Lib Dems in the East

A look at the Liberal Democrat General Election performances in the East of England.

Top five Lib Dem performances in the East:

39.1% North Norfolk
34.9% Cambridge
27.5% Colchester
20.2% South East Cambridgeshire
18.5% St Albans

The worst performances:

1.3% Thurrock
1.8% Castle Point
1.8% Clacton
2.0% Harlow
2.0% Waveney

The worst performances see four from Essex (which has to be set against their Colchester performance), and this suggests they have a problem in my home county. The common link amongst these five (and others which are near contenders for this list) is that they all are seats which have had Labour representation in the recent past.

North Norfolk has the only Liberal Democrat MP for the East of England. This represents a loss of three.

The story of the May General Election is the story of a collapsing Liberal Democrat vote. Of the fifty-eight Eastern constituencies, twenty-three saw the Lib Dems fail to hold their deposit.

As regards to swings, the Lib Dems may take a little comfort from Cambridge and Clacton insofar that there were swings their way from the Tories – but then look at those results.

The biggest swings against the Liberal Democrats:

15.8% Chelmsford (to Labour)
15.1% Chelmsford (to Conservative)
14.6% North West Norfolk (to Labour)
14.2% Huntingdon (to Labour)
14.2% South Suffolk (to Conservative)
14.0% South Suffolk (to Labour)

May 2015, UKIP in the East

Despite accruing an impressive number of votes nationally, UKIP’s performance in the May General election was distinctly underwhelming. They entered the election with two MPs, and halved that on exit.

This was their big chance. Last year they ‘won’ a national election insofar as they got the most votes in the European elections. They entered this year on a wave of hype, and some quite friendly media coverage. They were boosted by the increasingly pluralistic state of most ballot papers, ensuring that relatively modest vote shares was all that was required.

Back in the day of genuine two-party politics half the vote was required to guarantee success – nowadays MPs are regularly elected with less than 40% of the votes cast. Yet UKIP stumbled, stuttered, and failed. The coming EU referendum will rob UKIP of their prime reason for existence. Will they matter anymore, will they figure in the next General Election? Only time will tell.

They stood candidates in all fifty-eight East of England constituencies in May, and retained their deposit in every one of them.

The top five UKIP performances in the East:

44.4% Clacton
31.7% Thurrock
31.2% Castle Point
26.5% South Basildon and East Thurrock
23.3% South West Norfolk

The worst performances in the East:

5.2% Cambridge
7.8% St Albans
8.9% Hitchin and Harpenden
9.4% Norwich South
9.6% Bedford

Thirteen second places and one win may be considered good enough, and if this election is considered a builder event then I guess it could be. However, if the referendum poses a question about the future of the UK it also poses a question about the future of UKIP, or more properly whether UKIP has a future.

Ah, legitimacy

Ah, legitimacy. It has to be said, that anyone who questions the legitimacy of a Government elected under first past the post generally gets a receptive ear from me. Well, sort of. I want change, because what used to work, in the days of a simpler democracy with less crowded ballot papers, is looking like it is way beyond its sell-by date. This is illustrated by dividing the number of votes received by the number of MPs elected.

Much like the much-touted, and wrong, argument about the current boundaries that give Labour ‘an unfair advantage’ , this simple equation ignores how the electorate actually behaves. The voter is an intelligent animal, able to understand what a safe seat looks like, how to tactically vote, and how to protest vote. Nonetheless, there is a clear failure in the current system, in part illustrated by dividing votes by MPs, in part illustrated by low turnout, and in part by showing the absolute power is granted with the consent of only one in four of the electorate.

Here is how many votes it takes to elect MPs for the main parties:

DUP 23,033
SNP 25,972
SDLP 33,270
Conservative 34,243
Labour 40,277
Sinn Fein 44,058
UUP 57,468
Plaid Cymru 60,565
Liberal Democrat 301,986
Green 1,157,613
UKIP 3,881,129

A couple of things that are worth pointing out. Individual MPs are not elected by aggregating votes across the UK – an MP is elected on roughly 20,000 votes. This is true of all MPs, accepting that this varies depending on constituency size (and some other factors). It is also worth noting the special circumstances that apply in Northern Ireland (first and third in this table are Northern Irish parties).

The real losers here are the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP, especially UKIP. I shed no tears for UKIP usually, but one cannot value democracy and then ignore the blatant unfairness of being able to attract almost 3.9 million voters and see the reward as a single seat.

Well done, Mr Cameron

southAnd EastFirst, an apology. In his acceptance speech Sir David Amess said something like (this is my best memory and not verbatim) ‘this is a momentous night for the Conservatives”. In my speech (which followed David’s) I said that “it is still twenty-three years since the Conservatives had won an election”. I was wrong.

To be fair, on the information that I had when making this point it did look like no-one had got a majority in the House of Commons. Subsequently it turned out that the Conservatives ended up with a majority of twelve.

I do not always enjoy the results that voters give us, but I do respect it. On Thursday Mr Cameron achieved a more than creditable result. In part this will be due to Labour’s failure to convince, but let us not be churlish – Mr Cameron and his team did very well.

The Tories managed to increase both their vote share and the number of MPs, which is a very rare feat for a Government. Not since the October 1974 has a Government increased its vote share. 1983 was the last time a Government saw an increase in its MP numbers.

Labour, on the other hand, had a disaster nationally. For starters 2010 was described as awful at the time, and we have managed to do worse. Add in the near wipe-out in Scotland and our once proud boast of being the party of all of Britain lies in tatters.

The map here shows the extent of the task now facing Labour’s next leader. The one small crumb of comfort for Labour supporters in my neck of the woods is that the gains in Cambridge and Norwich South have doubled the number of MPs we now have in the East of England. However, Essex is as blue as ever.

So, a ‘well done’ to Mr Cameron, but be aware that we are gunning for you. Come 2020 we will have a better Labour Party.