Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Last Sunday After Pentecost - Where The Alternative Service Book Got It Right

Those who follow the Book of Common Prayer and/or Common Worship lectionaries will be aware that last Sunday was the 20th Sunday after Trinity.

If - like me - you became a Christian from a non-churchgoing background in the late 1980s or early 1990s and attended a Church of England church, then your first liturgical encounter would be with the Alternative Service Book. It would be confusing to hear older people reminisce about Series 1, Series 2, Series 3 and Series 2 & 3 Combined.

A key part of any service book is its calendar. The Church calendar plays a role in helping us remember parts of Jesus's life, death and resurrection, and the actions of God in His story of redemption - not just the familiar Easter and Christmas Day, but the Epiphany (6 January), Transfiguration (6 August), Ascension Day etc.

One of the ways that I feel Common Worship has improved on the Book of Common Prayer is its handling of November. In the BCP, you had Advent Sunday, which would be between 27 November and 3 December inclusive, with the Last Sunday after Trinity being the Sunday before that (i.e. between 20 and 26 November inclusive).

November is a heavy month. The nights draw in, frosts appear, deciduous trees are bare, flowers die. There is this element of death and decay - and that month sees All Saints' Day (1 November) and All Souls' Day (2 November), as well as Remembrance Sunday (which, for obvious reasons, the Reformers would not have known about).

Common Worship draws this together into its own little liturgical season, starting with All Saints' Sunday, 4 weeks before Advent - hence between 30 October and 5 November inclusive. This means that its Last Sunday after Trinity is 4 weeks before the one in the BCP (so will be between 23 and 29 October inclusive). Before we get into the rush of Christmas and our celebrating of the birth of Jesus, we reflect on our own mortality.

Under the ASB calendar, Common Worship's Last Sunday after Trinity would be 9 Before Christmas, as the Church of England bought into the secular idea that Christmas needed a nice long period of preparation.

And so the Sunday between 16 and 22 October inclusive (i.e. last Sunday) would be on the calendar as the Last Sunday after....

No, not Trinity.

Trinity Sunday can be as early as 17 May or as late as 20 June. There is that long period in the church calendar where Sundays are named after how many weeks they are after it.

The Alternative Service Book used a different starting point - the Sunday before Trinity, which is Whit Sunday (in the BCP) and Pentecost (in Common Worship). This celebrates the day that the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and the others in the upper room, empowering them to bring the Christian Gospel across the known world.

The nth Sunday after Pentecost is the (n-1)th Sunday after Trinity.

This seems, to me, to be the better starting point. The Church's mission, and our individual lives, rely on the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Naming our Sundays after Pentecost puts the focus, correctly, on this.

The Crossbench Senate - A Consequence Of The Canadian Election

It is now clear that Canada's Liberals have gone from a poor third place to win yesterday's election - which is an amazing turn around, given that at the previous election, in May 2011, the New Democrats had replaced them as the Official Opposition.

What might be overlooked is the Senate, which has an upper size of 105 members. There are currently a rather large number of vacancies - 22 in all, just over one-fifth of the Senate. And this now gives the incoming Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, a golden opportunity.

A couple of years back, I noted that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was a bit of a genius by appointing loads of Blairite Labour peers, who would carry the flame for decades after he had left office. The situation in Canada is similar, as a Prime Minister can appoint his or her own people to the Senate.

There are a couple of restrictions:

  1. Not only is there a maximum size of 105 - preventing the almost unlimited appointments that a British Prime Minister could do - but Canada's federal structure sets the number of Senators per province/territory, with Québec and Ontario being entitled to 24, while the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon are entitled to 1 each
  2. Senators have to retire by their 75th birthday

One fundamental difference with the House of Lords is that a Canadian Prime Minister tends to make appointments from his own party, rather than the British-style inviting the Leader of the Opposition and leader(s) of major minor parties to nominate. The other fundamental difference is that there is no real equivalent of the Crossbench peers who are a key part of the House of Lords.

The current composition is:

  • Conservative - 47
  • Independent-ish Liberal - 29
  • Independent - 6
  • Progressive Conservative - 1
  • vacant - 22

As with anything political, it is more complicated, and the non-Conservative Senators need to be explained in more detail.

The Progressive Conservatives were an old party, similar to the Conservative party we know in the United Kingdom. The October 1993 election was a disaster for them, being reduced to fifth-party status with just 2 MPs, and the Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, losing Vancouver Centre to the Liberals.

Something had happened a few years earlier which had been a factor in their decline. In November 1988, John Dahner, the Progressive Conservative MP for Alberta's Beaver River, died from cancer. March 1989 saw a by-election, with Deborah Gray becoming the Reform Party's first MP.

The November 1988 election had been the last of the traditional 3-party (Progressive Conservative, Liberal, New Democrats) ones, with the Reform Party coming a poor fourth, with just over 2% of the vote and no MPs.

In 1993, newcomers Bloc Québécois won 54 of Québec's 75 seats and became Canada's Official Opposition. Second in terms of votes - but with only 52 seats - was the Reform Party, eclipsing the Progressive Conservatives as the voice of the centre-right. The next election, June 1997, saw the Reform Party overtake Bloc Québécois in terms of seats, so its leader, Preston Manning, became Leader of the Opposition. The Progressive Conservatives increased to 20 MPs, but remained in fifth place.

The Reform Party's seats were all in western provinces - Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In all of these (apart from Manitoba, where the Liberals topped the poll), it was the largest party in terms of votes and seats. Apart from an MP from Manitoba, the Progressive Conservatives were winning seats in provinces where the Reform Party was failing to win any - Newfoundland (now Newfoundland & Labrador), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Québec. Indeed, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (where it was the New Democrats who won a majority of the province's seats), the Progressive Conservatives came first in terms of number of votes.

November 2000 saw another election with the Canadian Alliance - the successor to the Reform Party - again forming the Official Opposition, and the Progressive Conservatives remaining in fifth place. Although the Alliance picked up a couple of seats in Ontario - where the Progressive Conservatives lost their sole seat - they were again winning seats in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, failing to make real inroads anywhere else.

In December 2003, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives mostly merged to form the Conservatives.

However, not taking part in the merger were a few politician, including Elaine McCoy of Alberta, who would go on to be appointed to the Senate in March 2005. When she reaches retirement in March 2021, that will be the end of the Progressive Conservatives as a parliamentary party.

There are 6 Independents - Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu (Québec), Patrick Brazeau (Québec), Anne Cools (Ontario), Michael Duffy (Prince Edward Island), Don Meredith (Ontario) and Pamela Wallin (Saskatchewan).

Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin were all initially Conservatives, who subsequently resigned the Conservative whip, followed by suspension for breaking rules. The suspensions only last until the election, so all 3 will be able to take their seats again when the Senate next meets. Whether the Conservatives let them re-join is another matter.

Boisvenu, Cools and Meredith are also ex-Conservatives (although Cools, currently the longest-serving Senator, was initially appointed to the Senate by Trudeau's father as a Liberal).

The current law sets election day to be the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous election - hence the next election should be 21 October 2019. And, under the retirement rules, there will be other vacancies to be filled by the time this new Parliament is dissolved:

Retirement Senator Province Party
February 2016 Irving Gerstein Ontario Conservative
April 2016 Céline Hervieux-Payette Québec Independent Liberal
May 2016 David Smith Ontario Independent Liberal
August 2016 Michel Rivard Québec Conservative
January 2017 Jim Cowan Nova Scotia Independent Liberal
Wilfred Moore Nova Scotia Independent Liberal
Nancy Ruth Ontario Conservative
May 2017 Maria Chaput Manitoba Independent Liberal
August 2017 Bob Runciman Ontario Conservative
September 2017 George Baker Newfoundland & Labrador Independent Liberal
Libbe Hubley Prince Edward Island Independent Liberal
November 2017 Kelvin Ogilvie Nova Scotia Conservative
April 2018 Pana Merchant Saskatchewan Independent Liberal
May 2018 Nancy Raine British Columbia Conservative
August 2018 Anne Cools Ontario Independent
Betty Unger Alberta Conservative
September 2018 Art Eggleton Ontario Independent Liberal
November 2018 Nick Sibbeston Northwest Territories Independent Liberal
December 2018 Colin Kenny Ontario Independent Liberal
April 2019 Ghislain Maltais Québec Conservative
June 2019 Charlie Watt Québec Independent Liberal

So, from the maths it looks like Trudeau can have 22 Senators appointed in the very near future, and adding those to the 29 Independent Liberals gives him 51 Senators - just 2 short of an absolute majority when the Senate is at full capacity. In addition, during the course of this Parliament, he will be able to replace 8 Conservatives and 1 Independent with Liberals - bringing him to 60 Senators.

