Sunday 22 November 2009


My General Election Spread (Part 1)
Here in the UK it is certain that we are now within a year of the next general election, with May 2010 given as the most likely date. The last general election was 5th May 2005 and under UK law the next one must occur by 6th June 2010. This election is expected to be the most significant since 1997 with the prediction that the government of the UK will change, something that last happened in 1997 and before that last in 1979, just over 30 years ago. It is widely considered almost certain that the Labour party, which has governed for the last 13 years since '97, will at least lose its majority in parliament if not suffer a catastrophic defeat, which will see the Conservative Party ( in opposition since 1997) form the next Government.

This is my spread for the next General Election, in terms of percentage of the vote gained by the major parties. These are the landmark figures that for various reasons including: their importance to the actual result, their relation to previous levels of support, historical poll data and psychological importance, I think that each party would be doing exceedingly well to surpass and doing exceedingly badly to fall below, including my analysis of why I have chosen these figures. These are not necessarily the levels of support I would predict each party will get at the next general election but rather the benchmarks of support that it would be significant for them to either achieve or fail to achieve.

It must also be said that percentages in elections, unlike actual totals of votes, are, of course, a zero sum game. With turnout perpetually below 100% it is always possible to increase your vote tally without affecting anyone else's, by getting people out to vote who would not otherwise have bothered. However, with percentages, irrespective of how many people vote, it is the case that one party can only push its score up by pushing another party's down. That means for any party to beat the spread and do better than its score another party must do worse and vice versa. And of course relative levels of support do not change for no reason, but in response to events and the actions of the various parties.

Now, lets see that spread in full.


Conservatives 40%
Labour 30%
Lib Dems 20%
Others 10%

Which also gives a (7+5)/2 = 6% swing to the Conservatives
Con 325 (+127)
Lab 245 (-111)
Lib Dem 48 (-14)
Others 16 (+4)
Con Maj: 0

These nice round figures not only represent a series of landmarks in terms of each parties share of the vote but also coincidentally give the even figures required for the Conservatives to stand on the threshold of being able to form a government. The implication could not be clearer, the Conservatives must beat this spread if they are to form the next government, and Labour must stop them if they are to avoid a Conservative government. What is more, as we move away from these figures the predictions for MPs elected quickly spiral away into either large Conservative majorities or relative Labour/Conservative parity, even with Conservative leads in the vote of 5-7%.

Conservative Party: 40%
The Conservative Party have been continuously ahead in the polls since the start of 2006, apart from the dismal summer of the Brown Bounce in 2007, for the first time since 1992. Since October 2007 opinion polls have shown them almost continuously hovering just over 40%, between 40-45%, with the only major exception being the immediate aftermath of the expenses scandal in May, June, July 2009, which hit all the major parties almost uniformly.

40% has long been considered the crucial figure which a party must secure to be sure of forming the next government. Labour in 2005 were the first party to secure a Majority in the house of commons with less than 40% of the vote for over 100 years and this reflects the degree to which the FPTP system is currently skewed by various factors towards Labour, due to factors like disproportionate seat sizes and differential turnout. These same factors, on the other hand, mean that for the Conservatives to gain a majority, short of the remainder of the vote splitting considerably more evenly than it ever has before, they must beat this figure.

Considering that the Conservatives have been almost uniformly scoring 40-45% in opinion polls it may seem that this figure is in fact lower than they should be expected achieve, especially given the occasional comparisons with Labour's opinion poll score from shortly before the 1997 election, which often passed the 50% mark by some considerable distance. To put it frankly, though, the opinion polls scores from that period were not nearly as accurate as those today, and even at their stratospheric victory of 1997, Labour only scored 44% of the vote, with a much lower level of 3rd party and minor party support and activity than we see today.

Even today though, and despite the incredible work done by David Cameron, as a result of various events in the 80's and early 90's the Conservative Party is still historically unpopular in some areas of the country, and comes from a much lower level of support than Labour in 1997, reflected in this spread. There have been whole areas of the country where reflexive opposition to the Conservatives has been part of the assumed culture and identity for the last 15 or more years. I am a natural conservative, and believe in my party, but I was born in the late 80's and grew up in the 90's. 1997 is the first general election I was aware of occurring and basically all my aware life the Conservative Party has seen its share of the vote sit, unmoved, between 30-33% as a series of 4 Conservative leaders fails to enthuse the public with any enthusiasm for the Conservative Party. I am hence incredibly wary of optimism in this regard and know quite what an achievement, a shift in public opinion, it would be for the Conservatives to reach or break past this figure.

This said though, considering that the Conservatives have been regularly achieving 40+% it would be a disgrace if they did not achieve at least 40% in the next general election. Even if one can argue about their overall legacy, the last 7 odd years have been a political disaster for the Labour government and if the Conservatives are not scoring nearly as highly as Labour in '95,'96,'97 before the election the Labour party have been scoring considerably worse than the Conservatives even at their worst moments of unpopularity, the Lib Dems have also failed to achieve any kind of breakthrough since their high-point in 2005. If the Conservatives can not achieve 40% of the vote in these political conditions it must pose serious questions both about their policies and actions over the last 7 years and whether they will ever be able to achieve their former levels of popularity.

