The pitfalls of Sunderland South
In the last couple of elections, commentators have been caught unawares by the Sunderland result because has meant Labour’s total vote has been below expectations thanks to poor turnout. There are some more traps for the unwary in Sunderland this time.
If the Lib Dems pull into second here, it is not necessarily good news – that would be consistent with them adding votes where it does not help them win seats. Neither would an increase in Chris Mullin’s vote (19,921 last time) necessarily be good for Labour, as it would suggest that the party is doing well in its safe seats but perhaps not so well in the marginals.
Are the Lib Dems stalled?
The exit poll has found that the Lib Dems have not made much progress in terms of seats, and have seen less of a bounce in share of the vote than some of the more optimistic expectations for them made late in the campaign.
This is intriguing. It is quite possible that their share of the vote has gone up most where it can do them the least good, namely in seats with massive Labour majorities. Their national increase of four points might mask rises of 10 points in some places and a slippage of two in other places.
With Labour’s vote slipping, the most probable scenario is that gains in seats such as Cardiff Central and Bristol West have been cancelled out by Conservative gains in rural seats such as Devon West and Torridge.
This would be a logical result of the recent strategy of outflanking Labour to the left, but it would also mean that the party faces ab dilemma. Should it consolidate its recent gains from Labour (and write off some rural seats to the Tories), or would it be a mistake to read too much into a temporary reaction against Blair and Iraq which would be reversed in the next election?
The Lib Dem’s 52 seats in 2001 was a good result that strengthened Charles Kennedy’s leadership. 54 seats in 2005 would be very worrying, and pose all sorts of questions about strategy – and even leadership.
Sunderland South – now the facts
A swing of 4 per cent to the Conservatives is a pretty reasonable result for them here, although the surprise is that a swing this size has appeared in a safe Labour seat. This suggests two possibilities – maybe the exit poll has underestimated the swing, or perhaps the Conservatives are not overperforming in marginals as much as they might have done.
BBC commentators have referred to rumours that both Peterborough and Hornchurch are “too close to call”. They shouldn’t be; the Conservatives should win both seats easily for local reasons – in Peterborough, because of the weakness of the incumbant, in Hornchurch because it’s part of Essex.
Either someone’s spinning (surely not!) or the pattern of swings is not only uneven, but also falling in a most unexpected direction.
Three down, 643 to go
Three results from the fast-counting City of Sunderland.
Sunderland South’s Labour drop was a little less severe than in North (8%) or in Houghton and Washington East (9%); the vote fragmented all over the place except in Houghton where the Lib Dems picked up well.
If we see many more drops of this order, the exit poll looks optimistic for Labour. While a majority of 66 or so is manageable, 30 or less looks very dicey. Back in the 1970s, Labour governments with tiny or non-existent majorities had to negotiate with the (then radical) Tribune group almost as a separate party. Perhaps those days are here again?
They’re stereotypes because they’re true…
The BBC have reported a real, not metaphorical, fight between two candidates at a count. Guess where? Romford.
Some people are puzzled about what election commentators mean when they talk about “swing”. Why do we say that there has been a swing of 4-5% from Labour to Conservative when the main movement so far has been from Labour to Lib Dem?
The answer is that “swing” is just a simple way of describing the net effect of all sorts of complex movements between the parties. It was devised in an era of two-party politics, when over 90% of people voted Labour or Conservatives and there were lots of “straight fights”.
Swing can be defined as the average of the percentage point loss for any party and the percentage point gain for another. The main movement may be between Lab and Lib Dem – but that is of interest only in determining a few seats. We tend to think about swing between Labour and Conservative because that determines the parliamentary majority.
My election bets
I’ve got a few interests to declare before stuff gets too busy. I’ve placed two sorts of bet this election – constituencies where I am pretty confident of the result, and some “insurance” bets that pay off on eventualities that I don’t really want to happen.
Most of the bets, even the insurance ones, are looking healthy:
Con win: Basingstoke, Boston & Skegness, Braintree, Devon West & Torridge, Enfield North, Forest of Dean, Guildford, Haltemprice & Howden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow West, Isle of Wight, Monmouth, Northampton South, Peterborough, Selby, Wells and Wimbledon.
LD win: Birmingham Yardley, Bristol West, Cardiff Central, Leeds NW, Watford.
Lab win: Ynys Mon.
The insurance bets were a hung parliament (8/1), Con largest number of seats (10/1), Con 210+ seats (7/4), Con 23-25 seats in London (9/2) and Con 26+ seats (10/1). The last two are of course inconsistent with each other, so I can’t win them all, but it sounds like a majority will come off. How are other people’s flutters going?
