Fight or flight

Fight or flight

This post originally appeared on Progress Online. North Warwickshire (west Midlands): Mike O’Brien The Conservative majority in the semi-rural constituency of North Warwickshire stands at a slender 54 votes. Explorer and former army officer Dan Byles is standing down after only one term in parliament to ‘pursue new challenges’. North Warwickshire consists of two elements – the solidly Labour town of Bedworth, lying between Nuneaton and Coventry, and a more mixed rural area to the west containing former mining villages and some Birmingham commuter suburbs like Coleshill. Labour did well here in the 2013 county elections and led by 11 points in a poll by Michael Ashcroft. Mike O’Brien is a familiar face in Warwickshire. He gained the seat from the Conservatives in 1992 and represented it for 18 years. He was a minister throughout the Labour government, serving in six different departments. It would not be surprising if he resumed his role as a safe pair of hands in the middle ranks of government after 2015. Cardiff North (Wales): Mari Williams Cardiff North is a mostly middle-class suburban area of the Welsh capital, which seems to have been swinging gradually in Labour’s favour over time. It was represented by Julie Morgan from 1997 to 2010 in Westminster and since 2011 in the Welsh assembly. Her loss was by a small margin on a low swing. Labour’s candidate in 2015 is Mari Williams, locally raised and a former deputy headteacher who has also served on the Fabian Society executive. Labour morale locally will have been boosted by the regain of the assembly seat, good results in the local elections in 2012, and an 11-point lead in an Ashcroft poll. Outgoing Conservative MP Jonathan Evans previously served a term as an MP for another marginal seat, Brecon and Radnor, from 1992-97. Brent Central (London): Dawn Butler Brent Central in north London was a new constituency in 2010, formed from the merger of Brent South (solidly Labour) and Brent East (Liberal Democrat since 2003). Its inaugural contest was between the two members of parliament. Brent East’s Sarah Teather prevailed over Brent South’s Dawn Butler. Teather is standing down after an uncomfortable parliament, having first been elected on a left-of-Labour anti-war vote in 2003 and finding herself in government with the Conservatives. This should be one of the easier Labour gains – local elections and polling by Michael Ashcroft shows Labour over 30 points ahead. Butler is standing again, and should resume her parliamentary career. She was minister for young citizens and youth engagement in the Labour government and may well return to Whitehall with a less clunky title in 2015. Hove (south-east): Peter Kyle The Conservatives won Hove, the genteel section...

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Dark Vistas

Dark Vistas

This post originally appeared on Progress Online Time is running out for two polling phenomena which many have been expecting to kick in before the next general election. The first expected pattern was that the support for insurgent parties would fade as the choice of governments started to loom larger in the electorate’s minds. Thanks to the general slough of despond, and the timing of events like the European elections and the Clacton by-election, there has been little sign of this happening. The United Kingdom Independence party has continued to poll upwards of 15 per cent of the vote, and the Scottish National party and the Green party have been on an upward trend as well during 2014. The combined Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat vote share has hardly hit 80 per cent in the polls this year (it was 90 per cent in 2010). The vote for the others may subside as the election approaches, but this cannot now be regarded as a certainty, merely an unproven possibility. It was also widely expected that the Conservatives would move ahead of Labour once the economy showed signs of improving. The severe economic underperformance of 2010-13 has come to an end, and some polls have shown a huge spike in economic optimism since spring 2013. While Labour’s lead has drifted down from the heights it reached in 2012, this has not been because the Conservatives have regained any support, and the blue line has remained narrowly and stubbornly below the red line on charts of voting intention. The polling trends are following wages and living standards in remaining stagnant. None of the main Westminster parties currently has much wind in its sails. The situation is worst for the Liberal Democrats. They should have started to recover by now, but they still seem to be in decline. The May 2014 local elections were shockingly bad for the party, and its polling numbers are still subterranean – having been overtaken by Ukip they are now in some danger of being overtaken by the Greens. Most observers during this parliament have expected 40-45 of their current 57 MPs to survive, but many such estimates are now being revised down to 30-35. Labour’s performance in Heywood and Middleton was certainly unnerving, even if not quite as woeful as some commentators made out. A tiny increase in the party’s vote share since 2010 is not a good sign. During 2012, Labour achieved some genuinely good results in by-elections, with solid swings from the Conservatives not just with reference to its 2010 election defeat but also compared to its election victory in 2005. Other than in Wythenshawe and Sale East, performance on this yardstick has been...

