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The Democratic Audit model at the Guardian: How it was calculated

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The Democratic Audit model at the Guardian: How it was calculated

Posted on 06 June 2011 by admin

Click thumbnail for full scale map (copyright Guardian Newspapers)


It should be emphasised that this is only a model, not a precise prediction. There are many possible patterns for drawing up constituencies that will be consistent with the new rules, and this is but one solution. The political parties have no doubt done similar work. But the final word will go to the Boundary Commission working in each of the component nations of the United Kingdom – and no doubt the result will be different in significant ways from any other model set of boundaries.

The authors of this work on boundaries hope that it will raise public awareness of the issues involved, and encourage a maximum of informed public participation once the Boundary Commissions invite consultation on their proposals.

There is a hierarchy of four types of decision used in the model. The first two are unavoidable – they are established by law and by the publicly stated policy of the Boundary Commissions. It is possible to draw completely solid and unavoidable conclusions from these facts – for instance, a county such as Dorset with 575,449 electors (i.e. 7.57 times the standard constituency size) cannot possibly be allocated a whole number of constituencies under the new rules. There must be at least one constituency containing parts of Dorset and parts of another county.

1. Rules set out in the new law passed by the Con-LD government in 2011

This specifies that there must be 600 seats (not 599 or 601), and establishes 4 exceptions from the main rule on equal size (2 seats for the Isle of Wight and 2 Scottish island groups left alone). The 596 ‘normal’ seats are distributed to the 4 nations according to a formula, again set in law, so we know that Northern Ireland has 16 seats, Wales has 30, Scotland has 52 (50 normal plus 2 special island seats) and England has 502 (500 normal plus the 2 on the Isle of Wight).

All the 596 normal seats must be within 5% of the average size, as measured by registered electorate in December 2010. The average size is 76,641. Therefore the legal minimum is 72,810 and the legal maximum is 80,473.

(There are 2 clauses that could cause departures from this – technically, there’s a small get-out for Northern Ireland seats that allows them to be slightly smaller, and there’s also a clause in the Act that bans seats being more than 13,000km2 in area and allows seats of 12-13,000km2 to have smaller electorates, but see point (3) below.)

2. Things we know for sure because the Boundary Commissions have published them already

The Boundary Commission for England (BCE) has decided as a matter of policy that it will allocate whole numbers of seats to each region of England, and what numbers it will give to each. Therefore we can say confidently that London will drop from 73 to 68 seats.

The BCE has also said it will split local authority wards between constituencies as little as possible.

The Boundary Commission for Scotland (BCS)
has said that it wants to produce as few constituencies that mix parts of different local authorities as it can. The BCS has for technical reasons the most difficult task of any of the four Commissions.

3. General policies. This is where the educated guesswork takes over

The law also sets out a number of ‘rules’ for redistribution which are subsidiary to the overall rules about the permitted size of constituencies and their distribution to the nations of the UK. These cover desirable qualities of parliamentary constituencies – having regard to local government boundaries where possible, geography (‘the size, shape and accessibility’ of a seat), local ties, and avoiding unnecessary disruption. The text of the Act is available at here.

Based on knowledge of past principles and decisions of Boundary Commissions, I believe they will tend for instance to give a high priority to county boundaries in England where they can (it is not going to be possible in many areas).

They will also have a bias towards ‘no change’ – if a whole county or current seat can be left alone, it will be. They will also tend to avoid splitting smaller towns unless they have to. They will probably try to avoid ‘orphan’ wards, i.e. small sections of one town or county finding themselves in a seat completely dominated by another area. They will probably have some reference to previous sets of boundaries that existed – for instance where a county gained a seat in the boundary changes of 2010 but now needs to lose one, the new seat will be most at risk from the chop.

I have assumed that the BCE will also try to ensure that its constituencies that cross county boundaries will prefer to cross the county line in areas where there are significant cross-border links in terms of economic, social and commuting patterns, and where there is a significant element of both counties included in the cross-border seat. In a couple of cases in the model (Suffolk and Derbyshire) counties that might have been given individual treatment are grouped in the interests of producing better cross-border seats; the BCE may or may not follow this approach.

I have also assumed that the Commissions will only use the get-outs for seats with big land areas, or Northern Ireland, if they really have to (they will have regard to the high priority Parliament put on achieving equal numbers and apply this where they can). My model does not involve creating any small seats in Northern Ireland or the Highlands.

4. Local detail

This is where the most guesswork comes in: there will usually be several sensible alternatives at a local level which fit the statutory and non-statutory rules and the rules of thumb described above. This is particularly the case in the centre of large urban areas, where areas can be combined in many alternative directions, and to some extent in rural seats in the middle of counties. For instance, one can say with a high degree of confidence what the seats at the far end of counties and regions will look like (for instance St Ives and Hereford) but matters are much less certain in inner London.

The data has been compiled into a spreadsheet showing new constituencies, predecessors and how party changes would occur. It also details which seats would be abolished and which would be newly created. The table below shows
the overall impact the changes would have by party.

• Lewis Baston is the main author of the projection, with help from Kevin Larkin. 

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The UK’s New Political Map? The Democratic Audit model at the Guardian

The UK’s New Political Map? The Democratic Audit model at the Guardian

Posted on 06 June 2011 by admin

How UK parliamentary constituencies could change – interactive guide

Work is currently underway to reduce the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies to 600, abolishing some and redrawing others. Political analyst Lewis Baston has been through the electoral data to see where the changes could come. Click the link above for the Guardian’s interactive guide.

