I’m usually a fan of what Andrew Lilico has to say on
Conservative Home, so it is with regret that I have to say his latest piece, ‘A
true Conservative should believe Conservatism can win’ offers nothing but
a vapid and skin- deep analysis of the Conservatives’ 2010 election performance.
In his piece, Dr Lilico argued that certain Conservatives
should stop apologising for David Cameron’s performance at the 2010 general
election, and that in order to be a ‘true’ Conservative (or indeed a
Conservative at all) you must
consider the performance of the 2010 Conservative party to be a failure. Dr
Lilico says arguments to the contrary are “wrong and enraging.” They may well
be enraging because they say something a lot of Conservatives are unwilling to
hear, but they are certainly not wrong.
Firstly, Dr Lilico’s doctrinal shrillness is immensely
unbecoming. Quite frankly, it is embarrassing for anyone to make claims about
what constitutes ‘true’ Conservatism in the way Dr Lilico does in his article.
Such arguments are best left to Marxists rather than serious political
organisations. The last thing the Conservative Party needs is the sort of
infighting over ‘true’ Conservatism that Dr Lilico’s article seeks to engender.
However, the crux of Dr Lilico’s argument is that the 2010
election was a failure. The Conservative Party failed to get a majority when it
should have got a very large one. The circumstances were such that the party’s
failure to win an overall majority constitutes a disaster. This is a
superficially appealing argument, but one which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny
and a fair comparison to other recent elections.
At the 2001 General Election, the Labour Party won 418
seats. The Conservatives won 166. A dismal performance by the Conservatives a
triumph for Labour, we all know the story. How many votes did Tony Blair and
the Labour Party win in 2001? 10.72 million. The Conservatives won 8.36
million. Labour had a majority of 167 seats.
How about the 2005 General Election? Labour won 355 seats
and 9.55 million votes. The Conservatives won 198 seats and 8.78 million votes;
another Labour victory, but this time with a majority of 66 seats.
It is generally accepted that both these elections
constituted successes for the Labour Party; they were unquestionably victorious
and amounted to good electoral showings. How then does the Conservative
performance in 2010 stack up? At the 2010 General Election, the Conservatives
won 306 seats and 10.70 million votes.
Labour won 258 seats and 8.61 million votes.
So at the 2010 election the Conservatives won roughly 1.2
million more votes than Tony Blair’s Labour Party did in 2005, when it won a
majority of 66 seats. In fact, David Cameron won roughly the same amount of
votes as Labour did in 2001 when it won a landslide result and majority of 167.
On any objective assessment the Conservative party did exceedingly well, better
than Blair in 2005 and equal to his landslide victory in 2001. Labour on the
other hand got fewer votes than the Conservatives did in 2005 but won 60 more
seats. Labour did do better than the Conservatives did in 2001, but just
barely, they got 0.25 million more votes. If the Conservative and Labour party
votes at the 2010 election were swapped, Labour would have had a large
Only one conclusion can really be reached on the basis of
this evidence. That in comparison to the two other most recent (and therefore
relevant) UK General Elections, the Conservatives performed better than Labour
did in 2005, (which was a good election for Labour) and comparable if not equal
to Labour in 2001, which was a fantastic result for Labour.
Why then, if the Conservative’s did so well, did they fail
to win a majority? There are a number of factors, but they basically boil down
to the three main points. First, the way in which the Conservative vote is distributed
geographically, secondly the bias of the electoral boundaries and thirdly the
rise of parties who are not Labour or the Conservative Party.
When it comes to winning seats, the way in which the Conservative
Party’s vote is distributed is just unlucky. The Party’s votes tend to
accumulate in places aren’t needed, letting a good number of Conservative MPs
rack up massive majorities, whilst a comparatively larger number of Labour MPs
cling on to their seats with many fewer votes and smaller majorities. Turnout
also tends to be higher in Conservative seats, with some Labour MPs winning
seats with a number of votes which wouldn’t even earn them second place in
Conservative seats with much higher turnout. Not much can be done about this.
Secondly, the boundaries. I’m sure most Conservatives will
already be aware of this one, which is why the loss of the boundary reform is
so damaging, but it is the case that the current boundaries give Labour a 20-30
Finally then, the rise of third parties. Funnily enough,
despite losing 5 seats at the 2010 General Election, the Liberal Democrats
actually gained votes, winning 6.84 million of them, up on their 5.99 million
in 2005. Furthermore, the 2010 General Election saw the election of the first
Green MP, the SNP taking seats off of Labour in Scotland and UKIP winning just
under a million votes. The electoral picture is now much more complex than just
‘Conservatives or Labour’ and consequently it will be increasingly difficult
for either of the two main parties to win an outright majority at future
Dr Lilico may not be interested in my electoral advice, but
he can at least start by acknowledging all of this. We can all argue about what
the Party could have done to win more votes, but it’s
important to note that under our current electoral system this might very well
not matter. What matters is changing the minds of a very specific group of
roughly one or two hundred thousand people in marginal seats in the midlands
and the north. Extra votes accumulated elsewhere are useless and if the
Conservative party wants to win it should relentlessly focus on these people.
Regardless of the next election, in comparison to the Labour Party’s
performance at recent General Elections in which they have won large
majorities, the Conservative Party did well at the last General Election.