The Conservative defeat in this year's general election is probably the worst suffered by any party since 1931. (The comparison with 1832 is meaningless. The only reliable comparisons are those with elections held under universal suffrage, of which the first was 1929.) Labour, it is true, had a lower proportion of the votes in 1983 and 1987 but on both occasions won significantly more seats. In 1935 Labour won in proportion only a few more seats but had a much larger percentage of the poll. This year the difference between the two parties' performances was extraordinary. Three hundred and thirteen Labour MPs were elected with more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in their constituencies, 44 (including Tony Blair and John Prescott) were elected with over 70 per cent, and two with over 80 per cent. By contrast, only 14 Conservatives won more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. The most successful Conservative, John Major in Huntingdon, received 55.3 per cent of the vote: the most successful Labour candidate, Mr Benton in Bootle, 82.8 per cent. What is striking is how few MPs from the Conservative heartlands in the suburbanised county constituencies of the South and East Anglia were able to win 50 per cent of the vote.
LRB 3 July 1997 | PDF Download