The complete data set behind the interactive guide:


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This redrawn electoral map defies common sense – 17 Jan 2011

This redrawn electoral map defies common sense – 17 Jan 2011

Posted on 17 January 2011 by admin

A bill that would reduce the number of MPs and change constituency boundaries deserves a good going-over in the Lords

The government really only has itself to blame for the problems its parliamentary voting system and constituencies bill has been encountering in the House of Lords. As its name suggests, the bill combines two separate enterprises and provides both for a referendum on changing the voting system to the alternative vote and measures to “reduce and equalise” the number of MPs. The problem is that the AV referendum is legislatively pretty straightforward and – once the Conservatives had signed up to it in the coalition agreement – not very controversial. But the idea of reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and rewriting the rules by which parliamentary constituencies are drawn up is legislatively complicated and deeply controversial. Yoking together a simple, time-sensitive measure like the referendum and a complicated proposal like the boundary changes was asking for trouble.

The “reduce and equalise” policy deserves intense scrutiny. The all-party political and constitutional reform select committee expressed its “regret that it is being pushed through parliament in a manner that limits both legislative and external scrutiny of its impact”:

“While we agree there may be a case for reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600, the government has singularly failed to make it. We recommend the government assesses and, if possible, mitigate through amendments, the likely impact of the wholesale redrawing of constituency boundaries on grassroots politics.”

In terms of reducing numbers of MPs, the government has plucked a number from the air rather than starting with an assessment of what MPs do and how many of them are needed to do it. The workload of MPs within Westminster has gone up considerably over the years, particularly since the select committee system was created in 1979. There are now 467 places on the committees that run the business of the house and scrutinise the executive. Particularly if the number of ministers and PPS posts remains the same, there will be fewer people to hold the government to account.MPs also work harder than ever in their constituencies. In the 1960s MPs received about 15 letters a week; now it is 300, plus huge numbers of emails. By September, newly elected MPs were saying they had already received 20,000 emails to their parliamentary address.

The standard of constituency service that electors expect has gone up steadily, and the evidence shows that MPs who have good reputations for constituency work do well electorally (such as Grant Shapps, Tim Farron and Gisela Stuart). The number of people they represent has gone up steadily – from 55,000 electors in 1950 to 70,000 now and 76,000 under the new rules.

Nor are the British over-represented. The Commons is a bit larger than some other legislative chambers, but then it does different things. Unlike the US House, or the French national assembly, it staffs the executive. In many other countries, like the US, Australia and Germany, there is a tier of state legislatures below the federal level, and in most other countries there are more councillors with more powers than in the United Kingdom. The chamber that is very large by international standards is the House of Lords, which the government is busy making even bigger by packing it with supporters.

The new boundary rules, as I have written at length elsewhere, are likely to produce a complicated and flawed new political map of Britain. The government’s insistence on constituencies being a maximum of 5% away from the average size of 76,000 electors means that county boundaries will be crossed, local government wards split between parliamentary constituencies, and seats drawn up in defiance of community identity and sometimes of common sense.

There is no alternative, if the government bill is unamended, to a seat straddling between part of the Isle of Wight and part of Hampshire – “Southsea and Ryde” most likely. Cornwall is up in arms about a seat crossing the border with Devon. The bill has an indifferent, un-conservative attitude to local identity and community in the interests of centralised arithmetic rationalism.

It is also, in its effect, the most extreme uniformity imposed on any national legislature’s seats. Even in the United States and Australia, two countries with strong “equalisation” systems, only around 90% of seats fit into the 5% band that the government intends to cram 99.5% of parliamentary seats. The Boundary Commission for England already manages better overall equalisation than is achieved in Australia.

The government could allow a few more special cases (like the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, Argyll and northwest Wales), and tolerate 10% variation around the average size, which would prevent most of the silly consequences of the 5% limit such as split wards and cross county seats. Some account could also be taken of seats where the population (all of whom are entitled to the MP’s representative service) is hugely larger than the registered electorate, as it is in much of inner London. We would still have parliamentary constituencies that are pretty much as equal in size to those of the US House of Representatives, which should satisfy the government’s demand for equalising seats.

The government has failed to take any account of the reasoned comments of several parliamentary select committees (so much for improving the balance of power between legislature and executive) and has insisted blindly on its own extreme proposals. It is notable that the government backbenchers in the Lords have been nearly completely silent. This may be because they know the government has lost the argument, or less charitably because they are not prepared to scrutinise their own government’s measure. Debating and amending bills in these circumstances is precisely what the House of Lords is for, and by giving this bill a thorough going-over the Labour Lords are acting in the best traditions of their house.

Link to original article

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Liberal Democrats could lose twice if AV fails in referendum (13 May 2010)

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Liberal Democrats could lose twice if AV fails in referendum (13 May 2010)

Posted on 13 May 2010 by admin

Favourable boundary changes may mean Conservatives have last laugh in Lib Dems’ campaign for electoral reform

The coalition agreement combines a referendum on the alternative vote (AV) system with reducing the number of MPs and rewriting the rules for drawing constituency boundaries. The parties’ interests point in opposite directions – the Conservatives would prefer a boundary review but no AV, while it would be in the Liberal Democrats‘ interests to have AV but not a boundary review – and it is not clear whether the Tories will get their new boundaries regardless of whether AV passes in the referendum.

If the Tory proposal to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 585 was implemented, the average size of a constituency would rise from 70,000 to 77,000 voters. The Tories have insisted the current rules – where variation around the average is tolerated in the interests of not having constituencies crossing county boundaries, splitting wards or with bad internal communications – would be replaced with a rule allowing only 3%-5% variation.

Wales would lose proportionately the most seats, falling from 40 MPs to about 28, with Scotland and Northern Ireland falling too. All regions of England would be reduced slightly, although the south-east would lose least (three seats out of 84) and the north-east most (four out of 29). New constituencies would be unfamiliar blends of territory, such as a seat crossing the Devon-Cornwall border, one spanning a ferry route to the Isle of Wight, and a vast Highlands and Islands seat in Scotland.

The Conservatives will gain a little from the change. Each boundary change tends to abolish a few Labour seats and create a few Tory ones, as population tends to decline in industrial towns and grow in suburbs and the countryside, although the “depopulated inner-city” constituency’ is a myth: Manchester Central has more than 90,000 electors, for instance.

