My politics tutor at Oxford was the leading authority on General Elections – Dr David Butler. This was a man who sat down for drinks with Churchill to discuss election strategies – and indeed with pretty much every Prime Minister since.
Dr Butler and I would sit for my tutorials, one to one, discussing modern British Government. He had been persuaded out of semi-retirement by another politics tutor to teach me over the Summer before I started work in the US Congress on a bursary I’d won.
When I remove all the nonsense on policy issues that people think wins elections and cut to just bare statistics the findings are pretty amazing. Oh, and race does not impact elections, neither does immigration.
So it is the following statistics will show exactly that; fight and argue over immigration and other ‘issues’ and ‘policies’ but none of it will be as good a predictor as I am about to give you:
First, Labour’s dispersion of voters is such that they can at merely 36% of the votes still win an election – as in 2005. Never before in the history of British elections has a party won with such a low percentage of votes. Never in the history of British elections has a party had just enough of its voters spread efficiently so that with such a low spread of voters it can win enough seats.
To understand this – think of it this way; we have a system whereby if you win a seat by 10,000 votes, you win it just as much as if you won by 1 vote.
Tory voters tend to give themselves thumping large majorities and so in a way to say the Conservatives have a poll lead is irrelevant because you are only counting a lot of people in constituencies you’ve already won not people in ones where you need to win from Labour. Labour tend to have lower majorities, but more of them – it’s just the way their vote is spread and so they tend to win more seats per voter.
So pronounced is Labour’s advantage that in 2005 more people actually voted Conservative than Labour in England– but the Conservatives won 92 fewer seats than Labour within England (285 to 193).
Put another way Labour can get 55% of the seats with only 36% of the votes cast. Whereas everyone else combined with 64% of the votes can only manage 45% of the seats.
This ‘voter efficiency ratio’ – my own creation - is even worse for the Lib Dems: with 2/3rds as many votes as Labour they only got 1/5 as many seats as Labour.
For the Conservatives to over-turn this, they need a lot of people to have moved around the country in the past 5 years, they need SNP to win all Labour’s seats in Scotland and they need to focus on the economy (even turn immigration into an economic issue). Everything for the Tories has to be about you having more money in your pocket – that is their best option.