It’s “virtually inconceivable that Labour can win the next election by just doing well in England and Wales – it’s just brutal arithmetic,” John Curtice begins when we meet three weeks after the election, on a cloudy afternoon in St James’ Park.
Curtice, 62, is the only forecaster any journalist still listens to. He is the man behind the exit poll, which flashed up on TV screens at 10pm on election night and sent parties, pollsters and pundits into a frenzy. The story it told contrasted completely with more than 700 polls published in the previous year, 99 per cent of which said the Tories had no hope of a majority.
Its accuracy has left pre-election polling on life support. Journalists don’t trust it, pundits ridicule it and newspapers no longer want to publicise it. But the exit poll has never been more revered. Half a dozen men were behind it this year, but it is Curtice who has led the group for more than two decades.