British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 5 Notes - Elections and Voting

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  • Single party majority UK government was the norm from 1945 until 2010 but this reflected an electoral system (single member plurality) involving a markedly disproportionate relationship between the votes and the seats won by political parties.
  • Since 1997 a variety of new electoral systems have been introduced for elections for the European Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, other devolved assemblies and mayoral elections. These have further stimulated a trend towards multi-party politics in Britain.
  • The 2010 election, still fought under the single member plurality system, produced a hung parliament and eventually a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There is a commitment to a referendum on the introduction of the Alternative Vote, but not proportional representation, long demanded by Liberal Democrats.
  • There has long been a close link between social class and support for the two main parties. This has declined markedly, but there was still a clear if diminishing correlation between party support and class in recent elections.
  • Some other social divisions are also significant for party support. Older people are more likely to support the Conservatives. Women, once slightly more likely to vote Conservative, are now slightly more supportive of Labour. The ethnic minority vote has been predominantly Labour, although the Iraq war alienated some Muslims, who switched to the Liberal Democrats or other candidates in 2005.
  • There is still a pronounced North–South divide in British politics, with the Conservatives stronger in the South of England, and Labour in Scotland, Wales and the North of England, with the Midlands more closely contested. Urban Britain is more Labour, suburban and rural Britain more Conservative.
  • Issue voting appears to be on the increase, although it is difficult to measure with any precision.
  • Party leadership and party image can exert a significant influence on party support. The televised leader debates in 2010 had an immediate dramatic impact and dominated the campaign, but were a more mixed influence on the eventual result.
  • In recent general elections tactical voting has helped increase the parliamentary strength of the Liberal Democrats and the development of three-party politics. Further electoral reform might accelerate the trend towards multi-party politics in Britain.