Sunday, May 15, 2005
Labour stuck with the old map
Posted by David Smith at 10:59 AM
Category: David Smith's other articles

Imagine, for a second, that the new Labour project had never happened. Rewind 13 years. Neil Kinnock, rather than stepping down immediately after the party’s narrow 1992 election defeat decides to stay on.

He is the political beneficiary of the Tories’ economic woes in the run-up to the 1997 election; the humiliating “Black Wednesday” collapse of sterling’s membership of the exchange-rate mechanism of the European Monetary System, the tax hikes that John Major said would never happen and, of course, deep Tory divisions over Europe. He, rather than Tony Blair, still plugging away at Michael Howard as shadow home secretary, leads Labour back into government after 18 years in the wilderness.

How, a few years on, would you have expected Britain to be voting? Labour, one would be fairly sure, would have huge leads over the Tories in its heartlands of Scotland, Wales, the northeast, the northwest and Yorkshire. The two main parties would be pretty close in the Midlands and London.

But Labour would be well behind in the southeast, the southwest and East Anglia, areas represented on the political map by a swathe of blue. Party loyalties established for decades under “old” Labour would have continued.

Look a little closer at how Britain voted 10 days ago and that, pretty much, is how things turned out in the 2005 general election. Looking at where Labour got its support, it is indeed almost as though Blair and the new Labour project never happened.

“I’ve never been entirely convinced by the idea of new Labour as a political earthquake,” said Professor David Sanders, of Essex University, one of the authors of the forthcoming British Election Study. “What was different in 1997 and 2001 was the destination of the middle-class vote.”

A comparison of Blair’s performance on May 5 and Kinnock’s in the April 1992 defeat is instructive. Blair, with just over 9.5m votes, got 2m fewer than Kinnock’s 11.6m, admittedly in a higher turnout election (78% versus 61% this time). Labour’s 1992 share of the vote was just over 35%, excluding Northern Ireland, compared with just over 36% this time.

Damningly, Blair did worse in the southeast (with just 24% of the vote) than Kinnock, who secured 27% of the southeast vote. Blair in 2005 and Kinnock in 1992 got similar vote shares in London (39% versus 37%) and East Anglia (30% versus 28%). Blair did somewhat better than Kinnock in the southwest, although Labour remains the third party, and in the east Midlands and West Midlands — where Margaret Thatcher had successfully brought skilled manual workers into the Tory fold.

Blair retained small leads in both regions. Kinnock failed to overhaul the Tories in either region, which was why he remained a political bridesmaid.

If regional voting patterns have not changed that much, it is also the case that party support remains firmly class-based. Although the lines between white-collar and manual workers are much more blurred than in the past with the rise of the service-sector economy, YouGov’s campaign polling pointed to a consistent Tory lead among so-called ABC1s but a big Labour lead among C2DEs.

Mori’s analysis breaks this down further. It suggests the Tories had a 37%-28% election-day lead among ABs, professionals and managers, and a 36%-32% lead among C1s, traditionally lower-grade white- collar workers. So much for Blair’s takeover of the middle-classes.

Blair’s continued success, compared with his predecessors, has been maintaining a significant lead (40% to 33%) among skilled manual workers, the C2s. These were traditional Labour supporters under, say, Harold Wilson but left the party in 1979. Labour’s lead remains massive, 48% to 25%, in the DE social groups; the unskilled and the unemployed.

If Labour’s vote has come almost full circle, and surprisingly Blair did better on May 5 than his left-wing predecessor in heartland areas such as the northeast and Scotland, a more detailed reading of the election results also underlines the mountain the Tories still have to climb.

The last three elections have seen the Tories with lower vote shares than in any previous elections, won or lost, since 1945. The party’s Great Britain vote share of just over 33% achieved this time was 10 points lower and 5.3m votes fewer (8.8m against 14.1m) than John Major received in 1992.

The Tories need comfortably more than 40% to form a government. They achieved that this time in the southeast (45%) and East Anglia (43%) but nowhere else. Even in the southwest, the Tories only managed 39%.

Major in 1992 got 45% of the vote in the West Midlands and 47% in the east Midlands. Howard in 2005 was exactly 10 percentage points down on these levels, at 35% and 37% respectively. Unless the Tories can win in the Midlands, they are doomed.

The party can comfort itself with the view that the UK Independence party may have prevented it from winning between 20 and 25 seats — in many marginal seats a straight switch of the UKIP vote would have produced a Tory victory. UKIP disputes this, saying its support comes from all parties.

Worryingly for the Tories the party did poorly among young women. Mori’s analysis suggests that Labour had a 43% to 22% lead among women aged 18-24, 44% to 20% against those aged 25-34 and 40% to 27% in the 35-54 age group. The gaps were smaller among men but this voting pattern reinforces the impression that the Tories are predominantly a male party appealing to older voters Was there a glimmer of hope for the Tories on polling day? Professor Colin Rallings of the Elections Centre at Plymouth University, points out that in May 5’s forgotten elections, for English county councils, the Tories gained 150 seats and Labour lost a similar number.

The Tories are now comfortably the largest party at local level, with nearly 8,200 councillors compared with 6,500 for Labour and 4,700 for the Liberal Democrats. Converting that to national support, however, is easier said than done.

From The Sunday Times, May 15 2005


I wonder if you can help me?

I am looking for a map of the drop in Labour vote from 1997 to 2005 and perhaps the last local elections.

Do you by any chance know where I might be looking?

Would apprecaite any ideas you might have.

Andy Erlam

Posted by: Andy Erlam at May 24, 2006 08:23 PM