Who came second in the UK election?

by Kieran Healy on May 9, 2015

The UK’s election results are being digested by the chattering classes. So, yesterday afternoon I thought I’d see if I could grab the election data to make some pictures. Because the BBC has sane HTML structure, this proved a lot more straightforward than I feared—thanks in no small part to Hadley Wickham‘s rvest scraping library together with ggplot and dplyr and all the other tools he’s contributed to the R-using public.

So I grabbed the data and made two maps. The first is a version of the one you’ve seen showing the winning party in every constituency in Great Britain (sic: excluding Northern Ireland). The other shows who came in second.

Constituencies by Winning Candidate.

The SNP sweep in Scotland, the solid Tory South, the Labour strongholds in parts of London, the Midlands, Northern England, and South Wales. You’ve seen this one already.

And here’s a view of the constituencies colored by the second-place candidate.

Constituencies by Runner-Up Candidate.

It’s eye-opening, I think. The UK’s First-Past-the-Post election system means—to those of us raised on PR-STV—that there’s a fairly substantial discrepancy between vote share and seats. A consequence is that the electoral base of smaller parties, as opposed to their effective political strength, is easy to underestimate just from a winner’s map. In many constituencies, of course, the race was straightforwardly between the two largest parties. It’s Tories vs Labour, with one winning and the other coming in second. But that’s by no means the only story. In the Runners-Up map, Scotland looks more varied than before, and you can see the memory of Lloyd George in Wales. Meanwhile the South coast, Thames Estuary, and the East of England are also quite striking, as a sea of Tory blue gives way to Lib-Dems and UKIP support.

{ 48 comments }

1

Peter Hovde 05.09.15 at 6:01 pm

Has someone done the analysis of which voters went where, relative to 2010? Where did 2010 LD voters go, etc.

2

Bill 05.09.15 at 6:19 pm

Kieran, any chance you could share the R code? Mapped using what? Thanks.

3

Kieran Healy 05.09.15 at 6:29 pm

4

Bill 05.09.15 at 6:37 pm

Thanks!

5

shah8 05.09.15 at 6:52 pm

Marine Le Pen.

6

Stephen 05.09.15 at 8:44 pm

Any chance you could replot this on a hexagonal equal-areas-for-constituencies map so as to reduce the visual impact of large, sparsely-populated rural constituencies?

7

FromArseToElbow 05.09.15 at 9:05 pm

@Peter Hovde,

The LibDems lost 4.4m votes. The eddies and currents will be complex (and we don’t have the detail yet), but the net result was that UKIP gained 3m while the Labour gained 0.75m and the Tories gained 0.65m. In effect, Tory losses to UKIP were offset by gains from the LibDems. Labour also lost votes to UKIP and the Greens, but again this was more than offset by gains from the LibDems. Scotland, for all the press coverage, was actually a sideshow.

The result of the election (ie. a Tory majority) was down to two tendencies. Labour didn’t gain enough votes to win marginals from the Tories, essentially because its vote gains were spread fairly evenly over England and Wales, while the Tory vote gains from the LibDems were concentrated in the South and South-West (as indicated by the second map above), which delivered enough seats to achieve a majority. Bottom line: the LibDems put the Tories back into Number 10. Again.

8

digamma 05.09.15 at 9:06 pm

Scotia omnia est divisa in tres partes.

9

Phil 05.09.15 at 9:38 pm

Quite a bit of red/purple out there, which is worrying for Labour, but a lot of blue/purple – which, on reflection, is even more worrying. Two-party system, he dead.

10

Minivet 05.09.15 at 10:26 pm

Echo 5 – that a map doesn’t adjust for population is an easy critique to make, but it’s still a real issue. It’s far from obvious based on just the runner-up map, in particular, that Labour got over three times the number of votes the Liberal Democrats did in Scotland.

11

Me 05.09.15 at 10:39 pm

Norn Iron’s missing from both maps.

12

Adam Roberts 05.09.15 at 10:53 pm

West Belfast, the Conservative candidate polled 34 votes in total. Out of an electorate that’s nearly 61,000 strong. That must be a record.

