UK Politics 3/9/17: voting and parliamentary arithmetic

A lot has been made of the fact that Labour under Corbyn gained many votes in the June 2017 election, enough that some think the party has full victory (in the sense of an overall majority) in its grasp. I wanted to look at some comparative figures, so compiled the following chart of votes (not seats) and percentages in each UK election since 1979:

Year    Conservatives          Labour            Lib Dems        SNP                UKIP

1979    13.7m/43.9%               11.5m/36.9%   4.3m/13.8%     0.5m/1.6%                                                                                                                          (Liberals)

1983    13.0m/42.4%               8.5m/27.6%     7.8m/25.4%     0.3m/1.1%                                                                                                                         (SDP/Lib Alliance)

1987    13.7m/42.2%               10.0m/30.8%   7.3m/22.6%     0.4m/1.3%                                                                                                                         (SDP/Lib Alliance)

1992    14.1m/41.9%               11.6m/34.4%   6.0m/17.8%     0.6m/1.9%

1997    9.6m/30.7%                 13.5m/43.2%   5.2m/16.8%     0.6m/2.0%       0.1m/0.3%

2001    8.4m/31.7%                 10.7m/40.7%   4.8m/18.3%     0.5m/1.8%       0.4m/1.5%

2005    8.8m/32.4%                 9.5m/35.2%     6.0m/22.0%     0.4m/1.5%       0.6m/2.2%

2010    10.7m/36.1%               8.6m/29.0%     6.8m/23.0%     0.5m/1.7%       0.9m/3.1%

2015    11.3m/36.8%               9.3m/30.4%     2.4m/7.9%       1.5m/4.7%       3.8m/12.6%

2017    13.6m/42.3%               12.9m/40.0%   2.3m/7.4%       1.0m/3.0%       0.6m/1.8%

So Labour under Corbyn did well, gaining 3.6m votes, but the Tories under May did even better. Two factors are of primary importance: (a) the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in 2015, following the Tory/Lib Dem coalition (see my earlier blog putting this in context); (b) the collapse of the UKIP vote in 2017, following the EU referendum, after having done exceptionally well in 2015, quadrupling their vote from that in 2010.

Labour certainly did manage to benefit from getting more young people to vote, but they also gained from the UKIP losses, which were threatening them in various traditional constituencies. But the Tories gained more, though the first-past-the-post electoral system through up the bizarre result by which May gained 2.3m more votes than Cameron did in 2015, but won 13 less seats than the latter. The Conservative vote has not fallen, far from it (May won more votes than any Tory leader since John Major in 1992, and more than Thatcher in 1983), it is really just a question of how it is distributed.

The widespread tactical voting generally believed to have occurred from 1997 onwards, which helped the Lib Dems more than double their seats in 1997 (from 20 to 46) and go onto peak in 2005 (with 62), must be assumed to have disappeared, unsurprisingly as Labour voters are disinclined to vote for a party which spent five years in coalition with the Tories, even where they are the primary alternative in some constituencies to the latter. But the current voting system still works against Labour, and it should not be forgotten that they only won 262 seats in 2017; to win an overall majority by one seat they need another 65, whereas for a workable majority (not too vulnerable to backbench rebellions over contentious legislation) they need at least 85.

I cannot see this happening, certainly not with Corbyn as leader. The electoral landscape has changed fundamentally since the pattern between 1997 and 2010. The Lib Dems and UKIP have collapsed, the Tories have swung to the right (though could move further right still) while Labour has swung to the left. Brexit has changed a lot; the good result for Labour and Corbyn this year came about in part through triangulation on this issue, managing to convince both Leavers and Remainers that they supported them. I cannot see this holding up further, and without a major and clear shift of policy, I believe Remainers will move away – though many, like me, feel politically homeless at the moment (a reason why a new centre party would be no bad thing).

On Tuesday Parliament will reconvene, and will start to debate the EU Repeal Bill. There has been talk of the government being defeated on this, which I would hope for greatly, but am not too hopeful, again for reason of numbers. There are four Tory MPs identified by John Rentoul as possible rebels –  Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Kenneth Clarke and Dominic Grieve – and possibly a few more, but nine Labour MPs who supported Leave in the referendum – Ronnie Campbell, John Cryer, Frank Field, Roger Godsiff, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer – while Caroline Flint indicated this morning that she is not prepared to help obstruct the bill. The Tories and DUP together have 327 MPs, whereas the opposition (not including the seven Sinn Féin MPs who will not take up their seats, nor the Speaker) have just 315. Even if all the four Tories listed above voted against the government, and the DUP abstained, they would still have 313 votes and could comfortably beat the opposition if just the nine Labour MPs vote with them. If things got tighter, May could take the same course of action as John Major did twice when facing defeat, and turn a vote on legislation into a vote of confidence. With no parliamentary majority, it is hard to imagine many Tories (most of who, when in the last parliament, voted for Article 50, including Soubry) voting against the government then.

Labour have proved themselves utterly incapable of proper opposition on Brexit. The Michel Barnier/David Davis press conference on Thursday was quite farcical, and it is clear the talks have hardly progressed, yet there was hardly a squeak from Corbyn and Keir Starmer until Starmer’s ineffectual interview this morning, which only served to muddy the party’s Brexit policy further. Never has there been a time during which proper scrutiny of the government and their approach to negotiations was more important; never has Labour proved so inept at providing this.

Where I have some hope, paradoxically, is in the possibility of a large-scale grassroots Tory revolt following acknowledgement that the government is preparing to pay a large Brexit divorce bill (with some leaks in the press today suggesting a figure of €50 billion). A recent Guardian/ICM poll suggested that two-thirds of voters would find a figure of €10 billion or more unacceptable, and the government has done nothing to try and explain the reason (not even clamping down on Boris Johnson over his ‘Go whistle’ remark). While the legal obligation to pay such a bill has been questioned, Barnier has made it clear that without the government coming clean on their position on this issue, they cannot proceed with trade talks. With time ticking down until Article 50 expires in March 2019, the UK government cannot really afford to keep delaying this, when the chances of even coming up with a workable transition arrangement – which all the other EU nations will accept – are slim in the time available.

So I think we will hear the sum confirmed soon, despite the denials. May will try to wait until after her party conference in Manchester, 1-4 October, but this may be difficult. The Tory membership have already indicated their wish for May to stand down; if she is conceding a major Brexit bill, then the pressure may become unbearable. May appears to be trying to keep Davis and Johnson close, so that they cannot dissociate themselves from what results, and so would go down with her; in that situation, I still do not think it impossible that the membership might make a crazy choice like electing a figure like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Andrea Leadsom, beloved of Conservative Home and the like.

