Swing for the moment. How the country shifted at GE2019

Swing for the moment. How the country shifted at GE2019

The Conservatives won the 2019 election decisively.  Received wisdom has it that it was won by demolishing a red wall in the north of England.  Let’s take a look at how each constituency swung, seat by seat.

Before the election, I posed some questions.  One of them was whether seats would continue to sort by Leave/Remain or whether they would now swing more uniformly.  It turns out that the answer is a bit more complicated than either of those answers.

Anyway, at the top of the thread you can see a map of every constituency in Great Britain mapped by swing.  It is interactive, so you can zoom in and out to look at detail. I hope it is pretty intuitive, but the code is as follows:

A: No swing (less than 1% in any direction)

B: Swing of under 5% to Labour

C: Swing of 5-10% to Labour

D: Swing of more than 10% to Labour

E: Swing of under 5% to the Conservatives

F: Swing of 5-10% to the Conservatives

G: Swing of more than 10% to the Conservatives

H: Swing of under 5% to the Lib Dems

I: Swing of 5-10% to the Lib Dems

J: Swing of more than 10% to the Lib Dems

K: Swing of under 5% to the SNP

L: Swing of 5-10% to the SNP

M: Swing of more than 10% to the SNP

N: Swing to the Greens

O: Swing to others

So, what can we see?  The first obvious thing is the Scottish border.  Last time I did this for the 2017 election, I didn’t need codes for the SNP: they hadn’t secured a favourable swing in a single seat.  This time round, there’s a swing to them pretty well everywhere in Scotland. They have successfully negotiated the dangerous bend that 2017 threw at them.

What is striking in England and Wales is just how uniform the picture is.  You can’t easily spot London on the map by colour, you’d struggle to work out where Manchester and Liverpool are or spot any major cities.  Many of the Remainiest constituencies swung to the Conservatives. Outside an area in the south of England shaped like a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, the country is a study in shades of blue.

The nationwide swing from Labour to the Conservatives was 4.5%.  That means that most of the constituencies shaded light blue actually underperformed the national swing. It would be wrong to talk about relative Conservative weakness – these are still substantial swings – but these are seats where Labour did relatively less badly.  A swathe of these seats is contiguous (with one very narrow gap at Erewash), running down the spine of England from the borders to central London. Middlest England is a little less receptive to the Conservative message than average.

The Conservatives ripped through Labour’s industrial heartlands. South Wales, Greater Manchester, Stoke and much of the West Midlands swung hard to the Conservatives.  But the Conservative message seems to have been most effective on the eastern side of the country, from the Thames estuary to the Tyne. The swings in south Yorkshire and around and in the North East are staggering.  Labour’s previous voting coalition was smashed to pieces.  

This is bad enough for Labour.  Just as bad for them is that big splash of orange in central southern England.  For those are the seats where the Lib Dems have established themselves as the Conservatives’ chief rivals.  Labour are simply irrelevant here now.

It’s not quite as good for the Lib Dems as it looks.  In many of these seats, even double digit swings leave them well behind the Conservatives.  It’s hard to work out how durable these performances were in some seats given that they had star candidates campaigning on a Remain ticket in a Brexit election.  They made no progress in south west England. And they completely flunked in every Labour/Lib Dem battleground. Nevertheless, they now have a coherent platform as the party for progressives in affluent rural England.  That’s something for them to build on.

For the moment, the Conservatives are dominant.  We do seem to be seeing a slow inversion, where the Conservatives’ previous strength in the south of England is becoming less important to them.  If and when the pendulum swings away from them again, they may start losing seats as unexpected as the Labour losses this time round. British politics is being reshaped.

Alastair Meeks

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