I’ve spent most of today gathering together some data about Liberal Democrat Parliamentary seats for my dissertation, and figured that some of you might find it interesting.

The data set is Liberal Democrat seats won at a general election or by-election since 1992, so it excludes pre-1992 seats won at by-elections (which in practice means no Ribble Valley) and seats held by defectors, unless they were won at a subsequent election. I’ve tried to keep some continuity between seats when the geography remains roughly similar – I’ve treated the various Inverness and Nairn seats as one, for instance – but in some cases that’s not been possible.

There are 81 seats that have been won by the party since 1992. 60 of them were originally won from Conservatives (including 6 at by-elections and one defection), 20 from Labour (including 5 at by-elections and one via defection from Labour to the SDP) and one from Plaid Cymru.

There are currently eight held seats: the longest continually-held seat is Orkney and Shetland (since 1950), the others have all been won since 1997. Carshalton and Wallington, Sheffield Hallam and Southport were all won then, North Norfolk in 2001, and Ceredigion, Leeds North West and Westmorland & Lonsdale in 2005. Ceredigion is a bit of a special case as it was previously held by Liberals from 1979 to 1992 and for most of the period up until 1966.

Of the other 73 seats: as of 2015, 41 are now held by the Conservatives with Liberal Democrats in second place in 35 of those seats, third in 2, fourth in 3 and fifth in the Isle of Wight. Labour hold 16 with Liberal Democrats second in 9, third in 2, fourth in 4 and fifth in Leicester South. The SNP hold 11 with Liberal Democrats in second place in 8 seats, third place in 2 seats and fourth place in Dunfermline and West Fife.

The other five seats have been split up too much to have a single recognisable successor seat: Liverpool Mossley Hill (now all in Labour-held constituencies), Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (now in SNP or Conservative constituencies), Truro, Teignbridge, and Falmouth & Camborne (the latter three now all in Conservative constituencies)

I’m not drawing too many conclusions from this yet – part of the reason for doing this is just to have the information I need in one place so I can use it more easily – but there are some interesting patterns in the data. Seats gained from Conservatives tend to follow the pattern of the party having been in 2nd place for a long period – in all the gains from Conservatives since 1997, the party was in 2nd place at the 1992 election. Gains from Labour are much more complex – in 1992, Liberal Democrats were second in four seats that were subsequent gains from Labour, but only one of those (Chesterfield) was won by Labour at that election. Liberal Democrats were second to the Conservatives in three (Bristol West, Leeds North West, and Falmouth & Camborne) that Labour would win in 1997, but the Liberal Democrats would go on to win in 2005. In all four of the 2010 gains from Labour (Bradford East, Burnley, Norwich South, and Redcar), Liberal Democrats were third in 1992, 1997 and 2001, before moving up to second in 2005.

It’s all interesting grist for my theoretic mill about the effects of the structure of competition within the party system, but hopefully some of you will find the information of use for its own sake.

Officials count ballot papers in WitneyHaving a small masochistic streak in me, I watched some of Andrew Marr’s show this morning, so got to see Yvette Cooper saying that maybe adopting the Tory manifesto for their next set of policies wasn’t the best approach for the Labour Party. It’s the sort of thing that should be obvious, but in the rather bizarre world of the mainstream political commentariat it’s almost heresy. After all, Labour was comprehensively defeated in the election while the Tories stormed to a resounding victory, which proves that the country has swung decisively to the right in its attitudes and everyone should just agree with them.

It’s an interesting argument, except for the fact that it rests on a foundation of utter bollocks. Labour’s share of the vote went up by more than the Tories did, David Cameron got fewer votes than Neil Kinnock did in 1992 and all the evidence suggests that the public mood is actually moving leftwards and will continue to do so during the Parliament. Five years ago, Labour let the consensus mediamacro opinion that they were somehow solely responsible for the global financial crisis form while they were busy with their leadership contest, but this time they actually appear to be using their contest to support the formation of a new consensus that the 2015 election was some epochal rejection of the Labour Party, not just a defeat.

As Andrew Rawnsley points out in the Observer today, the only reason we have this narrative is because of our thoroughly broken electoral system that allows a party with 37% of the vote to pretend it has a huge mandate, while one with 31% has been thumpingly rejected. Instead of talking about how one party is mildly more popular than the other, we instead have to act out a bizarre farce where the ‘winners’ of the election are treated as though they have the majority of the population enthusiastically backing them, not just the largest plurality.

