British elections round-up

Source: FT elections data hub (

Source: FT elections data hub (

Some piece I’ve enjoyed over the past week: Robert Tombs in the New Statesman, on Britain’s supposed political crisis in historical context

British politics nevertheless retains remarkable elements of stability and the coming election will show how resilient it still is. Most people are not floating voters. The broad UK pattern of voting – usually with the Tories leading in England and their opponents ahead in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – has been noted. The Tory share of the vote in England in 2010 was almost identical to its share in the decade Queen Victoria ascended the throne. In England, regional political patterns have been very consistent: areas of Anglican dominance shown in the 1851 census (the only one to record religious affiliation) are similar to the strongholds of the modern Conservatives. Liberal and later Labour support was similarly linked with Dissent. In 2010, Anglicans were twice as likely to vote Tory as Catholics, despite the latter group’s conservatism on many social and cultural issues; Muslims, even more small-C conservative, were the most Labour-voting religious group in Britain.

Philip Stephens in the FT, celebrating the end of majorities:

The unravelling of the old political order is anyway making this discussion irrelevant. Whatever the balance between the two main parties when the ballots are counted, the election will most probably be decisive only in demonstrating that the first-past-the-post electoral system no longer delivers single party rule. Even assuming a sharp fall in the number of Liberal Democrats, more than 80 and perhaps up to 100 members of a House of Commons of 650 will come from parties other than the Tories or Labour. Numbers like that make it hard to see how left and right can again expect to secure sufficient seats for a majority.

Rafael Behr in the Guardian, on nationalism in the campaign:

 Few things could be more effective in sustaining that dynamic than the current Tory campaign to strip Scottish MPs of legitimacy in the next parliament. The depiction of a Labour administration propped up by the SNP as a potential crisis for the country is, at heart, an assertion of the moral primacy of English representation in the Commons. The implication is that people who vote for a nationalist party in Scotland are voluntarily curtailing the reach of their citizenship. Their opinion on who should be prime minister no longer counts.

Danny Finkelstein in The Times, on the reasonableness of scaremongering about the SNP:

You simply cannot spend a quarter of a century arguing that Scotland has a claim of right to determine its own affairs, questioning the legitimacy of a majority that originates in England, crafting institutions to accompany this rhetoric and then say that the very same arguments are unreasonable when someone gently asks questions about English laws … [The SNP] would be relied upon to sustain and support policies in a country they don’t want to be attached to, and in whose outcomes they have no interest. English education law is foreign policy to the SNP. It will exercise this power in the service of an leftist ideology that England has often rejected and doubtless will reject again.

Alex Massie in the Spectator, on why this is a dangerous argument (see also his long essay in February on the SNP wave and risk to the union):

Instead of bringing the nation – or nations, if you prefer – together, Cameron and his party (south of the border) have pushed them ever further apart. At no point has Cameron set out his vision for the better, more equitable, governance of the United Kingdom. Perhaps he does not have one. Instead there was an immediate push for EVEL, tying this to any changes in Scotland’s status. This was, transparently, a manoeuvre launched for tactical reasons: let’s dish Labour! No thought was given to the broader, longer, picture.

Philip Stephens in the FT, on the foreign policy implications

The fifth lesson is deeply dispiriting: Tory- or Labour-led Britain will retreat from the world. Mr Cameron’s promised referendum could wrench the nation out of the EU, his immigration rules would shut out the hard working and the talented from abroad. As for Mr Miliband, he sees the world as largely irrelevant to his grand project to build a fairer society. Both parties will annoy Washington by cutting defence spending. But then, these days, Britain’s voters are as mistrustful of foreign adventures as they are of the political leaders standing for election on May 7.

Peter Kellner in Prospect, on the day after:

The Tories, having acknowledged defeat would themselves face either a leadership election (if Cameron resigns as party leader as well as PM) or a leadership crisis (if he tries to hang on). The party will be in no position to try and thwart Miliband at this early stage. If, in a fit of madness, they announced their intention to try and vote down Miliband’s Queen’s Speech, and so provoke constitutional gridlock, Tory support in the polls would crumble. Rather than travel the road to perdition, they are likely to abstain (as they did in broadly similar circumstances on March 1974). Miliband will secure a majority, and possibly a huge majority. In short, the immediate question on 8th May will not be whether a majority exists for Labour to govern. It will simply be whether Cameron can construct a majority for his Queen’s Speech. If he can, he will stay as Prime Minister. If he can’t, then Miliband has no need tol do a deal with the SNP, Lib Dems or anyone else. Labour will lead the government. Depending on circumstances, Miliband may offer a deal to the Lib Dems, in order to implement progressive policies over a full five-year term; but he has no need to do so in order to get over the immediate hurdle of establishing himself as Prime Minister.


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