Then, if a new leader was feeling optimistic or simply deluded, they just might call another election. I do think (or hope?) that a lot of decent Tory voters could not vote for a party led by someone so right-wing. But in order for a different government, Labour will have to make a proper case for an alternative in terms of Brexit, and make more overtures to the Lib Dems and others. I cannot imagine the Lib Dems or SNP supporting a Labour government which is going ahead with Brexit. At present I still cannot support Labour because of Brexit, and am sure they are a very long way from being an electorally viable party.

 

 

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Feasibility of a new UK centre party? And other Brexit-related thoughts

There has been a lot of activity during the last week, mostly on Twitter, but also a few related newspaper articles, emanating from comments by James Chapman, former Daily Mail political editor, who worked for a while for George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then as chief of staff at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) under Secretary of State David Davis. To cut a long story short, Chapman has been arguing that the Tory Party has been taken over by extremists aiming for a hard Brexit, and saying that Brexit will be a calamity for the country and the party, who may never win power again. He has called for the founding of a new pro-European party to be called The Democrats.

Chapman has claimed that several senior former and two serving Cabinet ministers have contacted him to express interest (though it is important to note his caveat ‘They are not saying they are going to quit their parties’), noting that 60% of the Tory parliamentary party backed Remain. And, significantly, he has given a date of 9th September 2017 to be at Parliament Square, saying ‘I promise some very special guests’. No leading politicians have yet openly declared support, though one might glean sympathies from two articles this morning. Former Labour MP and defeated leadership candidate David Miliband wrote in The Observer today about how Brexit will be an ‘unparalleled act of economic self-harm’ and called for a second referendum (or a vote in Parliament) on the choice between remaining in the EU or the alternative after negotiations, echoing a call made by Tony Blair in October 2016. At the same, Tory MP Anna Soubry, something of a hero of anti-Brexiteers since her endearing appearance and frank statements on the election documentary Brexit Means Brexit, wrote in the Mail on Sunday a quite startling piece attacking the ‘Hard Brexiteers’ (though saying she still respects the referendum result), and saying ‘I would be betraying my principles if I did not make it clear that country must always come before party’. Also this morning, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond have jointly declared, presumably in an attempt to override talk of major cabinet divisions, that the UK will definitely leave the EU, single market and customs union when Article 50 expires in March 2019, while also making clear their support for a transition deal from this point, though stressing that this must not be indefinite, or some ‘back door’ to staying in the EU. Fox has been considered one of the most pro-Leave members of the cabinet, Hammond one of the most pro-Remain, or at least ‘Soft Brexiteers’. Interestingly, Soubry tweeted this morning that the statement by Hammond and Fox ‘shows the need to form #Brexit consensus which Hammond is leading’, perhaps a qualified support for the cabinet member to whom she feels closest, though falling short of unequivocal endorsement.

There had been talk of a new party earlier this year: in May it was claimed that various donors were approaching Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change with a view to launching a breakaway movement which could attract some non- or anti-Corbynite Labour MPs, with talk of 100 such MPs resigning the whip and joining the new party. That was of course before the general election on 8th June, resulting in a hung parliament and a better-than-expected result for Corbyn’s Labour. Nonetheless, a report in the Sunday Times from the beginning of July (reproduced here) suggested that if Corbynites went ahead with deselection of centrist Labour MPs (with which some have already been threatened), then that could be a trigger for a number to leave to join a new party. This story was based upon sources said to be close to Blair, and hints were given that David Miliband might be a credible figure for a senior role in such a party.

Since Chapman’s first statements and tweets appeared, there have been a variety of left-of-centre voices considering the implications of a new party. Former SDP member and then Blairite advisor and then Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis (and staunch anti-Brexiteer) claimed a new party would indeed be much like the old SDP, and would achieve little more than to split the left and help the Tories, a view also echoed by Owen Jones, on the other wing of the party.  Corbynite journalist and Brexiteer Paul Mason, responding to those who had looked to the success of Emmanuel Macron in France as a model for a new centrist force, said that a new party would be ‘a liberal Tory party. The party of Notting Hill and Canary Wharf; the party of free market economics, globalised finance and social liberalism’ and would likely split the Tories rather than Labour. One might have imagined this to be an outcome Mason would have welcomed, not least in light of his earlier suggestion to the Progress faction that they ‘do a Macron’, but he suggested this would provide little more than ‘an emotional comfort blanket’ as global neo-liberalism withers.

However, political scientist and historian Tim Bale notes various questions relating to a new party, asking what such a new party would which is not already provided by the Liberal Democrats, whether existing anti-Brexit MPs would be better to pursue cross-party strategies, whether it is possible to ‘break the mould’ of British politics as SDP co-founder Roy Jenkins once claimed, in light of the UK electoral system which is unfavourable to third parties. However, he also argues that even if unable to achieve electoral victory, a new party could have an effect upon the policies of others, giving as previous examples of such a phenomenon the SDP pushing Labour towards a more centrist and pro-European stance such as won Blair a massive victory in 1997, or UKIP pushing the Tories towards a more overt and pervasive Euroscepticism.

Various issues occur to me immediately in terms of a new centre party and what it might achieve. The first relates to whether it could actually bring down the Tory/DUP quasi-coalition (for the purposes of confidence and supply issues in Parliament). The June election produced the following results: Tories 317, Labour 262, SNP 35, Liberal Democrats 12, DUP 10, Sinn Féin 7, Plaid Cymru 4, Greens 1, Independent Unionist 1, Speaker 1. So the Tories with the DUP have 327 seats; the others (without Sinn Féin, who will not take up their seats, or the Speaker) have 316. In a vote of confidence, I believe all the others, with the possible exception of the Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon, would vote against the government. If 6 Tory MPs were to join a new party, or resign the party whip, that could leave the Tories + DUP with 321 votes, the others with 322. If Hermon voted with the government, they would win with 322 to 321; if she abstained, then the Speaker would use his casting vote, and support the government. So the new Democrats would have to capture seven Tory MPs to be sure of being able to bring down the government in a confidence vote, leading to a new general election in which they could fight most seats.

I do not believe this is likely at present. It is possible that Soubry (who in her mid-20s defected from the Conservatives to the SDP) and maybe one or two others (some possible candidates might be Kenneth Clarke, Nicky Morgan or Nicholas Soames, but it would be a huge step for any of these) might be prepared to take the ‘nuclear option’ and leave their party, but to gain a whole seven would require a true sense of a party in crisis.

