The Committee Rooms
Labour's Vital Statistics
Here we can see the overall numbers of votes cast for the three major parties since 1900. These are raw votes, not Parliamentary seats. What conclusions can we possibly draw from these? Here are a few...
Labour's vote is in trouble!
Whilst we heard a lot of things about the decline of Labour's traditional constituency in the past, now might be a good time to worried. According to these figures, the 2005 election gave the lowest popular vote for Labour since 1983. Only the sluggish recovery of the Conservatives saved them this time. Remember, this is even less in gross votes than they received 1987 under Neil Kinnock. And less than 1992, where the Conservatives won an overall majority despite Labour winning more than 1 and a half million more votes than in 2005. In real terms, Labour is in deep electoral trouble - it has clusters of seats which are now extremely vulnerable, the core vote is wasting, and in some cases, atrophying between the Liberal Democrats and Greens. It remains to be seen whether the Party can re-invigorate itself whilst still in government - this has not happened before. Membership in the next few years may be an important indicator.
The electoral system is struggling
Since the early 1970s we see a huge increase in numbers voting for other parties. The high levels of support for Welsh and Scottish Nationalists are now being augmented by grassroots growth of the Green Party, UK Independence Party and others. At a time when Britain's total potential electorate has increased, positive support for Labour and the Conservatives has remained roughly static or declining, with the noteable exception of the Conservatives in 1992. Beneath the actual frozen reality of a two-party electoral system, it would appear that the diversity of people's views have not been wholly expressed through Parliamentary election results.
People are and were very fed up with New Labour
Even in 2001, with no Iraq war and favourable economic conditions, New Labour showed a drop in voter support comparable to that between 1979 and 1983. The disillusionment in 1970 and 1979 was nothing compared to this. This sharp decline was cushioned by the high Labour vote in 1997; however, this didn't stop the numbers of votes dipping below 1992 levels. Given the current cynicism and malcontent among Labour's supporters, the indications are that the 2005 election would normally be very close. There may be a few big surprises.
Conservative catastrophe in 2001
The Tory vote in 2001 was entirely outside the pattern of results since 1900 and still represents a huge question mark as to the party's future. An answer to this question may not be found for 10 years or so. Only then will we know if the missing Tory voters have gone for good.
A limited mandate
Given the increasing tendency of people to abstain from voting, or support minor parties, the lack of overall legitimacy of future governments may eventually threaten their ability to implement neo-liberal policies which are widely unpopular in the country as a whole.
The tribal instinct of many Labour supporters in Scotland and the North of England, and Conservatives in the Home Counties, seems to be eroding slowly, and may not respond in the same predictable ways in the future. 1950-1974 saw a pretty stable electorate, but since the 1980s there have been huge fluctuations in the levels of party voting. An increase in the overall level of education has possibly loosened the instinctive basis for voting, whilst the continued decline of organised labour will pose a specific challenge to Labour.
Does Labour ever win on a left-wing agenda?
Sometimes, yes. Certainly, it is true that having a right-wing leader is no guarantee of electoral success. The following table bases its assessment of "Right" and "Left" on the manifesto in each election, and where the leader of the time stands in relation to the party.
Year Leader Position Seats +/- Power
1900 Keir Hardie Left +2 No
1906 Keir Hardie Left/Centre +27 Coalition
1910 Arthur Henderson Centre +2 No
1910 George Barnes ? +11 No
1918 William Adamson Centre +15 No
1922 JR Clynes Centre +85 No
1923 Ramsay MacDonald Right/Centre +49 Coalition
1924 Ramsay MacDonald Right -40 No
1929 Ramsay MacDonald Right +136 Coalition
1931 Arthur Henderson Centre -225 No
1935 Clement Attlee Left/Centre +102 No
1945 Clement Attlee Left/Centre +293 Yes
1950 Clement Attlee Centre -78 Yes
1951 Clement Attlee Centre -20 No
1955 Clement Attlee Centre -18 No
1959 Hugh Gaitskill Right/Centre -19 No
1964 Harold Wilson Left/Centre +59 Yes
1966 Harold Wilson Left/Centre +47 Yes
1970 Harold Wilson Centre -76 No
1974 Harold Wilson Centre +13 Hung
1974 Harold Wilson Centre +18 Yes
1979 James Callaghan Right -50 No
1983 Michael Foot Left/Centre -60 No
1987 Neil Kinnock Centre +20 No
1992 Neil Kinnock Right/Centre +42 No
1997 Tony Blair Right +145 Yes
2001 Tony Blair Right -6 Yes
Useful link: Full election results are indexed at Wikipedia
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