in target seats, which raises an important point about how little either books such as this or academic journal articles delve into such topics. It may be one of the most important areas of expenditure but almost no academic research is done into it.
As with other books about the election, the treatment of the Liberal Democrats is highly variable, with very little analysis or account of important decisions such as why the party decided it was happy (or happier) with formal coalition than a confidence and supply arrangement. The backstories of experiences in Scotland, Wales and local government, along with Chris Huhne’s advocacy for that view, get almost no mention. Likewise, Gillian Duffy gets her obligatory repeated mentions but the apparent lack of impact of Bigotgate on Labour’s poll standing or prospects in the constituency where the event happened (Labour won Rochdale) are left unexplained.
Much better, however, are the references to online campaigning with an account that falls into neither hype nor cynicism – and include an all too rare section talking about the role of internal databases and other tools that are not in the public eye.
Where the book works best is in the chapters that record detailed information, such as the blizzard of electoral statistics in David Denver’s chapter. However, many of the chapters are more analytical in content and do little other than repeat what is available in many other places. Whether or not that makes it a useful book for you depends on whether or not you have read or got copies of some of the other post-election books or been a keen reader of newspaper political pieces and political blogs.