The Independent Liberals - I didn't get round to them, did I? In January 2014, Trudeau had all Liberal Senators removed from the Liberal caucus. According to him:

The Senate is broken and needs to be fixed. If the Senate serves a purpose at all, it is to act as a check on the extraordinary power of the prime minister and his office, especially in a majority government. The party structure in the Senate interferes with this responsibility. Taken together with patronage (appointments), partisanship within the Senate is a powerful, negative force. It reinforces the prime minister's power instead of checking it.

The article states:

If elected prime minister, Trudeau said he'd go further. He'd appoint only independent senators after employing an open, transparent process, with public input, for nominating worthy candidates — much the way recipients of the Order of Canada are chosen.

It sounds like Trudeau is looking at something like the House of Lords Appointments Commission, with its function in recommending crossbench peers.

If Trudeau is going down this route, then the Senate at the time this Parliament is dissolved will look something like this:

  • Crossbench - 43
  • Conservative - 39
  • Independent Liberal - 17
  • Independent [ex-Conservative] - 5
  • Progressive Conservative - 1

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

If David Cameron Resigns In 2019, What Is The Best Time?

There was an interesting article by James Forsyth in The Spectator, suggesting that Prime Minister David Cameron will resign in 2019:

Mr Cameron has chosen a date for his departure: his closest allies in Downing Street have been told that he intends to announce he’s leaving in the spring of 2019. The Tory leadership race would then take place over the summer, with the new leader introducing themself to the country at the party conference that autumn.

Out of post-war Prime Ministers, Cameron has already served longer than Winston Churchill (considering solely his post-war premiership), Anthony Eden, Alec Douglas-Home, Ted Heath, Jim Callaghan and Gordon Brown. He overtakes:

  • Clement Attlee on 11 August 2016
  • John Major on 14 October 2016
  • Harold Macmillan on 16 February 2017
  • Harold Wilson on 14 February 2018
  • Tony Blair on 6 July 2020
  • Margaret Thatcher on 6 December 2021

A Conservative leadership race over the summer of 2019, with the new leader making his or her first appearance at the October conference, sounds intriguing. But there are a couple of problems with timing.

A modern-style leadership race takes about 2 months, so this is time taken out while a party should be preparing for the next election - due on Thursday, 7 May 2020. If we look at how far in to a Parliament a Prime Minister has resigned (for whatever reason) we have:

General election Change of leader Outgoing leader Incoming leader Time from election
October 1951 April 1955 Churchill Eden 3y 5m
May 1955 January 1957 Eden Macmillan 1y 7m
October 1959 October 1963 Macmillan Douglas-Hone 4y 0m
February 1974 April 1976 Wilson Callaghan 2y 1m
June 1987 November 1990 Thatcher Major 3y 5m
May 2005 June 2007 Blair Brown 2y 2m

The only example of a change of Prime Minister in the fifth year of a Parliament didn't work out well, but the two fourth-year changes did lead to the party winning the following general election. Interestingly, these were around the same point of a Parliament, and - if the change were at a similar point - then a new leader would present himself or herself at the 2018 conference. At this point, Cameron would have become the third longest-serving post-war Prime Minister.

It is possible that the Conservatives will enter Opposition after the next election, and - if Labour wins decisively - the removal vans could be at 10 Downing Street by lunchtime on Friday, 8 May. Now consider the scenario of a new leader being unveiled and taking office at the 2019 Conference, which we can reasonably assume will be in October. If the new leader takes office on or after 11 October 2019, then he or she runs a real risk of having a shorter premiership than Bonar Law's. So, I think we can rule out a leadership change that late in 2019 - and remember this would involve the starting gun being fired in July or August.

If the 2014 pattern is followed, then the European elections will be on Thursday, 23 May 2019. The 2014 election saw the Conservatives come third, on 23.93% of the vote - their worst result ever in a national election. Unless the Conservatives are very unlucky, then there will be a dead cat bounce, and Cameron can say that he increased the party vote. With general elections now being on a 5-year cycle, the European elections are the last major test of party support.

Cameron could announce his resignation following the European elections, leaving on an electoral upswing, and a new Prime Minister being chosen in August, ready to face the House of Commons when the summer recess is over.

Alongside the European elections, there would also be the local elections, and - due to these being on a 4-year cycle - those elected alongside the May 2015 general election will face re-election.

The European and local elections will be the major elections of 2019, and it would not do for the Conservatives to be in the middle of a leadership contest (although in 1994, Labour - by tragedy, not by choice - had to fight the local and European elections while its leadership contest was happening). Again, if we assume that a contest, from start to finish, is 2 months, then this would mean Cameron announcing in March (around the Budget?) at the latest that he would be going and setting the contest in process.

In 1955, Eden decided to cut-and-run, with Parliament dissolved exactly a month after he took office. Major decided to take the opposite approach, and nearly finished the complete term that Thatcher had led the Conservatives to. An incoming Prime Minister wanting the same (or larger) gap between taking office and fighting his or her first election as Prime Minister - with enough time to establish a distinct style - would need to take office by 27 December 2018.

Looking at the dates, I think that Cameron will either step down in 2018 or be leading the Conservatives into the 2020 election.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Lunar Eclipse Tetrads And The Jewish Calendar

The most spectacular thing I saw this week was the total lunar eclipse on Monday morning, which I observed from my parents' home in the New Forest - I could view it from the spare bedroom I was sleeping in.

There has been a lot of fuss made in certain circles about a tetrad and blood Moon and how these tie into Biblical prophecy. The Moon's orbit is inclined and some time back I wrote a post about the various lunar months. One of these is the draconic month of 27.21222 days, which is the time between successive crossings of the ascending node.

Basically, as the Moon's orbit is inclined, it will spend half its time above the ecliptic (the projection of the Sun's path onto the starry background) and half its time below. When it moves from below to above (as the northern hemisphere would reckon it), this is the ascending node. The synodic month - from New Moon to New Moon - is longer, and on average is 29.530589 days.

Now consider 6 synodic months - which is equal to 177.183534 days. This is 6.511 draconic months. So, if the Moon was crossing the ascending node at Full Moon, then 6 Full Moons later it would be near the descending node.

So, what can happen if conditions are right are that there is a lunar eclipse, and then lunar eclipses 6, 12 and 18 synodic months later. If these are all total eclipses, then we have what is now termed the tetrad.

And this week's was the fourth in a tetrad.

What has caused some excitement is that this fell on the Jewish festival of Sukkot, and all the total lunar eclipses in this tetrad were on Sukkot or Pesach.

Now, if you look at the Jewish calendar, then you will see that most years have 12 months - which are lunar months. So, a Full Moon will fall mid-month, every month. And the other obvious thing is that there is 6 months from Nissan (the month which Pesach falls in) to Tishri (the month that Sukkot falls in). And often there is 6 months from Tishri to Nissan.

In a tetrad, the eclipses will be 6 Jewish months apart.