In addition to this though, it is a figure the Conservatives must achieve, for reasons other than sheer bums on seats in the Commons. The next Conservative government, if elected, will be forced by the state of the economy, the state of the EU, the state of the Union, by the threats facing us in terms of foreign policy and by divisions over domestic policy in this country, to take numerous hard decisions, that will lead to stringent criticism from both within and without Britain. They cannot afford to limp through, like Labour in '05, with only 35% of the vote and ever decreasing public legitimacy. They need the legitimacy and the mandate that can only come from a resounding victory at the ballot box and shows that large swathes of public opinion are behind them, to equal Labour's support in 1997 and 2001.

Labour 30%
The Labour party has formed the government of the United Kingdom since 1997 when they won a landslide victory over the Conservative Party with 44% of the vote. This was followed by another landslide victory in 2001 with 41% of the vote and a much closer win in 2005 with 35%. Severe doubts caused by the appalling handling of the Iraq war and continued allegations of sleaze, spin and a lack of substance lead to Labour support falling by 6% between 2001 and 2005, with their government only saved by the continuing unpopularity of the Conservative Party.

As difficult as the last few years of that parliament were for Labour they do not compare with the last 4 years which has seen Labour slide even further under one political disaster after another, whether the ten pence tax disaster, the continuing difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, Smeargate, the Recession, the Expenses Scandal or their complete inability to come to grips with the new Conservative leader David Cameron, and his new agenda for the Conservative Party. When Tony Blair resigned from Downing Street it seemed as though Labour could recover their momentum but despite the Brown Bounce of Summer 2007 and a further smaller bounce in late '08 they have continued to slide in the opinion polls, leaving them struggling in the mid 20's from march '09 to the present day and facing almost certain defeat at the next general election.

Labour have passed 30% in a only 1 out of around 50 opinion polls taken since March and hence even this may perhaps be seen as an optimistic benchmark for them to be trying to pass. They are historically unpopular, scoring lower than John Major's government ever did (in comparable polls) before 1997. At one point in May of this year their average poll rating was 23% with one poll putting them on as low as 18% of the vote. Currently less than a year before the next general election they have struggled back up to (on aggregate) 28% in the polls but this is immediately following a period of poor publicity for their Conservative opponents and preceeding a period when greater attention is likely to focus on the poor state of the economy and other government problems, giving no guarantee they will be able to remain at this level, let alone improve on it.

If we look at the smattering of actual electoral evidence we have from the recent period, from the Euro Elections or bye-elections or Locals, there is even a coherent argument that Labour support is actually at best in the low 20's, as they have not managed to surpass this score in any of these elections. Their best result being 23% in the '09 Local Elections, coming 3rd behind the Conservatives and Lib Dems. My personal favourite electoral humiliation of the year being coming 6th in the European Elections in Cornwall behind (in order) Conservative Party, UKIP, Lib Dems, Greens and the Cornish Nationalist Party Mebyon Kernow. Behind these straight polling figures there is more bad news as well. In Polls on specific issues the Conservatives now appear more trusted than Labour on every single issue, even (although only by a tiny margin) such traditionally rock-solid Labour issues as the NHS and Education, not to mention questions such as who voters prefer as Prime Minister or issues like trust on the Economy.

In light of all these facts it may seem as though 30% is an unlikely high target for Labour to achieve, only giving them room for a fall of 5% from 2005, itself smaller than the 6% fall between 2001-2005, whereas the Conservatives are targeted at a 7% rise in their vote. As with the Conservatives in the opposite direction though, the psychological and historical significance of an actual result with Labour below this point cannot be underestimated. Labour have not fallen below 30% of the vote since 1983 and not before then since 1922, although even with this total they would still gain significant representation under our current FPTP system in a general election. Since the inaugaration of New Labour following Tony Blair's election as Labour Leader in 1994 they have been widely taken-as-read as the dominant party of British politics, representing a uniquely successful synthesis of traditionally right wing (though now centrist) economic and foreign policy and "compassionate" social democratic social policy. A position helped by the poor performance of their only main rivals, the Conservatives, in '97,'01 and '05.

Even in the Conservatives' election defeat of 1997, the possible result to which we see the greatest comparison for the coming elections, at the Conservatives lowest point, they managed to achieve 31% of the vote. For Labour to achieve less even than this figure, especially if they are to fall into the 20's, would be both electorally and psychologically devastating and would not only spell disaster for the 2010 election but also place serious question marks upon Labour's very survival. This is a party that is currently embroiled in serious financial trouble, with its only major remaining source of finance being a small number of powerful unions, which may give them undue leverage over any post-election defeat ideological reconfiguration of the party. A combination of the psychological shock of a major electoral defeat on the party's morale, the loss of numerous of the party's major parliamentary figures, as well as the almost certain ideological infighting that may result and the party's perilous financial position could be a sufficiently chronic shock to an already weakened party to allow the Lib Dems to challenge Labour from the right and other minor parties to challenge Labour from its more traditional left. These factors together could damage the party to the extent where, even if it does not fade away as the Liberals did following 1918 (the last time Britain's effectively two party system realigned itself), it could reduce Labour capacity to stage a recovery within the next parliament, near guaranteeing at least 8 years of Conservative government.

(This was originally meant to be a relatively brief piece on my ideas of what, considering the political events and climate of the last years, should be the benchmarks for our political parties in the coming 2010 election, my ideas about the bencharks against which their current and eventual standing could be compared. It has been a personal labour of love about a subject I find fascinating. However, in the writing it has become exceedinly long, of full essay length, and hence I am posting the first half here before the rest is complete, so I don't fall further behind my personal target of posting once per week, and also to avoid ending up with an incredibly long post. I hope you find it interesting. The sections on the Lib Dems and Others is to follow soon. )


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