13

Mr Punch 05.09.15 at 11:32 pm

My observation is that STV works best in multi-seat constituencies; otherwise, however “fair” it may be, it doesn’t make enough sense to voters. In fact, maybe not even otherwise; the system was once widespread in American cities, but now we’re down to one. I’ll be interested to see what happens to support for PR in Britain now that the presumptive beneficiary is UKIP rather than the LibDems.

14

Daniel 05.10.15 at 12:04 am

Labour didn’t gain enough votes to win marginals from the Tories, essentially because its vote gains were spread fairly evenly over England and Wales, while the Tory vote gains from the LibDems were concentrated in the South and South-West (as indicated by the second map above), which delivered enough seats to achieve a majority.

Hmmm – there might have been a theoretical perfect geographical distribution that could have got Miliband into Number Ten, but really it’s more that “Labour didn’t gain enough votes to win marginals from the Tories because … because Labour didn’t gain enough votes to win marginals from the Tories”. They were way behind in the popular vote percentage too.

15

max 05.10.15 at 2:00 am

FATE * 7: The LibDems lost 4.4m votes. The eddies and currents will be complex (and we don’t have the detail yet), but the net result was that UKIP gained 3m while the Labour gained 0.75m and the Tories gained 0.65m. In effect, Tory losses to UKIP were offset by gains from the LibDems. Labour also lost votes to UKIP and the Greens, but again this was more than offset by gains from the LibDems. Scotland, for all the press coverage, was actually a sideshow.

That’s it. There seems to be some generally comprehension problem going around involving being unable to understand that a vote for Clegg was a vote for the Tories, so why not just vote Tory? Clearly a lot of rightish LibDem voters from got it.

max
[‘Clegg offered up the LDP as a wishbone and the Tories got the greater half.’]

16

mpowell 05.10.15 at 3:45 am

Maybe someone can explain this, but why would voters have defected from LD to Tory? Because that is what seems to have happened. If you are the person willing to do this but previously voted LD, isn’t Clegg’s work with the Tories last time around the very best thing he could have done to keep you voting LD? I must be missing something.

17

Thomas Beale 05.10.15 at 7:29 am

Nice idea by the OP for the 2nd place map – very informative.

@15 I don’t believe that’s the main reason at all voters ejected the Lib Dems. I believe they wouldn’t forgive the tuition fees reversal (an objectively reasonable compromise on something introduced by Labour and demanded by the Tories, in a coalition government where the LibDems had higher priorities to try for), even though the same reversal would have been not only forgiven but forgotten coming from either of the two big parties, since the public don’t have expectations of their honesty.

Many in the Lib Dem voter base were used to a party in opposition, one that could stay intellectually uncompromising and criticise from the sidelines. They weren’t politically mature enough to understand that actually being in power and having some real influence is more important, nor that doing so requires compromise. These voters have swapped a night of payback satisfaction for an ordinary political compromise (which Vince Cable, not the Tories, cleaned up into the working tuition fees system of today BTW) for 5 years of unfettered Tory government. I predict they will live to regret this.

The idea that ‘voting LibDem was the same as voting Tory, so why not just vote Tory’ implies a childish political illiteracy on the part of voters. I do think the British voting public is quite politically illiterate (the AV referendum result showed that), but probably not quite to that point. If it is, democracy has no future whatever here.

My take on the LibDem wipeout and also PR – http://wolandsothercat.net/2015/05/09/abject-failure-for-british-democracy-7-may-2015/

18

Matthew 05.10.15 at 7:34 am

Any chance you could replot this on a hexagonal equal-areas-for-constituencies map so as to reduce the visual impact of large, sparsely-populated rural constituencies?

The Telegraph has done so:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11595121/Election-2015-second-place-results-How-it-all-could-have-been-so-different.html

19

Metatone 05.10.15 at 9:27 am

@Thomas Beale – I and many others have been through this with Daragh McD on other threads, but I think at the very least you need evidence of meaningful influence if you’re going to say things like:

“They weren’t politically mature enough to understand that actually being in power and having some real influence is more important, nor that doing so requires compromise.”

Because there are plenty of political viewpoints inside the LibDems that reasonably view the influence gained during the coalition as not advancing “liberalism” in any meaningful way. I think that it is about different viewpoints and I can accept that my viewpoint is different to yours, but I’m *really* tired of people supportive of the LibDem leadership pretending that their viewpoint is “adult” and “sophisticated” without justifying it in depth.

