Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Clever Fellows Strike Again

None of the stories on the British election that I read mentioned the popular vote, so I looked and found it here.  (Slightly less detailed results are now on Wikipedia).  The comparison with 2010 is interesting:

                    2010        2015    Change
Conservative       36.1%       36.9%   +0.8
Labour             29.0%       30.4%   +1.4
UKIP                3.1%       12.6%   +9.5 
Liberal Dem.       23.0%        7.9%  -15.1
SNP                 1.7%        4.7%   +3.0
Green               0.9%        3.8%   +2.9
BNP                 1.9%        0.0%   -1.9

In terms of seats, the Conservatives gained and Labour lost, but in terms of votes both were up very slightly over last time (Labour actually gained more).  I looked these figures up yesterday, and this morning saw a story in the New York Times called "Appeal to Dwindling Core Proves Costly for Labour Party in Britain." It said that  Labour had moved left to try to appeal to the manual working class, and lost the center.  Everyone they quoted said basically the same thing, but the best summary was:   "The more Labour drifts from the center the more it hurts, and they [Labour] may not like it, but Britain is a very moderate country . . . and risks outside the mainstream worried voters.”  

The figures above show, the mainstream (Labour, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats) parties went from a combined 88% of the vote in 2010 to 75% in 2015, with the big loser being the party of the center.  The "outsiders" of the left (SNP and Greens), went from 2.6% to 8.5%, while the outsiders of the right (UKIP and BNP) went from 5% to 12.6%.  

In other words, the analysis was exactly backwards--the middle lost and the non-mainstream parties gained.  So why would someone offer an analysis like this?  My guess is that they think back to the elections of 1979-92, when Labour moved to the left, lost voters to the center (Liberals and Social Democrats, then Liberal Democrats), and lost four straight elections.  Journalists and academics are familiar with that history, so when Labour moves to the left and loses an election, it's natural to pull it out again.  Natural, but totally wrong.  

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