Saturday, 8 May 2010

Trends in the British general election are no 'surprise' Part 2 - by John Ross

The outcome of the vote in the British general election corresponds to the trends analysed on this blog before it - as the figures below confirm.

That it was possible to foresee these trends beforehand demonstrates that the results of the election appear 'surprising' or 'confused' only if a wrong analysis of the situation had been made - although such mistakes were made by many commentators, which led them to take it for granted for two years that the Tories would stroll to victory.

The real trends of the 2010 vote also have important features, in particular regarding the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, differing from the analysis still being presented after the election in sections of the media - these commentators are repeating the mistakes in analysis they made before the election. This article therefore looks at the real trends in the voting, why it was possible to foresee them, and what is their dynamic.

The election was the expression of long term trends

This blog noted before the election that the reason many commentators expressed 'surprise' about the trends during the British general election campaign was that these were often presented as though they were a consequence of unanticipated short term events in the election such as the introduction of TV debates between the party leaders. Such a view was wrong. The only serious uncertainty at the election was the rather lottery like way in which the undemocratic features of the British voting system would allocate seats in parliament. The trends of support for the parties in the election were the logical continuation of long term social electoral trends.

The Tories

The way in which the trends in the results of the 2010 general election continue long term processes may be seen first in Figure 1 which shows the analysis of the Tory vote first presented by the present author in the book Thatcher and Friends and updated to include the result of the 2010 election as indicated by the BBC this morning - the final few results to declare will not shift the figures significantly.

It shows that while naturally there have been short term oscillations from election to election, which help produce individual Tory victories or defeats, the steady downward trend of support for the Conservative Party is entirely clear.

Tory support in the 2010 election was simply the latest oscillation within this declining fundamental trend and reveals that the decline in Tory social support has now reached the point where they are unable to form a majority government.

Figure 1

10 05 07 Tory Vote

The Conservative vote has fallen progressively from its highest ever level, of 60.7% in 1931, to its post-World War II peak of 49.6% in 1955, to 41.9% the last time it won a majority of seats in an election in 1992, to 32.3% at the general election 2005.

Typically the Conservative vote, each time the party won a general election, was lower than at the one it won previously, and each time it lost an election its vote fell to a lower level than the previous defeat.

The result of the Tories at the 2010 election, at 37% of the vote, is 4.9% below the level they received the last time they were the largest party and therefore is clearly an oscillation within this fundamental declining trend.

Liberal Democrats

Turning to the Liberal Democrats a number of commentators have been misled by the Liberal Democrats poor showing in terms of seats at this election into believing that Liberal Democrat support had somehow declined. This is false - as may be seen from Figure 2.

In reality the 23% of the vote secured by the Liberal Democrats at this election is the highest achieved by the Liberals alone since World War II and is only a small margin behind the 25.4% achieved in alliance with the SDP in 1983. The fundamental trend of rising Liberal support for the last fifty years is clear from Figure 2. The Liberal Democrats were robbed by the electoral system. Their actual vote rose compared to the last election and its upward underlying trend was clear.

Figure 2

10 05 07 Liberal Vote


The Labour vote, at 29% at this election on current projections, was also a logical continuation of its previous long term trend - as may be seen in Figure 3.

Labour's long term electoral support rose to a peak of slightly less than 50% in 1945-66 and then, with a temporary sharp depression in the 1970s and early 1980s, it has declined. Even in the 1997 landslide Labour only received 43.2%.

Conservative unpopularity, not high support for New Labour is why the Labour party was in office from 1997 onwards.The present decline continues that underlying trend.

Figure 3

10 05 07 Labourl Vote


The outcome of the 2010 general election was therefore the expression of profound and long term social processes - the long term decline of the social base of Tory support, the fact that Liberal Democrat support has been on a rising trend, the inability of Labour to raise its vote. These processes will therefore not be halted by whatever are the immediate steps after the election and whoever immediately forms the government.

If, as appears most likely immediately after the election, the Tories are able to temporarily form a minority government due to 'tolerance' by the Liberal Democrats, this will not stop the trend of Tory decline. As the Liberal Democrats would be tying themselves to a 'sinking ship', and in the middle of an economic crisis, it is likely this would lead to a downward oscillation of the Liberal Democrats and a revival of Labour.

Britain is therefore still heading to a new political era of proportional representation and coalition government.

The apparent 'confusion' coming from the 2010 general election were due to it being part of the break up of the old system. Because these processes are so deep and so powerful a minority Tory government will be incapable of halting them.

Britain is heading to a new political system.

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This article originally appeared on the blog Key Trends in Globalisation.

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