Thursday, 6 January 2011

Of Britain’s ‘red regions’ and ‘blue regions’

It is almost impossible to spend a great deal of time reading about American politics before one bumps into the concept of ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’. This concept talks of a divide between American states which are left-leaning and generally support the Democratic Party in Presidential elections such as Massachusetts, California and New York, and between those who are more Conservative and tend to support the Republicans, such as Texas, Utah, and Nebraska. It speaks of the polarisation and changes in regionalisation of American politics. Yet while this is much discussed in the US, Britain now splits into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ regions in much the same way, a much less discussed phenomenon.

Region

Conservatives

Labour

Liberal Democrats

Others

Votes

Seats

Votes

Seats

Votes

Seats

Votes

Seats

South West England

42.8%

36

15.4%

4

34.7%

15

7.1%

0

South East England

49.9%

75

16.2%

4

26.2%

4

7.7%

1 (Green)

London

34.5%

28

36.6%

38

22.1%

7

6.8%

0

East of England

47.1%

52

19.6%

2

24.1%

4

9.2%

0

West Midlands

39.5%

33

30.6%

24

20.5%

2

9.4%

0

East Midlands

41.2%

31

29.8%

15

20.8%

0

8.2%

0

Yorkshire and the Humber

32.5%

18

34.7%

32

23.0%

3

9.8%

0

North East England

23.7%

2

43.6%

25

23.6%

2

9.1%

0

North West England

31.7%

22

39.5%

47

21.6%

6

7.2%

0

Wales

26.1%

8

36.2%

26

20.1%

3

17.6%

3 (Plaid)

Scotland

16.7%

1

42.0%

41

18.9%

11

22.4%

6 (SNP)

So from this table we can see the polarisation and regionalisation of British politics. There aren’t too many surprises. Scotland, Wales and the North of England are very Labour, the South East and East are very Conservative, London, the Midlands and Yorkshire are more mixed, and the South West is dominated by the Tories but with a strong Lib Dem component. Yet the sheer monolithic nature of large parts of the UK is clear. Scotland’s monolithic Labour dominance is much discussed, but in the South East the Conservatives came very close to an absolute majority of the vote. This has important ramifications for our democracy.

Once Labour and the Conservatives held a reasonable proportion of seats in all the regions of Britain, but now several regions are unassailable monoliths. The result of these changes is a reduction in the number of marginal seats. Whereas more than 160 seats could be said to be marginal in the 1950s, as of 2010 the number is closer to 80. This is important because marginal seats are an important part of how FPTP functions. The theory runs that Labour and the Conservatives should have a large bank of safe seats either side, then there is a large series of marginals in the middle, a bigger uniform national swing should mean taking more marginals and therefore winning a majority. As the number of marginals of declines it therefore becomes much more difficulty to win a majority. This can be demonstrated by noting that there is just more than 80 marginals, now let us imagine that Labour gains 80 seats at the next election, it would have just 338 seats, just thirteen seats above a majority. Yet of those 80 marginals many are already held by Labour, so even to achieve this modest outcome Labour needs to win seats that are, on paper, safe. So this polarisation of voting patterns results in a far higher chance of a hung parliament

It also has ramifications for national legitimacy. If it were not for the Coalition, David Cameron would have only one MP in Scotland, and therefore Scots would rightfully question the legitimacy of their policies. Similarly a government featuring Labour would suffer legitimacy issues in England, where the Tories won a majority. This is not conducive to stable government therefore.

The regionalisation of British politics is self-fulfilling in many ways. As British politics regionalises further ambitious politicians abandon areas where they have lesser chance of being elected. Southern Labour Party politicians abandon the South, and Scottish Conservative party politicians abandon their home. This loss of talent results in a lesser infrastructure, and as such regionalisation begets regionalisation. At the same time parties begin to become seen in a regional sense. So the Tories may be seen as anti-Scottish, and, to a lesser extent, Labour as not matching the values of the South. Unless both major parties make attempts to truly reach out to those regions where they do poorly the trend will continue, and the result for British politics will be more hung parliaments, election campaigns increasingly concentrated on the Midlands, and a more divided country.

1 comment:

  1. It's not necessarily a bad thing as long as any coalition is broadly geographically representative. We could even move to geographically based parties like some kind of northern alliance (like Italy) or a southern equivalent.

    It'll be interesting as well to see how the various changes in the Lords or the potential switch to AV affects all this.

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