Election Night 2005 (5-6 May 2005)

The pitfalls of Sunderland South In the last couple of elections, commentators have been caught unawares by the Sunderland result because has meant Labour’s total vote has been below expectations thanks to poor turnout. There are some more traps for the unwary in Sunderland this time. If the Lib Dems pull into second here, it is not necessarily good news – that would be consistent with them adding votes where it does not help them win seats. Neither would an increase in Chris Mullin’s vote (19,921 last time) necessarily be good for Labour, as it would suggest that the party is doing well in its safe seats but perhaps not so well in the marginals. Are the Lib Dems stalled? The exit poll has found that the Lib Dems have not made much progress in terms of seats, and have seen less of a bounce in share of the vote than some of the more optimistic expectations for them made late in the campaign. This is intriguing. It is quite possible that their share of the vote has gone up most where it can do them the least good, namely in seats with massive Labour majorities. Their national increase of four points might mask rises of 10 points in some places and a slippage of two in other places. With Labour’s vote slipping, the most probable scenario is that gains in seats such as Cardiff Central and Bristol West have been cancelled out by Conservative gains in rural seats such as Devon West and Torridge. This would be a logical result of the recent strategy of outflanking Labour to the left, but it would also mean that the party faces ab dilemma. Should it consolidate its recent gains from Labour (and write off some rural seats to the Tories), or would it be a mistake to read too much into a temporary reaction against Blair and Iraq which would be reversed in the next election? The Lib Dem’s 52 seats in 2001 was a good result that strengthened Charles Kennedy’s leadership. 54 seats in 2005 would be very worrying, and pose all sorts of questions about strategy – and even leadership. Sunderland South – now the facts A swing of 4 per cent to the Conservatives is a pretty reasonable result for them here, although the surprise is that a swing this size has appeared in a safe Labour seat. This suggests two possibilities – maybe the exit poll has underestimated the swing, or perhaps the Conservatives are not overperforming in marginals as much as they might have done. BBC commentators have referred to rumours that both Peterborough and Hornchurch are “too close to call”. They shouldn’t be; the...

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Exit Poll Thoughts (5 May 2005)

A Labour majority of 66 is a bit less than most commentators have predicted (although I have gone for 46 in an office sweepstake). Labour people throughout the day have been incredibly jittery about some seats which had rather large majorities in 2001. A national share of 37% to 33% for the Conservatives implies a swing of 2.5% but the BBC’s seat projection suggests a much higher swing to the Tories in the marginals – perhaps 3.5 or 4 per cent. The Liberal Democrats will be a bit disappointed to see their national share at 22 per cent with a net gain of only a couple of seats, but their vote is likely to be even more variable and difficult to predict than the share for the two main parties. The projection suggests one of two things has happened – either that the much anticipated strong swing to the Lib Dems in intellectual middle class constituencies (more to follow on this later) has not happened, or that it has been cancelled out by significant Conservative gains from the Lib Dems. Of course, the 10pm figures might not be final – people keep voting until 10pm, and the late votes might tweak the figures up or down a bit....

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A print-out-and-keep guide to election night (May 4 2005)

Lewis Baston talks you through the key results to watch out for from the moment the polls close into late Friday afternoon. Thursday, 10pm Polling stations around the country close. The broadcasters reveal the results of their exit polls and offer their projections of the national result. Exit polls are very expensive and sophisticated and – at least in 1997 and 2001 – have been pretty reliable. However, their forecast of a hung parliament in 1992 proved to be wide of the mark. Don’t go to bed yet, even if the forecasts are for a large Labour majority – at one stage the BBC’s computer projected a Labour majority of 144 in October 1974 and the actual result was a majority of 3. 10.45pm After 45 minutes of pretending not to respond to the exit polls, politicians will be desperate for something else to talk about on the election night television coverage. Help is at hand. Sunderland City Council takes pride in announcing the first election result in the country, to the extent of employing teams of counters and (in 2001) rigging traffic lights to ensure that the vans carrying the ballot boxes reached the count centre as quickly as possible. Sunderland South was announced at 10.46pm last time. Labour’s Chris Mullin should win again, but the swing and the turnout should be a hint as to how the national battle is going. Turnout here in 2001 was only 48.3%, 11 points lower than the national rate of 59.4% (the gap was 12 points in 1997). If Mullin’s vote is under 17,000 (it was 19,921 in 2001 and 27,174 in 1997), either Labour is not doing well or turnout has slumped again – or both. 11.30pm The other Sunderland counts should also be over and reveal predictable Labour majorities. A few other seats, none of them exciting, will have declared, and for those who are less than committed to election night television it is quite safe to go to the pub and get back home at about this time. You will not have missed much. 11.45pm The first interesting declaration should be made at Torbay. Lib Dem Adrian Sanders gained the self-styled Riviera seat by only 12 votes over the Conservatives in 1997, but held it with a resounding margin of 6,708 in 2001. If the Conservative contender Marcus Wood has won, or got close, this would signify a bad defeat for the Lib Dems in the south-western marginals, and a good night for the Conservatives. Friday, midnight Another clutch of Labour holds should be announced at around midnight, including Alan Milburn at Darlington. If the Conservatives have gained Derbyshire South or Halifax from Labour, they are heading for...

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Who Governs? (4 April 2005)

Lewis Baston describes one of the most turbulent years in British politics, which saw two closely-fought elections delivering a blow from which the two-party system has never recovered. Originally published 4th April 2005 1974 was arguably the most dramatic year in modern British politics. As well as two elections there was the three-day week, corruption scandals, shadowy plots against the prime minister, a financial crisis, IRA bombings in England and a general strike in Northern Ireland. It began with a strike by the powerful National Union of Mineworkers, whose bargaining position had become even stronger because of the steep rise in the oil price; in order to preserve fuel supplies the Conservative government of Edward Heath imposed a three-day working week. After some hesitation (many Conservatives believe that they could have won an election in early February), Heath called an election for February 28 with the intention of strengthening his hand against the unions. ‘Who Governs?’ asked the Conservatives, a question whose implications were more ambiguous than they intended. The Conservatives found it impossible to sustain the focus on the ‘Who Governs?’ issue throughout the campaign. Harold Wilson, working closely with pollster Bob Worcester of Mori, fought an astutely negative campaign, stressing the Heath government’s poor record on inflation, housing and pensions. At the start of the campaign the Conservatives seemed well ahead but the gap narrowed and the luck of the campaign was against them. Trade figures many times worse than those of 1970 were published. Their industrial relations policy was undermined by the director of the CBI and new evidence on miners’ pay. The worst blow was when Enoch Powell advised voters to support Labour and announced that he had cast his own vote for the party because of its commitment to a referendum on Europe. It seems that many voters in the West Midlands followed his advice, as the pro-Labour swing there was particularly strong. The election results were complex. Turnout (78.7%) was the highest since 1959 and has not been bettered since. The votes for both the Conservatives and Labour slumped while the Liberals, Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru and even Independents did well (winning Lincoln and Blyth). The combined Tory and Labour share of the vote fell from 89.4% in 1970 to 75% in 1974; in votes at least, the two-party system suffered a blow from which it has not recovered. Despite this, the smaller parties received few seats, with only 14 Liberals elected on 19.3% of the vote. Proportional representation was much discussed after the elections of 1974. The February election was a disaster in Northern Ireland. The unionist opponents of the power-sharing executive that governed under the Sunningdale agreement won 11 out...

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