England. Sometimes you just put a graph together and see what comes of it. And what comes of the one above? The constancy of the Conservatives’ English support, I’d say. In every general election since 1955 the party has performed better in England than in the United Kingdom as a whole. Over the same 60 years, the party has only lost the popular English vote to Labour four times, despite losing seven elections.
Wales. To a lesser degree, the Conservative vote has also held up in Wales. The party has always tended to score below 30 per cent in that blessèd country, but it has only fallen below 20 per cent twice – in 1997 and 2001 – and, even then, only by fractions of percentage points. In the last election, the Tories gained a similar vote share in Wales to what they were gaining in the Fifties. The reasons? There’ll be plenty. But I wonder what effect English migration into Wales has had. Is England exporting its political sensibilities?
Scotland. The difference is Scotland. At the beginning of my graph’s timeline, in 1945, the Conservatives achieved exactly the same vote share in Scotland as they did in England: 40.3 per cent. But at the end of it, in 2010, there was a 22.8 percentage point gap between the two countries. This Tory decline has come in two stages. There’s the Thatcher years, of course. But there’s also the rise of SNP across the Sixties and the Seventies, which I’ve graphed for a previous To The Point post. The SNP has disrupted the traditional pendulum swing of British politics more than any other party.
The nationalist effect. To some extent, this is all a story about nationalist parties and their strength. Scottish politics has had a robust nationalist party for decades; Wales hasn’t really, and has had it diluted by a pervasive English presence; whereas, for better or worse, England has had the Conservative Party. This is part of the reason why the main parties have held on longer in England than elsewhere. At the last election, Labour and the Conservatives claimed 67.6 per cent of the English vote between them. They could only manage 58.7 per cent in Scotland.
And the future? One of the many questions louring over the forthcoming election concerns the English vote. At the moment, the opinion polling on it is inconclusive. Some have the Conservatives ahead, some have Labour ahead, but many have the Tories scoring almost as low as they did in 1997. Is the base for so many Conservative victories starting to fracture?