The smaller seats are in Wales, Glasgow and industrial boroughs such as Wolverhampton (plus the occasional Tory shire seat such as Kenilworth and Southam), while many inner London seats are oversized. The Conservatives are also hoping that local detail will alter boundaries in their favour, because they control the most local authorities.

The coalition also plans to accelerate individual electoral registration (IER), already timetabled by Labour, to be phased in by 2015. IER will make the electorate fluctuate in size more than at present (as it has in Northern Ireland), and risks worsening under-registration of young people and city dwellers. A boundary review using inaccurate numbers that are further skewed during the IER phase-in would face allegations of gerrymandering.

The Tory policy will mean continuous change in boundaries – more than 100 seats will grow or shrink by more than the tolerated variation each parliament. This disruption of the relationship of MP to constituency will undermine the Lib Dems in particular, because they rely on personal votes. If AV fails at the referendum, but we get new boundaries, the Tories will have had the last laugh at the expense of their partners.

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Pollwatch: Conservative coalition could cost Liberal Democrats dear (12 May 2010)

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Pollwatch: Conservative coalition could cost Liberal Democrats dear (12 May 2010)

Posted on 12 May 2010 by admin

Lib Dem losses are likely at the next election, especially in Scotland, cities and where Labour voters backed them tactically

The decision to go into full coalition with the Conservatives will probably cost the Liberal Democrats dear at the next election. Coming to agreements in hung parliaments has not done them much good in past elections, as it inevitably involves taking tough decisions and alienating many of their supporters.

In 1923-24 they managed to relegate themselves to the fringes of politics by first installing a Labour government and then throwing it out again, and the hung parliament in 1929-31 ended with the Liberals split into three factions. David Steel was lucky to escape relatively unscathed in the 1979 election after the Lib-Lab pact. But they have always lost votes and seats following pacts and peacetime coalitions.

Lib Dem losses are likely to be particularly severe in three categories of seat.

Eleven of their 57 MPs represent Scottish constituencies, and the hostility of Scottish public opinion to anything connected with the Tories remains undiminished. There has been a substantial Labour vote even in quite rural Lib Dem constituencies. The Scottish secretary, Danny Alexander, already looks a candidate for a “Portillo moment” in the next election in his Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency. Labour also came fairly close in several other seats, such as East Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh West.

The Lib Dems have won several seats from Labour in the last three elections in urban areas, intellectual middle-class seats such as Manchester Withington, Leeds North West, Hornsey and Wood Green, and grittier constituencies such as Redcar and Brent Central. There are about 11 constituencies in this category, and they will be lucky to hold any of them.

The third category of likely losses are those seats where there is a substantial latent Labour vote which has been giving tactical support to the Lib Dems to keep out the Tories. Labour-inclined voters are now unlikely to see the point of doing this, and the tactical message of supporting one coalition partner to tame the excesses of the other is a bit more difficult to sell than “keep the Tories out”.

There are around eight seats here, none of which would probably go Labour but where a big withdrawal of tactical support would throw the seat to the Tories or Plaid Cymru. Chris Huhne in Eastleigh would be a likely casualty. In other constituencies, though, the loss of tactical Labour support is probably going to be counteracted by votes gained from the Conservatives and there is less of a threat – Taunton and Eastbourne are examples of this kind of seat.

The Lib Dems have relied on personal votes for incumbents in many seats, and while some of them look safe, holding Berwick without Alan Beith or Bermondsey and Old Southwark without Simon Hughes look tough tasks.

This means that about half the party’s seats are therefore either write-offs or severely vulnerable in a future election. However, this is to assume that the next election will be fought on the same lines as the one just finished. The electoral system might change if the alternative vote (AV) is approved in a referendum. This could save many of the Lib Dem MPs because they would still attract grudging second preferences from Labour voters, and perhaps more enthusiastic ones from Tories.

Another possible change, a Tory shibboleth that the Lib Dems seem to have signed up to, is more ominous for the party. This is the plan to have a radical review of parliamentary boundaries and reduce the number of constituencies. Farewell, then, the undersized seat of Orkney and Shetland, and others.

Personal votes for incumbents will be disrupted by radical boundary reviews, with territory mixed and matched between constituencies in a way that will make it difficult for them to build up personal votes and retain constituencies.

While the referendum may not pass, the “reduce and equalise” plan just needs legislation. The Lib Dems would be wise to make one conditional on the other. But even without being carved up by their coalition partners under “reduce and equalise”, many of their MPs are dead men and women walking unless they get AV.

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Hung parliament: what happens now? (7 May 2010)

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Hung parliament: what happens now? (7 May 2010)

Posted on 07 May 2010 by admin

The predicted results offer many scenarios for Westminster and the next inhabitant of 10 Downing Street

Election night 2010 was extraordinary, and it is still not really over. As dawn broke on 2 May 1997, there was no doubt that Tony Blair would be heading to Downing Street and leading a majority Labour government; but while it was obvious by breakfast time on 7 May 2010 that there would be a hung parliament with no overall majority, the rest of the story was far from clear.

Doubt over the last few results, which are still trickling in, means it remains to be seen what sort of hung parliament we will get. The difference between the Conservatives having 314 and 306 seats is a crucial one: if their numbers manage to tick up to 314, there is really no prospect of forming a non-Conservative government. The combined forces of Labour and Liberal Democrats would still be outnumbered by the Tories, and the prospect of a deal spanning Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru and one or more flavours of Northern Ireland MP lacks credibility. The only option would be for Gordon Brown to resign and David Cameron to form a minority government before parliament meets.

