Very few of those who voted Lib Dem or Conservative, and very few of those elected as Lib Dems or Conservatives, imagined that five days after the election there would be a Con-Lib coalition government, even though Nick Clegg had hinted during the campaign that such an outcome was in his mind. The election result itself was one of the oddest in recent memory. Although the Conservatives won more votes than any other party and won a clear majority of seats in England - while getting nowhere near a majority of votes - they made no gains at all in Scotland, winning only one seat. Labour won a miserable 29 per cent of the total vote yet remains the only party capable of winning a majority of seats in each of the constituent parts of Great Britain - as it has since the Second World War. The Lib Dems won nearly a quarter of the votes (more than last time) but only 57 seats (five fewer than last time). The Labour and Conservative Parties are now in effect regional parties. Labour is the party of the inner cities (London included) and industrial and ex-industrial towns in England, where its vote held up reasonably well; of ethnic communities, which is one reason its vote held up in these places; and of Scotland and (still) Wales. The Conservative Party is the party of the south, the suburbs, the suburbanised countryside and the 'new' towns or towns which had hitherto been very prosperous, in which Labour did especially badly - Reading, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Swindon, Crawley, Watford, Stevenage all gone. The Lib Dems are the party of everywhere, but don't have a consistently high level of support, which accounts for their losses - and is why they stand to gain most from electoral reform. The Labour vote is bunched: the five largest majorities in Great Britain are in Labour seats (only Gerry Adams in West Belfast equals the biggest of them) and are where we would expect them - on Merseyside, on Clydeside and in Inner London. Which is why Labour won 258 seats with such a small proportion of the vote: single-member constituency systems notoriously favour parties with geographically concentrated support. The Conservative vote is less concentrated, and in that sense the Tories, like the Lib Dems, are discriminated against.
LRB 10 June 2010 | PDF Download