The situation as regards Tories jumping ship is interesting to compare to that in early 1981, when just one Tory MP, Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, joined the new Social Democratic Party (like Soubry, though it would be 29 years before she would become an MP), following the Limehouse Declaration of 23rd January 1981 . In 1981 the Tories had a clear majority (which would increase significantly in 1983). Their government’s reputation did look shaky, and Thatcher’s net popularity, pre-Falklands, was low as unemployment rose sharp, so that by the end of the year  she was declared the most unpopular Prime Minister since polling began. Furthermore, Labour remained consistently ahead in the polls right from the time of the 1979 election (peaking, as might surprise some, soon after Michael Foot became leader in November 1980), though this all changed after the Falklands War in 1982, when the Tories’ support soared from the mid-20s to the high 40s. This could not however have been predicted in early 1981. The Conservatives looked weak in the polls, though this was not an uncommon mid-term situation. They did not face something of such shattering impact as Brexit, nor rely upon another party in order to have a majority in the House of Commons. Thus I would argue that the situation was less serious then, and the incentives for Tory MPs to leave the party correspondingly fewer.

How about the situation for the other parties in early 1981? The Liberal Party then had 11 MPs, down from 13 prior to 1979; they would also go on to win Croydon North West from the Conservatives in October 1981, and Bermondsey from Labour in February 1983. The party had recently suffered a terrible blow with the trial in 1979 of their former leader Jeremy Thorpe on charges of having organised the murder of his homosexual lover. Even though he was acquitted, his refusal to give evidence and the general aspects of his lifestyle revealed in the trial meant his reputation was destroyed, with wider harm for the party as a whole, during a period when public opinion was considerably more homophobic than today. David Steel had taken over as leader in 1976 and tried to restore the party’s reputation, in which he was relatively successful, taking it into the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78, but the trial itself caused much strain. So the party was not in a strong situation. However, today we have a situation in which just two years ago, in the 2015 General Elections, the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg suffered the worst percentage loss of seats of any UK centre party since 1918, down a previous 57 to just 8. They won the seat of Richmond Park in a by-election forced by the sitting Tory MP Zac Goldsmith in December 2016, but Goldsmith won this back in June 2017. Otherwise, under leader (now ex-leader) Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats went up to 12 seats, a modest gain but still a very long way from the numbers they had under leaders Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. It is hard to see yet any sign that under Vince Cable – widely remembered as a major figure in the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, and the man who trebled tuition fees – as leader, this situation would change. By contrast, when Steel was leader, it was not since the 1920s that they had experienced huge losses. Also, the Lib-Lab confidence and supply agreement, lasting 18 months, was of a different order to the five-year full Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-15, which has left many on the left with a visceral disdain and distrust for the latter party, which will take time to shake, especially as the current leader was at the centre of that coalition.

So, the Liberal Democrats are in a relatively weak position, Somewhat more so than in the early 1980s. This just might be enough to prevent a re-run of the events of the 1980s, in which the SDP and Liberals fought two elections in an alliance, then after the 1987 election the former part split down the middle over the issue of a merger. This merger was supported by Steel and most in the Liberals, and various up-and-coming SDP politicians including Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy, and veterans such as Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. On the other side was SDP leader David Owen, with a group of acolytes including MPs John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes, who maintained his own separate SDP following the merger in 1988. This led to the two parties running rival candidates in by-elections, most notably in that in Richmond (North Yorkshire) in February 1989, in which the votes of the two rival centre parties together exceeded those for the Tory candidate (future leader William Hague), but the division of the centre let the Tories through. Following disaster in the May 1990 Bootle by-election, the Owenite SDP was wound up. The situation was not plain-sailing for the new Liberal Democrats, though: they first had problems with their name, beginning as the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’, then adopting ‘Democrats’ as a shorter version (so anticipating the new party, and alluding to the American party), before settling on ‘Liberal Democrats’ in October 1989 after heated debates in which leading figures very publicly disagreed. Prior to this, they had suffered a terrible set of results in the 1989 European Elections, gaining only one-third of the votes of the Green Party. But Ashdown was able to hold the new party together and eventually more than double their representation in the 1997 General Election, helped by a new wave of tactical voting (which held up until 2015, as Nick Clegg discovered to his immense cost).

Could we see a similar course of events, with the new Democrats in the place of the old SDP? The moderately greater weakness of the Liberal Democrats today might result in some differences, but I cannot see why these would be that significant. A small number of Tory MPs might join the party, and a few from Labour, at present. The election result, and the power of party members, has consolidated Corbyn’s position, so that those who leave are unlikely to ever find a way back in, at least for a long time. However, if deselections begin, this situation might change.

I also find it hard to imagine that Labour under Corbyn could win an overall majority (from which they were well-short in June) in a future election, especially now that the triangulation witnessed during the election campaign – managing to convince some Northern Leave voters on one hand, and Southern middle-class Remainers on the other, that Labour was on their side – is unravelling. This has been clear ever since Corbyn sacked three shadow ministers for voting for a Queen’s speech amendment calling for the UK to remain in the customs union and single market. But there is no obvious rival for party leader likely to win enough support in the party as a whole. Because of the membership, even if Corbyn does eventually stand down, perhaps following another election loss, his successor may be another similarly-minded candidate. With this in mind, it would probably make sense for the likes of Liz Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock or Hilary Benn to leave for a new party, especially if supported by Blair and Miliband, but I cannot see them doing so without a wave of deselection. Just this weekend, Andrew Grice argued that unless Corbyn opposes Brexit, then he will be unable to retain the support of many who who might shift their allegiance to a new party. This may be true of voters, but Labour party tribalism should not be underestimated.

But there are other factors to consider. It is very far from a foregone conclusion that a transitional agreement will be agreed by the other 27 EU nations (all of whom must agree unanimously for it to be possible). And this will not come without a price, quite literally. A week ago, it was reported that the UK was prepared to pay a £36bn bill for exiting the EU, provided the negotiators would talk about trade (contradicting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark a few weeks previously that the EU leaders could ‘go whistle’ if they expected any such ‘divorce bill’ to be paid). However, immediately following the publicisation of this figure, various Tory Eurosceptics responded angrily and claimed that such an action would be impossible to sell to voters, and Downing Street rejected the claim that they were prepared to pay the £36bn. The Eurosceptics may be right, but I do not believe the EU will take trade, transition, or anything else until the UK government agrees a figure (Michel Barnier made this clear in July). We are informed that the government is about to publish a range of key position papers on various Brexit issues, but it is far from clear if the divorce bill will be included.

One other option has been touted by leading anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, who has suggested that instead of a transitional agreement, we should be looking for an extension of the timetable for exit, but as one person has pointed out, it is hard to see how this would be possible with EU elections forthcoming in May/June 2019. For the UK to be part of these would be a huge leap that even some ‘soft Brexiteers’ would find difficult to back, at least to their constituents and local parties.