So, if the first lunar eclipse of a tetrad is in the month of Nissan, then we will have the pattern:


if the first eclipse doesn't fall in a leap year. If it does, then the pattern becomes:

Nissan-Tishri-Adar Beit-Elul

Another pattern involving a leap year is possible, when the first lunar eclipse of a tetrad is in the month of Iyyar, which is the month that follows Nissan:


If the first lunar eclipse of a tetrad is in the month of Tishri, then we will have the pattern:


if there are no leap years involved. If there are, then the pattern becomes:

Tishri-Nissan-Tishri-Adar Beit


Tishri-Adar Beit-Elul-Adar

depending on where the leap year is.

Hence, it is possible in a tetrad for two total lunar eclipses to be in Nissan (and hence fall on Pesach) and the other two to be in Tishri (and hence fall on Sukkot).

One factor in the excitement around this tetrad is that, apparently, whenever there is a tetrad where all the eclipses occur at Pesach and Sukkot, then there are significant events that happen relating to the Jewish people and/or the state of Israel - although as one list shows, these can be very tenuous (interestingly, that website declares there was no tetrad around the Crucifixion of Jesus, which not every tetrad fan agrees with - and there is a good article on the Answers In Genesis website which demonstrates that references to a blood-red moon at the Crucifixion were not a lunar eclipse).

As with Comet 1P/Halley, when you allow yourself to go a few years either side of an astronomical event, you can always find something important happening.

We can use NASA's lunar eclipse page (which has a list from 2000 BC to AD 3000)* to see where tetrads will be in the future, and a Hebrew calendar converter to see which month these fall into.

[* This also gives the number of tetrads in each century - interestingly it states there were no tetrads in the first century, listing the Pesach AD 33 eclipse as a partial - the one the previous Pesach is listed as total, but not visible from Jerusalem]

In the lists below, dates in bold are when the whole eclipse is visible from Jerusalem, and those in bold italics are where some of the eclipse is visible from Jerusalem.

Begin by looking at the rest of the twenty-first century:


Date Jewish month and year
25 April 2032 Iyyar 5792
18 October 2032 Cheshvan 5793
14 April 2033 Nissan 5793
8 October 2033 Tishri 5794


Date Jewish month and year
25 March 2043 Adar Beit 5803
19 September 2043 Elul 5803
13 March 2044 Adar 5804
7 September 2044 Elul 5804


Date Jewish month and year
6 May 2050 Iyyar 5810
30 October 2050 Cheshvan 5811
26 April 2051 Iyyar 5811
19 October 2051 Cheshvan 5812


Date Jewish month and year
4 April 2061 Nissan 5821
29 September 2061 Tishri 5822
25 March 2062 Adar Beit 5822
18 September 2062 Elul 5822


Date Jewish month and year
4 March 2072 Adar 5832
28 August 2072 Elul 5832
22 February 2073 Adar Rishon 5833
17 August 2073 Av 5833


Date Jewish month and year
15 March 2090 Adar Beit 5850
8 September 2090 Elul 5850
5 March 2091 Adar 5851
29 August 2091 Elul 5851

When we move on to the twenty-second century, there are 4 tetrads:


Date Jewish month and year
14 February 2101 Shevat 5861
9 August 2101 Av 5861
3 February 2102 Shevat 5862
30 July 2102 Av 5862


Date Jewish month and year
25 February 2119 Adar Rishon 5879
20 August 2119 Av 5879
14 February 2120 Shevat 5880
9 August 2120 Av 5880


Date Jewish month and year
7 March 2137 Adar 5897
30 August 2137 Elul 5897
24 February 2138 Adar Rishon 5898
20 August 2138 Av 5898


Date Jewish month and year
19 March 2155 Adar Beit 5915
11 September 2155 Elul 5915
7 March 2156 Adar 5916
30 August 2156 Elul 5916

That is the last tetrad for nearly 300 years - there are none in the twenty-third or twenty-fourth centuries, but when we come to the twenty-fifth century, there are 4 tetrads:


Date Jewish month and year
17 June 2448 Sivan 6208
10 December 2448 Kislev 6209
6 June 2449 Sivan 6209
30 November 2449 Kislev 6210


Date Jewish month and year
28 June 2466 Tammuz 6226
22 December 2466 Tevet 6227
18 June 2467 Sivan 6227
11 December 2467 Kislev 6228


Date Jewish month and year
28 May 2477 Sivan 6237
21 November 2477 Kislev 6238
17 May 2478 Iyyar 6238
10 November 2478 Cheshvan 6239


Date Jewish month and year
8 June 2495 Sivan 6255
2 December 2495 Kislev 6256
27 May 2496 Sivan 6256
21 November 2496 Kislev 6257

When we come to the twenty-sixth century, things pick up, with there being 7 tetrads totally within this century:


Date Jewish month and year
8 May 2506 Iyyar 6266
2 November 2506 Cheshvan 6267
28 April 2507 Iyyar 6267
22 October 2507 Cheshvan 6268


Date Jewish month and year
19 May 2524 Iyyar 6284
12 November 2524 Cheshvan 6285
8 May 2525 Iyyar 6285
1 November 2525 Cheshvan 6286


Date Jewish month and year
30 May 2542 Sivan 6302
23 November 2542 Kislev 6303
20 May 2543 Iyyar 6303
12 November 2543 Cheshvan 6304


Date Jewish month and year
29 March 2564 Nissan 6324
21 September 2564 Tishri 6325
18 March 2565 Adar Beit 6325
11 September 2565 Elul 6235


Date Jewish month and year
11 May 2571 Iyyar 6331
3 November 2571 Cheshvan 6332
29 April 2572 Iyyar 6332
22 October 2572 Cheshvan 6333


Date Jewish month and year
9 April 2582 Nissan 6342
3 October 2582 Tishri 6343
29 March 2583 Nissan 6343
22 September 2583 Tishri 6344


Date Jewish month and year
21 May 2589 Iyyar 6349
13 November 2589 Cheshvan 6350
10 May 2590 Iyyar 6350
2 November 2590 Cheshvan 6351

Then there is a century-straddling tetrad:


Date Jewish month and year
20 April 2600 Nissan 6360
14 October 2600 Tishri 6361
9 April 2601 Nissan 6361
4 October 2601 Tishri 6362

Like its predecessor, the twenty-seventh century contains 7 complete tetrads:


Date Jewish month and year
20 March 2611 Adar Beit 6371
14 September 2611 Elul 6371
9 March 2612 Adar 6372
2 September 2612 Elul 6372


Date Jewish month and year
1 May 2618 Iyyar 6378
25 October 2618 Cheshvan 6379
20 April 2619 Nissan 6379
15 October 2619 Tishri 6380


Date Jewish month and year
31 March 2629 Nissan 6389
24 September 2629 Tishri 6390
26 March 2630 Adar Beit 6390
13 September 2630 Elul 6390


Date Jewish month and year
29 February 2640 Adar 6400
23 August 2640 Elul 6400
17 February 2641 Adar Rishon 6401
13 August 2641 Av 6401


Date Jewish month and year
11 April 2647 Nissan 6407
5 October 2647 Tishri 6408
31 March 2648 Nissan 6408
23 September 2648 Tishri 6409


Date Jewish month and year
11 March 2658 Adar 6418
4 September 2658 Elul 6418
1 March 2659 Adar 6419
24 August 2659 Elul 6419


Date Jewish month and year
22 March 2676 Adar Beit 6436
14 September 2676 Elul 6436
11 March 2677 Adar 6437
3 September 2677 Elul 6437

After this, there is another lengthy gap, with no tetrads in either the twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth centuries, while the thirtieth century has just one:


Date Jewish month and year
2 July 2987 Tammuz 6747
26 December 2987 Tevet 6748
21 June 2988 Sivan 6748
14 December 2988 Kislev 6749

So, these are the tetrads for the remainder of the third millennium. We can now look at which tetrads include eclipses occurring on Pesach or Sukkot:

Tetrad Number of total eclipses on:
Pesach Sukkot
2032/2033 1 1
2061/2062 1 1
2564/2565 1 1
2582/2583 2 2
2600/2601 2 2
2618/2619 1 1
2629/2630 1 1
2647/2648 2 2

This means that in the third millennium there are 3 more occassions where there is a tetrad comprised of 2 total lunar eclipses on Pesach and 2 on Sukkot.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

An Overlooked Reason Why Labour Lost In 1983

Ask almost anyone about the June 1983 general election and you will get standard replies as to why the Conservatives won a landslide and Labour did so badly:

The Falklands war

Michael Foot's leadership of Labour

The Bennite left

The Gang of Four splitting away

The Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance splitting the anti-Conservative vote

There is another factor which always gets overlooked - and a little clause in the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 makes this reason relevant to today's political climate.

