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The UK election is farcical and frustrating, but deeply significant – under Labour things really could get better | John Harris

Everywhere I go in Britain, people are exhausted. But there’s good reason to believe a Labour government would bring unseen possibilities

In the midst of dizzying opinion polls and a seemingly unprecedented Tory collapse, it is worth remembering a basic political fact: Labour governments do not get elected very often, and it is a feat that is chronically difficult to pull off.

Some of this is down to the UK’s creaking electoral system, and the awkward coalition of voters Labour must build to surmount it, from pensioners in post-industrial towns to urban twentysomethings. But some of the party’s eternal challenge is also down to a set of deeply sceptical attitudes, in England in particular. Younger voters seem to be largely free of such ideas, but in other parts of the electorate, Labour is for ever suspected of being profligate and wasteful, while the wider political left – not entirely unreasonably – is seen as pious, privileged and unbearably bossy. On top of all that, there is a deep national queasiness about change that becomes even clearer at times of national crisis. Two centuries ago, it was summed up by that great English agitator William Cobbett: “We want great alteration, but we want nothing new.”

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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