I think the government will realise soon that it has two options: either to agree a figure, at least for negotiations, in advance, or else have to exit the talks without any agreement. This may come as soon as the Tory Conference at the beginning of October, at which we are told today Theresa May will attempt a ‘mea culpa’ about the election result, in an attempt to hold onto her job. But I do not believe this will be any more successful than Ian Duncan Smith’s ‘quiet man turning up the volume’ speech in 2003, soon after which he was deposed. May looks a weak and wounded Prime Minister, lacking authority, only remaining in place because of lack of a clear successor. If she commits to a Brexit divorce bill, I believe there will be moves against her following the conference, as have been predicted by others, and many Eurosceptic Tories in the constituency parties will put their weight behind an alternative candidate. It is not inconceivable that they might support Jacob Rees-Mogg, who today is said to be considering his options, a result which would be as ground-changing for the Tories as Corbyn was for Labour. I cannot imagine Soubry, Clarke and various others being able to remain in a party led by him, even less so than when it was led by Duncan Smith.

So, in conclusion: a new party might attract some small number of defectors, but will probably become embroiled in a competition for the centre with the Liberal Democrats; as anticipated by Bale, it may have an emboldening impact upon anti-Brexiteers in the two main parties; if the Tories elect a highly right-wing leader like Rees-Mogg (or Andrea Leadsom), more MPs might be prepared to defect, as would be the case for Labour if they begin deselections, or back hard Brexit. And above all, the decisive moment in the Brexit negotiations is about to come, I believe. Either a bill will be agreed, or negotiations will come to a halt, and a hard Brexit without a transitional agreement will be a foregone conclusion.

I am unsure if there exists such a thing as a ‘soft Brexit’ other than entering into an EEA agreement in the manner of Norway, thus remaining in the single market, but a hard Brexit would be the worst possible outcome, and fatal for the UK. At present I see no evidence that either Labour or the Tories have any strategy to avoid this. It is time for all right-thinking politicians in all parties to accept that this matters more than party loyalties. I can personally no longer support Labour (or my local MP, Corbyn) while he maintains essentially supporting Brexit, and would welcome the new party. A second referendum is desperately needed, with much more information about what a post-Brexit Britain will actually entail made available to the voting public. I await 9th September with great interest.

 

 

 


Timeline of the Metropolitan Police Investigation of Leon Brittan in context – Tom Watson exonerated

[Since the evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee on October 21st, 2015, this timeline needs updating. I will do so as soon as time permits]

Following the various claims and counter-claims about the Metropolitan Police investigation into the allegations of rape against Leon (Lord) Brittan, the Met have released their key findings today, which clarify a great deal. I have combined this with other information to clarify context to produce a timeline. All information for which a link is not provided comes from the Met report.

Brittan had been named in the press in 1984 as being the Cabinet Minister about whom rumours of sexual acts with boys had been circulating, but most of the press declared these to be false, as did Paul Foot in his 1989 book Who Framed Colin Wallace?. Furthermore, the scandals concerning Elm Guest House (about which a comprehensive series of links can be found here) date back to the police raid in 1982, at which time reports referred to MPs and other VIPs being present, as well as drawing links to the disappearance/murder of eight-year old Vishal Mehrotra and fifteen-year old Martin Allen. It has been claimed by the Times journalist David Aaronovitch (in an article behind a paywall) that most information to do with Elm Guest House comes from Chris Fay, whose reliability has been attacked recently in the press. Documents published online by Fay’s colleague Mary Moss named Brittan as an attendee at the guest house; this was not in the 1982 reports, but certainly claims of high-level MP involvement was.

For wider consideration of the remaining questions about Leon Brittan, there is nowhere better to look than this excellent post by Tim Tate.


Timeline: The Investigations into Leon Brittan

October 24th, 2012: Labour MP Tom Watson asks a question of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, about evidence of a high-level paedophile ring linked to Parliament and No. 10, relating to the evidence files used to convict Peter Righton (see this documentary).
November 2012: Initial allegation of rape against Leon Brittan made by ‘Jane’ to South Yorkshire Police. Passed to Met as alleged incident occurred in London.
September 2013: Investigating officer decides no further action to be taken.
February 17th, 2014: ‘Jane’ has a meeting with the Metropolitan Police which causes her some discontent (this appears to be the case from a redacted letter from Alison Saunders to Tom Watson)
April 2014: Commander Graham McNulty requests an update into this investigation
April 28th, 2014: Upon receiving the update, McNulty orders a review
April 28th, 2014: Tom Watson writes to Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders about the case
May 17th, 2014: Exaro and the Sunday People report on the case of ‘Jane’ claiming she was raped in 1967 by a former cabinet minister. Both news agencies also report Tom Watson saying he finds Jane ‘a very credible witness’ and has written to Saunders requesting the case be reviewed.
May 19th, 2014: Review concludes that Brittan should be interviewed under caution.
May 20th, 2014: Most details of Watson letter now made public by Exaro.
May 30th, 2014: Brittan interviewed under caution.
June 2nd, 2014: Met receives Tom Watson’s letter to Saunders.
June 3rd, 2014: Seven MPs: Tim Loughton, Zac Goldsmith (Conservative); John Hemming, Tessa Munt (Liberal Democrat); Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk (Labour); Caroline Lucas (Green); call for a full national inquiry into child abuse, citing various particular cases.
June 5th, 2014: A lobbying campaign of MPs begins to garner wider support for an inquiry.
June 5th, 2014: Met submits evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, including Brittan statement and recording of interview. CPS requested other things be completed, including formal identification process from complainant
June 13th, 2014: Saunders replies to Tom Watson.
June 16th, 2014: The specific letter from the seven MPs is published drawing attention to cases including Elm Guest House and that of Jane.
July 1st, 2014: Labour MP Simon Danczuk gives evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, in which he raises the issue of the dossier given by Geoffrey Dickens to Leon Brittan, when the latter was Home Secretary. Danczuk had earlier hinted that he might name a former MP involved in abuse at Elm Guest House if asked – this was sure to be Brittan – and a Labour MP as well. In the event he did not do so, but this select committee appearance is the major trigger for widespread media coverage of claims of a Westminster paedophile ring, and especially on Brittan and the question of what happened to the Dickens dossier.
July 6th, 2014: Brittan named in press as having been interviewed by police over a historic rape allegation.
July 7th, 2014: Home Secretary Theresa May announces the setting up of an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), in light of the lobbying campaign and widespread allegations of new cases in the press following Danczuk’s Select Committee appearance.
July 7th, 2014: Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse takes over as Gold Commander of the investigation.
July 8th, 2014: Baroness Butler-Sloss, formerly chair of the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry, is announced as Chair of the IICSA.
July 14th, 2014: Butler-Sloss steps down from chair of inquiry.because of family and other connections.
September 5th, 2014: Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf is appointed by Home Secretary as the new Chair of the IICSA.
September 7th, 2014: After chatter from the outset, a report in the Mail on Sunday reveals close links between Woolf and Lord and Lady Brittan. The pressure on Woolf grows from this point onwards, with further revelations during the course of the next week.
October 7th, 2014: Formal identification process for ‘Jane’ re Brittan takes place
October 21st, 2014: Woolf appears before Home Affairs Select Committee about her role as inquiry chair, and gives an unconvincing performance.
October 28th, 2014: Labour MP Jim Hood names Leon Brittan in Parliament, saying that ‘the current exposé of Sir Leon Brittan, the then Home Secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children, will not come as a surprise to the striking miners of 1984’ and referring to ‘The rumours that Sir Leon Brittan was involved in misconduct with children’
October 29th, 2014: Simon Danczuk backs Jim Hood’s naming of Brittan.
October 31st, 2014: Following a heated meeting with survivors and campaigners by the Inquiry Secretariat, Woolf stands down as chair of the inquiry.
November 2014: New file submitted to CPS by Met
November 22nd, 2014: CPS wrote back saying it would not consider the file because it did not meet the appropriate criteria.
November 25th, 2014: DAC Rodhouse decides to appeal the decision.
November 27th, 2014: Major (but poorly attended) debate in House of Commons on child abuse. Zac Goldsmith speaks at length about allegations concerning Elm Guest House and a cabinet minister said to have been photographed in a sauna with a naked boy.
January 15th, 2015: Matter raised with Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for London
January 21st, 2015: Brittan dies.
January 22nd, 2015: Met confirm that investigation into rape allegation in which a man in his 70s had been questioned was ongoing. CPS say: ‘A charging decision has not been made in this case and the matter remains with the police.
January 24th, 2015: Tom Watson publishes article in the Mirror, detailing the various allegations he had heard about Brittan, and indicating his belief they should still be investigated.
February 12th, 2015: DAC Rodhouse meets Chief Prosecutor for London, requests file of evidence be reviewed and a decision reached on whether prosecution would have followed had Brittan been alive.
March 5th, 2015: Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan writes to Saunders to request change of CPS policy to allow files to be considered where there was ‘significant public interest’.
April 1st, 2015: A further letter sent repeating the request, referring to the case of Lord Brittan. Accepted that as Brittan is dead, the CPS may not wish to review the file, but still sought a change of approach.
April 2015: Investigating officers meet with ‘Jane’, in line with the ‘Victim’s Code’, and inform her that there would not have been a prosecution had Brittan been alive.
June 24th, 2015: Final response received from Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, confirming that the CPS will not review the request.
October 6th, 2015: Met apologise in letter to Lady Brittan’s solicitors for not informing her at same time as complainant.

