Saturday, 14 April 2012

And What If The Liberal Democrats Do Well?

In my last post I had a bit of play around with swings from the Liberal Democrats to Labour. But, what if it goes the other way and the Liberal Democrats pick up votes directly from Labour?

Who gains?

Now, I am going to be looking at some pretty large (and very unlikely) swings just to see how much support the Liberal Democrats need to gain from Labour to past certain landmarks- such as largest party and overall majority. Feel free to skip these and scroll down to the end.

Just a 0.25% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats is all it takes for the Conservatives to form a majority Government and be able to ditch the Liberal Democrats as coalition partners. Labour's loss of 4 seats to the Conservatives, together with Ashfield falling to the Liberal Democrats, is enough. Note that this is a win-win situation for both coalition partners- although the Liberal Democrats eating into Labour's vote could see them out of office.

Once we get to a 0.66% swing then something arises that could be a problem. The Liberal Democrats gain Croydon Central & St Helier from the Conservatives. This indicates there could be a problem- on a 0.66% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative majority is 2 less (4 rather than 6) than it would be on a 0.65% swing. While the Conservatives are gaining seats from Labour, they are also losing ones to the Liberal Democrats.

By the time of a 1% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats, then things haven't improved at all for the Conservatives, but the Liberal Democrats are successfully winning marginals from Labour.

The next interesting swing is a 1.92% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. This puts Labour just 2.26% ahead of the Liberal Democrats- which, as any good political anorak will tell you was the lead that Labour had over the Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance in Great Britain at the June 1983 general election. In 1983 this gave Labour 209 seats compared to the Liberals' 17 and the Social Democrats' 6- so Labour had just over 9 times as many MPs as the Alliance did. This projection sees Labour on 212 MPs compared to the Liberal Democrats' 62- so about 3-and-a-half times as many MPs.

Note that the 62 MPs that the Liberal Democrats would have equals their number at the June 2001 general election- however, at that election there were 628 MPs from Great Britain (giving the Liberal Democrats 9.87% of the Great Britain MPs), while in 2015 there would only be 584 MPs from Great Britain (so, on 62 MPs, the Liberal Democrats would have 10.62% of the Great Britain MPs). This is the greatest since the 11.77% secured at the October 1931 general election- out of the 603 Great Britain MPs, 35 were National Liberal, 32 Liberal and 4 Independent Liberals. If we want to look at a single Liberal party, we need to go back to the 26.20% (on 30.07% of the vote)- out of 603 Great Britain MPs, 158 were Liberals.

The next interesting swing is 3.05%, which sees the Liberal Democrats equalise with Labour on 26.61% of the vote. This sees the Conservatives still with a single-figure majority, and Labour ahead of the Liberal Democrats with 206 seats to 65. The last time the Liberals got more votes than Labour was at the December 1918 general election.

What is interesting at that stage are these little northern "pockets" of non-Labour MPs, such as in the Oldham/Rochdale area- where the Conservatives will have gained Rochdale North & Rawtenstall, while the Liberal Democrats will have finally gained both Oldham & Saddleworth and Rochdale South- and the northern part of the city of Leeds- where the Conservatives will have gained Leeds North East, while the Liberal Democrats will have gained both Leeds North (from Labour) and Guiseley & Yeadon (from the Conservatives).

Note that until this point, the Conservative gains from Labour have been nearly matched by the losses to the Liberal Democrats- so the Conservative majority is reasonably stable in single figures. However, after this point, the Conservatives are gaining seats from Labour a fair bit quicker than they are losing them to the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberal Democrats are making gains from Labour as well.

It is on a swing of 6.72% that the Liberal Democrats- already on more than 30% of the vote- smash through the 100-seat barrier for the first time since 1923 by gaining Huddersfield, although even at this point they only have just under half the MPs they would have under a fully proportional system.

By this stage, the political map is very different. Birmingham is predominatly coalition- the two Conservative seats of Birmingham Erdington and Sutton Coldfield are joined by the gains of Birmingham Harborne and Birmingham Northfield, while for the Liberal Democrats Birmingham Edgbaston (gained from Labour) joins Birmingham Yardley. Bristol goes totally yellow as the Liberal Democrats will have gained Bristol East and Bristol South (both from Labour) as well as Bristol North West (from the Conservatives) to add to their existing Bristol West.

On a 9.01% swing, Labour and the Liberal Democrats equalise on 128 seats, despite the Liberal Democrats being 11.92% ahead in share of the vote. By this stage, Labour is being driven out of whole urban areas on its worse share of the vote since the December 1910 general election. Abderdeen North and Abderdeen South have both fallen to the Liberal Democrats, and with Dundee West & Gowrie having been won by the Scottish Nationalist Party, northern Scotland is all in the hands of the Liberal Democrats or the SNP. The Welsh capital is a Labour-free city, with 3 seats (Cardiff Central & Penarth, Cardiff East and Cardiff West) falling to the Liberal Democrats, while the Conservatives replace Labour as the big cheese in Caerphilly & Cardiff North. In the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Labour are left with just Newcastle-upon-Tyne East & Tynemouth, with Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central, Newcastle-upon-Tyne North & Cramlington and Newcastle-upon-Tyne South all being won by the Liberal Democrats.

