Sunday, 9 May 2010

The ‘Weird’ Election: Initial Thoughts

Weird was a term used a few times on Thursday night, usually in relation to the un-uniform swing. Now, we've been saying for months that the swing wouldn't be uniform hence some our predictions. In one respect the electorate acted normally. LAB>CON swing was consistently LAB>CON; it just varied in degree. I'll discuss this in another post. The really 'weird' results were almost exclusively involving the Liberal Democrats.

Now, when we tallied up our predictions my immediate reactions was we'd over estimated the Lib Dems. This formed the basis of this post where I tried to show where the Conservatives were likely to out do our projection and snatch a tiny majority at the expense of the Lib Dems. Of course, what actually happened was Labour completely out did our projection at the expense of the Lib Dems! It's hard to be too embarrassed about this as it's a general assumption that Labour under performed in their last poll rating. And we weren't alone in our shock at the Lib Dem level in the exit poll!

But the surprisingly resilient Labour vote, and the non-existent Lib Dem surge, would not be considered weird if it was uniform; and on the whole it was. The weird came in CON/LD marginals. And my explanation? It's the expenses stupid! Because there were no big surprises with MPs heavily caught up in the expenses scandal it has been assumed to have played little to no role in this election. But the worst offenders quit. These are your Douglas Hoggs, your Peter Viggers and your Anthony Steens. The latter's seat, Totnes, was comfortably held by the new candidate, Sarah Wollaston, despite being quite a tight marginal on paper. As predicted, Steen standing down saved the seat for his party. Other's that stayed on survived because they were in such safe seats. I'm talking about MPs like Nadine Dorries, Bernard Jenkin and Hazel Blears. Seats like these reacted differently, but in the sense that the swing was exaggerated or limited depending on the party of the MP. So the real expenses story can be found in the LD/CON marginals in the South.

I'll concentrate on the following seats where uniform national swing(LD>CON 1.3%) or regional swing (LD>CON 1% and LD>CON 2%) flew out of the window, much to the confusion of the pundits.



Notional Majority

Swing Needed





Camb. & Red.

Julia Goldsworthy




LD Hold

CON Gain


Newton Abbot

Richard Younger-Ross




LD Hold

CON Gain


Romsey & So'ton N

Sandra Gidley




LD Hold

CON Gain



David Heathcoat-Amory




LD Gain

LD Gain



Nigel Waterson




LD Gain

LD Gain


If we hadn't believed that Cleggmania would have lasted we'd have looked like genius's! As you can see here and here our pre-debate predictions foretold the demise of Gidley and Younger-Ross but we switched our predictions because of the phantom Lib Dem bounce. Regardless of our failings, it's clear the swing is all over the place but lets' have a quick look at why.

Starting with Goldsworthy, who we always thought would survive, I feel her expenses problems could well have contributed to her downfall. As our write-up suggests the notional majority, and the unpopularity of the Lib Dem's locally, could also have attributed to her defeat but the rocking chair should take a share of the blame. This seat acted more like an open Lib Dem seat than one in which they have an incumbent. If we just look in Cornwall they had 3 incumbents and 3 open seats that they 'held' but two MP's had expenses issues. In fact, Andrew George in St Ives was worse hit by the scandal and just survived a 10.4% against him. But Dan Rogerson kept the Tories at bay enduring only a 0.3% swing. Then in the open seats the swings were: 5.1%, 4.8% and 9.1%. The last figure was in South East Cornwall where the popular Colin Breed had stood down and the other two were newly established seats. The expenses scandal took away the Lib Dem's traditional incumbency advantage that the party heavily relies on in the current voting system.

Younger-Ross and Gidley were the two MPs criticised for their conduct with regards to the Dolphin House payments. Again, they lost their incumbency advantage. You can compare Younger-Ross's (Newton Abbot) 5.8% swing to their other Devon MPs: Andrew Sanders (Torbay) – 1.1% swing; Nick Harvey – 0.3% swing. Then in Hampshire compare Sandra Gidley [4.5% swing] to Chris Huhne – 3% to the Lib Dems and the open seat in Winchester – 9.1%. Of course, Winchester was Mark Oaten's seat so that could have exaggerated the swing there!

But of course, more confusion for the pundits as the Lib Dems actually picked up seats from the Tories is seemingly strange circumstances. Wells is a personal victory for me as when I predicted Heathcoat-Armory's defeat in March I received this comment:

"What a ridiculous analysis that you make based on absolutely nothing whatever. On the ground the Lib Dems are going to be very lucky if they hold on to any seats in this area."

So when the Lib Dems held all three of their seats in this area and took Wells I smiled…a bit! Clearly Heathcoat-Armory's expenses played a part in his demise but it's worth having a quick look at the three swings against Lib Dem incumbents here to continue to prove this point. The were: 1.8% to Lib Dems in Taunton Deane (Jeremy Browne), 2.7% to Lib Dems in Yeovil (David Laws) and 0.9% to Lib Dems in Somerton & Frome. The fact these three MP's were expenses saints resulted in a 'normal' result for Lib Dem incumbents.

Finally Nigel Waterson in Eastbourne was another naughty boy. Not expenses this time but his conduct clearly adversely affected him and probably lost him the seat. The Lib Dem MP next door in Lewes experienced only a 0.8% swing from him to the Tories.

So although expenses didn't cause the massive surprises some were expecting there is enough evidence to suggest in certain instances they reason for some of the weird results. My academic work is on this issue and so you can look forward to more detailed analysis of the expenses scandal throughout the summer! I expect to find smaller LAB>CON swings against good MPs (eg. Gisela Stuart – Birmingham Edgbaston) and larger ones against those caught up in the scandal (eg. Roger Berry - Kingswood) and I'll put up a post about that later on in the week.

1 comment:

  1. If anyone's looking for an explanation for Evan Harris' defeat against a 6.9% swing...

    Missed this in our summary of the constituency. Like Goldsworthy, I'm surprised this was enough to defeat him but I think we can see why...