Two way traffic: the seats that switched in 2017 and what it means

Two way traffic: the seats that switched in 2017 and what it means

This article first appeared in Conservative Home 14 July 2017. The general election of June 2017 was the second in a row in which there were a handful of constituencies that went against the national swing between the Conservative and Labour parties. While Labour made 28 gains from the Conservatives, the Tories struck back in six constituencies including the by-election seat of Copeland. The account was more even in 2015, when Labour’s ten gains were offset by eight losses to the Conservatives. This cross-traffic has been fairly unusual in recent elections; elections where more than one or two seats flip in the ‘wrong’ direction tend to involve both small national swings and a political context where different regions or types of constituency react in very different ways, both of which applied in the last couple of elections but not for any other election since 1987. These wandering sheep, which stray away from the track indicated by the sheepdogs of uniform national swing, are always interesting to me, more so than the dutiful bellwethers. The outstanding Conservative gain from Labour in 2017 came in Mansfield, an achievement that has perhaps not been recognised enough because of the context of so many expected Conservative gains failing to materialise and the big swings to Labour in some of its targets. It was also historic, in that it had never had a Conservative MP as such before and Labour had represented the seat since 1923 – even in the 1931 landslide when the party was down to 46 seats nationally. Mansfield’s local communities still reflect some of the divisions from the 1926 and 1984 miners’ strikes. Its new Tory MP Ben Bradley celebrated its mining and working class history in his maiden speech: Coalmining was the centre of local communities throughout much of the 20th century, not just for work but for all kinds of other support. It is a heritage of which people are rightly proud, and I shall be supporting calls for the creation of a new museum in the town centre to protect that heritage and ensure that future generations know and understand it. (Commons Hansard 26 June 2017) Although Mansfield was the leader, most of the other constituencies that went from Labour to Conservative in 2017 bear a family resemblance. North East Derbyshire, Stoke-on-Trent South and Copeland are also ex-mining areas composed of tough little working class towns; Walsall North is similar although its heritage is heavy industry rather than coal. In all of these the Labour majority had worn thin in the 1987 election, suggesting that as well as movements triggered by the EU referendum and the changing culture of the main parties, there have been some longer-term...

Read More

The biggest landslide ever: the general election of 1931

This article first appeared in Conservative Home on 12 May 2017. It ended up having rather fewer contemporary echoes than seemed probable at the time of writing…   Tracing the roots of the election back to the start, it was mostly down to May – although events rapidly gained their own momentum. The Conservatives ran on the basis of a ‘doctor’s mandate’, asking for national unity and a free hand to address the pressing problems of the time. The Labour vote dropped sharply and the Tories sucked up the votes that had gone to other parties in the previous election, producing an extreme landslide. This, then, is the story of the October 1931 election which began with the report of the May committee recommending various austerity measures including cutting unemployment benefit. The Labour Cabinet could not agree on a response to the crisis and broke up; instead, an emergency ‘National Government’ was formed in August from Labour, Conservative and Liberal elements and passed a supplementary budget introducing the cuts in September. The government had a perfectly adequate majority in parliament (59 at its first confidence vote test) and there was initially no talk of an early election. But events piled on, notably the forced departure from the Gold Standard, and the temptation of going for an election and getting a huge mandate to tide the Conservatives through what looked like a turbulent few years and extend the end of the parliament from 1934 to 1936 eventually became too much. The government asked for a ‘doctor’s mandate’ – the freedom to do what was necessary to tackle the economic crisis. The formula covered the hitherto transgressive Conservative dream of introducing protective tariffs, which had doomed the Tories in 1906 and 1923 but which were at last legislated in 1932 (and little good they did). They got what might have better been called a surgeon’s mandate – a completely comatose and compliant patient on which to operate. Contemporary observers were awe-struck by the scale of the landslide, but the ability of the electoral system to produce wildly unbalanced results when one party has a large lead in votes was not properly understood at the time – concepts like uniform national swing and the cube law had not been refined yet. But the old-fashioned cube law would suggest that a party or alliance with better than a 2:1 advantage in votes should get a better than 8:1 advantage in seats, which is what happened in 1931. The National alliance beat Labour with 67 per cent of the vote, of which 55 per cent was cast for its Conservative members, to 30.6 per cent, a lead – depending on how one counts it...

Read More

A projection of the 2017 election

A projection of the 2017 election

I did a lot of work before the 2015 election trying to anticipate what might happen seat by seat in that election, looking at local factors, candidates, demographics, recent local election results, Lord Ashcroft‘s constituency opinion polling and all of that. Like most prediction efforts in 2015, it was not very successful. It was swamped by three things – (1) the broad national tide in England and Wales  that submerged quite a lot of the local differences I anticipated. Part of the Conservative success was built on ‘nationalising’ the election choice, to the detriment of the Lib Dems in particular who were hoping for personal votes to salvage them as happened in elections when their tide has been receding, such as 1979. (2) the completeness of the SNP sweep in Scotland. (3) the extraordinary success of the Conservatives with their protective targeting of the marginals they gained in 2010 and a handful of Labour seats they picked off. I’ve tried out a different approach this time, with a mechanistic formula applied to all the English and Welsh Con/ Lab seats and nowhere else. Martin Baxter at Electoral Calculus has done a vastly more sophisticated and complete version of the same sort of exercise, but this is a crude formula incorporating rather few variables. It’s based on the swing to the Conservatives being partly proportional to the UKIP vote, an element of uniform national swing, a bump in one direction or another for seats at the outliers of referendum voting behaviour (Remain or 60 per cent plus for Leave). There’s therefore a double weighting for strongly Leave seats, which tended for obvious reasons to have high UKIP votes in 2015. The source for constituency referendum voting is Chris Hanretty’s compilation of published local results and his work modelling the others. An allowance has been made where the Greens have stood down or intervened. The initial model had a national baseline of the Conservatives winning by a 15-point margin, which is where a fair few polls were at the time. That would produce a Con gain of 44 from Labour. Allowing for a few gains from SNP in Scotland, and from UKIP in Clacton and possibly a couple from the Lib Dems, this would be a Con gain of around 52 seats for an overall majority of around 120. The way the model works skews the Conservative gains to the North and white working class England. Labour would hold apparently perilous marginals in London such as Ealing Central & Acton and Brentford & Isleworth, but lose some former heartlands. Strikingly, the Tories would win all three seats in Stoke-on-Trent (Labour since 1935) plus Newcastle-under-Lyme (Labour or radical Liberal since 1906) for...

Read More

Housekeeping

Housekeeping

Hello! It’s been a while. I’m not the most assiduous updater of this website – Oskar the cat here has been a sleepy role model – but it’s probably time I collated my recent work and put it on this site and wrote some new stuff. I’m interested in moving into some other areas of work and writing as well, which in time will be reflected here and in another...

Read More

The 1992 General Election in retrospect

The 1992 General Election in retrospect

It was supposed to be a ‘time for a change’ election, but the results gave the Conservatives a record fourth term of office and John Major his own mandate as Prime Minister. With the 2015 election, when the Tories won another small majority in defiance of polling and expectations, in the recent past I look back on the general election of 1992.

Read More
This site uses cookies. Find out more about this site’s cookies.