A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

Be Wary of Expecting a Hung Parliament

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2010 at 5:34 pm

By David Weber

With the Polls down to as little as a 6% gap between Labour and Conservatives, the narrative of a hung parliament is becoming ever-more-popular. There are reasons to be wary of such an argument, however.

Firstly, one has to remember the question of momentum. Despite some tentative recovering steps in the last month, and an opposition that has seen a remarkable stalling in their previously admirable PR machine, the government still remains on a knife-edge where unity is concerned. Only on Friday the announcement of James Purnell that he would step down as an MP nearly translated into another huge backlash in the media against the governing party’s unity. Although there is the question of whether the media truly does play a role in shaping public opinion with its reporting of minor upsets like this, or rather follows it, it is not a call I would imagine any party would wish to make. History is against them when it comes to the role of unity during an election campaign, as well. In 1997, the Tories called an unusually long campaign, of  6 weeks, prior to the election, and rather than this being an asset, it turned into a disaster, as party disunity accumulated even more strongly than it might otherwise have done.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the media’s narrative so far as the electoral map is concerned is very, very simplistic. It appears to have decided on an easy to understand line that 9% is the required lead for Cameron and Co. to secure a majority, but as with most simple statements in politics, it is far from the truth. The actual truth depends very much on the electoral geography; where Cameron gains votes just as much as how many.

Stephen Wan talks in his latest article, in reply to James Langford, of the co-incidence of a more serious decline in turnout with the rise of New Labour. I hope that I am not betraying a partisan flavour when I argue that I do not view this to be entirely fair. He is certainly right to point out the correlation — unusually, the landslide change in government in 1997 took place on a significantly reduced turnout (c. 77%>71%), compared to the previous two changes in government, which had occured on an increased turnout. However, I feel very strongly that it is unfair to translate this correlation into causation, or to blame New Labour for using what methods were open to it.

The fact is that to say that spin and PR are to blame is not likely to be true. Spin and PR have been with us throughout the ages, and a natural human trait. It is far more likely to be science and technology, rather than the arts of deceit, that have progressed in the last couple of decades, leading to an alienation of the increasing number of voters who simply Do Not Matter. And indeed, one thing that was notable about the 1992 election was how many people got it wrong — the media, the polling organisations, even the parties. Though it is not likely that either party expected Labour to win, at least some Conservatives were surprised at just how many seats were lost on a net -0.3% shift in their vote, and conversely many were surprised at the extend of the “Shy Tory” factor in the polls.

Fast forward to the last decade of politics, and there is a very different picture. No polling upset, to my knowledge, has been as great since, and the last three elections have seen, according to reports, a significant advancement in the science of electoral dynamics, with people like Philip Gould and Lynton Crosby proving a huge asset to the Labour and Conservative parties respectively. Inside reports from the Conservative party have talked of the “love-bombing” of marginal voters in marginal constituencies during the 2005 general election, and if more recent polling is anything to go by, Labour have little to celebrate. A recent article in the Guardian by Andrew Sparrow reported that the Conservative lead has been consistently higher in the Marginal seats, enough to potentially translate to 20-30 extra seats — a significant number, enough to spell the difference between a minority and majority government.

It would be ironic if Cameron won, not on a huge majority of national votes, and not on an increased turnout, but simply due to an ever-more effective science of electoral geography. I sincerely hope this is not the case — not least because some of the alternatives, such as the Conservatives gaining less seats for more votes, could possibly prove a catalyst for real electoral reform — whereas more of the same, with a party winning on ever less votes, will simply lead to stagnation.

Addendum: At the time of writing, I incorrectly referred to Andrew Sparrow as ‘Anthony Sparrow’. This has now been corrected.

Advertisements
  1. […] to win elections. In a recent article in the Times, Daniel Finkelstein backed up the view of my previous article that the Tories have a lot further to slide before they lose, whilst showing how devastating the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: