Ten year swing: comparing the patterns of the 2005 and 2015 elections

Ten year swing: comparing the patterns of the 2005 and 2015 elections

I try sometimes to take the long view on electoral patterns. I wrote a piece for Conservative Home last year looking at the similarities and differences between the electoral maps of 1964 and 2010, elections which produced fairly similar numbers of Conservative MPs nationally. Boundary reviews – which, unfortunately, look like becoming more frequent in future – disrupt one’s ability to look back over time because the continuity of constituencies is broken. Has a seat switched sides decisively through long term political change (like Liverpool Wavertree, or Staffordshire Moorlands)? Or is an apparent change mostly because the boundaries have altered so that the seat’s political complexion has been shifted (like Southampton Test, or Norwich North)? We can, though, look at ten years of electoral history on the same boundaries, comparing the 2005 election (using the ‘notional results’ for English and Welsh seats compiled by Rallings and Thrasher) with 2015. For 630 constituencies out of 650 (i.e. not Northern Ireland, nor the Speakers’ seats in 2005 and 2015), we can calculate the swing, i.e. the average of the Conservative gain and Labour loss. Of course, there are a large number of constituencies where these two are not the principal parties and the Con/Lab swing calculation is a bit like ascertaining the vitamin C content in a bowl of fruit punch – information of some value, but a long way short of the most relevant observation. The SNP landslide in Scotland and the Lib Dem collapse were the two startling changes in the 2015 election, and it is a bit artificial to look at Con/Lab swing in the seats affected, but it can still tell us something. That said, let us look at the pattern of Con-Lab swing from 2005 to 2015: Blair to Miliband and Howard to Cameron. The colour scheme indicates strength and direction of swing. Dark blue is to the Conservatives of more than 10 per cent, blue is to the Conservatives by 5-10 per cent and the beigey shade is to the Conservatives by 0-5 per cent (i.e. still to the Tories but below the national average). Light red is 0-5 per cent to Labour, regular red 5-10% to Labour, and dark red is over 10 per cent to Labour. The places where Labour did better in 2015 than in 2005 (relative to the Conservatives) are mostly found in London, Merseyside, Birmingham and some other metropolitan residential areas that have highly educated professional electorates (Edinburgh, Oxford, Sheffield Hallam, south Manchester, Hove, Bristol West) that deserted Labour for the Lib Dems in 2005 over the war and other issues and have subsequently returned. There are also a few ethnically diverse urban areas like Bradford, Leicester, Luton and Peterborough, and some...

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The TV debate: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously

The TV debate: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously

Seeing a seven-person television debate as a horse race – and a particularly Alice-in-Wonderland style horse race where there’s no agreed finish line, the volume of cheers from the audience is taken into account and all the runners take it in turns to stop for a bit – is just as ridiculous as saying that a door handle hates you or that you saw the King of France driving a train on the Victoria Line.

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Local and General

This article first appeared in Progress Online. Every general election is decided in the marginal parliamentary constituencies. The public, and sometimes even political insiders, have the impression that the main parties command armies of campaigners which can be directed with precision. In the imagination, we have Lynton Crosby and Greg Cook playing first world war generals and moving model armies around a table-sized map of the battlefield. The reality is a bit different. There are no vast armies, but a comparatively small number of very motivated, active people volunteering their time for little reward. The most active and politically interested among them will be happy to travel around to marginal seats, and exercises such as the Three Seats Challenge supported by Progress are fun and make a big contribution to Labour’s efforts in marginal seats. It is unfortunate that the electoral system means that the rewards from campaigning are such a postcode lottery, but an extra Labour vote prompted by a doorstep conversation in Kingswood does much more to help the return of a Labour government than an increased majority in neighbouring Bristol East (no matter how much Kerry McCarthy may deserve it). However, most activists prefer to campaign in their local area. It is less demanding on scarce time and also, for many people, political campaigning is a part of being an active citizen in their own community. The tension between the party’s overall interests and the individual’s preferences and interests is particularly acute for councillors and council candidates who will also be facing election on 7 May. For councillors representing areas in marginal seats, there is not much of a conflict of interest – their advocacy for the parliamentary candidate is probably most effective in their own ward. There are some drawbacks occasionally – councillors may try to bargain with wavering voters to split their vote, and sell out their parliamentary running mate, and there were instances of this for Labour in 2010. But in the 2015 election campaigns in crucial seats like Ipswich, Erewash and Blackpool North & Cleveleys will benefit from the Labour councillors elected in 2011 fighting hard to defend their seats and maximise the constituency Labour vote. However, in other areas councillors will want to defend their own patch rather than travel around to the marginal seats, particularly if their own seat is at all endangered. This will also mean that the significant number of people who are involved in party activity through friendship with other local activists and councillors will be reluctant to be moved around the map for reasons of national strategy. For example, Labour councillors and their allies in Derby and Nottingham – Labour cities floating in a sea of...

