The Blog

This blog is a collection of Lewis’s writings on topical, interesting and thought-provoking issues. A lot of the content on the blog is original, although some posts will originally have been written for other sites.

A projection of the 2017 election

Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Articles, Blog, Front Page, Psephology, Uncategorised | 0 comments

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 a clean sweep in Staffordshire. Given that 15-point leads have not featured in the most recent polling, I did a simple modification to see what might happen if the Conservative lead were 10 points – i.e. a relatively small national swing of 1.7 per cent to the Conservatives. The modification is a ‘dumb’ 5 point drop in the Conservative lead in each seat, except Copeland where I have assumed a lingering effect from the by-election in February. The number of Conservative gains from Labour would fall to a mere 15 and there would be one offsetting Labour gain (Brighton Kemptown);...

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LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

Posted by on May 5, 2016 in Blog, Front Page, In Focus, Local elections 2012, Political Analysis, Psephology | Comments Off on LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

Local election results – England and Wales The 2012 local elections, leaving the London mayoralty aside, were a considerable success for Labour. While in 2011 Labour did very well in the big urban areas and not so well elsewhere, in 2012 Labour advanced pretty much everywhere that the party is a viable proposition, including such places as Weymouth, Tamworth and Great Yarmouth where the Conservative vote held up well in 2011, suggesting that the party is making progress on a much wider front than last year. In terms of benchmarks and targets for party performance, Labour exceeded all realistic expectations. The party made a net gain of 823 seats across Britain, comfortably over the 700-720 that was the highest legitimate benchmark for a good performance. The party also took nearly all of its target councils, including some which had been regarded as rather ambitious targets: my previous paper describes Dudley, Cardiff and Redditch for instance as tough asks for Labour, but the party won the first two easily and the third narrowly. The only failures were Swindon (where the Conservatives retained a 1-seat majority despite Labour polling more votes) and the always peculiar West Midlands borough of Walsall. As expected, Labour won the inaugural contests for the new mayors of Liverpool (in a landslide) and Salford (easily). However, given the low turnout in these elections, it may be more a case of the Conservatives being in much worse shape in 2012 rather than a large positive movement to Labour. Turnout at around 32 per cent in England was poor, particularly in comparison with last year when it does appear that the AV referendum increased turnout (also significant is that the 2011 elections took place in more suburban and rural areas where turnout is higher anyway, while 2012’s elections were mostly urban). However, while it was pretty low, turnout was not as bad as it was during the first term of Blair’s government and not too much worse than years such as 1995 (which saw a big drop in turnout and a Labour landslide). In most areas, for every ten people who voted Conservative in 2011 about six did so this year, while for every ten Labour voters in 2011 there were about eight or nine this year. The net effect was a significant swing to Labour. Looking at the local elections, another ‘hung parliament’ general election emerges as a strong possibility. A strongly regionalised swing, favouring Labour in the north and the Conservatives in the south, has interesting consequences, particularly when combined with the Liberal Democrats’ resilience in many of their stronger constituencies and the success of the SNP in Scotland. A swing to Labour will take out a few Tory remnants in the north, a swing to Tory will conquer Labour’s remaining outposts there – but these swings may well not be enough to win a Commons majority if there are 30 Lib Dems, 16 Northern Ireland MPs and perhaps 15-20 Nationalists. The swing was less regionalised than it was in 2011, but it was still clear that Labour were doing less well in the south than in the north in terms of their recovery since 2008. Perhaps the main difference from 2011 was that the Midlands joined the North in swinging hard towards Labour, rather than joining...

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Deputy dilemmas

Posted by on August 25, 2015 in Blog | 2 comments

Deputy dilemmas

the leadership contest is just an embarrassment, the deputy leadership contest is an embarrassment of riches.

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Labour leadership thoughts

Posted by on August 24, 2015 in Articles, Blog | 1 comment

Labour leadership thoughts

The most important part of the job specification is to make the right calls in response to events. That I have the most confidence in Yvette Cooper to do so is giving me a strong prompt to vote for her.

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

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Articles, Blog, Political Analysis, Psephology, Uncategorised | 0 comments

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 idiosyncratic results affected by personal votes (Folkestone & Hythe, Blaenau Gwent) or successful Lib Dem squeezes on Tory votes (Westmorland & Lonsdale, North Norfolk). At the other end of the scale, showing some very high pro-Conservative swings, there are also several recognisable groupings. The most striking is a band of urban and semi-rural territory in the Midlands, from Rugby and Redditch in the south to Staffordshire Moorlands and Bolsover in the north. This sub-region is rich in marginal seats (Cannock Chase, Nuneaton, Stafford, Loughborough, Erewash, Broxtowe…), and the Conservatives’ strong showing here has been instrumental not only in their surprise...

