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Ron Johnston, "The 2001 UK General Election: Lots of Words about Little Change," Party Politics, 8 (September 2002," 607-616

First Paragraph:
Time was -- before the 1983 general election, which was going to break the mould of British politics but didn't (but which might have broken British psephology if some political scientists then associated with the Social Science Research Council had had their way!) -- when there was just one author to whom we turned to understand what had happened at a UK general election: David Butler. Psephology was a small sub-field of British political science; within it, David Butler had nurtured a few students, several of whom acted as co-authors for particular projects, but his was very much a single -- and impressive -- voice. So much has changed over the last two or three decades, not least as a result of the expansion of British higher education and the rapid expansion of the study of politics and government therein. David Butler's is still a strong and influential voice in the interpretation of UK elections, but he has many 'competitors' (in the best sense of that term). And so, five books -- with very similar titles -- appeared within a year of the 2001 general election offering non-journalistic accounts of that contest and its outcome.

Figures and Tables:
[Books reviewed in this review essay]

  1. Pippa Norris (ed.), Britain Votes 2001. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  2. Robert Worcester and Roger Mortimore, Explaining Labour's Second Landslide. London: Politico's, 2001.
  3. Andrew Geddes and Jonathan Tonge (eds), Labour's Second Landslide: The British General Election 2001. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
  4. Anthony King (ed.) Britain at the Polls, 2001. New York: Chatham House Publishers, 2002.

Last Paragraph:
But we rarely get beyond the preface. A year after the election was held, we have several books providing instant interpretations -- alongside a second group by political commentators and journalists not reviewed here -- but then interest wanes. Papers are written using the British Election Survey data which -- until 2001, and then only just -- are not available to inform that first generation of books, but where are the overviews written from the perspective of more information and the 'longer view'? Of course, major books have emerged from the British Election Survey -- Butler and Stokes' (1969, 1974) pioneering volumes, Särlvik and Crewe's (1983) synthesis of a decade of change, and several from the CREST team (Heath, Jowell and Curtice, 1985, 2001; Heath et al., 1987; Evans and Norris, 1999). But with a few exceptions -- such as Denver (1994), Catt (1996), Harrop and Miller (1987), Leonard and Mortimore (2001) -- the substantial number of British social scientists interested in elections and voting behaviour have not sought to synthesize what we have learned from more than 50 years of studying elections in Britain, and some 40 years of academic surveys of the electorate. Why not? Surely it is time to go beyond the preface and to start writing the main body of the book -- either by one or two authors producing a major work of synthesis or, as an interim statement, a collection of essays with a wider remit than just one or two elections (which Evans and Norris (1999) partially attempted). We know plenty about the short-term and the local; what we need is reflection on what that knowledge implies for theory and for longer-term developments. The material is there -- both in the books and journal articles and in the raw material from surveys. Who will take up the challenge?