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How the electoral landscape has changed since the 1964 election – over 50 years ago

How the electoral landscape has changed since the 1964 election – over 50 years ago

This post originally appeared on Conservative Home. In April, I wrote about Reggie Maudling’s budgets, which nearly managed to win the 1964 election for the Conservatives. We have now passed the 50th anniversary of that close, exciting contest, and this offers an opportunity to take the long view. There are some superficial similarities to the 2010 election in the pattern of that election result, and some profound differences. The defeated Conservatives of 1964 won 303 seats out of 630, on 43.4 per cent of the popular vote, while the semi-victorious Tories of 2010 won 306 seats out of 650 (on 36.1 per cent). Comparing seats over the long term is always a cloudy exercise; there have been four complete sets of boundary changes since 1964, and the contents of constituencies are regularly shuffled. The same constituency name may be applied to very different locations in 1964 and 2010: the Rushcliffe that Ken Clarke gained in 1970 is quite similar to the marginal Broxtowe seat currently occupied by Anna Soubry, and the modern Rushcliffe does not resemble any seat that existed in 1964. Sometimes the old constituency is present only in homeopathic dosages in the new one; one ward of the 1964 version of Croydon South is to be found in the 2010 seat of the same name. The tangled history of the names and boundaries of the Plymouth constituencies is worth an essay in itself, if for a somewhat select readership, and is to be found at the intersection of Plymouth local studies and boundary change experts (paging Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of the Elections Centre, Plymouth). One tends to think of the geography of British party support as being mostly stable over time – the places that are safe Conservative seats in 2010 being, for the most part, the same as those that were safely Tory in 1964 – or 1924. This is true a lot of the time – rural and suburban seats in South-East England have rarely strayed from the Conservative fold, except perhaps to dally with the Liberals in 1906 or 1923. In all the elections in modern Surrey, the Conservatives have lost only two constituency contests since 1918 (Spelthorne to Labour in 1945, and Guildford to the Liberal Democrats in 2001).  Of the 306 seats that the Conservatives won in 2010, 180 had recognisable predecessors that were also Conservative in 1964. But this means that there is also a lot of change as well. What were the other 126 constituencies doing in 1964? As many as 52 currently Conservative seats were Labour in 1964. Admittedly, the Conservatives were 7.1 percentage points ahead of Labour in 2010 and 0.7 points behind in 1964, so...

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Forty years ago today – 1974′s second general election

Forty years ago today – 1974′s second general election

This post originally appeared on Conservative Home. The background to the election was not propitious. The economy had lurched out of crisis, but a large deficit that meant no party could offer much to a weary electorate. Politicians in general were held in low regard – the party leaders were regarded as tired and out of touch and populist alternatives were in fashion. The previous parliament, in which no party had an overall majority, had been buffeted by financial scandal. Despite a panicky policy U-turn by the government to try to head off the threat, Scottish nationalism was on the advance. The European issue was splitting the governing party, and the Prime Minister had managed to paper over the cracks with the formula of renegotiation followed by a referendum. There was an undercurrent of concern about the opposition leader, amid fears that his poor personal profile would undercut his ‘national unity’ theme; while the Prime Minister had higher poll ratings, he was widely regarded as untrustworthy and shallow. I am talking about the General Election of 10 October 1974. Of course. My editor and I felt it was reasonable to have two 1974 columns in a single year, given that there were two elections. In myFebruary column I wondered what might have happened had Edward Heath won a second term, and left the real world story with Harold Wilson re-crossing the doorstep of Number Ten. Having stumbled back into office in March, Labour regained the initiative. Wilson used government to craft a series of White Papers that would be a better guide to future policy than the unrealistically radical (and pre-oil crisis) manifesto of February 1974. When the February parliament went into recess nobody seriously expected it to reconvene. The short parliament of 1974 was an eventful one. Some of its Acts are still features of British life, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Consumer Credit Act. British politics was mired in scandal, with the aftershocks of the Poulson affair reverberating and Harold Wilson coming under attack over issues such as the ‘slag heaps’ land sale. The Sunningdale devolved government in Northern Ireland collapsed after a general strike. The world scene was dark, with leaders falling like ninepins (after Heath came Brandt and Nixon), and war and revolution in Cyprus and Portugal. There was a weird climate of paranoia in 1974, from Wilson’s suspicions about rogue intelligence agents and the Gothic intrigues of his court, to the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe desperately trying to suppress allegations of a homosexual affair with male model Norman Scott. ‘We don’t have Watergate politics in this country’, said the Labour General Secretary Ron Hayward at one point in 1974....

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