05/05/05: When a 2.9 percent Tory deficit became 6.1

05/05/05: When a 2.9 percent Tory deficit became 6.1

House of Commons research paper

Can we expect a big shake-up in the boundary system?

The above is part of a table that is featured in a House of Commons research paper and covers just about all the statistics that you’ll ever want about May 5th 2005.

For me the striking feature is the contrast between the actual vote shares chalked up by the parties across Britain and the comparison with the final column. The latter is calculated by averaging the percentage vote shares each party got in each of the constituencies they fought.

So the overall vote share percentages across Britain take on a different look when you see how that worked out in each of the 627 constituencies that the main parties fought.

The Tory share of 33.2% became 31.6% when averaged across the seats while Labour 36.1% moved up to 37.8%. So a 2.9% Labour lead became 6.1%.

This is a stark illustration of how the electoral system worked for what was then Tony Blair’s party in 2005 – the product of the election being fought in England and Wales on the same boundaries that had been used in both 1997 and 2001. For the average size of the electorate in Labour seats was smaller than those of the other parties.

Next time, of course, there will be new boundaries everywhere apart from Scotland and I would expect a much smaller gap between the two columns.

A political consequence of this is that an incoming Tory government will take steps very early on to shake up the boundary review process as part of an overall effort to cut down on the number of MPs.

One potentially controversial Tory plan is to abolish the process of appeal in the current boundary review structure thus allowing changes to take effect more quickly and slash costs.

If Labour are defeated at the 2010 election then the fight to return to power might be that more challenging. For one of the great things about being in power is that you control the electoral system as we’ve seen with the massive extension of postal voting. If you are in opposition then another party is calling the shots.

Mike Smithson

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