The problem for Labour is that their commitment to the current electoral system – in the hope that it will deliver them a similar majority from a plurality if the pendulum swings back to them – means they have to act like the Tories are an actual majority, not just the representatives of 37% of the voters. That’s why they end up pushed into a narrative of having to show their agreement with the Tory manifesto because it’s assumed that they have to take votes from them to win next time, ignoring the large chunk of voters that didn’t vote for either of them, and the even larger chunk of the electorate that didn’t vote at all. Cooper’s right to point out that the way forward for Labour isn’t swallowing the Tory manifesto, but to make that argument stick she’ll have to point out that one big reason the Tories are in a majority is because of the effect of the electoral system. While she’s stuck in pretending that a Parliamentary majority means something more than just a quirk of electoral mathematics, she can’t respond by pointing out that there are other paths Labour can take.

(Incidentally, it’s why I think Mark Thompson’s belief that Liz Kendall could call for electoral reform is wrong. Her pitch for the leadership is bound up tightly in pretending that the Tories are a real majority, so Labour must be more like them, and the arguments she’d need to make for electoral reform would severely weaken her pitch.)

Labour has been in this position before, and there were tentative moves towards adopting electoral reform before 1997, that ended up being quietly shelved once they realised that they could get the electoral system to make them look absurdly dominant. However, now they face a situation where the electoral system is looking very skewed against them, and they’ve got an uphill battle to get a plurality of Commons seats, let alone a majority. By admitting the reality of the electoral situation, Labour can give themselves a strong argument to both challenge the Tories and build co-operation between the opposition parties, all of whom except Labour are committed to some version of electoral reform. Sure, it won’t be popular with every part of the Labour Party, but I’m not detecting a huge wave of enthusiasm within the party for becoming the Tory Reserves either. If any of the leadership candidates want to push Labour away from capitulation to the Tory agenda, they have to challenge the narrative that’s presenting them as hegemonic, and challenging the electoral system is an important part of that. Do any of their candidates have the desire to make that challenge, or will they just be crossing their fingers and hoping for the best in 2020?

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I’m sure we’re all aware that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote, with the effect that politicians often ignore the needs of the young in favour of the old. After all, you’re always going to be more interested in the views of the people who can put you in power rather than the ones who won’t.

This gives us an odd situation where not only are one group’s views and interests favoured over others, that group is the one who’ll experience the least of any consequences from the decisions made by government. Your average first time voter will be around for 50 to 60 years after they’ve voted, living with the consequences of what’s been decided, while an older voter is only going to be around for a fraction of that time. Partly because of their own decision not to vote, those who’ll be affected the most by the decision in an election are likely to have the least influence on it.

What this also means is that governments and voters end up giving much more consideration to the short-term than the long term. Voters who are still going to be around in 30 or 40 years time and dealing with the long-term consequences of decisions made today count just the same as those who won’t be, and the different participation rates effectively make their views worth less in the process than older voters. There are potentially huge social, economic and especially environmental changes happening in that period, but they don’t feature in election campaigns. How many times did politicians talk about things after 2020 in the recent campaign, let alone the 2040s and beyond?

So here’s a thought experiment to try out – what if younger people’s votes counted for more in elections? Not just in terms of getting them to participate at the same rate or higher than older voters, but actually giving them more votes, with your number of votes tapering off as you get older? Everyone would still get a vote, but the power of it would drop as you get older and your stake in the future that’s being decided gets less. Say 18-25 year olds get five votes, 26-40 year olds get four, 40-50 year olds get three, from 50 to 65 you have two votes and finally just one vote if you’re over 65.

How would that effect elections and the way government worked? Would the prospect of a greater say mean the younger you were, the more likely you were to turn out? Would governments have to look more to the long term to get those votes, or would it just reverse the direction of short term pandering with the young getting a lot of freebies in the expectation that those too young to vote (or not even born) would foot the bill?


I’ve been looking through the election numbers (and thanks to Stanno on Twitter for a spreadsheet packed full of election data) and here’s a few things I’ve noticed.