Putney – a sign of things to come?
Most commentators had anticipated a pretty good result for the Conservatives in suburban London, and the first declaration suggests that this is happening. The Conservatives gained Putney with a 6% swing (a 4% increase in their vote and a steep drop in the Labour vote) – the first confirmed change of the night.
If Putney is typical, Labour’s majority has vanished. But it is something of an odd place, prepared to vote Conservative massively in elections for Wandsworth Council but share its favours with Labour at a national level for a while. The same goes for neighbouring Battersea – which should also declare soon.
Labour hold a marginal!
BBC have declared a Labour hold in Vale of Clwyd, Conservative target number 151, requiring a swing of nearly 9 per cent. The Conservatives also seem to have missed a very easy-looking SNP target, Angus. But this should be only a temporary blip to a pretty good night for the Conservatives.
Weirdness in Torbay
There’s at least one constituency where Labour’s vote is up – the Devon riviera town of Torbay. The rise came at the expense of the Lib Dems, who held the seat with a reduced majority over the Conservatives.
This is an unexpected variant on “tactical unwind”. In 1997 the Lib Dem candidate Adrian Sanders won by only 12 votes and put a merciless squeeze on the Labour vote in 2001 to boost his majority to 6,708. My guess is that it was harder to make the tactical argument when his majority looked so healthy.
The Conservative share, despite a high-profile campaign from Marcus Wood, was up only a shade. It’s hard to tell from this, because of the anomalous Labour vote, what the broader picture in the Con/Lib Dem marginals looks like.
Peterborough and Dudley – compare and contrast
This one sneaked through when we were all distracted by Peterborough (congratulations to Stewart Jackson, the new Conservative MP). The swing of 7% to the Conservatives was large, but this was one seat where it was expected because of Helen Clark’s controversial record and the strong Conservative organisation.
Labour held Dudley North with a swing of only 2.5% to the Conservatives, despite some Conservative efforts to talk up their chances in Dudley. The BNP got nearly 10 per cent. It just goes to show that this is a strange election that will keep analysts guessing.
Newbury and Cheadle – compare and contrast
The Conservatives have gained Newbury from the Lib Dems on a swing of 6%, a much more ominous result for the Lib Dems than Torbay. The Lib Dem majority had been eroding ever since David Rendell’s victory in the 1993 by-election.
In suburban Cheadle, Patsy Calton’s majority of 33 was hoisted to comfortable levels on a swing of 5% from the Conservatives. In 2001 a number of first-time incumbents scored good results, and it looks as if this should happen in 2005 as well.
2am: state of play
Everyone has been fighting very shy of making projections of the result, but Peter Snow bravely stepped up and said that the projection on the real results showed a Labour majority of 68.
This seems really odd, given quite what large swings have taken place in some of the Con-Lab marginal seats. I’d be more inclined to say Labour by 30, possibly even less, and a Labour majority of 46 would be a relief for the party.
Perhaps the reason is the abject failure so far of any kind of regional swing to the Conservatives in their designated battleground of the West Midlands. There was a low swing in Dudley North, a low swing in Birmingham Edgbaston, and even a low swing in Birmingham Northfield, the ground zero of the Longbridge collapse.
There seems to be a high swing in London, as predicted, but the Conservatives just missed a much-predicted gain in trendy Hove, despite a slippage of Labour votes to the Lib Dems. Further regional variations could well complicate the picture even more.
The swing to the Lib Dems in some of their battles with Labour is truly enormous – especially Dunbartonshire East, and the landmark gain of Hornsey and Wood Green, where Lynne Featherstone’s enormous investment of time and money has been rewarded.
Moment of smugness
All my constituency bets I’ve seen announced so far have come good – Cardiff Central, Birmingham Yardley, Peterborough, Wimbledon and Ynys Mon.
I’m posting this up now in case I’m imminently proved wrong somewhere else…
Barking – you said it
Margaret Hodge held the seat against a fragmented opposition. The most surprising fact is that the BNP fell only 28 votes short of taking second place from the Conservatives.
Explaining Labour’s London disaster
Labour have done disastrously in London, with Conservative gains in Putney, Wimbledon and Ilford North, now followed by a painful loss in the iconic seat of Enfield Southgate (scene of Stephen Twigg’s triumph over Michael Portillo in 1997) and likely also Bethnal Green and Bow, yet to announce.