Thus it was the Met’s own review, started well before the publication of the interview with ‘Jane’ and Tom’s intervention, which decided to continue with the case. This exonerates Tom. There have been many malicious articles on this in the last two weeks – compared to only a few peeps from the Guardian and Mail on Zac Goldsmith’s intervention in Parliament – now more in the press should stop for thought and realise the vast importance of Tom’s work on a range of cases which are far from over.


Call for All Political Leaders and Leadership Candidates to Pledge Full Co-operation with Abuse Inquiry

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is now underway. Despite two previous chairs rightly standing down due to some of their connections, and unpleasant politics between some other panel members and other individuals, resulting in the loss of several very good people, nonetheless what is now in place is strong, focused, and has real powers. I am very pleased at the access to intelligence files and also the pledge that no-one who comes forward will face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. And personally, I am especially pleased that the Terms of Reference make clear that music tuition will be an area of investigation, for which I have campaigned qnd lobbied for several years. The website is at:

https://www.csa-inquiry.independent.gov.uk/

Some survivors and campaigners have unfortunately expressed grave reservations about the inquiry. I would implore them to at least try engaging with it, difficult though this might be, in full recognition of the fact that they have more reason than anyone to be distrustful of any such venture. But I believe the chair and panel do wish to get to the bottom of this terrible factor afflicting our society for so long, and help to build a better society in its place.

In an interview I gave earlier today for Sky News:

I called for the leaders of all the major political parties to pledge full co-operation with this inquiry (and make all relevant documentation available) and want to repeat this now, and hope others will help with urging publicly not only current leaders, but also leadership and deputy leadership candidates, to do so. Much evidence has come to light suggesting that abuse by senior politicians in many parties was either ignored or actively covered up, and that other politicians had connections to paedophile organisations. It is paramount that this is fully investigated in order to understand better how high-level abuse could go on for so long with apparent impunity.

So I ask people, journalists, campaigners, bloggers, tweeters and others to help keep the pressure on the following politicians in England and Wales to give such a pledge, and if not, explain not.

Conservatives
Leader: David Cameron
Future Leadership Candidates: Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Theresa May

Liberal Democrats
Leader: Nick Clegg
Leadership Candidates: Tim Farron, Norman Lamb

Labour
Leader: Harriet Harman
Leadership Candidates: Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn
Deputy Leadership Candidates: Tom Watson, Stella Creasey, Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Caroline Flint

UKIP
Leader: Nigel Farage

Greens
Leader: Natalie Bennett

Plaid Cymru
Leader: Leanne Wood


Labour can and must win in England alone – and has done so several times before

The loss of all but one Labour seat in Scotland to the SNP appears to have sent shockwaves down the political establishment, as if Scotland were a much larger part of the United Kingdom – in terms of population and seats – than it actually is. It’s time for some perspective in terms of figures:

There are currently 650 seats in the whole of the United Kingdom. 18 of these are in Northern Ireland and are generally uncontested by the major parties in the mainland. This leaves 632 for England, Scotland and Wales. Of these, 533 are in England, 59 are in Scotland, 40-in Wales. England has nine times the number of seats of the next largest region.

In 2015, the breakdown of seats in the three constituent parts of the mainland were as follows:

Total: Conservatives 330, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1

England: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1
Scotland: SNP 56, Labour 1, Conservatives 1, Lib Dems 1
Wales: Labour 25, Conservatives 11, Plaid Cymru 3, Lib Dems 1

Labour continue to have a clear commanding lead in Wales; there is not at present any sign of Plaid Cymru making major advances comparable to the SNP, though of course this situation may change. The Conservatives, however, have an overall majority in England of 107 seats. Were Labour to recapture 20 seats in Scotland (which would now be a significant gain), say, they would still be a long way from denting the Conservatives majority in England.