However, if the Conservatives fall short in the remaining marginal seats being counted and end up at around 306, then the combined Labour and Lib Dem benches would outnumber them. Though Labour and the Lib Dems would still be short of an outright majority, they could probably govern if the political will were there. The constitutional position is clear: Gordon Brown is entitled to stay in Downing Street and explore his options, even if the situation appears unpromising and the rightwing press is keen to push him out.

Given the political realities, Brown could also give other Labour figures some time to find common ground with the Lib Dems and smaller parties, a process that seemed to be starting as the results were coming in, with Harriet Harman and Peter Mandelson speaking out about electoral reform and “progressive” politics.

The chance of getting electoral reform may be a distant one, but it is the best on offer.

The surprisingly bad results for the Lib Dems may well discredit Nick Clegg’s confrontational approach towards Labour. But the leader and the party would need to find some loopholes fast in their previous talk of a party with a clear lead in votes and seats having a mandate.

There is no real need to hurry. The Queen’s speech is not until 25 May, and government can continue to tick along in election purdah mode for a couple more weeks. A transition period is perfectly normal practice in most other democracies, and the world will not come to an end if there is no quick outcome.

Whatever the result, there will probably be discreet talks about how to organise the formation of the government to minimise the potential for controversy around the Queen’s role in the process, and probably also to provide reassurance if the markets have serious wobbles (although it is open to the Conservatives to play hardball).

A consideration that will loom rapidly is the possibility of a second election, later in 2010 or in 2011. A minority Conservative government would find this attractive, and probably face no constitutional problem in calling another election. A tenuous Lib-Lab coalition, on the other hand, would want to try to run for longer, to make sure that electoral reform happens.

While British precedents suggest that a second election would probably be won by the Conservatives with an overall majority, there are no certainties, and a minority government would probably be unable to remap the constituencies to its own advantage, as a majority Conservative government would do.

The British constitution gives considerable advantages to an incumbent that should not be given up lightly. While the decision-making work of government is care and maintenance only, the central institutions of No 10 and the Cabinet Office can be used to prepare a Queen’s speech agenda with which to face parliament. And, if necessary, they can work on coalition deals on policy or personnel – just as they would do on an intra-party basis for a re-elected majority government.

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UK election 2010: Erratic swings snap Labour’s thread of support (7 May 2010)

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UK election 2010: Erratic swings snap Labour’s thread of support (7 May 2010)

Posted on 07 May 2010 by admin

While Labour has lost support, no clear swing to the Tories and the Lib Dem losses leaves this election without a real verdict

The 2010 election was even more fractured than one might have expected. There was no real national verdict, except perhaps that the thin thread of public support by which Labour had clung on to power in 2005 had snapped. The results were a kaleidoscope of peculiar local results.

National swing broke down in the 1970s; now it seems that even regional swing has become a thing of the past. Nor can one read off politics from social composition any more – how could Birmingham Edgbaston stay Labour, but Nuneaton go Tory, without politics having assumed a new form?

The swing from Labour to the Conservatives was uneven. Apparently clear patterns in past polls and local elections, such as a Conservative surge in the Midlands, did not appear when the votes were counted, and Labour even held on to the Nottingham suburb of Gedling (a seat the party had not won before 1997).

Most observers expected the Conservatives to do better than average in their target marginals, but in some that had been showered with resources and worked hard for years there were feeble swings.

In some seats, like Corby, Hastings and Stroud it was just about enough to eke out a gain. In others, mammoth swings blew away the competition – Leicestershire North West fell with a double-digit swing.

But Labour has held on well in marginals across Scotland and in ethnically mixed areas of England (holding both Luton seats, for instance).

2010 was supposed to be one of the great Liberal revival elections, alongside 1974 and 1983, but as well as the irregular gains of the Conservatives, one of the stories of the night has been the dashing of so many Lib Dem hopes. Not only did they miss most targets, including low hanging fruit in academic Labour seats like Durham and Oxford East, but some established Lib Dem seats like Harrogate and Hereford fell to the Tories – and Rochdale, supposedly Brown’s Waterloo, was a surprise Labour win.

There is better news elsewhere, and surprise victories like Redcar (where a steelworks closure led to a landslide swing against Labour), but breaking the mould of Westminster politics (as opposed to breaking the two-party grip, which happened years ago) will remain an ambition rather than a reality.

Nor has it been the year of the Independent – party politics having reclaimed Blaenau Gwent and Wyre Forest, and Esther Rantzen having flopped in Luton. The anti-Westminster mood at the time of the expenses crisis in 2009 is certainly not reflected in these results.

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Pollwatch: Election forecasts hold up but questions remain for analysts (7 May 2010)

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Pollwatch: Election forecasts hold up but questions remain for analysts (7 May 2010)

Posted on 07 May 2010 by admin

Pollsters told us more or less what would happen but have not yet explained local differences or Clegg’s collapse

For the opinion pollsters the 2010 election was neither a humiliation like 1992 nor a routinely efficient performance like 2005, but wayward and difficult to capture accurately. It was at least good for business, in that there was an unprecedented volume of polling commissioned during the campaign. The average error on the eve of poll forecasts was bigger than last time, largely because the Liberal Democrat vote was falling faster than they could measure accurately in the final days. But the rough impression, if not the exact numbers, did convey what was going on.

The last round of opinion polls before election day showed the Conservatives on about 35-37%, Labour somewhere around 29%, and the Lib Dems a bit below that and on a downward trend. The exit poll, organised by broadcasting and polling consortiums, was met with raised eyebrows by the broadcasters and even the occasional journalist and commentator, because it was quite so bearish for the Lib Dems and showed the Tories well short of an overall majority. I recall saying something about eating my hat if the Lib Dems were as low as 59 MPs, but it was the pollsters who had the last laugh. The seats projection was as good as anyone could ask for, even though it was not the story we were expecting.

The pollsters told us more or less what would happen but have not yet really told us why. Labour over-performed in Scotland, picked up with admirable accuracy by the polls, and in inner London, but other than those areas there was no strong regional geography as there has been in most other recent elections.