With these going, it is hard to see some other seats such as Hornchurch, Bexleyheath, Enfield North, Finchley, Croydon Central, Hammersmith and Fulham being safe. Hornsey and Wood Green has gone, and Battersea hung by a thread.
But in the West Midlands Labour have held on extremely well in the often-volatile Black Country, and in West Yorkshire some marginals that often turn grumpy for Labour have stayed with them, Ann Cryer even managing a swing in her favour in Keighley.
Labour’s London disaster probably has several causes. It was already apparent in the 2002 local elections that there was a swing to the Conservatives in the outer suburbs such as Barnet. Why? There has probably been a pincer movement – some people responding to the Conservative message on crime and immigration, some people voting with their liberal consciences against Iraq.
New projection as Labour rallies
In the last hour or so as well as some stinging defeats like Enfield Southgate there have been some surprising Labour holds coming through such as Stourbridge (confirming Labour’s Black Country sweep), Brighton Kemptown and Dover. Labour also, astonishingly, won the crucial contest in Dumfries and Galloway where two sitting MPs fought it out after boundary changes.
I would now guess the Labour majority at over 50.
Conservatives doing well against Lib Dems
There are now a number of seats where the Conservatives have defeated Liberal Democrat incumbents – Weston-super-Mare, Newbury, Guildford and apparently Ludlow. They have also seen off challenges in Orpington, Surrey South West and Eastbourne. David Davis and Theresa May have both easily evaded “decapitation”.
I can now declare a Conservative victory in the battlefront against the Lib Dems. The seats the Lib Dems have done well against Conservative challenges have been ones they first gained in 2001 (Teignbridge, Dorset Mid and Poole North, Cheadle) where a first-time incumbent has received a personal boost. At the start of the campaign I had expected this battlefront to end honours even, but the Conservatives are clearly winning.
However, the Lib Dems should still increase their representation because of some astonishing gains against Labour, none more amazing than Manchester Withington where there was a 27% swing. The Lib Dem parliamentary party will now be more urban, and possibly more radical, than its predecessor.
Wolves have been reintroduced in the Scottish Highlands, and another rare breed survives near the English border.
As in 2001, there will be a single Scottish Conservative MP. While Peter Duncan lost his seat at Dumfries and Galloway, David Mundell won the newly created and stupidly named seat of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.
Labour held the Kent seat of Sittingbourne and Sheppey with a majority of 79, despite the sitting MP Derek Wyatt having given up earlier in the evening.
This seat is the successor to the Faversham seat, which Labour held with incredibly narrow majorities throughout the Tory 1950s. From memory it was three majorities of under 1,000 in a row, and one of them was below 100. Good to see local traditions being maintained.
The new ultra-marginal is Somerton and Frome, where Lib Dem MP David Heath has enjoyed (if that be the word) three majorities of under 1,000 since his first victory in 1997.
Gravesham in Kent has voted with the winning party in every election since 1918, except for three. The first two exceptions are 1929 and 1951, when the winning party actually had fewer votes than the main opposition.
The third exception is 2005. The Conservative gain breaks Gravesham’s tradition of voting for the winner, although it might be said that Labour’s victory is a bit freakish because their share of the vote was so low. But it leaves us political commentators looking for a new seat to serve as a microcosm of Britain.
A new political map
As the night has gone on, every now and then there has been a constituency result that has made me splutter with surprise.
Who would have thought that Tim Collins in Westmorland and Lonsdale would be the only “decapitation” target to come off?
What odds could you have got on Labour holding Dorset South with an increased majority? (Although, to be fair, there wasn’t much room for a smaller majority).
Even those predicting a bad Labour showing in London would – wrongly – have said that Stephen Twigg would be fine in Enfield Southgate, but – just as wrongly – that the MPs in the Enfield North and Finchley and Golders Green seats would be toast.
What has determined which rural seats the Lib Dems have held and lost in the battle with the Tories?
Most of my constituency bets have won: Basingstoke, Yardley, Boston, Braintree, Bristol West, Cardiff Central, Devon West, Guildford, Haltemprice, Hammersmith, Isle of Wight, Leeds North West, Monmouth, Northampton South, Peterborough, Wells, Wimbledon and Ynys Mon.
The losers are: Enfield North, Harrow West and Watford (just).
Forest of Dean and Selby still to come.
There is sufficient material to keep election analysts guessing for weeks and months. The results are incredibly diverse and complicated, and although the aggregate result is fairly close to what one might have expected, the detail allows no tidy explanation. There’s a lot of work to do before we can describe the new political map of Britain. I’m looking forward to it.