But Labour have achieved this before. Consider these results in England alone:

1945: Labour 331, Conservatives 159, Liberals 5, Labour Independent 1, Independent Conservative 1, Common Wealth 1, Communist 1, Independent 3
1950: Labour 251, Conservatives 242, Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 4, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and Natural Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 1, National Liberals 1,
1951: Conservatives 259, Labour 233, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1955: Conservatives 279, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals, Liberals and Conservatives 3, National Liberals and Conservatives 5
1959: Conservatives 302, Labour 193, Liberals 3, Conservatives and Liberals 2, Conservatives and National Liberals 6, Liberals and Conservatives 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 3
1964: Conservatives 255, Labour 245, Liberals 3, Conservatives and National Liberals 4, National Liberals and Conservatives 2, Speaker 1
1966: Labour 285, Conservatives 216, Liberals 6, Conservatives and National Liberals 2, National Liberals and Conservatives 1, Speaker 1
1970: Conservatives 292, Labour 216, Liberals 2, Speaker 1
February 1974: Conservatives 267, Labour 237, Liberals 9, Independent Labour 1, Social Democrat 1, Speaker 1
October 1974: Labour 255, Conservatives 252, Liberals 8, Speaker 1
1979: Conservatives 306, Labour 203, Liberals 7
1983: Conservatives 362, Labour 148, Liberals 10, SDP 3
1987: Conservatives 357, Labour 155, Liberals 7, SDP 3, Speaker 1
1992: Conservatives 319, Labour 195, Lib Dems 10
1997: Labour 329, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 34, Independent 1
2001: Labour 323, Conservatives 165, Lib Dems 40, Independent 1
2005: Labour 286, Conservatives 194, Lib Dems 47, Respect 1, Independent 1
2010: Conservatives 297, Labour 191, Lib Dems 43, Green 1, Speaker 1
2015: Conservatives 318, Labour 206, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 1, Green 1, Speaker 1

(Figures taken from the UK Politics Resources site)

In five of the eight elections since 1945 in which Labour won a majority nationwide, they also won an overall majority in England. The exceptions are 1950, when the Conservatives together with associated conservative parties had a total of 252 to Labour’s 251 in England, and Labour’s overall majority in the country was just 6 seats; 1964, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 5, excluding the Speaker; and October 1974, when Labour had a nationwide majority of only 4. Attlee in 1945 and Blair in 1997 and 2001 won commanding three figure overall majorities in England alone; Wilson in 1966 had a respectable majority of 59, and Blair in 2005 also had a perfectly serviceable majority of 45.

Furthermore, in 1945, 1997 and 2001 Labour had an overall majority in the whole of the country on the basis of its English seats alone; in 1966 it would have scraped one from its seats in England and Wales (317 out of 630). 2005 was different, however; then the total of seats in England and Wales was 315, which would still have made it the largest party by a comfortable margin, but not able to command an overall majority in the UK if the SNP had performed like they did in 2015.

Labour can win, and win decisively in England; being able to do so is key to their winning a comfortable overall majority in the country again.


The rises and falls of the centre parties in the UK since 1918

It is quite informative to look at the plight of the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 General Election and compare it with previous elections since 1918.

During World War One, the Liberal Party split between the mainstream party, led by Herbert Asquith, and a breakaway faction run by David Lloyd George, who was much closer to Conservative thinking on the war and headed a coalition as Prime Minister from 1916, mostly made up from Conservatives. In the 1918 election, two rival parties fought: the Coalition Liberals (Coalition Lib) under Lloyd George, and the Liberals under Asquith. The two Liberal Parties won 163 seats between them, as follows:

1918: Coalition Con, 332; Coalition Lib (Lloyd George), 127; Labour 57, Con 47, Lib (Asquith) 36, Sinn Fein 73.

In the next election, in 1922, the Coalition Liberals became the National Liberals, and together they won in total 115 seats; at the same time Labour significantly increased their representation. Labour under Ramsay MacDonald did even better in 1923, though a reunited Liberal Party under Asquith went back up to 158, at the expense of the Conservatives. The following year, following a successful motion of no confidence against a Labour minority government, the Conservatives made massive gains, with a cataclysmic loss of 118 seats for Asquith’s Liberals. No centre party has ever made a really significant come-back from this 1924 result. Labour took a great many Conservative seats in 1929 and then the reverse situation happened in 1931, with Labour suffering the worst ever defeat in its history, losing 241 seats and reduced to a rump of just 46. But Labour was able to come back and win a moderately respectable 154 seats in 1935 under Clement Attlee, who would of course lead the party to historic victory in 1945. 1931 for Labour was not like 1924 for the Liberals, who made only modest gains to 59 seats in 1929, and split again over the calling of an election at the outset of the Great Depression. The Liberals under Herbert Samuel chose to remain within the National Government, whilst Lloyd George split from it, and another grouping under John Simon was formed in support of Conservative protectionist policies as against free trade from the other two factions. Between the three factions a total of 72 seats were won. In 1935 the Liberal vote plummeted again to 21, with Samuel himself losing his seat (a precedent, also matched by Archibald Sinclair in 1945, of which Nick Clegg is sure to have been aware, and must have been glad to have avoided).

1922: Con 344, Lab 142, Lib (Asquith) 62, National Lib (Lloyd George) 53
1923: Con 258, Lab 191, Lib (Asquith) 158
1924: Con 412, Lab 151, Lib (Asquith) 40
1929: Lab 287, Con 260, Lib (Lloyd George) 59
1931: Con 470, Lab 46, Liberal National (John Simon) 35, Lib (Herbert Samuel) 33, National Labour (MacDonald) 13, Independent Liberal (Lloyd George) 4
1935: Con 386, Lab 154, Lib (Samuel) 21

The first four decades after World War Two saw a long period in the wilderness for the Liberals, never rising to more than 14 MPs prior to 1983, and in several elections falling to just 6. Archibald Sinclair, who served in the wartime government, oversaw the fall of the party to 12 seats in 1945 and the loss of his own seat (like Samuel before him), but his successor Clement Davies did even worse in three miserable elections with 9, 6, and 6 seats. Jo Grimond did little better after taking over the leadership in 1956; the most he could muster was 12 seats in 1966, but then Jeremy Thorpe, who took over the following year, took the party back down to 6 seats again. However, the uncertain elections of 1974, only the second of which produced a wafer-thin majority for Labour, benefited the Liberals a little, gaining 14 and 13 seats respectively. David Steel managed to avoid the complete disintegration of the party following Thorpe’s resignation and subsequent trial for conspiracy to murder, and they held onto 11 seats in 1979.