The Liberal Democrats lost votes everywhere. There aren’t any chinks of light in seats where we managed to gain votes. The smallest fall was Dunbartonshire East, where Jo Swinson went down just 2.4%, and the biggest was Brent Central with the total 35.8% down on 2010. All four of the smallest falls were in Scotland (aside from Dunbarton East, they were 2.8% in Edinburgh West, 3.3% in Gordon, and 3.7% in Argyll & Bute) which suggests both hard campaigning in those seats and that anti-SNP tactical voting was a factor. Outside of Scotland, the least worst falls were David Ward in Bradford East (down 4.2%) and Julian Huppert in Cambridge (4.3%).

Labour’s share of the vote went up, and by more than the Tories. It was a terrible night for Labour, voters deserted Ed Miliband etc is the narrative, which ignores that their share of the vote went up by 1.5%, while the Tory share was up just 0.7%. In conventional terms, there was actually a swing from Tory to Labour, but this time the Tories were able to deploy their vote much more efficiently. On a crude measure, the Tories had only two constituencies (Hampshire North and Maidenhead) where they got over 65% of the vote – Labour had 17. There’s a possibility that without Scotland, the bias in the electoral system has now switched, and it’s Labour piling up votes in safe seats, while the Tories gain more seats with a similar share of the vote.

Where have all the voters gone?. 11,560,484 voters. That’s a huge number of people and more than anyone’s got an election since Tony Blair in 1997. Unfortunately, it’s also the number Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party got in 1992. David Cameron only got 11,300,303 voters on Thursday but national turnout was still only 66.1% despite the boost it got from the massive turnout in Scotland. The SNP have shown that it’s possible to engage non-voters, get them voting and change the rules of the game, but how does that happen in the rest of the country?

Turnout matters. It’s a theory I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I still think we make a mistake by treating all voters at all elections as a homogeneous group. I think we there are two distinct groups – those that generally turn out at all elections (with a possible subset of those who vote in local by-elections and PCC elections) and those that only vote at general elections – with different behaviour. For instance, UKIP got 4.3m votes at the European elections last year and 3.9m on Thursday. Once you take out a chunk to represent Tory protest voters who were never going to vote Farage at a General Election, it seems UKIP are very good at motivating voters to turn out for them at all elections, but not too good at persuading those who only vote at general elections to vote for them. Mark Reckless got almost exactly the same number of votes in Rochester and Strood that he got in the by-election, but lost his seat because Kelly Tolhurst (his Tory opponent both times) found 10,000 more voters for the general election.

I suspect a similar factor helped persuade Lib Dems that things wouldn’t be so bad: ‘Look at the local elections! Our vote’s holding up there!’ was the regular cry, but when that group who didn’t vote in local elections were added to the electorate, things went very bad. Differential turnout is a phenomenon that’s not been studied too much, and the corresponding phenomenon of differential enthusiasm amongst supporters of different parties is something I’ve seen put forward as a plausible suggested explanation for the polling errors.

That’s the main things I’ve spotted for now, but I do want to feed these numbers into SPSS sometime in the next few weeks, just to see what interesting figures I can draw out of them – I suspect there are a lot more stories to be told.

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As I get people coming here looking for them, I’ll post them as I get them so the post will be updated as the evening goes on. Click here for the General Election result.