And I suggest that even if in October 1980 the then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey had been elected Labour leader, and was leading a united Labour party with Tony Benn and former Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary David Owen harmoniously working together in his Shadow Cabinet, former Education & Science Secretary Shirley Williams selected for a safe seat ready to resume her front-bench career post-election, and Labour's former deputy leader Roy Jenkins retired from the political world totally with his call for "some sort of centre party" forgotten - even in these circumstances, Labour would have faced an uphill battle to win in 1983.

The May 1979 election produced the following result:

  • Conservative - 339 (included 2 Deputy Speakers - Croydon North East's Bernard Weatherill and Rye's Godman Irvine)
  • Labour - 268 (included 1 Deputy Speaker - Liverpool Toxteth's Richard Crawshaw)
  • Liberal - 11
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 5
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Scottish National Party - 2
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • United Ulster Unionist Party - 1
  • Independent Unionist - 1
  • Independent Republican - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

With 337 of the 631 voting MPs, there was a Conservative majority of 43, which - at first sight - sounds easy to overturn. Just 22 seats need to change hands....

However, in early 1983 there was an event which hit Labour badly - the redrawing of constituency boundaries. The constituencies in use had been rejected by the House of Commons in November 1969, so could not come into effect at the June 1970 general election. However, they were used for the February 1974 and October 1974 general elections, and again in 1979. By 1983 they were based on electoral data from 14 years ago.

In addition, there were a few bits of legislation from the early 1970s that had ramifications. The Local Government Act 1972 reformed local government in England and Wales, which included redrawing some county boundaries (e.g. that between Hampshire and Dorset) and creating "metropolitan counties". The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 did similar in Scotland.

This left constituencies crossing county boundaries - such as Christchurch & Lymington (Dorset/Hampshire) or Huddersfield West (Greater Manchester/West Yorkshire).

In March 1972, the then-Prime Minister, Edward Heath, decided to suspend the Northern Ireland Parliament and appoint William Whitelaw as the first Northern Ireland Secretary, followed by the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972 which transferred executive power to the British Government.

At the time, with regards to the House of Commons, Northern Ireland had a larger electoral quota (i.e. the intended average number of electors per constituency) than Great Britain, due to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 setting the number of Northern Ireland constituencies at 12. In early 1979, in order to get Unionist support ensure a fair representation for Northern Ireland, the Labour Government was responsible for the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1979, which raised this to 17.

So, due to a combination of factors - redrawn local government boundaries, the increase in Northern Ireland seats, the length of time since the previous review of constituencies - early 1983 saw a new set of 650 constituencies drawn up for that year's election.

The June 1983 election gave the following result:

  • Conservative - 397
  • Labour - 209
  • Liberal - 17
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 11
  • Social Democrat - 6
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Scottish National Party - 2
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • Sinn Féin - 1
  • Ulster Popular Unionist Party - 1

We can then use the list of the 72 seats changing hands to calculate a notional result for the 1979 election (i.e. the 1979 election on the 1983 boundaries):

Party Gained from Lost to Change
Party Seats Party Seats
Conservative Labour 47* Liberal 5 Up 37
Labour 4
Social Democrat 1
Labour Conservative 4 Conservative 47 Down 51
Social Democrat 5
Liberal 3
Liberal Conservative 5 Up 8
Labour 3
Ulster Unionist Party Democratic Unionist Party 1 Democratic Unionist Party 1 Up 2
Independent Unionist 1
Independent Republican 1
Social Democrat Labour 5 Up 6
Conservative 1
Democratic Unionist Party Ulster Unionist Party 1 Ulster Unionist Party 1 Up 1
United Ulster Unionist Party 1
Social Democratic & Labour Party Sinn Féin 1 Down 1
Ulster Popular Unionist Party Independent Unionist 1 Up 1
Sinn Féin Social Democratic & Labour Party 1 Up 1
Independent Unionist Ulster Unionst 1 Down 2
Ulster Popular Unionist Party 1
United Ulster Unionist Party Democratic Unionist Party 1 Down 1
Independent Republican Ulster Unionist Party 1 Down 1

[* One of these was Cardiff West, held in 1979 by George Thomas, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who retired at the 1983 election. However, there were significant boundary changes in Cardiff].

Using these, we can calculate the notional result for 1979:

  • Conservative - 360
  • Labour - 260
  • Liberal - 9
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 9
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 2
  • Scottish National Party - 2
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 2
  • Independent Unionist - 2
  • United Ulster Unionist Party - 1
  • Independent Republican - 1

This looks different - the Conservative majority is up to 70, and Labour need to gain 66 seats (rather than 50) to gain an overall majority.

The British Broadcasting Corporation and Independent Television News drew up a set of notional results for their election night coverage.

The most marginal seat was Roxburgh & Berwickshire, where the Conservatives had a notional majority of 18 over the Liberals. This was drawn from Berwick & East Lothian (which in 1979 had been won by Labour's John Home-Robertson) and Roxburgh, Selkirk & Peebles (which in 1979 had been won by David Steel, who at the time was the Liberal leader). Since the 1970 election, Aberdeen South had been held by the Conservatives' Iain Sproat (who had initially won it by unseating Labour's Donald Dewar, who would go on to become the first Scottish First Minister), but it was always marginal, and boundary changes reduced its notional majority to 541. For reasons best known to himself, Sproat decided to contest Roxburgh & Berwickshire, which he lost to the Liberals' Archy Kirkwood. Meanwhile, Gerald Malone (who had stood against Steel in 1979), increased the Conservative majority in Aberdeen South.

A note on the Northern Ireland results, as the province had some interesting changes. Both Down North and Strangford are listed as Independent Unionist. This is James Kilfedder, who won Down North in 1979 - and the bulk of the Strangford created for 1983 was from his seat. In January 1980 he formed the United Popular Unionist Party. It never achieved much popularity. Strangford was won by the UUP's John Taylor, at the time one of Northern Ireland's Members of the European Parliament.

The United Ulster Unionist Party was a breakaway from the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, itself a breakaway from the Ulster Unionist Party. Its sole MP was John Dunlop in Ulster Mid which he won (under the Vanguard banner) at the February 1974 general election - he left Vanguard and formed the UUUP in October 1975. The other Vanguard MPs eventually left - Robert Bradford (Belfast South) joined the UUP in November 1975 and the Vanguard leader, William Craig (Belfast East) wound the party up and joined the UUP in November 1977. Bradford and Craig both stood for re-election in 1979 as UUP candidates, with Bradford holding his seat and Craig narrowly losing to the Democratic Unionist Party's Peter Robinson - now Northern Ireland's First Minister - with the seat becoming a close 3-way marginal (Oliver Napier, then the leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, was in third place). Although boundary changes for 1983 flipped the seat back to being notionally UUP, Craig had left that party by that time, so didn't try to win back his old seat.

Dunlop stood down at the 1983 election.

In 1979, the sole Social Democratic & Labour Party MP was its leader, Gerry Fitt, in Belfast West, a seat he had held since the March 1966 election, when he had unseated Kilfedder, who at the time was the sitting UUP MP. In November 1979 he had resigned from the SDLP and was replaced as leader by SDLP MEP John Hume - who would win Foyle in 1983 (this seat was drawn largely from Londonderry with parts of Ulster Mid), and in 1983 stood for re-election as an Independent Socialist, but ended up in third place.

