How a Defeat Can Turn into a Rout
One feature of the 2005 election was how well-distributed the Labour vote was, in terms of maximising the number of seats won by the Party. A 3% lead produced an overall majority of 66 (or 46, on the new boundaries). One feature of this was that around a quarter of Labour MPs had majorities in the 10-20% range, over the Conservatives, compared to fewer than a fifth who had majorities of less than 10% over the Conservatives. Until fairly recently, few people would have expected the Conservatives to take many seats with majorities of more than 10%, and such MPs could have been regarded as fairly, but not overwhelmingly, secure.
However, what can be an advantage at one election may be a disadvantage at the next. Current opinion polls are giving the Conservatives leads of 14-20%, more than enough to turn the seats in this range into a killing zone at the next election. This is well-illustrated by the latest ComRes opinion poll for the Independent. A result of Conservative 44%, Labour 30%, Liberal Democrat 16, gives the Conservatives a landslide majority (according to Baxter) of 102, and cuts Labour down to just 217 seats, barely more than the party got in 1983. Yet, a relatively small shift to Labour, say Conservative 42% to Labour 32%, sees the Conservative lead cut back to just 38, and Labour retaining another 33 seats. A result of Conservative 41%, to Labour 33% pegs the Conservative lead back to just 4 seats, and gives Labour another 18.
It seems clear that at the next election, a very small shift in votes, as between Conservatives and Labour, will make all the difference between a respectable defeat for Labour, and a rout; or to look at it another way, between the Conservatives barely having an overall majority, and winning on the same scale as in 1987. Itâ€™s also clear where each party needs to concentrate its resources. The Labour seats with majorities of 10% or less should be left, by both sides, to fend for themselves, on the basis that the outcome there is virtually predetermined, while every effort should be made to hold, or to take, those in the range of 10-20%.
Last night saw five by-elections, and three deferred elections in Wales.
Allerdale Borough – All Saints: Conservative 587, Labour 536, BNP 99, Green 58, Independent 25. Conservative hold. This ward was split between the Conservatives, who won two seats, and Labour who won one, in 2007, and the result shows a small swing to the Conservatives.
Forest Heath District – Red Lodge: Lib Dem 321, Conservative 230, UKIP 23. Lib Dem gain from Conservative. Both Conservatives were elected unopposed in 2007, so no comparison can be made.
Newark and Sherwood District – Edwinstowe: Independent 715, Labour 459. Independent hold.
Shropshire County – Market Drayton: Conservative 1178, Lab 510, Independent 362, Independent 170. Conservative hold. This is, unusually, a two-member County division, and Labour came within 150 votes of winning one seat here in 2005. This represents a strong swing against Labour, compared to then.
Uttlesford District – Great Dunmow: Conservative 569, Lib Dem 515. Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat. The absence of an independent who stood in 2007, appears to have benefited the Conservatives.
Gwynedd County – Bowydd and Rhiw: Voice of Gwynedd 341, Plaid Cymru 247, Green 117. Voice of Gwynedd gain from Lab. Labour were returned unopposed here four years ago, yet left this seat undefended. Presumably, the former Labour councillor was someone who had a large personal following, with the party itself having little organisation in the area.
Newport City – Bettws: Labour 1128, 890, 789, Lib Dem 586, 451, 408, Conservative 331, 260, Plaid Cymru 75, Independent 50, Plaid Cymru 49, Independent 40. Labour hold three seats, but with a strong swing to the Liberal Democrats.
Newport City – St Julians: Lib Dem 1148, 1029, 985, Conservative 581, 552, 542, Labour 492, 467, 432, Plaid Cymru 111. Liberal Democrats hold three seats but with a strong swing to the Conservatives. These results from Newport confirm that Labour have lost overall control of the authority for the first time.
Guest Editor’s Note
Sean has indicated that due to increased work commitments this is likely to be his last regular article for some time. Can I on behalf of the PB team wish him all the very best and that we hope to see him writing for the site in the future. Many thanks Sean for all your articles which have always been very informative, balanced, and very well received.