Berechurch: Labour (Dave Harris) 1,958, Conservative 858, UKIP 521, LD 406, Green 152
Birch and Winstree: Conservative (Andrew Ellis) 1,913, UKIP 569, LD 291, Lab 287, Green 145
Castle: Conservative (Darius Laws) 1667, LD 1172, Green 982, Labour 821
Christ Church: Conservative (Annesley Hardy) 964, LD 670, Labour 433, Green 319, UKIP 148
Copford and West Stanway: Conservative (Jackie Maclean) 673, UKIP 177, LD 115, Lab 155, Green 46
Fordham and Stour: Conservative (Nigel Chapman) 2,023, labour 396, Green 336, LD 327
Great Tey: Conservative (Peter Chillingworth) 979, LD 257, Labour 170, UKIP 162, Green 104
Highwoods: Independent (Philip Oxford) 1,592, Conservative 1,192, Labour 479, LD 466, UKIP 395, Green 187
Mile End: Conservative (Ben Locker) 2,101, LD 1,769, Labour 707, UKIP 533, Green 368
New Town: LD (Annie Feltham) 1,289, Conservative 832, Labour 772, Green 631, UKIP 493
Prettygate: Conservative (Will Quince) 2,269, LD 967, Labour 522, UKIP 489, Green 196
Shrub End: Conservative (Pauline Hazell) 1,571, LD 1157, UKIP 757, Labour 736
St Andrew’s: Labour (Tim Young) 1,462, Conservative 715, LD 447, Green 317
St Anne’s: LD (Barrie Cook) 1173, Conservative 976, UKIP 770, Labour 600, Green 241
Stanway: Conservative (Fiona Maclean) 1861, LD 1611, Labour 616, Green 261
Tiptree: Conservative (Margaret Crowe) 1,873, UKIP 1,313, Labour 535, LD 194, Green 129
West Bergholt and Eight Ash Green: Conservative (Marcus Harrington) 1,578, UKIP 370, Labour 306, LD 265, Green 204, Independent 151, Patriotic Socialist 12
West Mersea: Conservative (Patricia Moore) 2,154, UKIP 988, labour 402, Green 330, LD 278
Wivenhoe Cross: Lib Dem (Mark Cory) 668, Labour 328, Green 130, Conservative 271, UKIP 90
Wivenhoe Quay: Labour (Rosaling Scott) 1295, Conservative 1251, Green 325, LD 295

Official details are on the Borough council website here.


I’ve spotted a few people landing here after googling for the result, so here it is.

Will Quince (Conservative) 18,919
Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat) 13,344
Jordan Newell (Labour) 7,852
John Pitts (UKIP) 5,870
Mark Goacher (Green) 2499
Ken Scrimshaw (Christian People’s Alliance) 109

That’s a 100% swing for me from contented to gutted.

The local elections aren’t counted until later this afternoon, and I’ll post those results as I get them – they’ll also be on the Colchester Borough Council website, and I recommend Colchester Chronicle’s website and Twitter feed for live coverage. Click here for the Colchester Council local election results.

One of these days I’m going to start believing exit polls. I thought the 2010 one was wrong as there was no way we’d lose seats, and when tonight’s came out I joined in the chorus of people who thought there was no way it could be the correct result. If anything, it now seems to have underestimated the number of Tory seats,

I’m doing an exam about public opinion and polling a week on Monday. Might be time to shred a whole bunch of my notes and just scrawl ‘nobody knows anything’ across the paper, as that seems to be the message. Something happened that the polls completely missed, but I have no idea what that factor might be.

At the moment, there are just six Liberal Democrat MPs, a number we last had after the 1970 election, but was pretty much our default number during most of the 50s and 60s. We’ve still got local election results to come tomorrow, and given the absolute slaughter of our general election vote, we’re likely to face another long day of terrible news from around the country. And as I write this, the Colchester result has come through, and Bob Russell’s lost by over 5,500 votes. This is a potential extinction level event for the party.

But we can’t let it be that. The country’s now going to get to see just what we spent five years holding back as the Tories have their bare majority, and David Cameron has to govern while keeping the right wing fringes of his party happy. Watch in awe as the Human Rights Act goes, as welfare budgets are slashed, as housing associations are plundered and most of all, as we spend the next two years obsessing over Europe and wondering just why no one wants to renegotiate our EU membership. The Tory campaign has whipped up fear and division across the country, and now they’re going reap what they’ve sown with more than 50 SNP MPs sitting in Westminster, just waiting for the opportunity to make Scotland independent.

The country needs a strong liberal voice, and we need to make sure that we are still that voice, no matter how small the platform we have to shout it from. However, we first need to gather ourselves, to talk and think for a while and not rush into any decisions about the future, and that includes a leadership election.

To be clear, the responsibility for this catastrophe does lie heavily with Clegg and all those in the leadership who decided we needed to be a party of centrist managerialism, offering the public little more than an offer to moderate the bad things the other parties would do. But if you break something, it’s your responsibility to stay around and help with the clean up. Clegg can’t stay on as leader, but the last thing we need right now is to be plunged straight into a leadership election. He needs to stay on as effectively an interim leader to give us the space to have the reviews, the analysis and the discussions we need. This was not a conventional defeat, and we can’t respond to it in a conventional way. We cannot turn in on ourselves and fight over what little remains, we need to get ourselves together before we can work out where we’re going.

This isn’t the end, but we need to work harder than ever to get out of this hole.