The Independent Republican was Frank Maguire in Fermanagh & South Tyrone. He had won the seat in the October 1974 election by unseating the then-UUP leader, Harry West, and was re-elected in 1979 (the candidacy of the UUUP's Ernest Baird ensured that the Unionist vote was not united). In March 1981 Maguire died, and the following month's by-election was won by hunger striker Bobby Sands. Sands died 26 days after the by-election and in August 1981 the next by-election was won by Owen Carron on the banner "Anti-H Block/Proxy Political Prisoner". In 1983 Carron stood as the Sinn Féin candidate.

One consequence of boundary changes is that MPs can find themselves standing for re-election in seats which have a negative majority - note that this ignores by-election victors as well as MPs who defected to the Social Democrats unless they had defected from Labour and were contesting a successor seat which was notionally Conservative (on the grounds that if they had never defected, they would be Labour MPs contesting a notionally Conservative seat).

MP Party 1979 constituency 1983 constituency 1979 notional winner 1979 notional majority Won in 1983?
David Alton Liberal Liverpool Edge Hill Liverpool Mossley Hill Conservative 9,086 (over Labour) Yes (from third place)
John Corrie Conservative Ayrshire North & Bute Cunninghame North Labour 286 Yes
Richard Crawshaw Labour (Social Democrat) Liverpool Toxteth Liverpool Broadgreen Conservative 565 No
Bob Cryer Labour Keighley Keighley Conservative 3,110 No
Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour Crewe Crewe & Nantwich Conservative 3,634 Yes
Tom Ellis Labour (Social Democrat) Wrexham Clwyd South West Conservative 3,006 No
David Ennals Labour Norwich North Norwich North Conservative 3,371 No
Harry Greenway Conservative Ealing North Ealing North Labour 1,421 Yes
Warren Hawksley Conservative The Wrekin The Wrekin Labour 1,382 Yes
John Horam Labour (Social Democrat) Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central Conservative 5,790 No
Tom McNally Labour (Social Democrat) Stockport South Stockport Conservative 4,382 No
John Maxton Labour Glasgow Cathcart Glasgow Cathcart Conservative 1,737 Yes
Peter Robinson Democratic Unionist Party Belfast East Belfast East Ulster Unionist Party 550 Yes
Ann Taylor Labour Bolton West Bolton North East Conservative 1,368 No
Richard Wainwright Liberal Colne Valley Colne Valley Labour 2,239 Yes
Frank White Labour Bury & Radcliffe Bury North Conservative 3,017 No

Crawshaw had resigned as Deputy Speaker in February 1981 and joined the Social Democrats when that party was set up the following month. Liverpool Broadgreen was one of just 4 seats that Labour gained in 1983, with Terry Fields winning. The local Liberal Association refused to support Crawshaw, and Richard Pine contested the seat as an Independent Liberal, leading to Crawshaw taking fourth place. In December 1991 Fields was expelled from the Labour party and contested the seat as an Independent at the April 1992 election, coming third.

Dunwoody was the Shadow Health Secretary at the time, and the only member of the Shadow Cabinet to be defending a negative majority.

Ennals had been Health & Social Security Secretary throughout the Callaghan Government.

The Labour candidate hoping to hold Ealing North was Hilary Benn, now the Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary.

The Labour candidate hoping to hold The Wrekin was Bruce Grocott, who had been MP for Lichfield & Tamworth from the October 1974 election until losing to the Conservatives' John Heddle in 1979. Grocott was elected for The Wrekin on his second attempt, at the June 1987 election.

McNally's Stockport South was split between Stockport and Denton & Reddish - the latter was notionally a safe Labour seat, and was won by Andrew Bennett, who had been MP for Stockport North since the February 1974 election.

Taylor had - as the table shows - been MP for Bolton West, which was affected by boundary changes. The revised seat had a notional Conservative majority of 5,602, so she followed part of her seat into Bolton North East, where she was defeated by Peter Thurnham (who would resign the Conservative whip in February 1996 and join the Liberal Democrats in October that year). Taylor returned to Parliament by winning Dewsbury from the Conservatives in 1987, and when Labour returned to power after the May 1997 election she sat in the Cabinet as Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons.

The new county boundaries had - as I noted earlier - led to the Conservative/Labour marginal Huddersfield West being divided across the Greater Manchester/West Yorkshire border. The Greater Manchester part was combined with part of the Liberal Rochdale to form a Conservative seat, Littleborough & Saddleworth, with Geoffrey Dickens, the outgoing MP for Huddersfield West being elected there, while the West Yorkshire part was added on to the Liberal/Labour marginal of Colne Valley.

With that out the way, we can now look at the effect of swings from the Conservatives to Labour based on the notional 1979 results. For each 0.5% increase in swing, the Conservative share of the vote decreases by 0.5% from the 1979 level (43.87%), the Labour share of the vote increases by 0.5% from the 1979 level (36.91%), and the Conservative lead over Labour decreases by 1%.

Firstly, we begin with a 0.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 0.5% swing Actual 1983
Birmingham Northfield Conservative Labour Conservative
Bury South Conservative Labour Conservative
Roxburgh & Berwickshire Conservative Liberal Liberal

Conservative 357, Labour 262, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 2, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 64

The defeated Labour candidate in Birmingham Northfield was sitting MP John Spellar, who had won the seat at a by-election in October 1982 - this was the only seat that Labour gained at a by-election in the 1979-1983 Parliament, their first gain at a by-election since winning Merthyr Tydfil from an Independent (who had been deselected by Labour prior to the 1970 election) in April 1972, and their first gain of a Conservative seat at a by-election since winning Bromsgrove in May 1971.

Spellar would return to Parliament and served as Minister for the Armed Forces and then Minister for Transport when Labour returned to power in 1997. He is now MP for Warley and a Shadow Minister for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs.

Then a 1% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 1% swing Actual 1983
Aberdeen South Conservative Labour Conservative
Dulwich Conservative Labour Conservative
Hornchurch Conservative Labour Conservative
Liverpool Broadgreen Conservative Labour Labour
Luton South Conservative Labour Conservative
Moray Conservative Scottish National Party Conservative
Nottingham South Conservative Labour Conservative
Stirling Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 349, Labour 269, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 3, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 48

The Labour candidate in Dulwich was Kate Hoey, now MP for Vauxhall.

The SNP candidate in Moray was Hamish Watt, who had won Banffshire at the February 1974 election and lost it to the Conservatives in 1979. Moray was drawn from parts of the 1979 Banffshire and Moray & Nairn. The successful Conservative victor in Moray was Alexander Pollock, who had won Moray & Nairn from the SNP's Winnie Ewing in 1979.

The Labour candidate in Nottingham South was Ken Coates, who was MEP for Nottingham from the June 1989 European election until the June 1994 one, and then MEP for Nottinghamshire North & Chesterfield until the June 1999 one. He was expelled from Labour in January 1998 after joining the Green group in the European Parliament.

The Labour candidate for Stirling was Michael Connarty, who became MP for Falkirk East at the 1992 election and lost his seat to the SNP in May 2015. The Conservative victor was newcomer Michael Forsyth, who would go on to become Scottish Secretary.

Then a 1.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 1.5% swing Actual 1983
Calder Valley Conservative Labour Conservative
Pendle Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 347, Labour 271, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 3, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 44

Note that a 1.5% swing would have taken Labour to the same number of seats as in 1992. In 1992, the Conservative lead over Labour was 7.53% - so actually greater than it was in 1979, indicating that in those 15 years there had still been a swing away from Labour to the Conservatives. In 1979, Labour would have only needed to have been 3.97% behind the Conservatives to be in the same position (in terms of numbers of seats) that it was in at the 1992 election.

What this suggests is that although the boundary changes that came into effect in 1983 hit Labour hard, by 1992 this impact had lessened.

There is something else to note - at the 1983 election, the Conservative share of the vote fell by 1.45%. If this had been uniform, and had been simply due to Conservative voters switching to Labour, then Calder Valley would have fallen, but the Conservatives would have held on to Pendle (with a majority of 12 if turn-out had remained the same). The headline figure in the newspapers would have been Thatcher having increased the Conservative majority from 43 to 46.