Despite the debates giving a new shape to the national campaign it was not a case of national factors overcoming regional differences. The wildly varying swing in apparently similar constituencies – Leicestershire North West and Corby, for instance – and the low swing against incumbents despite an alleged anti-incumbent mood in the country indicate that there was something unusual about the way people approached this election. Their responses were very varied and localised.

The other big question for analysts of public opinion is quite what happened to Cleggmania. At one stage 2010 was shaping up to be a Liberal Democrat breakthrough of a kind that had not been seen since 1923: promotion to being taken seriously as one of the three main parties of state was implied in the debate format and seemed a possibility at Westminster, even under the distorting influence of first-past-the-post elections.

But it all collapsed like a cooling soufflé in the final week, leaving the party where it had stood in 2005 in terms of vote share and, to general surprise, exposing sitting Lib Dem MPs to electoral defeat by Tories and Labour alike. Although Clegg’s personality and political stances were going over well in national public opinion, something went very wrong indeed in translating this into votes for candidates who might win. Perhaps the nationalisation of the party’s appeal undercut the local power base of its MPs, who relied on personal support from people who did not particularly “agree with Nick”.

The flipside of the great Clegg deflation was Labour’s resilience. Many commentators expected Gordon Brown’s gaffe in describing a Rochdale voter as a “bigoted woman” to lead to meltdown in the Labour vote, and were surprised that the polls did not budge. Somehow, despite everything, Labour could call on deep reserves of solidarity on the part of a large proportion of voters. The victory of Brown’s candidate in Rochdale, over a sitting Lib Dem MP, was surely a delicious moment for the prime minister. Labour Britain was shaken to near destruction in 2008-09 but the election showed that a surprisingly sturdy fortress was still standing.

Unfortunately the exit pollsters decided to cut back on a number of the questions about attitudes and beliefs that they have asked in previous years. Over the next few months the academic British Election Study will explore this territory. We will then discover more about quite what kept people with Labour, turned them on and then off to the merits of Nick Clegg, and caused enough of them to reject the Conservatives’ remodelled appeal to deprive them of a majority in a recession-year election. Perhaps ultimately, Britain turned out to be too much of a centre-left nation to trust the Tories with untrammelled power.

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General election 2010: Lewis Baston’s tactical voting guide (5 May 2010)

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General election 2010: Lewis Baston’s tactical voting guide (5 May 2010)

Posted on 05 May 2010 by admin

Our psephological expert offers the ultimate guide to deploying your vote to best advantage in a range of scenarios, based on the special eve-of-election Guardian/ICM poll

Part one: Conservative/Lib Dem marginals

1. The Lib Dems have a chance of gaining these marginal seats from the Conservatives, and tactical voting for the Liberal Democrats is strongly recommended if you want to avoid a Conservative majority:

Lib Dem targets from the Tories

Tactical voting for the Lib Dems strongly advised to prevent Conservative majority


*Lib Dem MP 2005-10 but notionally Conservative on new boundaries

Bournemouth West 43 15 35
Chelmsford 42 19 33
Devon Central 47 5 42
Devon West & Torridge 45 5 40
Dorset North 49 5 41
Dorset West 50 5 42
Eastbourne 46 5 45
Guildford 46 5 43
Harborough 46 11 38
Ludlow 48 5 44
Meon Valley 49 5 44
Newbury 52 5 43
Solihull* 43 8 42
Totnes 46 5 40
Wells 47 8 41
Weston-super-Mare 43 11 39
Worcestershire West 48 5 42

2. The Lib Dems will need tactical votes to defend these seats from the Conservatives because they have been targeted for Tory gains, and in such seats a national swing may not be completely relied upon to keep the seat Lib Dem. These seats were within a 5% swing of the Conservatives in 2005.

Vulnerable Lib Dem seats

Tactical voting for the Lib Dems advised to defend the seat

Carshalton & Wallington 41 10 44
Cheadle 43 5 51
Cheltenham 42 5 42
Chippenham 41 8 45
Cornwall North 38 5 45
Eastleigh 40 13 41
Hereford & Herefordshire South 44 5 45
Portsmouth South 37 14 45
Richmond Park 43 5 49
Romsey & Southampton North 46 5 47
Somerton & Frome 43 5 47
Southport 40 5 50
Sutton & Cheam 44 5 50
Taunton Deane 44 5 47
Torbay 39 6 45
Truro & Falmouth 35 11 44
Westmorland & Lonsdale 47 5 47
York Outer 39 19 40

3. You may want to vote tactically for a Lib Dem in these seats, which are targets from the Conservatives which Clegg’s party may be able to win with a big national swing or helpful local factors.

Optimistic Lib Dem targets

Tactical voting for the Lib Dems may help

Aldershot 47 14 32
Bournemouth East 48 11 34
Broadland 45 15 33
Cambridgeshire South East 50 13 35
Gainsborough 47 18 29
Haltemprice & Howden 50 5 39
Somerset North 45 14 33
Suffolk South 45 16 31
Sussex Mid 51 5 39
Woking 50 8 35

4. These are seats with Lib Dem incumbents who are safer than a 5% swing to the Conservatives but who may also merit a cautious tactical vote to protect them from any local or sudden surges.