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Predicting the General Election in Scotland: a fragile landslide?

Predicting the General Election in Scotland: a fragile landslide?

‘Too many moving parts.’ This was the understandable complaint of a political scientist (oh, all right, it was Philip Cowley)  about the complexities of writing about the 2015 election. Back in the day, David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh could get a good deal of the story by trotting from one side of Smith Square to the other, but it has all got complicated now. The most unpredictable of these moving parts is Scotland. In my recent seat by seat analysis for Westbourne Communications, I found it pretty much impossible to speculate sensibly about most Scottish seats from my London vantage point, and just assumed that the SNP would take most of the Lib Dem seats and a fair chunk (10? 15?) from Labour, reflecting a swing back to Labour between now and the election. I have recently spent a few days in Scotland, talking to knowledgeable people from various points on the political spectrum and return, in the words of Reggie Maudling, none the wiser but considerably better informed. The truth about Scotland in the 2015 election is that nobody knows. We can be reasonably confident that most of the 11 Liberal Democrats will be swept away – only two (Alistair Carmichael and Charles Kennedy) are likely winners. West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, and Michael Moore’s seat in the Borders, are Con/ Lib Dem/ SNP wild cards. We can also regard the sole Tory MP in Scotland, David Mundell, as a likely winner on a split vote in a strongly No voting area. But these are details – what about the other 54 seats where the winner is likely to be SNP or Labour? While the SNP won beyond its dreams in 2011, its more usual experience has been to swagger confidently into an election only to underperform when the votes are counted. The last rites were being read for Labour Glasgow in the run-up to the 2012 local elections, but Labour held on surprisingly well. Estimates of the number of SNP seats I heard ranged from 20-ish to over 40, and I still do not feel able to rule any of those numbers out. The error margins on Scottish electoral predictions are huge because: Scottish public opinion on the centre-left can be very volatile, even during campaigns – there was little sign of the impending SNP landslide in 2011 until late in the campaign, for instance. If the election can be seen as a choice of UK government, Labour has a chance of persuading at least some of its lost voters (and alienated Lib Dems) back into the fold, but if it is seen as standing up for Scotland against an unsympathetic bipartisan austerity regime in London, the SNP will...

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From Parnell to Salmond: Nationalists at Westminster since 1874

From Parnell to Salmond: Nationalists at Westminster since 1874

Imagine a situation where support for the parties of government in the United Kingdom suddenly collapses in part of the UK and is replaced by a single, dominant nationalist party that has no interest in forming part of an administration back in London and votes in Westminster in accordance solely with its perception of the national interest of its particular part of the country. In the light of Lord Ashcroft’s long awaited Scottish constituency polling  this may well be the shape of politics in the United Kingdom for the rest of the life of that particular political construct. That might be a matter of two to five years, or we might have a ‘new normal’ in which the SNP controls a block of 40-50 Scottish seats at Westminster for decades. How would the political system cope? Let us look at some of the precedents, incomplete and inexact as they are. The most recent case of the politics of a component of the UK going off at a tangent is the collapse of mainland politics in Northern Ireland in the February 1974 election with the victory of Unionists opposed to the Conservative government’s power-sharing agreement. Because Northern Ireland’s representation is so small, and it is divided between different parties, it is rarely pivotal in Westminster politics. For this to happen, a government has to be on the threshold of majority status anyway, as in 1974-79 or at some points in 1992-97. And, with the exception of Sinn Féin who do not take their Westminster seats, the Northern Ireland MPs pay less attention to their ultimate ends than to pragmatic deal-making. As Ken Clarke remarked in 2010, “In the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman.” Enoch Powell, then sitting as a Unionist MP, mordantly observed that the Callaghan government could have won its confidence vote in 1979 for some material concessions to Ulster: “a whiff of gas or a ha’p’orth of tar.” But now let us jump back a century, to 1874 and the last time a big block of nationalist MPs was injected into Westminster. On the face of it, the 1874 outcome in Ireland was staggering. In the 1868 election the Liberals had won 66 seats out of 103, to 37 Conservatives. But in 1874 the Liberals sank from 66 to 10, with the Conservatives suffering only a small loss (from 37 to 31; two small borough seats were abolished in 1870 for having particularly corrupt elections). The winners were a loosely-organised party standing for Irish Home Rule, which swept 60 Irish seats. The stated causes of this sudden landslide seem curiously inadequate. The secret ballot made intimidations by landlords more difficult; rural Ireland was...

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