There is often the "separated brethren" argument made - namely that if only the Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance had not "split" the anti-Conservative vote, then Labour would have won handsomely in 1983. What this shows, however, is that if the Conservative vote had fallen - uniformly - to its 1983 level, and the Liberal vote remained steady, then Labour would have only made a small increase from 268 MPs after the 1979 election to 270.

Now look at a 2% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 2% swing Actual 1983
Birmingham Erdington Conservative Labour Labour
Bolton North East Conservative Labour Conservative
Cambridge Conservative Labour Conservative
Cardiff Central Conservative Labour Conservative
Croydon North West Conservative Labour Conservative
Dudley West Conservative Labour Conservative
Fulham Conservative Labour Conservative
Welwyn Hatfield Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 339, Labour 279, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 3, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 28

As noted above, Labour winning Bolton North East would have kept Taylor in the Commons.

Croydon North West had been won by the Liberals' Bill Pitt in a by-election in October 1981.

Then a 2.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 2.5% swing Actual 1983
Banff & Buchan Conservative Scottish National Party Conservative
Edinburgh Central Conservative Labour Conservative
Erewash Conservative Labour Conservative
Glasgow Cathcart Conservative Labour Labour
Southampton Test Conservative Labour Conservative
Vale of Glamorgan Conservative Labour Conservative
Westminster North Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 332, Labour 285, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 14

It is interesting to note that this result would have prevented a couple of high-profile Scottish politicians being elected in 1987. At that election, the SNP's Alex Salmond (who went on to become Scottish First Minister and is now MP for Gordon and Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeenshire East) won Banff & Buchan, while future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, won Edinburgh Central for Labour.

The SNP candidate for Banff & Buchan was Douglas Henderson, who had been MP for its one of its predecessor seats, Aberdeenshire East, between the February 1974 and 1979 elections.

At the 1979 election, the only seat the Conservatives lost was Glasgow Cathcart, when Teddy Taylor, who - at the time - was Shadow Scottish Secretary, was unseated by Labour's Maxton. Boundary changes made this seat notionally Conservative, so Maxton is one of those rare politicians who has gained an identically-named seat from the Conservatives at two successive elections. The most recent example is the Liberal Democrats' Lorely Burt, who won Solihull from the Conservatives at the May 2005 general election and then at the May 2010 general election.

The Labour candidate in Westminster North was Arthur Latham, who had been MP for Paddington from the February 1974 election until the 1979 one, when he was defeated by the Conservatives' John Wheeler. 1983 saw another Wheeler/Latham battle.

Note that Labour would be on 39.41% of the vote - higher than the share of the vote which saw Harold Wilson "win" for Labour in the February 1974 and October 1974 election - but would be 47 seats behind the Conservatives, another indication that these boundary changes were not in Labour's interests.

Then a 3% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 3% swing Actual 1983
Bury North Conservative Labour Conservative
Crawley Conservative Labour Conservative
Ilford South Conservative Labour Conservative
Peterborough Conservative Labour Conservative
Putney Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 327, Labour 290, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 4

Bury North was another one of the notionally Conservative seats in which a sitting Labour MP was standing for re-election.

The successful Conservative candidate in Crawley was Nicholas Soames, who went on to become Shadow Defence Secretary, but was better known for being a grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Peterborough saw Brian Mawhinney - who would go on to be Transport Secretary and then Conservative Party Chairman - re-elected, while in Putney, David Mellor, who would become the first National Heritage Secretary, held his seat against the Labour challenger Peter Hain (who would go on to hold several Cabinet posts, including Welsh Secretary, Northern Ireland Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons and Work & Pensions Secretary).

Next a 3.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 3.5% swing Actual 1983
Brecon & Radnor Conservative Labour Conservative
Bristol North West Conservative Labour Conservative
Crewe & Nanwich Conservative Labour Labour
Eltham Conservative Labour Conservative
Great Yarmouth Conservative Labour Conservative
Keighley Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 321, Labour 296, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative minority 8

It might seem very odd to see Brecon & Radnor in this list as a potential Labour seat, especially as even with a Liberal Democrat meltdown, Labour could only manage a poor third place this year. However, it was continually Labour from the July 1945 election until the Conservatives' Tom Hooson won it in 1979. Hooson died in May 1985, and the subsequent by-election began the era of Liberal dominance there.

Bristol North West had been won by the Conservatives' Michael Colvin in 1979, but he had decided to contest Romsey & Waterside (where I lived) in 1983, and was elected there. The Labour candidate was Sarah Palmer, whose father was Arthur Palmer, who had been Labour MP for Bristol North East (which was divided into 3 parts for the 1983 election) since the February 1974 election.

Crewe & Nanwich and Keighley were examples of sitting Labour MPs defending negative majorities. Dunwoody won the former on a swing of 3.20%, which - if repeated uniformly - would have reduced the Conservatives to 325 MPs and a notional majority of 0 (Cryer would have won Keighley on this swing) - although, with Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy, this would have been an effective Conservative majority of 1.

Although Dunwoody was - on paper - the most vulnerable member of the Shadow Cabinet, she was re-elected while Shadow Transport Secretary Albert Booth and Shadow Attorney-General Arthur Davidson lost Barrow & Furness and Hyndburn respectively to the Conservatives.

The loss of Brecon & Radnor on a 3.33% swing (which would see the Conservatives just 0.28% ahead of Labour in the popular vote) would have created a hung Parliament.

Next a 4% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 4% swing Actual 1983
Birmingham Yardley Conservative Labour Conservative
Clwyd South West Conservative Labour Conservative
Edinburgh South Conservative Labour Conservative
Elmet Conservative Labour Conservative
Enfield North Conservative Labour Conservative
Gloucestershire West Conservative Labour Conservative
Hampstead & Highgate Conservative Labour Conservative
Hornsey & Wood Green Conservative Labour Conservative
Lancashire West Conservative Labour Conservative
Lincoln Conservative Labour Conservative
Medway Conservative Labour Conservative
Norwich North Conservative Labour Conservative
Ynys Môn Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 309, Conservative 308, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour minority 32

The Labour candidate for Birmingham Yardley was Roger Godsiff, who had to wait until the 1992 election to become an MP (for Birmingham Small Heath) and is now MP for Birmingham Hall Green.

Clywd South West was a new constituency, built from Denbigh (whose Conservative MP, Geraint Morgan, who had held the seat since the October 1959 general election, was retiring), and from Wrexham, which had been held since the 1970 election by Ellis. He had originally been elected as Labour, but had been a founder MP of the Social Democrats in March 1981, and was contesting Clywd South West (while the safe Labour Wrexham was narrowly held for Labour by John Marek, who, by the May 2011 elections to the Welsh Assembly, was a Conservative. It is reasonable to assume that if the Social Democrats had never been formed, then Ellis, rather than Marek, would be the Labour candidate for Wrexham.

The re-elected Conservative MP for Edinburgh South was Michael Kerr, who would go on to become Conservative deputy leader and Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary. He lost his seat in 1987.

The Labour candidate in Hampstead & Highgate was John McDonnell, now MP for Hayes & Harlington.

Norwich North is another seat where a Labour MP is defending a negative majority.

It is the gain of Lancashire West on a 3.97% swing which makes Labour the largest party, but it would need the support of 16 more MPs to reach 325. The Liberals, Plaid Cymru and the Social Democratic & Labour Party would only be able to provide 13 of these. At this point Labour would be on 40.91% (so still behind its share of the vote in every election from 1945 to 1970 inclusive), while the Conservatives on 39.90% - above their share of the vote in the 1974 elections, and only a little above their share of the vote in their crushing defeat of 1945.

