Who will really win the election for Cameron? Backed by exclusive research for Prospect, here are the seven things you need to knowby Peter Kellner / March 11, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
The bombardment has started, and the air is already thick with claims, polls and analyses. To arm yourself against error and ignorance, here are seven pillars of electoral wisdom for the 2010 general election.
1. To win, the Tories must carry the north, not just the south
It is widely believed that Conservative support in Scotland and the north has haemorrhaged, yet that David Cameron must do particularly well in the northern half of Britain to win a convincing majority. Neither fact is entirely true.
Across Britain, Tory support was 10 percentage points lower in 2005 (33 per cent) than in 1992 (43 per cent). Over the same period, Conservative support also fell in northern Britain: in Scotland, by 10 points; the northeast, 14; the northwest 9; and Yorkshire and Humberside, 9. Only the fall in the northeast, the smallest region, stands out. So while the Tories have ceded ground in the north, this began in the 1960s and 1970s when the Tory Protestant working-class vote declined in places like Glasgow and Liverpool, as class overtook religion as the most important issue for voters. This trend has been exacerbated by a growing economic divergence between north and south. Nonetheless, the Tories won their largest (1983) and least expected (1992) victories after this north-south divide opened up. And while they must make gains in the north to win, there are plenty of seats within reach. Thirty-four Labour seats in England’s three northern regions would fall to the Tories on an 8 per cent swing. If the national tide flows to David Cameron, enough northern seats will change hands to give him victory.
The Tories’ larger problem is that they need a lead of around 10 percentage points in the popular vote for Cameron to secure an overall majority of just one. Compare this with Labour in 2005, which enjoyed a comfortable majority with just a 3 percentage point lead. Why? The main reason is that, even after the latest boundary changes, Labour seats tend to have fewer voters, and lower turnouts, than Tory ones, so Labour on average needs fewer votes to win a seat. Also, the last three elections have seen widespread anti-Tory tactical voting. In 2010, the first factor will still apply; one of the more intriguing questions is whether anti-Tory tactical voting will unwind. Even so, the electoral geography is stacked against the Conservatives.