20

Daragh McDowell 05.10.15 at 9:45 am

@Thomas – Just to weigh in. I’d agree with much of your analysis, but not your tone. To me it sounds as dismissive as the ‘Lib Dems let the Tories in. Again’ comment above. Emotionally satisfying but not terribly intellectually well grounded.

@Kieran Healey – a separate, and somewhat mercenary question – what are the usage restrictions on the excellent maps reproduced above. My company will be doing some stuff on the election outcome for our clients in future, and if you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to include your maps in our analysis.

21

Niall Ó Ciosáin 05.10.15 at 10:09 am

The Daily Telegraph map mentioned in comment 18 is different to Kieran Healy’s. It has only one Plaid Cymru second place (Anglesea, Ynys Mon) whereas KH’s has a half dozen. A quick check on the BBC’s result site says that the Telegraph’s is wrong. (I’ve only looked at a few constituencies in Wales).

22

Richard M 05.10.15 at 10:50 am

Quick point mostly related to this topic.

There are supposedly 1.7M continental EU citizens in the UK, a full 3.5 percent of the electorate. They get to vote in local, regional and EU elections. But, unlike Commonwealth and Irish citizens, not in national ones.

Many of them won’t have been aware of this detail of the law, so they will have answered pollsters as ‘yes I will definitely vote; here’s how’.

The gap between the polls and the result is, per YouGov, 3.8%.

Could all the polling companies really have made such a basic mistake?

23

Richard M 05.10.15 at 11:14 am

Also, and more importantly, could New Labour really have been so stupid as to accidentally create a situation where that many people, overwhelmingly in working class economic roles, are literally disenfranchised?

24

FromArseToElbow 05.10.15 at 11:42 am

@Daragh/20 – The statement “the LibDems let the Tories in” is not dimissive; it’s merely an observation of how FPTP works in practice (with a measure of irony thrown in). A vote can be decisive in two ways: an incoming vote can get a party past the winning post, or an outgoing vote can dissipate a party’s majority and allow another party through.

The LibDem “deserters” split all over the spectrum, but those that went to Labour, the Greens and UKIP were not decisive (in Labour’s case because incoming votes were offset by outgoing votes to the Greens and UKIP). Those that went to the Tories in places like Torbay and Twickenham were decisive.

@Daniel/15 – In net terms there was little movement for either Labour or the Tories. Labour were up 737k votes nationally (+1.4%); the Tories went up 631k votes (+0.8%). The outcome in seats is down to a more optimal distribution of votes for the Tories, and the enbaling factor was the collapse of the concentrated LibDem vote.

25

kidneystones 05.10.15 at 12:28 pm

23 Just read your amusing and informative post on your on blog: Lib-Dems Win General Election. Many thanks!

26

Thomas Beale 05.10.15 at 12:34 pm

@19/metatone – I’m not claiming some sort of ‘political sophistication’ for the Lib Dem leadership. I think it is self-evident that it was an objectively reasonable political act to opt for going into a coalition with the Tories in 2010. Far from ideal, but they quite reasonably thought – better the Tories with us than without us. I’m not claiming it was the only option, but I think it was perfectly rational (and I voted LibDem in 2010).

That opting for coalition implies having some political influence, but at the cost of compromise is also self-evident, surely? That’s more or less definitional in a coalition (since otherwise the partners would have already become the same party). I can’t see the general complaint that the Lib Dems somehow ‘betrayed’ their principles while in power as anything other than a failure to understand these basic realities.

You only get to ‘advance liberalism’ if you are in power, solo. A junior coalition partner only gets to limit its erosion.

The alternative is to sit forever on the sidelines in splendid intellectual purity, but never be challenged with the realities of decision-making in a tough economy and a combative political environment. So are you saying that the original choice in 2010 was the wrong one? I could entertain that kind of analysis far more easily than the ‘betrayal’ kind.

@20/Daragh – I can’t deny that I feel some anger at this election result, and probable reasons behind the Lib Dem’s demise. I think paddy Ashdown spoke sincerely and mostly correctly on QT post election.

It’s hard to put up with FPTP as well, as an ex-Aussie used to preferential voting (and how we used to complain about the non-proportionality of that! The irony….). So I’ll admit to some subjectivity today…

[disclaimer: I’m not a Lib Dem member.]