Before that, however, there is a little milestone passed when the swing is 3.84% - which sees 9 of these (Birmingham Yardley, Clwyd South West, Elmet, Gloucestershire West, Hornsey & Wood Green, Lincoln, Medway, Norwich North and Ynys Môn) change hands. The significance of this is that it gives Labour the same lead over the Conservatives (0.73%) as at the narrow Labour victory of October 1964. This, however, based on a uniform swing from 1979, puts the Conservatives on 312 seats to Labour's 305.

Next a 4.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 4.5% swing Actual 1983
Ayr Conservative Labour Conservative
Brentford & Isleworth Conservative Labour Conservative
Dartford Conservative Labour Conservative
Langbaurgh Conservative Labour Conservative
Rossendale & Darwen Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 314, Conservative 303, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour minority 22

Next a 5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 5% swing Actual 1983
Chorley Conservative Labour Conservative
Dover Conservative Labour Conservative
Dundee East Scottish National Party Labour Scottish National Party
Manchester Withington Conservative Labour Conservative
Stockport Conservative Labour Conservative
Tayside North Conservative Scottish National Party Conservative
Waveney Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 320, Conservative 297, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour minority 10

Dundee East's sitting MP was the then SNP leader, Gordon Wilson, while the SNP candidate for Tayside North was Alasdair Morgan, who went on to serve as MP and MSP for Galloway & Upper Nithsdale.

One milestone that is passed is the swing of 4.81% from the Conservatives to Labour, which brings Labour to a lead of 2.69%, which was its lead in its narrow victory of February 1950. On this swing 4 of these seats (Chorley, Dundee East, Stockport and Waveney) would change hands, giving Labour 318 seats to the Conservatives' 300 - this lead of 18 seats (in a smaller House of Commons) is just 1 more than the lead Labour had over the combined Conservative, Scottish Unionist, National Liberal and Ulster Unionist tally at the 1950 election.

Next a 5.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 5% swing Actual 1983
Coventry South West Conservative Labour Conservative
Delyn Conservative Labour Conservative
Montgomery Conservative Liberal Liberal
Newark Conservative Labour Conservative
Northampton North Conservative Labour Conservative
Richmond & Barnes Conservative Liberal Conservative
Staffordshire South East Conservative Labour Conservative
Streatham Conservative Labour Conservative
Wallasey Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 327, Conservative 288, Liberal 12, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour majority 4

The Liberal candidate in Richmond & Barnes was Alan Watson, with the successful Conservative being Jeremy Hanley, who went on to become Conservative Party Chairman.

The Labour candidate in Staffordshire South East was Cynthia Crawley, who would be elected Member of the European Parliament for Birmingham East in June 1984 and hold that seat until retiring in June 1999. The successful Conservative candidate was David Lightbown, whose death in December 1995, led to a by-election which was won by Labour.

It is Streatham, on a 5.39% swing, which would see Labour on 326 seats, and hence forming an overall majority (Delyn is the seat that would increase the Labour majority to 4). This would require Labour to be 3.85% ahead of the Conservatives - which up till then it had only managed twice before.

And if we look at post-war elections up to that point where there was a swing from the Conservatives to Labour, we have:

Election Swing
October 1964 3.12%
March 1966 2.71%
October 1974 2.07%
February 1974 1.29%

So, from its starting point at the 1979 general election, Labour would have needed a swing of:

  • 3.33% for there to be a hung Parliament
  • 3.97% to be the largest party in a hung Parliament
  • 5.39% to have an overall majority
Even to deprive the Conservatives of an overall majority, Labour would have needed a larger swing than anything it had achieved in a post-war general election up to that point.

Due to the boundary changes, the 1983 election was effectively unwinnable for Labour.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

County Senates - The Missing Element Of Devolution?

Much of England is still covered by two-tier local government, where you have the higher-tier council (normally at a county level) and then lower-tier ones (which will be city, borough or district councils).

The Local Government Act 1992 introduced the idea of unitary authorities in non-metropolitan areas, and as a result, the Hampshire (Cities of Portsmouth and Southampton) (Structural Change) Order 1995 was signed by David Curry, then the Minister for Local Government, which stripped Hampshire County Council of any powers in Portsmouth and Southampton and turned their City Councils into unitary authorities.

Where you have a two-tier system, the councils have responsibility for different matters. This can cause confusion among people who think in terms of a single entity - "the council" - and this leads to moaning newspaper letters about how your borough council is refusing to do something about a matter which is for the county council.

A few years ago, Ken Thornber, then the leader of Hampshire County Council, came up with the "Hampshire Senate" idea. Currently, councils are unicameral - you elect councillors and they form the council's legislative arm. But what happens when you have a two-tier system?

OK, there will be people with dual mandates who will be elected to both lower- and upper-tier councils. But you still have 2 councils, whose decisions can impact on the other's, but with no formal legislative connection.

The Hampshire Senate idea was attempt to sort out this democratic deficit. Under it, Hampshire County Council would become bicameral, with an upper chamber being drawn from councillors from the lower-tier councils. From what I recall, each council would have the same number of representatives - the largest (Southampton) has about 21/2 the population of the smallest (Gosport).

And Southampton and Portsmouth would be included - which would have made their statuses as unitary authorities untenable long-term.

It has to be said that, at one level, this isn't highly original. The Labour Government at the time had introduced the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 (we would be covered by the South East England Development Agency), which allowed the Environment, Transport & Regional Affairs Secretary to declare that a suitable body could be the "regional chamber" for the development agency.

In our case, this was the South East England Regional Assembly, which had 111 members, 73 of whom would be drawn from councils in the region.

Hence the idea that local authorities would play a role in regional government was established. Allowing lower-tier authorities to be involved in upper-tier local government is simply an extension of that idea.

I now see that there may be a devolution of powers to Hampshire. My slight problem with this is that there needs to be a legislative body to handle the new powers, rather than a hotchpotch of local authorities - some unitary, one top-tier, some lower-tier. It strikes me that resurrecting the Hampshire Senate idea would go some way towards solving this problem - powers would be exercised by Hampshire County Council, but with unitary and lower-tier authorities having legislative input and exercising oversight via the Senate.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

How Badly Would Boundary Changes Hit The Liberal Democrats?

There is no denying that the May 2015 general election was a bad one for the Liberal Democrats, reduced to just 8 seats - their worst result since June 1970.

It is likely that the May 2020 general election will be for smaller House of Commons, with just 600 MPs, and - as far as I am aware - the Government's intention is for these to be the ones proposed in 2013.

If these are used, then what is the impact on the Liberal Democrats?

Fortunately, Electoral Calculus has a set of calculated ward-by-ward breakdowns of general election votes. General election results are not announced at a ward level, but using local election results allows one to make a reasonable calculated breakdown at ward level.

From these we can then build up notional results - i.e. what the result would have been if an election had been held on a different set of boundaries. It is important to emphasise that a notional result looks back to a previous election, and is not a prediction of a future election. People have a habit of ignoring this, so you end up with criticism along the lines of "Clearly he has not taken into account that Trumptonshire West changed hands at that by-election. PMSL" or "He puts the Elvis Loves Pets party winning Camberwick Green & East Trumptonshire - he does know that their support has fallen in the last opinion poll, does he?"

Carshalton & Wallington is held by Tom Brake, the Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. As the breakdown table for Greater London from the Boundary Commission for England shows, 88.48% of the seat would join with 23.90% of Croydon South to form Carshalton & Coulsdon, while the remaining 11.52% joins with the remaining 76.10% of Croydon South and 13.62% of Croydon Central to form an altered Croydon South.

The more detailed report gives the ward breakdown, and using this and the Electoral Calculus data, we can work out notional results:

Carshalton & Coulsdon

  • Conservative - 21,062 (37.00%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 16,275 (28.59%)
  • Labour - 9,569 (16.81%)
  • UK Independence Party - 7,757 (13.63%)
  • Green - 2,016 (3.54%)
  • Others - 250 (0.44%)

Croydon South

  • Conservative - 32,661 (52.43%)
  • Labour - 17,059 (27.39%)
  • UK Independence Party - 5,879 (9.44%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 4,344 (6.97%)
  • Green - 2,087 (3.35%)
  • Others - 261 (0.42%)

Carshalton & Wallington loses one Borough of Sutton ward (Beddington South) to the revised Croydon South, while in return picking up two Borough of Croydon wards (Coulsdon East and Coulsdon West) from that constituency - hence the change in name. The Coulsdon wards are ones where the Conservatives (along with second-placed Labour) are well ahead of the Liberal Democrats and it is their arrival that flips Brake's seat to the Conservatives.

