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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Labour's voting myth

An interesting article in the Guardian this morning reports that C-Change, a Tory pressure group, believes that most of the 31 seats the Tories gained in the May election changed hands because Labour voters switched to the Liberal Democrats, not because they embraced the Conservatives.

This has been taken by some as an endorsement of Labour's tactics in the last week of the General Election, when claims by Tony Blair and others that a vote for the Liberal Democrats will let in the Tories, largely stemmed any last minute swing to Charles Kennedy and my party.

The problem for Labour's spin doctors is that a close analysis of the results demonstrates that this hypothesis is wrong and that the line they were peddling was nothing more than a cynical manoeuvre designed to shore up their vote. As the Guardian article makes clear the actual impact of switching from Labour to the Liberal Democrats was to er.... elect more Liberal Democrats MPs.

Mr Boles pointed out that former Tory seats which had fallen to Labour, such as Manchester Withington, Cambridge and Birmingham Yardley, are now in Lib Dem hands.

The Lib Dems have also seized the second place from the Tories in numerous seats, particularly in northern English cities.

Although there was a general swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats this was not uniform throughout the Country and individual constituencies reacted in different ways. It is true that in some seats such as Shipley, the Conservatives regained the seat with a 0.9% majority, largely because Labour lost 5.8% of their vote and the Liberal Democrats went up by 3.8%. But to argue, as Labour did, that this effect was universal and was a reason for not switching voting preference is both wrong and dishonest.

A random sample of nine more of the seats that the Tories gained from Labour reveals that in all but one of them the increase in the Liberal Democrats vote was less than the Conservative's majority. In Bexley Heath and Crayford for example the Tories increased their vote share by 6.4%, whilst Labour dropped by 8% and the Liberal Democrats went up by 1%. The Tory majority was 10.7%. In this and in other seats such as Hornchurch there was a straight transference of votes from the Labour Party to the Conservatives.

Labour held onto Government because the opposition was not seen as a viable alternative. What the General Election result actually shows is that voting patterns are now complex and diverse, varying from region to region and even within regions. It is impossible now to accurately make generalisations as to the impact of voting changes, as Labour attempted last time. To continue to do so despite the evidence to the contrary is just plain misleading.
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