Election campaigns tend to be scrappy affairs. How could it be anything other as people try to push and shove their policies and values into our consciousness, seek to persuade us to vote for them and fight for political power? At their best, election campaigns can see the battle of ideas clash and clang, great persuasive speeches can be made, real debate entered into, and nowadays snappy compelling social media shots can be fired onto our computers and literally into the palms of our hands. The 2024 General Election has certainly been scrappy. It is though an election campaign that has seen all too few of the great issues contested and has principally revolved around an all too narrow debate about the enervating issue of by how much our taxes will go up and how fast that will happen. This has not been a vintage campaign even though the outcome will, one way or the other, be historic.

Only two people are in contention to be the next Prime Minister and how each of them behaves, whether they find themselves the victor or the loser, will determine the tone in their respective party and the country for years to come.

In 1979 Jim Callaghan congratulated Margaret Thatcher on her victory, noting that he although he disagreed with her politics, hers was a considerable personal victory. She reciprocated by thanking him for his long public service.

In 1997 John Major congratulated Tony Blair on his victory and then departed for an afternoon’s cricket at the Oval. The first words the new Prime Minister uttered on the steps on No 10, before he had even gone through the famous black door, were to thank the outgoing Prime Minister for his service.

When it came to Mr Blair’s time to depart the scene his successor, Gordon Brown, could not bring himself to say anything pleasant about his predecessor. Nor could he find it in himself to wish his successor, David Cameron, well. Brown entered and left Downing Street with a public gracelessness that served public discourse ill. Indeed it fell to David Cameron in the Commons after Tony Blair’s final Prime Minister’s Questions to lead all MPs in a standing ovation for the departing Prime Minister.

These things matter. Politeness, grace in defeat, and magnanimity in victory matter. Whatever the results maybe over the next few hours, we will all look to see if both Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak can, in the end, muster the strength of character to treat each other with decency and respect at the moment of ultimate victory and loss.