Edited to add: on my Facebook wall I’ve had a few useful comments on turnout and I will do some further work on this and publish another post on this in the next couple of days.
I’ve become increasingly frustrated with people rushing to judgement with their theory Labour needs to do to win power, when it appears none of them has actually analysed the actual election results in any detail.
The name of this blog is a nod to something the great physicist Richard Feynman once said. Feynman said many wise things, and another quote of his that I like (about the the process of science) is:
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
Those rushing out with theories to fit selective facts are merely reinforcing their own political preferences and are most likely fooling themselves. This fitting of theories to selective facts is a classic example of confirmation bias in action.
Of course it’s to be expected that everyone will have their own theory, but before developing theories, it really is a good idea to actually get a broad picture of the facts (including those facts that may not fit your preferred theory). Another quote, this time from Mark Twain, may explain where I’m coming from:
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
So in the spirit of getting our facts straight I’ve looked at the 2015 election results in detail and done a comparative analysis with the 2010 results. I would hope there is little anyone could disagree with in this post, as it is an attempt at an objective analysis of the results, with little or no theory on what should be done to remedy things.
Warning: this is quite a long post (but it has a graphs that can speak a thousand words). However I think anyone interested in the Labour Party’s fortunes will find this interesting, as it is fact based and sets out the challenges clearly based on real evidence, and not any preferred political viewpoint.
Before we get started, a quick word about the graphs. There are a few of them. They will appear quite small on the screen but if you click them they will enlarge. Even if you don’t enlarge them you can see the overall patterns clearly, especially if you read the narrative that precedes each graph.
Turnout went up
Overall, turnout actually went up to 66.1 per cent from 65.1 per cent in 2010. The graph below shows the turnout for each constituency (note every constituency is shown by a bar but for space reasons not each one has a text label on the vertical axis). Turnout ranges from 49.9 per cent in Stoke-on-Trent Central to 81.9 per cent in Dunbartonshire East.
Proportion of the electorate that actually voted for their MP
Given government’s desire to change the law on strike ballots in “essential services” so that strikes cannot be called unless 40 per cent of members balloted vote yes, I thought it would be useful to see what percentage of registered voters voted for their MP.
The graph below shows shows these percentages with the dark lines at the bottom being the 86 (out of 650) MPs who met the 40 per cent threshold. Note every constituency is shown by a bar but for space reasons not each one has a text label on the vertical axis.
Incidentally, Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary who is bringing this law forward, had 38.4 per cent of the electorate voting for him. I’ll leave readers of this blog to draw their own conclusions.
Change in vote share in key constituencies as an indicator
Rather than looking at the actual numbers of people voting and the sizes of majorities, I want to start the analysis of what happened by looking at the change in vote share from 2010 as this tells us more about what changed for the parties from the 2010 election.
What follows is a series of graphs of the change in vote share from the 2010 election. I’ve not done graphs for all constituencies as I’m looking at this from the point of view of the Labour Party, and I’m therefore focusing on the key constituencies the Labour needed to win, or the ones where the outcome was close.
Whilst you can click on each graph to see the detail for each constituency, to get a good idea of broad the patterns it is best to look at the overall distribution of the coloured bars across the constituencies in each graph.
Scotland – change in vote share for seats with majorities less than 7,500
Two huge swings evident in these seats – the Lib Dems (yellow) lose a big vote share and SNP (orange) gain a massive vote share. Labour (red) only gain vote share in one seat and in the others the loss in vote share varies from small to large.
Lesson number one: In 2020 in Scotland Labour need to take (a lot of) votes mainly from the SNP.
Change in vote share – Tory held seats with majority less than 4,000
If Labour are to win in 2020 then any Tory held seat with a majority of less than 4,000 will be essential to win (as will many others, but more on this later). Below is the change in vote share of all such seats. Some of these seats (Derby North, Telford, Morley and Outwood) were Labour and went Tory in 2015. Most of the rest of these seats were ones Labour had to win in in 2015 and they stayed Tory.
The broad picture here is a massive loss in vote share for the Lib Dems (yellow) and a nearly as large gain in vote share for UKIP (purple). In most seats the Labour vote share went up, but it did for the Tories too.Change in vote share in the Midlands seats for Labour and Tory held seats with a majority less than 4,000
The Midlands was a key battleground for Labour with ten must win seats along with at least another 15 or so from which Labour were hoping for at least another five gains. In the Midlands Labour won one seat from the Lib Dems (Birmingham Yardley) and one from the Tories (Wolverhampton South West). And that was it.
The graph below shows Labour and Tory seats with majorities of less than 4,000. The Tory seats are those above the double dashed line, Labour seats are below it. The broad picture is the same as the graph above: a massive loss in vote share for the Lib Dems (yellow) and a nearly as large gain in vote share for UKIP (purple). In most seats the Labour vote share went up, but it did for the Tories too.Change in vote share in Northern seats for Labour, Lib Dem and Tory held seats with a majority less than 4,000
The north of England, like the Midlands, had many battleground seats. The graph below shows Labour, Lib Dem and Tory seats with majorities of less than 4,000. They are separated by the two sets of double dashed lines.
For the Tory and Labour held seats the broad picture is the same as the two previous graphs: a massive loss in vote share for the Lib Dems (yellow) and a nearly as large gain in vote share for UKIP (purple). In most seats the Labour vote share went up, but it did for the Tories too.
