From regional swing to the appeal of the centre ground, this election has torn up the campaign rule bookby Peter Kellner / June 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
That ripping sound you hear is political scientists tearing up their textbooks. Gone is the notion that election campaigns have only a limited effect. Gone is the notion that the most English constituencies and regions swing between Labour and Conservative in broadly the same way. Gone is the axiom that the only way to make big gains in votes is to fight elections from the centre.
Some of the old verities had frayed in previous elections—notably the way Scotland drifted, psephologically, away from England and Wales in 2015. But now the rulebook must be comprehensively rewritten. To take those three points in turn:
1. The campaign effect
It looks as if the Conservatives enjoyed a 44-29 per cent lead over Labour across Great Britain in the days immediately after Theresa May called the snap election. (I have adjusted the polling averages to take account of the way most of them understated Labour support in their final surveys earlier this week.) Immediately before the Conservatives launched their manifesto, their own vote was around 47 per cent, against Labour’s 33 per cent, as both gained from the decline of smaller parties. Then the Tories’ social care fiasco produced an almost instant three-point swing to Labour, to bring the vote shares to 44-36 per cent.
Then, in the final fortnight, Labour kept climbing, as The Lib Dems slipped back further, the SNP slipped in Scotland, Ukip finally collapsed and—possibly—Green supporters in key seats switched to Labour. Thus the final division: 44-41 per cent. The Tories ended up where they started: gaining from Ukip, and losing to Labour and other parties in equal measure. The final upshot—a 12-point campaign gain for Labour—has been far greater than in any previous election going back to the start of UK polling in 1945.
2. Regional swing
The variety of constituency and regional swings is also unprecedented. Scotland produced a 13 per cent swing from SNP to Conservative, while London saw a six per cent swing from Tory to Labour. The rest of England and Wales swung 2-3 per cent from Conservative to Labour. Thus the general election mirrored last year’s referendum in producing three distinct geographies: then, we had pro-Remain London and Scotland at odds with pro-Brexit provincial England and Wales.
As for individual seats, contrast Mansfield,…