27

Niall Ó Ciosáin 05.10.15 at 1:57 pm

On the maps again: I just realised that since Kieran Healy’s map was based on BBC data, it wasn’t very clever of me to use the BBC as a check! Anyway, using the Guardian gives the same results – so for example Ceredigion on KH’s map shows Plaid in second place, the Telegraph shows the Tories.

The Telegraph map gets odder still when you look at Northern Ireland. In Wales they’ve put the third-placed party in second place in a few constituencies, but in Strangford and Lagan Valley, they have the DUP coming second in places they won.

I realise that you should believe nothing written in the Torygraph, but even so.

28

Daragh McDowell 05.10.15 at 3:18 pm

@Thomas – I think all of that is nicely put, and my apologies for scolding. I am a Lib Dem member, and I might have justifiably felt ‘betrayed’ if the party had joined with the Tories when there were other viable options on offer. But there weren’t. There’s a debate to be had over the coalition versus C&S, but I think the latter results in a second election and a Tory majority (larger than today’s) every time.

“The alternative is to sit forever on the sidelines in splendid intellectual purity, but never be challenged with the realities of decision-making in a tough economy and a combative political environment.”

I think the other thread on this election demonstrates pretty clearly that this probably the genuine preference of many of the commenters here.

29

Roger Gathmann 05.10.15 at 9:16 pm

7 – if this analysis is correct, than the election is a sort of correction of the last election. The last should have been won outright by the Tories, but voters hesitated and voted in Lib Dems as a caution. It turned out that they liked the tories more as time went on and disliked the Lib Dems more too, for the obvious reason that the Lib Dems were led by the most dislikeable people in modern British history.
That makes sense.
I actually like it that the system rewards the winning party, as it gives that party a chance to do what it promised to do. The US record of gridlock is not a very good advertisement for another system.

30

Chaz 05.10.15 at 9:59 pm

I find these “Liberal Democrats opted for compromise” and “Liberal Democrats chose to be responsible” and “Liberal Democrats had no choice but to support Tory policies because Labour didn’t have a majority!” posts to be outrageous and self-congratulatory.

None of them is true. From the top:
1. It was possible for the LDs to make a coalition with Labour + SNP + Plaid + Green + SDLP. Yes it would have been tenuous. Yes some Labour backbenchers were against it. Yes it might have collapsed. But Gordon Brown tried to do it. He offered the LDs immediate enactment (!) of alternative vote plus a referendum on genuine PR plus a much better governing platform (including on LD priorities). It was also possible they could get votes from DUP on some issues, or hold new elections early at a good time and under AV or PR. The LDs refused to even consider it and jumped immediately into bed with Cameron.

2. The LDs did not actually obtain any meaningful concessions from the Tories. They got a referendum on a crappy electoral system that Gordon Brown had offered to give them up front for free, and in the referendum their coalition partners campaigned for no! The budgets were a conservative wet dream. It was a Conservative government.

3. The LDs were not under any obligation to form a government at all. If the Tories refused to put together a good governing platform, the LDs could have said, “No, we don’t like that platform, we’re not voting for it.” Let the Conservatives lure Labour into coalition instead, or have new elections. There is no reason to assume the Conservatives would have won a majority from new elections. If they did, so what, the platform would have been the same as the LDs went for.

4. The notion that the LDs only got a small share of the coalition’s votes so they only get a small share of the say (and Conservatives get the rest) is stupid. Labour got a large share and no say at all. You get whatever amount of say you can negotiate for. If you hold the balance of power then you should be demanding a large share. They should have been able to get a budget close to half-way between what the Cons and Labour were campaigning on and a couple LD priorities passed in full. Free tuition is a minor concession they could have gotten easily, if they’d tried. If Cameron won’t concede then you vote no confidence.

5. The actual government the LDs participated in was objectively terrible. This is partly a repeat of number 2. If you’re claiming that you did “the responsible thing” by passing laws, but the laws you passed were terrible and actually worse than what you’d get under stalemate and paralysis, then you are not telling the truth. Passing Cameron’s platform just because it was a platform was irresponsible.

