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The Tories would be in a stronger position over the Lords if at GE2015 they’d attracted more than 36.9% of the vote

November 2nd, 2015

National vote shares at GE2005 & GE2015 levels do matter

Yesterday afternoon the Cameron biographer, pollster and former Tory treasurer, Lord Ashcroft, made the above perceptive Tweet about the limitations of the current government’s power. While in the 2010-2015 parliament this had been because of the Lib Dem coalition the reality now is that the Cameron government’s main limitation is the House of Lords.

Much has been written about last week’s vote by the upper house to impede George Osborne’s tax credits plan but there hasn’t been much about the challenges a majority government has when it has secured it with a national vote share of 36.9%

This is in sharp contrast to 2005 when Tony Blair’s LAB majority on 35.2% of the national vote sparked off a fair amount of discussion about legitimacy. In England at that election, it will be recalled, the Tories came top on votes but were a 100 English seats short of Labour.

It was in that context ten years ago that the Lib Dem group in the House of Lords declared that they would not be following the Salisbury convention which broadly ensures that election winners can enact specific policies in their manifestos. So it wasn’t surprising that after this May’s election the yellow team the Lords, now 100+ because of all the new peers created by Mr Cameron, announced that it was taking the same view of the Conservative 36.9% national vote share.

The big impact of the general election outcome in the upper house was that all those LD peers moved from government to opposition.

A quirk of first past the post in an increasingly multi party political environment is that the chances of overall majorities with UK vote shares in the mid-30s are much higher. Indeed two of the past three elections have produced such outcomes.

If the Tory vote share in May had been close to 40% or above then there would have been much more pressure on opposition peers not to do as they did. 36.9% wasn’t enough and we will see other clashes in the coming months and years.

National vote shares do matter.

Mike Smithson