Lib Dem seats worth shoring up

Sitting Lib Dem MPs may benefit from cautious tactical vote in support

Leeds North West 26 33 37
Brecon & Radnorshire 35 15 45
Camborne and Redruth 26 29 36
Newton Abbot 35 11 46
Devon North 36 9 46
Cornwall South East 35 11 47
St Austell & Newquay 35 14 47
Winchester 39 8 51
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk 29 16 42
Argyll & Bute 24 22 37
Oxford West & Abingdon 32 17 46
Bath 34 15 44
Colchester 33 20 47

Part two: Conservative/Labour marginals

1. These are Labour seats which the Conservatives would win on the basis of a 7% swing, as implied by the recent Ipsos Mori research in the marginals, and covering the 5.5% swing implied by the final ICM poll plus a 1.5% buffer in case the Conservatives are doing rather better in their target seats, or otherwise do better than expected. The “tactical power index” is a rough indicator of how powerful tactical voting might be in deciding the outcome in the seat. The figures in the chart are crude projections of the national poll changes. The index is the proportion of people who currently intend to vote Lib Dem who would be needed to vote tactically to save the seat for Labour (Labour having a one-point lead on the projection), taken away from 100 so that a high number indicates seats where tactical voting may be particularly effective.

Possibly defensible Labour seats

Tactical voting for Labour advised

Swing for Con gain
Tactical power index

* Croydon Central – notionally Labour under new boundaries, but Conservative MP elected in 2005 now standing as Independent

Amber Valley 6.3 37 38 15
Barrow & Furness 6.3 36 37 21
Basildon South & Thurrock East 1.1 42 33 14 29
Batley & Spen 6.8 35 37 18
Battersea 0.4 43 33 16 31
Birmingham Edgbaston 2 42 35 16 50
Blackpool North & Cleveleys 4.2 40 38 17 82
Bolton North East 6 37 38 19
Bolton West 6 36 37 22
Bradford West 4.2 34 32 22 86
Brigg & Goole 3.9 41 38 16 75
Brighton Kemptown 2.4 37 31 20 65
Broxtowe 2.2 40 34 19 63
Burton 2.4 40 34 16 56
Bury North 2.5 40 34 18 61
Calder Valley 1.4 39 31 22 59
Cardiff North 1.3 39 31 22 7
Carlisle 6.7 36 39 20
Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South 2.7 34 29 17 19
Chatham & Aylesford 4.1 40 37 17 76
Chester, City of 1.1 40 31 25 60
Cleethorpes 3 40 35 18 67
Copeland 6.7 36 39 17
Corby 1.6 43 35 16 44
Crawley 0.1 42 31 18 33
Croydon Central* 0.4 43 33 16
Dartford 1 44 35 13 23
Derbyshire South 2.7 40 35 16 63
Dewsbury 4.4 35 33 17 82
Dorset South 1.9 41 34 19 58
Dover 5.2 38 37 19 89
Dudley North 5.6 34 35 14
Dudley South 4.5 38 36 16 81
Dumfries & Galloway 2.9 38 33 11 15
Elmet & Rothwell 5.7 37 38 19
Eltham 3.8 38 34 19 74
Gedling 4.8 40 39 17 88
Gillingham & Rainham 0.1 44 33 18 33
Gloucester 6.5 38 40 17
Great Yarmouth 3.7 41 38 14 71
Halesowen & Rowley Regis 4.8 40 38 15 80
Halifax 4.4 36 34 21 86
Hammersmith 4.2 37 34 22 82
Harlow 0.3 44 33 16 25
Harrow East 3.4 42 37 17 65
Hastings & Rye 1.3 41 33 19 53
Hendon 4 40 37 17 76
High Peak 1.9 40 33 22 64
Hove 0.5 39 29 21 48
Hyndburn 6.9 35 38 17
Ipswich 5.9 34 35 24
Keighley 5.2 37 37 15 93
Kingswood 6.9 35 38 21
Lancaster & Fleetwood 4.4 37 34 19 79
Leicestershire North West 4.8 39 38 15 87
Lincoln 4.7 37 36 21 90
Loughborough 1.9 40 33 21 62
Milton Keynes North 0.9 39 30 24 58
Milton Keynes South 1.5 41 33 18 50
Morecambe & Lunesdale 5.9 40 41 17
Northampton South 1.9 41 34 17 53
Nuneaton 4.9 40 39 16 88
Portsmouth North 0.4 41 31 23 52
Pudsey 5.9 37 37 21 95
Reading West 5.7 37 37 19 95
Redditch 2.6 41 36 17 65
Rossendale & Darwen 4.2 38 35 18 78
Rugby 2.6 41 36 18 67
Sefton Central 6 37 38 22
South Ribble 2.7 42 36 18 61
Stafford 2 42 35 17 53
Stockton South 6.8 37 40 19
Stevenage 4 38 35 21 81
Stroud 1 41 32 17 41
Swindon North 3.1 42 37 16 63
Swindon South 1.8 40 32 20 55
Tamworth 2.9 40 35 17 65
Thurrock 6.5 36 38 14
Tooting 6.1 34 35 23
Tynemouth 5.8 40 40 18 94
Vale of Glamorgan 1.7 40 33 16 8
Warwick & Leamington 5.2 37 37 19 95
Waveney 6 36 37 18
Westminster North 3.3 36 32 23 78
Wirral South 4.7 36 34 25 88
Wolverhampton South West 2.7 41 35 16 56
Worcester 3.4 38 34 19 74

2. Conservative seats where a tactical vote for Labour may produce change. This small selection is composed of Labour incumbents in seats where boundary changes have made the constituencies notionally Conservative on new boundaries, and a few cases of very small Conservative majorities where if there is a late swing to Labour there may be some chance of a gain. In each case, the Liberal Democrat vote starts too low to be in contention to win the seat:

Sittingbourne & Sheppey
, Clwyd West, Hemel Hempstead, Kettering, Somerset North East (incumbent defends), Finchley & Golders Green, Shipley, Rochester & Strood, Wellingborough, Gravesham, Wirral West, Preseli Pembrokeshire, Thanet South (incumbent defends), Enfield North (incumbent defends), Staffordshire Moorlands (incumbent defends).