1945: Lab 393, Con 197, Lib (Archibald Sinclair) 12
1950: Lab 315, Con 282, Lib (Clement Davies) 9
1951: Con 321, Lab 295, Lib (Davies), 6
1955: Con 344, Lab 277, Lib (Davies) 6
1959: Con 365, Lab 258, Lib (Jo Grimond) 6
1964: Lab 317, Con 304, Lib (Grimond) 9
1966: Lab 364, Con 253, Lib (Grimond) 12
1970: Con 330, Lab 288, Lib (Jeremy Thorpe) 6
Feb 1974: Lab 301, Con 297, Lib (Thorpe) 14
Oct 1974: Lab 319, Con 277, Lib (Thorpe) 13
1979: Con 339, Lab 269, Lib (David Steel) 11

The achievements of David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy should not be underestimated in terms of building a solid third force in British politics. Not only did Steel manage to hold the Liberal Party intact following the Thorpe resignation, but he also formed an electoral alliance with the new Social Democratic Party which broke away from the right wing of Labour in 1981. Together, the SDP-Liberal Alliance won 25.4% of the vote in the 1983 election, not much less than the disastrous 27.6% achieved by Labour under Michael Foot, but the first-past-the-post electoral system translated this into 23 seats for the SDP-Liberals as compared to 209 for Labour. Running as a tighter alliance under the joint leadership of Steel and David Owen in 1987, they nonetheless did not gain seats and lost one.

1983: Con 397, Lab 209, Lib (Steel) 17, SDP (Roy Jenkins) 6
1987: Con 376, Lab 229, SDP-Liberal Alliance (David Owen, David Steel) 22

Very soon after the 1987 election, Steel proposed a merger between the parties, which was supported by the vast majority of Liberals but bitterly split the SDP, with their leader David Owen amongst those most strongly opposed. Nonetheless, the merger went ahead, and Paddy Ashdown became the new leader, the party eventually deciding upon a name of Liberal Democrats (previously Social and Liberal Democrats). A rump SDP of anti-merger members, led by Owen, continued for two years and contested various by-elections (including an important one in 1989 in Richmond, Yorkshire, caused by the appointment of Leon Brittan to the European Commission; the Social Liberal Democrats and Owenite SDP between them gained more votes than the Conservative winner, future leader William Hague), but eventually wound themselves up in 1990 during financial difficulties, whilst a smaller rump of anti-merger Liberals never achieved any real profile.

In the 1992 election, won with a small majority by John Major’s Conservatives against the predictions of pollsters, Ashdown actually lost two seats (and vote share fell from 22.6% to 17.8%), taking the party down to 20, much bruised by the previous five years, the wounds they had created and a good deal of ridicule in the media. However, Major’s government went from crisis to crisis from the withdrawal of sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on ‘Black Wednesday’, September 16th 1992, onwards, and then was mired in a series of scandals, sexual and financial, as well as major party division, with a small anti-EU faction holding great power as Major’s majority dwindled. In 1997, despite the immense popularity of Labour leader Tony Blair, the combination of massive Tory unpopularity with the experience of four Tory election victories made many extremely cautious, and thus prepared to take part in an unprecedented amount of anti-Tory tactical voting. Ashdown’s Liberal Democrats actually fell in terms of percentage share of votes (from 17.8% to 16.8%), but this tactical concentration led to a near doubling of seats. Exactly how much this is down to Ashdown, how much to wider political trends essentially independent of his particular leadership, is unclear, but certainly the party’s position rose during his leadership. His successor, Charles Kennedy, achieved an increase to 52 seats (and 18.3% of the vote) in 2001, and an enviable 62 (with 22.0% of the vote) in 2005. Kennedy’s tenure has been marred by his resignation in 2006, at the age of 47, with reports of his drinking problem (though that was never a problem for Winston Churchill), and now he has ignominously lost his seat to the SNP. But it should not be forgotten that, even in the face of a seemingly impregnable Labour Party under Blair, he took his party to a representation they had not seen since the 1930s. Furthermore, he was the one senior Lib Dem figure to oppose the coalition in 2010, a position which with hindsight looks extremely wise.

1992: Con 336, Lab 271, Lib Dem (Ashdown) 20
1997: Lab 418, Con 165, Lib Dem (Ashdown) 46
2001: Lab 413, Con 166, Lib Dem (Charles Kennedy) 52
2005: Lab 355, Con 198, Lib Dem (Kennedy) 62

Kennedy’s successor Menzies Campbell was found to be uninspiring, and only remained leader for a little over 18 months, before being succeeded by Eurocrat Nick Clegg (with Campbell’s deputy Vince Cable acting in a transitional leadership role for two months). Following a strong media campaign in support of Clegg, and performance in television debates which was widely admired, certainly in comparison to an unpopular Labour incumbent in Gordon Brown, Clegg achieved a smaller than expected 1% rise in votes, whose distribution actually meant a loss of five seats to 57. But this was little commented-upon as the hung parliament led to the Tory/Lib Dem coalition. But the result from this week took his party to just 14.0% of their seats in 2010.

2010: Con 306, Lab 258, Lib Dem (Nick Clegg) 57
2015: Con 331, Lab 232, Lib Dem (Clegg) 8, SNP 56

Nick Clegg has completely undone the achievements of Steel, Ashdown and Kennedy, and pulled off the unenviable feat of a percentage loss of seats which exceeds even that achieved by Arthur Henderson for Labour in 1931, and a worse percentage loss for the centre parties than in any other election since 1918. In terms of numbers of seats, he has taken the party back to the types of numbers associated with Clement Davies in the 1950s or Jeremy Thorpe in 1970. He can at least console himself with the fact of holding onto Sheffield Hallam and thus avoiding the fate of John Samuel and Archibald Sinclair when they were Liberal leader (and Henderson as Labour leader in 1931).


How well or badly did the parties really do, in terms of votes, in the 2015 General Election?

My predictions from January for the election results turned out to be significantly out; but then so did almost everyone else’s, including those of Iain Dale and Peter Kellner which I cite in the above link. One small consolation, in predictive terms, is having forecast a bigger collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote than many others did; it always appeared to me that with the loss of the major tactical vote which had doubled the Liberal Democrat representation in Parliament in 1997 from what it had previously been, the party would fall away to less than 20 seats, though it is still shocking to see them fall to 8.

But in the midst of an emotional aftermath and a large amount of disappointment and disillusionment for many on the left following the unexpected result, have a look at the actual results in terms of votes and percentages, compared to 2010:

Conservatives: 10,806,015, 36.4% in 2010; 11,334,920, 36.8% in 2015.
Labour: 8,609,527, 29.0% in 2010; 9,344,328, 30.4% in 2015.
Liberal Democrats: 6,836,824, 23.0% in 2010; 2,415,888, 7.9% in 2015.
UKIP: 919,471, 3.1% in 2010; 3,881,129, 12.6% in 2015.
SNP: 491,386, 1.7% in 2010; 1,454,436, 4.7% in 2015.
Greens: 265,243, 0.9% in 2010; 1,154,562, 3.8% in 2015.
Plaid Cymru: 165,394, 0.4% in 2010; 181,694, 0.6% in 2015.
Turnout: 29,687,604, 65.1% in 2010; 30,691,680, 66.1% in 2015.