31

otpup 05.11.15 at 12:18 am

Chaz, you had me at #1

32

Daragh McDowell 05.11.15 at 7:09 am

“It was possible for the LDs to make a coalition with Labour + SNP + Plaid + Green + SDLP. Yes it would have been tenuous. Yes some Labour backbenchers were against it. Yes it might have collapsed. But Gordon Brown tried to do it. He offered the LDs immediate enactment (!) of alternative vote plus a referendum on genuine PR plus a much better governing platform (including on LD priorities). It was also possible they could get votes from DUP on some issues, or hold new elections early at a good time and under AV or PR. The LDs refused to even consider it and jumped immediately into bed with Cameron.”

Let’s go through this. First – the notion that Brown offered AV with no referendum comes from one source that I’m aware of – David Cameron. He told it to the 1922 committee to scare them into accepting a vote on electoral reform. And in reality, I don’t see how you can embed electoral reform w/out a referendum, and based on an extremely narrow commons vote, which only passes if you assume that none of the PLP members who came out loudly against electoral reform rebel.

“It was also possible they could get votes from DUP on some issues, or hold new elections early at a good time and under AV or PR.”

On the DUP – HA! On the second point – no universe in which either is in place before an election.

Your hypothetical coalition has a majority of TWO, assuming no defections from PLP and everyone on board, plus has Gordon Brown as Prime Minister for 4-6 months at least. That’s not just an unstable government, that’s a no-confidence motion and early elections waiting to happen.

“The LDs refused to even consider it and jumped immediately into bed with Cameron.”

This simply isn’t true. The LDs held several days of negotiations with Labour. And FWIW the takeaways from those negotiations were always that as much as Brown wanted a coalition, Balls and many other Labour MPs didn’t, and were fundamentally not serious about the negotiations.

33

Pete 05.11.15 at 9:17 am

Nobody has yet explained why coalition “required” the Lib Dems to deploy the party whip to order their MPs to vote against manifesto pledges. The tuition fee rise was not a necessary response to a crisis and hasn’t even saved a significant amount of money. The same goes for the bedroom tax.

I’d have much preferred a coalition government that enacted only those policies in the intersection of the two parties’ political preferences. Even if that was the empty set.

34

Sasha Clarkson 05.11.15 at 9:30 am

Chaz @ 30: Exactly! – but you’ll never get die hard Lib-Dem coalition apologists to admit that – they are fleeing in terror from their own guilt!

35

Daragh McDowell 05.11.15 at 9:55 am

@Pete

Because a coalition based on ‘we’ll only do what we want to do and won’t have any compromises so you can kiss your policies goodbye’ isn’t a coalition. FFS man – Thomas above received pushback for lamenting the immaturity/unreasonableness of the electorate vs the Lib Dems. But you’re a prime example of what he’s so exasperated by.

@Sasha

While you’re condeming others as ‘die-hard coalition apologists’ would you care to address the alternative scenarios, all of which depend on a radical, progressive rejection of bouregois arithmetic in the House of Commons.

36

Sasha Clarkson 05.11.15 at 10:05 am

Daragh @35 It’s all been done on these pages already – many times. But there are none so blind as those who refuse to see. Rather than repeat the same arguments, I shall follow the advice of Matthew 7:6, and spend my day more constructively. :)

37

Daragh McDowell 05.11.15 at 10:41 am

Sasha @ 37

I need to do some work as well, so will disengage too, but I’m afraid the argument HASN’T been made, or at least not made in a way that conforms with the actual functioning of UK politics. If your argument is ‘The Lib Dems should have joined a rainbow coalition with a majority of one that would totally have passed PR by legislation – which, BTW, the House of Lords would have had absolutely no problem with and wouldn’t have delayed at all, nosiree bob’ you’re engaging in the politics of fantasyland. I’m open to a debate about how the Lib Dems would have been better served by operating on a confidence and supply basis with the Tories, even though for reasons I’ve outlined ad nauseum I don’t think it would have worked out well for them. But the scales aren’t going to fall from my eyes and the perfidiousness of Clegg by impossible counterfactuals.

38

Thomas Beale 05.11.15 at 3:31 pm

@30/Chaz – on your point 1, the idea that the Lib Dems, rather than one of large parties would have had either the moral right or practical capability to be calling the shots on the composition of some complex coalition of left wing parties is a non-starter.

They did the right thing given the size of the Tory vote; the only other realistic alternative would have been to refuse coalition, forcing another election. Hard to see the electorate swallowing that (but to be fair, this option may have been defensible).