3. Labour seats vulnerable on a larger swing. Even on an average swing in the marginals of 7% to Conservative, there will be Labour seats that would succumb because the swing is a bit above average, and if Labour support falls as polling day approaches more may come into contention. For this reason, voters wishing to ensure the Conservatives do not gain an overall majority should support Labour in:

Renfrewshire East, Lancashire West, Vale of Clwyd, Telford, Coventry South, Warwickshire North, Newport West, Crewe & Nantwich, Leeds North East, Erewash, Dagenham & Rainham, Sherwood, Ellesmere Port & Neston, Luton North, Chorley, Norwich North, Gower, Birmingham Selly Oak, Bristol East, Wakefield, Blackpool South, Bassetlaw, Harrow West, Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East, Ealing North, Feltham & Heston, Plymouth Moor View, Blackburn, Delyn, Clwyd South, Slough and Birmingham Northfield.

This list comprises all those seats which would be Conservative gains from Labour on a 7-10% swing, and in which the Liberal Democrats do not come within 10% of the current winner when national poll figures are applied.

Part three: Other seats

There are a few constituencies where a candidate other than Labour or Lib Dem is best placed to keep the Conservatives out. In the marginal seats of Perth & North Perthshire and Angus, the SNP is narrowly ahead of the Tories. In Wyre Forest, Independent Richard Taylor (MP 2001-10) is the best-placed anti-Conservative candidate.

Part four: Debatable territories

Lib Dem supporters who are very keen to keep the Conservatives out should consider voting Labour in these constituencies, even if a movement in line with the current national polls would bring the Lib Dems into distant contention locally.

Debatable territories

Labour-held seats where Lib Dem supporters should consider a vote for the incumbent to keep out the Tories

Swing for con gain
Aberconwy 2 29 25 24
Bedford 4 37 34 25
Brentford & Isleworth 4.1 34 31 26
Edinburgh South West 8.2 23 32 26
Exeter 8.6 25 34 26
Luton South 7.4 31 35 26
Nottingham South 9.6 27 38 29
Pendle 2.7 35 29 26
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport 5.6 30 33 28
Poplar & Limehouse 5.4 24 27 19
Southampton Test 8.6 25 36 29
Warrington South 4.6 35 33 27

The Liberal Democrats may be best placed to defeat the Conservatives in these constituencies, despite being third in the 2005 election, and Labour supporters may wish to consider tactical votes in these cases.

Slim Tory majorities

Seats where the Lib Dems may be best placed to defeat the Conservatives

Bosworth 46 24 25
Filton & Bradley Stoke 38 26 31
Hexham 45 22 29
Reading East 39 26 27
St Albans 40 26 28

The principal challenger to the Conservatives in two further semi-marginal seats (namely Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale and Shrewsbury & Atcham) is not clear.

The following seats had Labour first in 2005 and the Conservatives in second, but on the basis of recent polls are three way contests:

Bristol North West, Colne Valley, Ealing Central & Acton, Northampton North.

The following seats had Labour first in 2005 and the Lib Dems second, but the Conservatives in a competitive third place:

Derby North, Edinburgh South, Hampstead & Kilburn, Watford.

Part five: And finally

The final list includes Labour seats ordered by how vulnerable they are. In most cases, a tactical Labour vote is advised. In some three-way marginals it is hard to offer advice which is not liable to be counterproductive.

Labour seats by order of marginality

Recommendations given case by case

Tactical voting recommendation
Gillingham & Rainham Labour
Crawley Labour
Rochdale None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Harlow Labour
Croydon Central Labour
Oxford East None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Portsmouth North Labour
Battersea Labour
Edinburgh South None – Three-way
Hove Labour
Hampstead & Kilburn None – Three-way
Ochil & South Perthshire None – Three-way
Islington South & Finsbury None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Milton Keynes North Labour – definite
Arfon None – Lab/Plaid marginal, Con no threat
Stroud Labour
Dartford Labour
Basildon South & Thurrock East Labour
Ealing Central & Acton None – Three-way
Chester, City of Labour – definite
Watford None – Three-way
Colne Valley None – Three-way
Cardiff North Labour
Hastings & Rye Labour
Calder Valley Labour
Stourbridge Labour
Milton Keynes South Labour
Corby Labour
Aberdeen South None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Vale of Glamorgan Labour
Ynys Mon None – Lab/Plaid marginal, Con no threat
Swindon South Labour
Dorset South Labour
Northampton South Labour
High Peak Labour
Loughborough Labour
Aberconwy Labour – probably
Birmingham Edgbaston Labour
Stafford Labour
Broxtowe Labour
Burton Labour
Brighton Kemptown Labour
Edinburgh North & Leith None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Bury North Labour
Redditch Labour
Rugby Labour
Pendle Labour – probably
Wolverhampton South West Labour
Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South Labour
South Ribble Labour
Derbyshire South Labour
Bristol North West None – Three-way
Dumfries & Galloway Labour
Tamworth Labour
Cleethorpes Labour
Swindon North Labour
Westminster North Labour – definite
Worcester Labour
Harrow East Labour
Durham, City of None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Great Yarmouth Labour
Norwich South None – Lab/LD/Green marginal, Con no threat
Eltham Labour
Brigg & Goole Labour
Bedford Labour – probably
Stevenage Labour
Hendon Labour
Chatham & Aylesford Labour
Brentford & Isleworth Labour – probably
Bradford West Labour – probably
Rossendale & Darwen Labour
Hammersmith Labour
Blackpool North & Cleveleys Labour
Halifax Labour
Leicester South None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Lancaster & Fleetwood Labour
Dewsbury Labour
Liverpool Wavertree None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Dudley South Labour
Northampton South Labour
Warrington South None – Three-way
Wirral South Labour – definite
Lincoln Labour
Leicestershire North West Labour
Gedling Labour
Halesowen & Rowley Regis Labour
Nuneaton Labour
Warwick & Leamington Labour
Oldham East & Saddleworth None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Dover Labour
Keighley Labour
Poplar & Limehouse Labour – probably
Stirling None – Three- or four-way
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport Labour – probably
Dudley North Labour
Elmet & Rothwell Labour
Reading West Labour
Tynemouth Labour
Morecambe & Lunesdale Labour
Pudsey Labour
Ipswich Labour – definite
Bolton West Labour
Glasgow North None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Bolton North East Labour
Waveney Labour
Sefton Central Labour
Tooting Labour
Amber Valley Labour
Barrow & Furness Labour
Swansea West None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Gloucester Labour
Thurrock Labour
Brighton Pavilion None – Three-way Lab/Con/Green
Copeland Labour
Stockton South Labour
Carlisle Labour
Batley & Spen Labour
Blaydon None – Lab/LD marginal, Con no threat
Kingswood Labour
Hyndburn Labour