So in 2015 there was a very small increase in both Conservative and Labour votes. UKIP and the Greens had the biggest success in votes terms, both quadrupling their numbers (though UKIP started out from a much bigger base and are a very much more significant force); the SNP trebled theirs. The Liberal Democrats had by far the worst result of the above, falling to almost one-third of what they had before. Plaid Cymru achieved a very small increase.

But then look at the results in Scotland:

Conservatives: 412,655, 16.7% in 2010; 434,097, 14.9% in 2015.
Labour: 1,035,526, 42.0% in 2010; 707,147, 24.3% in 2015.
Liberal Democrats: 465,471, 18.9% in 2010; 219,675, 7.5% in 2015.
SNP: 491,386, 19.9% in 2010; 1,454,436, 50.0% in 2015.
UKIP: 17,223, 0.7% in 2010; 47,078, 1.6% in 2015.
Greens (Scottish Greens): 16,827, 0.7% in 2010, 39,205, 1.3% in 2015.
Turnout: 2,465,722, 63.8% in 2010; 2,910,465, 71.1% in 2015.

The Conservatives slightly upped their number of votes, but fell in terms of proportions by about one-eighth; Labour fell drastically, to almost half of their percentage votes, and the Liberal Democrats even more so. The SNP had a massive rise to two-and-a-half times the percentage their received in 2010, and interestingly the Greens doubled their vote, and UKIP did even better (doing better than the Greens by all measures in Scotland).

So if we therefore look at the votes for the five major national parties in England and Wales alone, we get the following figures:

Conservatives: 10,393,360, 38.2% in 2010; 10,900,823, 39.2% in 2015.
Labour: 7,574,001, 27.8% in 2010; 8,637,181, 31.1% in 2015.
Liberal Democrats: 6,371,353, 23,4% in 2010; 2,196,213, 7.9% in 2015.
UKIP: 902,248, 3.3% in 2010; 3,834,051, 13.8% in 2015.
Greens: 248,416, 0.9% in 2010; 1,115,357, 4.0% in 2015.
Turnout: 27,221,882, 65.2% in 2010; 27,781,215, 65.6% in 2015.

So here the patterns are similar to those for the UK as a whole, except for the fact that Labour gained 3.3% in England and Wales (compared to just 1.4% in the whole UK) and the Conservatives 1% (0.4% in the UK). UKIP and the Greens’ increases were both larger in England and Wales compared to the UK as a whole.

In terms of seats, in 2015 Labour gained 10 seats from the Conservatives, but the Conservatives in turn gained 8 from them, a net gain for Labour of just 2. Labour won 12 from the Liberal Democrats, but the Conservatives won 27 (their net gain in the election of seats from any other parties was 29). The Liberal Democrats had previously had a strong presence in Scotland with 11 seats; with all but one of these falling away.

Without the loss of 40 seats in Scotland, Labour would have a total of 272, 16 more than in 2010; without the huge gains from the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives would have had 304, just 2 more than in 2010. Labour fell because its gains from the Liberal Democrats (12 seats) and Conservatives (2 net) were too modest to match their losses to the SNP (40 seats). The Conservatives lost no seats to the SNP at all and scraped a majority primarily through winning seats from the Liberal Democrats.

So the pattern appears as follows: in England and Wales Labour upped its vote by 3.3%, respectable but nothing like enough to make a real difference, largely through the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, but this benefited the Tories much more, either through directly taking votes or the collapse of an anti-Tory tactical vote. Labour were thrown back immensely above all by their drastic fall in Scotland. The Conservatives are very far from having won over a decisive section of the UK population; they have around 8% more than Labour in England and Wales, but have not hit 40% of those who vote. They are in a similar position to Harold Wilson after the October 1974 election, and a worse one than John Major after the 1992 election.

But for Labour, consider the percentages of the vote they have received in elections since 1964:

1964: 44.1%
1966: 48.0%
1970: 46.4%
1974a: 43.1%
1974b: 39.2%
1979: 36.9%
1983: 27.6%
1987: 30.8%
1992: 34.4%
1997: 43.2%
2001: 40.7%
2005: 35.2%
2010: 29.0%
2015: 30.4%

After the massive losses in 1983, Neil Kinnock was able to get the party almost to their 1979 levels by 1992. Ed Miliband has achieved considerably less than this. Tony Blair did not achieve the share of the vote of Harold Wilson in the 1960s (or even when Labour lost to the Conservatives in 1970) but benefited from a Conservative Party which had moved considerably to the right and lost a significant vote to the Liberal Democrats, who were also prepared to help Labour defeat the Conservatives through tactical voting. These factors have now changed; few would now appear to vote Liberal Democrat tactically against the Conservatives, and David Cameron has just about managed to convince wavering voters that the party is less toxic than it was during the Blair years.

Labour have not lost their key base of around 30% of the vote which translates into somewhere between 200 and 250 seats – though inevitable boundary changes will hurt the number of seats they can gain with the same votes. To win again, they need to regain a significant amount of their seats in Scotland (which may be the biggest challenge) and also make some inroads into that Conservative 8% lead in England and Wales. The apparent difficulty seems to lie in the fact that these aims seem mutually incompatible. However, I do not believe that the Scottish vote represents a significant move to the left and would ask how many would have voted for the SNP if they had the same programme except for the demand for independence, or any other rhetoric about being ‘Scottish’ or ‘national’; their performance might then be more comparable to that of the Greens. A situation of full financial autonomy, and its economic consequences (let alone those of full independence) might change the view of a great many Scottish people towards nationalism, though either such move would be very difficult to undo. Personally I find it extremely sinister when 50% of the people of an area unite under a flag, and find ludicrous suggestions that Labour would surge forth to victory if they became more like the SNP; they might find themselves closer to the position of the Greens.

Without the charismatic figure of Farage at the helm, the UKIP vote may wither away, but the consequences of this remain to be unseen. It will take a great deal for the Liberal Democrats to rebuild themselves; their decline may be terminal. Nick Clegg has returned them to their situation under Clement Davies in the 1950s, and completely undone the efforts of Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy to make them into a major third party force (see this post for a wider analysis of the results for the Liberal Democrats in historical perspective). But this just might offer an opportunity for Labour to reclaim some of the previous centre ground, but this would take a major cultural shift in the party such as they have only taken previously under Blair (and would have done under Gaitskell had he survived) in times of desperation following successive defeats. I will always resent deeply much of Blair’s foreign policy, but still acknowledge that New Labour did make possible some genuinely progressive social policies on the home front (as much because of others around him as Blair himself) and made the UK into a more internationally-minded and European country than that to which it has slipped back since. To achieve what Labour achieved under Blair, at least in the first term, may be as much as Labour could hope for now. This would still be a good deal better than what we have now.