There were demonstrable differences in outcome with the Lib Dems in the coalition compared with if it had been Tories. These, while less than many people may have wanted, are certainly there, and certainly didn’t warrant accusations of ‘traitor’ or demolition at the polls.

39

Ronan(rf) 05.11.15 at 4:06 pm

” The election results under a fair voting system: CON 244, LAB 201, UKIP 83, LD 52, SNP 31, Greens 25, DUP 3, PC 3, SF 3, UUP 2,SDLP 2, Alliance 1 “

http://electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/nail-coffin

40

Stephen 05.11.15 at 7:42 pm

Ronan: under a “fair” voting system (AV? STV?), result is ultrarinbow coalition of Lab, LD, SNP, Greens, PC, SDLP, Alliance (and good luck with that): minority government, 315 seats.

Con + UKIP coalition, 327 seats.

Becareful what you wish for, you might get it.

41

Ronan(rf) 05.11.15 at 7:54 pm

That was a quote from the link (not a personal preference)

42

Chaz 05.12.15 at 7:41 am

I’m totally willing to admit that my number 1 was very optimistic and might have fallen apart. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying. But let’s be generous and say Clegg sincerely thought it wasn’t worth trying, despite secretly being a noble champion of the left.

Even if we rule my number 1, that still leaves numbers 2 through 5.

The LDs could have held out for more concessions in exchange for supporting Cameron as PM at all. That’s your AV referendum right there. That’s without agreeing to help pass even one of Cameron’s actual legislative goals. Then you can haggle about which if any of his legislative goals LDs will vote for, and which LD goals the Conservatives will vote for.

That could be set up through either a coalition or confidence and supply. Coalition gives you a bit more administrative power and perks, confidence and supply might be better for your electoral prospects. Pick your preference, doesn’t matter to me.

If Cameron won’t agree to your terms then no government gets formed, and fresh elections. The public will be mad but that doesn’t mean they’ll elect a conservative majority. Anyone who says fresh elections would have been disastrous has to make a case for that claim.

But say they do support Cameron at first. That’s probably smart. Then once Davey’s PM the electorate will hold him solely responsible for running things smoothly. Most voters have no understanding of divided government and just blame the figurehead for everything (Hi Obama!), so you can make life really tough for him. The onus is on him to pass a budget, not you. If you don’t like his proposal, you vote no, and he gets blamed! So negotiate hard, hard, hard. If he doesn’t offer a budget you’re okay with, then you say the Conservatives have written a polarizing, far right budget, and you make a big show of voting it down (with Labour and SNP and Plaid all voting alongside you, don’t forget). Then you fight an election in which the Conservatives are branded as both too extreme and unable to govern effectively, putting them at a disadvantage.

With any luck that leads to a Labour government. If the LDs get to be part of that government, hooray for them. Or if not at least we’re Tory-free for a bit, and that’s what’s important.

I thought up this plan on Day 1 of the coalition. You let Cameron in, then you pull the rug. It’s similar to what the Republicans have been doing to Obama for his entire presidency (except that to work the Rep version requires them to harm the country, while the LD version requires them to not harm the country). It would probably have worked. But then when I saw how low their poll ratings had sunk I knew they wouldn’t go for it. If they torpedoed Cameron they would have lost seats too (a bit earlier than they did anyway), and we can’t have that, oh no no no! Better to have the full five years of Tory rule.

“@30/Chaz – on your point 1, the idea that the Lib Dems, rather than one of large parties would have had either the moral right or practical capability to be calling the shots on the composition of some complex coalition of left wing parties is a non-starter.”

I never said that. It would have been Brown in the lead. Indeed, he was the one to propose it. The calling of shots would have been by whoever was stubbornest or most reluctant to join the rainbow coalition or vote confidence for it. Or if it all fell apart then there are still better options than what Clegg et. al. actually did, as I say above.

43

Chaz 05.12.15 at 7:44 am

To clarify, when I say, “But say they do support Cameron at first,” I mean say the LD MPs support him, not that they force a new election and the voters support him.

44

Daragh McDowell 05.12.15 at 9:12 am

“If Cameron won’t agree to your terms then no government gets formed, and fresh elections. The public will be mad but that doesn’t mean they’ll elect a conservative majority. Anyone who says fresh elections would have been disastrous has to make a case for that claim.”