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The 2015 election under 3-4 member Single Transferable Vote

Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Articles, Blog, Front Page | 21 comments

The 2015 election under 3-4 member Single Transferable Vote

The model outcome in seats nationally would be Conservative 280, Labour 241, UKIP 38, SNP 37, Lib Dem 29, Plaid Cymru 4, Green 2, the 18 Northern Ireland seats and the Speaker

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The TV debate: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously

Posted by on April 3, 2015 in Articles, Blog, Front Page | 0 comments

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

Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Articles, Blog, Progress | 0 comments

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 target marginals – will be less attentive to pleas for mutual aid than in years where they do not have to face elections themselves. But activists in London, where there are no local elections and it is easier to travel to target seats, may be particularly inclined to head for the likes of Ilford North, or Croydon Central – or for that matter Stevenage or Thurrock. The Conservatives, having fewer activists (and also fewer councillors in place in the marginal seats), may end up suffering more than Labour from the council elections being at the same time. The seats that...

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From Parnell to Salmond: Nationalists at Westminster since 1874

Posted by on February 14, 2015 in Articles, Blog, Con Home | 0 comments

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 disappointed by the limited scope of land reforms; issues had moved away from those (like disestablishing the Church of Ireland) that united the Liberals and Irish interests. But the landslide itself was not what it seemed. The new party was a very broad one, and had been founded quickly so there were a lot of MPs elected who were essentially Liberals under a different label, some romantic Irish conservatives and one or two fellow travellers with the violent struggle of the Fenian movement. At first, the Irish impact was blunted by the inexperience, lack of cohesion and connection with existing...

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The Conservative story of support for election reform

Posted by on January 9, 2015 in Articles, Blog, Con Home | 0 comments

The Conservative story of support for election reform

If one assumes that anything regarded as a timeless British tradition was invented at some point during the reign of Queen Victoria, one would not go far wrong. And so it is with our electoral system. It was invented in 1885 in a ruthless piece of practical politics by which the front benches of the Conservative and Liberal parties colluded on a ‘reform’ to cement a two party system in place. Before 1885, most constituencies in Britain (70 per cent) had two MPs and a handful had three – but an1885 Act sliced most of them up into single-member districts, creating subdivisions of boroughs for the first time. After 1885, multi-member constituencies were a rare breed (returning only eight per cent of MPs), and they finally became extinct in 1950. The option not taken then was to retain multi-member seats and build on a limited experiment that had started with Disraeli’s Reform Act of 1867 of providing for minority representation within them – this time on a better thought-out basis through the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system of Proportional Representation (PR). Many of the earlier advocates of PR were Conservatives; the desire for minority representation accorded with Lord Salisbury’s scepticism about majoritarian rule. But the party professionals, then at the height of their power in both the Conservative and Liberal parties, preferred single member seats because they were easier to manage and control, while multi-member seats would make MPs less dependent on the party organisation and more inclined – the horror – to disagree with and compete with MPs in the same party. In 1882, Gilbert and Sullivan proclaimed, in Iolanthe: “That Nature always does contrive/ That every boy and every gal/ That’s born into the world alive/ Is either a little Liberal/ Or else a little Conservative!” But two-party politics was artificial rather than natural, and even in the high days of the Victorian two party system there were challenges and ambiguities. Gilbert’s Law (a much stronger version of Duverger’s Law, whose illustrious author died last month aged 97) certainly did not apply in Ireland, where Home Rule supporters had swept a majority of seats since 1874 and formed an influential nationalist parliamentary bloc that, when the parliamentary arithmetic permitted in 1885-86, could make the larger parties dance to their tune. Then there was Labour. The Liberals had, more or less, caged the Labour Party before 1914: several by-elections had demonstrated that causing three-way contests was a recipe for Labour candidates coming third and often throwing the seat to the Conservatives (see my July piece on this site here). The possibility that Labour might escape the uncomfortable embrace of the Liberal Party led to the consideration of an electoral reform within the single-member system, the Alternative Vote (AV), to minimise the impact of vote splits. While AV might well have been good for the Liberals in the short term, some in the party feared that it would remove constraints to Labour standing candidates and store up trouble for the future. The Liberals, haplessly, managed to get the worst of both worlds in 1918. Most people had assumed that AV was on the way, and Labour acted on this assumption by selecting hundreds of candidates. By the time it became clear that the election would be under FPTP, it...

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