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...

Read More

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....

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