Figures in charts are crude projections of results using the national vote changes implied by the final Guardian/ ICM poll which put the Conservatives on 36 (up 3 percentage points since 2005), Labour on 28 (down 8 percentage points) and Lib Dems on 26 (up 3 percentage points). These are applied to the standard Rallings & Thrasher estimates for the composition of the new constituencies in 2005.

For the avoidance of absurdities, no Labour constituency vote share is projected below 5 per cent; the crude figure is levelled up first from the 3 points otherwise accruing to ‘others’ and then if necessary from the Lib Dem gains.

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Hung parliament: The numbers game (4 May 2010)

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Hung parliament: The numbers game (4 May 2010)

Posted on 04 May 2010 by admin

A slight difference in seats won can drastically change the long-term outcome of government, prompting divisions and even a second election.

In principle, it is simple to determine whether a party has a majority in the House of Commons or not. There will be 650 seats in the new parliament, so to obtain the smallest overall majority requires 326 seats, giving a majority of two.

However, it is rather more complicated in practice, because of the complexities of the devolved British constitution and party politics. In 1964 the Speaker was the only MP unaffiliated to the three largest British parties. In 2005 there were 31 of them, and the number could well increase this time, and the disposition of these “fourth parties” affects where we can place the winning post.

There are some election outcomes which, while technically being a hung parliament, would allow the Commons to be run by the largest single party without the need for Cameron or Brown to consult the Liberal Democrats.

The Speaker customarily does not vote except to resolve ties, so a party with 325 seats will have an effective majority of one (assuming that John Bercow holds Buckingham and is re-elected to the Speaker’s chair in the new parliament). Sinn Féin MPs do not recognise the sovereignty of Westminster and therefore do not take their seats or vote, so the Commons will probably be around five MPs short. So 323 MPs is a working majority of two.

Staying with Northern Ireland, the Conservatives can rely on any MPs elected from their Ulster Unionist party alliance (a couple, perhaps) and Labour has a rather looser bond with the Social Democratic and Labour party and the independent (ex-UUP) Sylvia Hermon, which will account for two to four MPs. The two big British parties can therefore regard the winning post as being around 321 seats. The first Queen’s speech in the new parliament, on 25 May, will come before the postponed election in Thirsk and Malton (27 May), so 320 will be enough for a short period.

Even a bit below the 320-seat mark, there will not be much uncertainty about a party’s ability to get a Queen’s speech and other key votes through the Commons, even without Lib Dem acquiescence. The Democratic Unionist party (around eight MPs), even if it dislikes a government’s agenda, would be unlikely to precipitate another election by voting against it, and the Westminster representatives of the SNP and Plaid Cymru (10-12 seats probably) would probably feel similarly.

Taking these 20 MPs out, a government could win a Queen’s speech vote without giving more than the most minor concessions to smaller parties, in the face of opposition from the other two main parties, if it has around 310 MPs. If the largest party is much below 310, we are in proper hung parliament territory and the opinions of the Lib Dems would count. However, they would be likely to give a free pass in terms of “confidence and supply” to a party that gets over the psychological barrier of 300 seats, so most of the interesting possibilities start below that point.

Winning the key votes is one thing; day-to-day survival in the division lobbies is a bit different. A minority government with fewer than 320 MPs might have to take a relaxed view of Commons defeats on legislation (ministers often need to be away on government business), although it will be bolstered by the SNP and Plaid Cymru’s self-denying ordinance not to vote on what they consider “England only” matters. But the committee stages may be the problem, as the government would be vulnerable to defeat if the composition of committees reflected the lack of an overall majority in the house. It might have particular difficulty overturning Lords amendments and dealing with any backbench rebellions (although in the circumstances backbenchers would be less inclined to rebel than usual).

The position is not symmetrical. If the Conservatives are the minority government, they may face a poor attendance record from Labour MPs whose morale will be low and who will be busy tending to their constituencies. The opposition in general would not want to push its luck against a new minority Tory government, for fear of triggering a new election, while a minority Labour government would seek to avoid a second election and be more inclined to explicit co-operation with smaller parties to avoid being brought down by a “one more heave” front of Tories, Lib Dems and others.

A more nuanced idea of where the winning post is on election night is therefore 326 for a technical majority, 320 for an effective majority, 310 for a single party government without agreements with other parties, and around 300 for an undisputed, if provisional, right to govern.

A perhaps odd conclusion about this is that there is a set of outcomes that would lead directly to a second election later this year or in the first half of 2011, covering the ground between the Tories winning around 300 and 340 seats (the stresses of governing with a tiny majority are as great, if not greater, than those of governing without one). A minority Conservative government with fewer than 300 seats, existing by permission of Nick Clegg, would also be looking to have another election as soon as it could. But a full Tory-Lib Dem coalition, or any stable arrangement featuring Labour, would almost certainly try to govern for a full term.

A government with a long-term perspective is therefore most likely to emerge from either an election that produces a working majority, or a proper hung parliament in which parties have to reach agreement on a programme from the start – and not from the shadowlands of 300-340 in which a government has its eye on a second election and day-to-day survival in the division lobbies.

Published 4 May 2010

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