Around this point, another change happens. The Conservatives are starting to lose seats to the Liberal Democrats faster than they are gaining them from Labour, and so their majority is starting to fall.

And on a 12.94% swing, the inevitable happens as the Conservatives- only 0.47% ahead of the Liberal Democrats in share of the vote- lose their overall majority with the loss of the successor to Tony Blair's seat when he was Labour Prime Minister (Sedgefield & Yarm).

On a 13.41% swing the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have equalised in share of the vote (36.97%) which would be the Liberal Democrats' highest share of the vote since December 1910. Incidentally the last time the Liberals got more votes than the Conservatives was the January/February 1906 general election. This would produce a Conservative minority government. What is interesting is that the Liberal Democrats, on 210 MPs, are only 6 seats behind what they would be entitled to on a fully proportional system.

On a 13.8% swing, which puts the Liberal Democrats 0.39% ahead of the Conservatives in share of the vote, the Liberal Democrats have 318 MPs. In a fully proportional system they would have 318 MPs.

On a 14.06% swing the Liberal Democrats have 221 seats and Labour 67- a combined total of 288, which is 2 more than the Conservatives. At this point a Liberal Democrat/Labour minority government is a possibility.

On a 16.81% swing, a Liberal Democrat/Labour majority Government can be formed.

On a 17.29% swing, which has the Liberal Democrats 3.88% ahead of the Conservative in share of the vote, the Liberal Democrats win Smethwick from Labour, meaning that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats tie on 272 MPs (interestingly in the close elections of 1910, in January the Liberals had 274 MPs to the Conservatives' 272, and in December then Libersls had 272 MPs to the Conservatives' 271- the last time the Liberals had the most MPs).

And it is on an 18.09% swing that the Liberal Democrats form their first majority Government since 1906.

So, what are my conclusions?

  • The Conservatives benefit from modest swings from Labour to the Liberal Democrats and it doesn't take much movement from Labour to the Liberal Democrats for the Conservatives to get an overall majority. Of course we should target Labour voters, but it might also be worthwhile allowing the Liberal Democrats to take the credit for some policies which reach out to Labour supporters
  • But the advantage seems to level off after a while
  • And, another question is this- if the Conservatives manage to get an overall majority, should we ditch the Liberal Democrats?. Firstly, if the Liberal Democrat vote goes up, it seems a bit odd for them to lose office- although in the October 1951 general election, the Labour Government saw its vote increase (to the highest share Labour has ever achieved) and lost office (ironically, Labour did better in an election it lost than it had ever done in any election it won).

    The other point- as I mentioned in my last post- is that in 1951 Winston Churchill led the Conservative grouping to an overall majority but tried to form a coalition with the Liberals. And something has changed since then...

    We talk of hung Parliaments as being rare beasts in the United Kingdom, and will remind ourselves that it has only happened twice in the post-war era, in February 1974 and May 2010. True- as long as you only look at one end of the Palace of Westminster. Walk to the other end, from the green to the red, and you will be confronted with a Parliament that has been hung for as long as anyone can remember, and where Governments have to cope with being in a minority, and have to win votes by winning the debate.

    This is, of course, the House of Lords. Since Churchill's day, it has been reformed by the Life Peerages Act 1958 and the House of Lords Act 1999, with further reform in the pipeline. Each reform has made the Lords a bit more assertive, a bit more willing to challenge the House of Commons- subject, of course, to the constitutional restrictions in the Parliament Act 1911 and the Parliament Act 1949. Maybe in May 2015 we shall see the start of an elected element to the House of Lords. Whether we do, or not, have a part-elected House of Lords, a post-2015 Conservative majority Government would face a hung House of Lords.

    Such a Government would need to work with the House of Lords to get its business through. That means dealing with Liberal Democrat peers- either within Government or without. Yes, we could come to some sort of 1970s style "Lib-Lab pact" with Liberal Democrats being consulted on legislation to get their support, but imagine people who have been Liberal Democrat ministers finding themselves in Opposition and being consulted by Conservative politicians holding the jobs they held a few weeks earlier. It would be a bit of a slap in the face, hammering home that their party is out of office- not by losing an election but because they're not needed in the House of Commons anymore.

    More tactful and better would be to have the Liberal Democrats- MPs and peers- involved in the legislative work from the beginning, as a party of Government with members of both Houses serving in the Government, including some in the Cabinet. You cannot work with a party in Government for 5 years, and in the years before that co-operate in the House of Lords to defeat Labour, and then throw them out as they are no longer useful.

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