Happy to (for the umpteenth time) – The Labour party managed to do a remarkably effective triage operation on a very low vote share in May 2010, one which left it’s (already drained) financial war chest totally empty. They also embarked on a several-month long leadership campaign once Brown resigned as Prime Minister (unnecessarily, it must be added , before a coalition agreement was finally agreed, cutting off Clegg’s remaining negotiating leverage) which basically absented them from the political scene and kept them from doing the nuts and bolts of rebuilding. In these circumstances the hypothetical October 2010 election would be fought by a well-funded, well organised Tory party with excellent recent knowledge of where it needed to pick up seats to gain a majority, and with bucketloads of Ashcroft cash to throw at the marginals, vs a Labour party in political and financial disarray, and a Lib Dem party that, after spending years making the case for coalition government rejected it when it was on offer. In addition, every right wing paper in the country (so every paper except the Guardian, Indie and Mirror) would be obsessively blasting pictures of the unfolding chaos in Athens that summer with headlines like ‘IS LONDON NEXT? Not if Cameron isn’t allowed to make hard choices’ etc.

This election has demonstrated, once again, that the English place a high premium on ‘stability’ and ‘security.’ Cameron was able to scare himself up a majority thanks to the SNP – just. Imagine what he could have done when the eurozone looked like it was on the brink of an epic implosion, and fiscal Armageddon at the doorstep (and I say ‘looked like’ purposefully – we can argue the practical economics of the situation in 2010 til we’re blue in the face, but what matters is what the voters perceive.)

45

Thomas Beale 05.12.15 at 1:19 pm

@44 possibly flogging a dead horse by now, but I think your main para is a good articulation of why noone can in all seriousness say ‘just have another election’. It’s not a trivial thing to do, including from the POV of campaigning parties.

I think your final para’s conclusion is probably correct – with the caveat that we only know about the intentions of 66% of voters (this time around) – and even that 66% is compromised by hidden tactical voting that can never be quantified. But I suspect you are right anyway. How many people vote against their own interests, as is common in the US I wonder…

46

Chaz 05.12.15 at 3:32 pm

Thanks, Daragh, I see where you’re coming from a little better now. I’m not familiar with the situation regarding party finances and didn’t know Labour was massively drained (assuming you’re correct). I don’t generally see funding as so decisive in these very high profile elections* but lots of people do and you may be right. The leadership campaign is a good point.

I would still think your argument is making the case for an election after 2 years or so rather than 5; there were periods where Labour was polling in the lead (LDs not so much!). I also think the LDs could have voted down more of Cameron’s bills and generally kicked up more fuss and drama (to keep their voters with them!). Was there a standing Tory threat to call elections if any of their junk didn’t get LD votes (and if so who cares)?

*For example, Bush massively outspent Gore in 2000, but they tied in votes.

47

Daragh McDowell 05.12.15 at 3:47 pm

Chaz

I think it’s a bit different in the UK, where GE spends are generally in the low millions, not the near billions. There’s a point where spending on ads etc. reaches saturation point (the Obama 2008 campaign ended up, literally, with more money than it knew how to spend and started buying video game ads etc.) But the basic sinews of a campaign – pollsters, support staff, literature, leaflets etc. – all costs a reasonable chunk of change, and you can’t win without it.

And I agree that the 5 year parliament was, in retrospect, a very bad idea. But the Lib Dem strategic objective was to demonstrate to a public for whom the notion of coalition government was ‘something that happens in wartime’ and to demonstrate that they could be stable and productive. They may have over-estimated the importance of that. However, there’s also evidence to suggest electorates react to early elections by rewarding whoever is the incumbent – see UK general elections in 1976, and Canadian in 2011. If the Lib Dems pulled out early they would have been vulnerable to accusations of flakiness, and it would have undermined their own mission of ‘normalising’ compromise based coalition politics.

Again – all hypothetical. There could be an alternate universe somewhere were Clegg’s brilliant confidence and supply gambit resulted in them becoming the second party later in 2010, forming a coalition with Labour, ushering in a new proportional system etc. But I don’t think it’s likely.

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Chaz 05.13.15 at 1:41 am

All good points.

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