Ceredigion is held by Mark Williams, and is the Liberal Democrats' sole Welsh seat. The Boundary Commission for Wales proposed adding 24.25% of Preseli Pembrokeshire and 7.95% of Carmarthen East & Dinefwr to form Ceredigion & North Pembrokeshire, which - despite its name - would include a couple of County of Carmarthenshire wards (Cenarth and Llangeler), which form the western tip of that local authority area. This gives the following notional result:

Ceredigion & North Pembrokeshire

  • Liberal Democrat - 14,246 (27.22%)
  • Plaid Cymru - 13,548 (25.89%)
  • Conservative - 9,019 (17.23%)
  • Labour - 6,665 (12.74%)
  • UK Independence Party - 5,362 (10.25%)
  • Green - 2,589 (4.95%)
  • Others - 907 (1.73%)

So, notionally a Liberal Democrat seat, but one very vulnerable to an advance by Plaid Cymru.

Leeds North West is held by Greg Mulholland. The Boundary Commission for England's breakdown table for Yorkshire & Humberside shows 51.26% of this seat combining with 25.59% of Leeds North East, 25.08% of Pudsey and 13.37% of Shipley to form a new seat, Otley, while the remaining 48.74% joins with 18.48% of Leeds Central (held by Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary Hilary Benn), 25.06% of Leeds North East and 23.47% of Leeds West (held by Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves) to form Leeds North. As with Greater London, the Boundary Commission for England has a listing of wards.

As before, we can calculate notional results:

Leeds North

  • Labour - 19,219 (45.47%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 8,014 (18.96%)
  • Conservative - 7,532 (17.82%)
  • Green - 3,934 (9.31%)
  • UK Independence Party - 3,129 (7.40%)
  • Others - 444 (1.05%)


  • Conservative - 24,735 (41.12%)
  • Labour - 17,508 (29.10%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 10,891 (18.10%)
  • UK Indpendence Party - 4,707 (7.82%)
  • Green - 2,107 (3.50%)
  • Others - 211 (0.35%)

Neither of these represent a good choice for Mulholland - in addition, he could face sitting MPs in either. Otley would be the logical seat for Stuart Andrew, Conservative MP for Pudsey, and Leeds North represents the better choice for Reeves to contest as it leaves the slightly-less-safe-for-Labour Leeds West, Pudsey & Tong free for Judith Cummins, current Labour MP for Bradford South, who sees her current seat hacked apart.

Remaining in the Yorkshire & Humberside region, we come to Sheffield Hallam, held by the former Lord President of the Council, Nick Clegg. 80.76% of his seat joins with 34.09% of Penistone & Stocksbridge to form Sheffield Hallam & Penistone, while the remaining 19.24% joins 80.25% of Sheffield Heeley and 18.58% of Sheffield Central to form a revised Sheffield Heeley.

Using the ward listing as before, we can calculate notional results:

Sheffield Hallam & Penistone

  • Labour - 22,755 (38.08%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 17,634 (29.51%)
  • Conservative - 9,491 (15.88%)
  • UK Independence Party - 7,717 (12.92%)
  • Green - 1,562 (2.61%)
  • Others - 591 (0.99%)

Sheffield Heeley

  • Labour - 22,142 (42.78%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 10,788 (20.84%)
  • Conservative - 8,748 (16.90%)
  • UK Independence Party - 6,125 (11.83%)
  • Green - 3,530 (6.82%)
  • Others - 423 (0.82%)

Like Mulholland and Brake, Clegg has no notional Liberal Democrat seat to go for. His strongest ward (Dore & Totley) is transferred to Sheffield Heeley, where in May, the interesting battle was that between the Conservatives and UK Independence Party for second place (UKIP came second, but their strongest ward - Richmond - moves to a redrawn Sheffield South East). In return, picking up the City of Sheffield ward of Stocksbridge & Upper Don and the Borough of Barnsley ward of Penistone West - both from Penistone & Stocksbridge - helps Labour and (to a lesser extent) the Conservatives.

Another problem for Clegg will be that South Yorkshire is a strongly Labour area, and with a reduction in seats, there will be a bit of musical chairs among Labour MPs. It seems logical that Angela Smith, the long-serving MP for Penistone & Stocksbridge, would stand in Sheffield Hallam & Penistone, freeing up Sheffield North & Dodworth for Harry Harpham, Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough.

Next is Norfolk North, held by Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb. The Boundary Commission for England's breakdown table for Eastern England shows that 87.12% of his current seat joins with 18.33% of Broadland to form a revised Norfolk North, while the remaining 12.88% joins with all of Great Yarmouth to form Norfolk Coastal

. The notional results are:

Norfolk Coastal

  • Conservative - 21,323 (41.42%)
  • Labour - 13,603 (26.43%)
  • UK Independence Party - 11,499 (22.34%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 3,690 (7.17%)
  • Green - 1,195 (2.32%)
  • Others - 167 (0.32%)

Norfolk North

  • Conservative - 19,967 (35.78%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 16,940 (30.36%)
  • UK Independence Party - 8,472 (15.18%)
  • Labour - 7,487 (13.42%)
  • Green - 2,935 (5.26%)

From the detailed ward listing we see that the District of North Norfolk wards that are transferred to Norfolk Coastal are Stalham & Sutton; Waterside and Waxham - which are Liberal Democrat-leaning, where they add nothing to the historic battle between the Conservatives and Labour in that seat, while the District of North Norfolk wards that are transferred from Broadland (Astley; Lancaster North; Lancaster South; The Raynhams; Walsingham and Wensum) are strongly Conservative.

Next is quite simple - Orkney & Shetland, held by Shadow Home Secretary (and former Scottish Secretary) Alistair Carmichael. This is a preserved constituency under the Parliamentary Voting System & Constituencies Act 2011, so remains unchanged.

Next we have Southport, held by Shadow Education Secretary John Pugh. The Boundary Commission for England's breakdown table for North West England shows this constituency taking on 14.41% of Sefton Central (which, as the detailed ward listing shows, is simply the addition of the Borough of Sefton ward of Harington).

The notional result is:


  • Conservative - 16,063 (30.78%)
  • Liberal Democrat - 13,652 (26.16%)
  • Labour - 11,764 (22.54%)
  • UK Independence Party - 8.272 (15.85%)
  • Green - 1,451 (2.78%)
  • Other - 992 (1.90%)

Finally, also in North West England, we have Westmorland & Lonsdale, held by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. The breakdown table shows that 12.99% of Penrith & the Border and 0.30% of Barrow & Furness is added to this constituency.

Currently the District of South Lakeland ward of Coniston & Crake Valley is split between Westmorland & Lonsdale and Barrow & Furness - the proposed boundary changes bring it all under Westmorland & Lonsdale. The District of Eden wards of Appleby (Appleby); Appleby (Bongate); Brough; Kirkby Stephen; Orton with Tebay; Ravenstonedale and Warcop are transferred from Penrith & the Border.

The notional result is:

Westmorland & Lonsdale

  • Liberal Democrat - 25,828 (47.62%)
  • Conservative - 19,147 (35.30%)
  • UK Independence Party - 3,922 (7.23%)
  • Labour - 3,314 (6.11%)
  • Green - 2,027 (3.74%)

Hence, the Liberal Democrat seats are:

Constituency Majority Over
Westmorland & Lonsdale 12.32% Conservative
Orkney & Shetland 3.59% Scottish National Party
Ceredigion & North Pembrokeshire 1.33% Plaid Cymru