In the three Lib Dem held seats at the bottom (including Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat), the Labour vote share went up a lot, and the Tory vote share went down a lot, but the seats stayed Lib Dem held despite the fall in Lib Dem vote share. The clear implication in these three seats is (that in direct opposition to nearly every other seat in the country) Tory voters switched to the Lib Dems to save the Lib Dem incumbents.
What the vote share graphs above tell us
In the majority of the seats above (apart from the Scottish ones) the picture was broadly the same: a massive loss in vote share for the Lib Dems (yellow) and a nearly as large gain in vote share for UKIP (purple). In most seats the Labour vote share went up, but it did for the Tories too; with mainly small gains in vote share for the Tories and Labour.
The Lib Dem lost votes are very unlikely to have all (or even mainly) gone to UKIP. A small proportion of Lib Dem protest voters may have voted UKIP but they are at least as likely to have gone to the Greens.
It’s most likely lost Lib Dem votes went in two main places. First, the grumpy lefty Lib Dem votes cast because of unhappiness with Gordon Brown in 2010 will have come back to Labour (and this marries up with mine and other people’s experiences on the doorstep). Second, that part of the Lib Dem vote that usually switches between Lib Dem and Tory will have switched to the Tories, perhaps due to fear of the SNP influence over a Labour government (again marries up with widespread doorstep anecdotes).
So if this large chunk of Lib Dems mainly went Labour and Tory, why no corresponding big rise in the Labour and Tory vote share? It’s because of UKIP, who had a big jump in vote share and took votes from both Labour and the Tories. But given that Labour made very few gains in key seats it hurt Labour more than the Tories.
Lesson number two: In 2020 in Midlands and Northern key seats Labour need to take votes mainly from UKIP and also some from the Tories. There are unlikely to be many gains from the few Lib Dem voters left.
Change in national vote share for main parties
The graph below shows the change in national vote share for the main parties. Despite Labour increasing its vote share by more than the Tories did, they still lost seats. why so? Read on.
Votes per seat
The table below shows the seats won and the votes per seat (total votes cast for the party divided by number of seats) for 2010 and 2015. The SNP in particular are disproportionately represented compared to votes cast. It also shows that in 2015 the way vote were cast across seats worked to the advantage of the Tories as oppose to Labour. Labour are piling up votes in seats where all it does is increase the majority, but the Tories have managed to spread their votes more efficiently across seats to ensure they win more.
Relatively speaking the other parties had to get a lot of votes cast for them to get a relatively meagre haul.
Lesson number three: In 2020 the way that votes are cast across the country benefits the Tories more than Labour and this will only get worse for Labour after the likely boundary review that the new government will conduct.
The impact of the Green party
I did a short blog post on this last week but it is worth adding into this piece.
There are 10 seats where the Green vote is bigger than the Tory majority – see the graph below.
Obviously not every Green voter would have voted Labour, but some may have done if they had known it could have elected a Labour, instead of Tory MP.
With Sinn Fein not taking their 4 seats in Westminster, 324 seats are required for a working majority. The Tories got 331. If eight out of 10 of the seats below were won by Labour the Tories would not have a majority in Westminster.
Lesson number four: Assuming vote switching from other parties remains broadly neutral, there are seven out of the above ten seats where only a small number of Green voters switching back to Labour could be decisive in 2020.
The seats Labour needs to win in 2020 to get a majority
This is perhaps the most important graph and the crux of what Labour need to do. To get a majority Labour need to win 92 seats (assuming Sinn Fein keep their four seats). The graph below shows the top 100 seats where Labour are in second place in order of majority. The first seat where Lab in 2nd place has a 27 vote majority; the 92nd seat where Lab is in second place has a vote 8,370 majority. The graph also shows the next eight seats as well. The colour of the bar shows which party holds that seat.
Lesson number five: As well as dealing with lessons one to four Labour has to win 18 challenging seats with majority over 3,000 in the South of England, such as: Enfield Southgate; Harrow East; Hastings and Rye; Stroud; Bristol North West; Finchley and Golders Green; South Swindon; Dover; Reading East; Crawley; Reading West; Camborne and Redruth; Gloucester; Kensington; Chipping Barnet; Battersea; Brighton Pavilion; Gravesham. None of these seats are “typical Labour” but they have to be won to form a majority.
- Massive issues for Labour in Scotland but even if all SNP seats with majority under 9,000 return to Labour, then Labour are still short of a majority.
- Labour to UKIP switchers are a big problem in Midlands and Northern marginals and are the difference between winning and losing these seats.
- Lib Dem collapse and UKIP growth means to win many marginals Labour need votes from UKIP and Tories in the same seat (as well the Greens).
- To form a majority Labour need to win 92 seats with majorities ranging from 27 to 8,370. Typically a seat is seen as marginal if it has a majority of less than 3,000.
- Labour need to win 18 challenging non typical Labour seats held by the Tories in the South of England that have a majorities between 3,000 and 8,370.
It’s all well and good people theorising on why Labour lost the election (too left, too right, bad leader, not enough aspiration etc.), but most important thing to do is look at the hard facts and where we are now.
The objective is very clear and simple: a majority Labour government in 2020, which means a net gain of 92 seats in the election.
To do this Labour need to elect a leader (we know who the leader is matters) and develop a policy agenda that addresses the five points in the summary above.
If people develop theories on how to win that don’t address all five of the points above then they will fall foul of Feynman’s advice and end up fooling themselves.
I shall remix the Mark Twain quote at the start of this post and suggest that you’ve got the facts now, so feel free to distort them as you please!