United Kingdom 2010: Results and Analysis

The United Kingdom’s general election last night, on May 6, is certainly one of the most interesting and poignant election in a longtime, beating out, in my mind, even Obama’s 2008 election. Even now, nobody knows what the hell happened and what will happen. It was an unpredictable wild contest.

All but one of the 650 constituencies up for election are in, only Thirsk and Malton, where a UKIP candidate died before the poll, will vote later, on May 27. Turnout was 65%, up around 4% since 2005. There were long queues at certain polling stations in places such as Sheffield, where the local returning officer closed the door at 22:00 and shut out some people from voting. In other places, certain voters were issued with ballots at 22:00 and allowed to vote after the legal closing time. Some stations ran out of ballots, or had problems because uni students turned out to vote without their voter card. The chaos at certain stations led to scenes of anger by shut-out voters, who tried to block ballot boxes from exiting the station to go to the count centre, and the BBC was also quite angry at the situation. A reform of the polling booths law is likely to come up soon.

The results are as follows, excluding Thirsk and Malton, with changes on 2005 notionals, excluding by-elections:

Conservatives and Speaker 36.11% (+3.8%) winning 306 seats (+97)
Labour 29.02% (-6.2%) winning 258 seats (-91)
Liberal Democrats 23.03% (+1.0%) winning 57 seats (-5)
UK Independence Party 3.10% (+0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
British National Party 1.90% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Scottish National Party 1.66% (+0.1%) winning 6 seats (nc)
Greens 0.96% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Sinn Féin 0.58% (-0.1%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Democratic Unionist Party 0.57% (-0.3%) winning 8 seats (-1)
Plaid Cymru 0.56% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Social Democratic & Labour Party 0.37% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force 0.35% (-0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
English Democrats 0.22% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Alliance Party 0.14% (+0.0%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Respect-Unity Coalition 0.11% (-0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Traditional Unionist Voice 0.09% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Christian Party 0.06% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Independent Community and Health Concern 0.05% (+0.0%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 0.04% (+0.0%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Scottish Socialist Party 0.01% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
All others 1.08% (+0.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)

There are a few general discernible trends in this election, but the major trend is that the election was awfully local. There were wild swings to and from certain parties in various parts of the country, some safe Labour seats fell to the Tories while some marginal Labour seats held on. Some seats which should never have fallen did, and some seats which should have fallen did not. The national swing is 5%, but it was very far from a universal swing (another shot in the back of the classic UNS), with some very low swings in some areas and a high number of seats bucking the trend. A look at those areas later on.

The discernible trends in this election are that Labour held up better than expected, and that Cleggmania died out badly and the LibDems had a rather bad night after the weeks of euphoria, which didn’t really die off at any point during the campaign. The daily pollsters did very badly, but the exit pollsters got it almost spot on down to the last seat numbers, and UNS didn’t fail as badly as expected (partly the result, I’m sure, of the poor LibDem result). What the pollsters did get right, however, is that the Tories, while largest party by far, lack an overall majority of seats and the next Parliament will be a hung one: the first since February 1974.

To begin the actual analysis, here are the results by major regions:

England: Con 39.6% (297), Lab 28.1% (191), LD 24.2% (43), UKIP 3.5%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 1% (1)
East Midlands: Con 41.2% (31), Lab 29.8% (15), LD 20.8% (0), UKIP 3.3%, BNP 3.2%, GRN 0.5%
Eastern: Con 47.1% (52), LD 24.1% (5), Lab 19.6% (2), UKIP 4.3%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 1.5%
London: Lab 36.6% (38), Con 34.5% (28), LD 22.1% (7), UKIP 1.7%, GRN 1.6%, BNP 1.5%
North-East: Lab 43.6% (25), Con 23.7% (2), LD 23.6% (2), BNP 4.4%, UKIP 2.7%, GRN 0.3%
North-West: Lab 39.5% (47), Con 31.7% (22), LD 21.6% (6), UKIP 3.2%, BNP 2.1%, GRN 0.5%
South-East: Con 49.9% (75), LD 26.2% (4), Lab 16.2% (4), UKIP 4.1%, GRN 1.4% (1), BNP 0.7%
South-West: Con 42.8% (36), LD 34.7% (15), Lab 15.4% (4), UKIP 4.5%, GRN 1.1%, BNP 0.8%
West Midlands: Con 39.5% (33), Lab 30.6% (24), LD 20.5% (2), UKIP 4%, BNP 2.8%, ICHC 0.6%, GRN 0.6%
Yorkshire and the Humber: Lab 34.7% (32), Con 32.5% (18), LD 23% (3), BNP 4.4%, UKIP 2.8%, GRN 0.9%
Northern Ireland: SF 25.5% (5), DUP 25% (8), SDLP 16.5% (3), UCUNF 15.2% (0), OTH 7.1% (1), APNI 6.3% (1), TUV 3.9%, GRN 0.5%
Scotland: Lab 42% (41), SNP 19.9% (6), LD 18.9% (11), Con 16.7% (1), UKIP 0.7%, GRN 0.7%, BNP 0.4%
Wales: Lab 36.2% (26), Con 26.1% (8), LD 20.1% (3), PC 11.3% (3), UKIP 2.4%, BNP 1.6%, GRN 0.4%

Analysis of England, Wales and Scotland

The marking thing about this election, noted above, is the absence of a large, quasi-universal swing or trend from one side to another. There were some large swings in certain seats, but it’s hard to discern a general common trait about those seats or regions, though I personally noticed that there were large swings in safe Labour seats, maybe the result of voters voting as a protest vote against the ‘owners’ of the place when it’s safe to do so and is unlikely to cause a change of hands in the said seat.

The Tories gained 100 seats exactly (slightly less excluding by-election gains they held). Most of those seats tended to be marginal seats, where the race often depends on the national mood and turnout patterns within the seat, or more middle-class areas gained by Labour in its 1997 landslide and narrowly held onto by Labour in 2005. The Tories also gained twelve seats from the LibDems, most of which had been gained by the party in the Tory landslide defeat of 1997. One of those seats is Winchester, a famous seat where the LibDems won by two votes in the 1997 election and held it in a subsequent by-election as well as 2001 and 2005. The Tories lost 3 seats (excluding the Speaker’s seat), all to the LibDems: Solihull (technically a hold, but a notional gain), Eastbourne and Wells. In Norwich North, traditionally a Labour area, the young Tory MP held on by a comfortable margin of around 10% after a 2009 by-election gain. In Crewe and Nantwich, another Tory gain from Labour in a 2008 by-election, the Tories won by a large margin, 46-34 over Labour. Birmingham Edgsbaston had been a seat everybody had been talking about as a must-win Tory gain if they wanted to win nationally. Labour held on to it 41-38, though Labour lost seats which were notionally safer than Brum Edgsbaston. The Tories will also win in Thirsk and Malton on May 27, giving them 307 seats overall.

Labour lost 94 seats, all but a handful to the Tories. They did however win back three seats: in Chesterfield, they defeated the LibDems in Tony Benn’s old seat, they gained back Bethnal Green & Bow from Galloway, and they picked up Blaenau Gwent in the South Wales coalfields from Dai Davies, an Independent who won a 2006 by-election to replace Peter Law, who had won as an Independent Labour candidate in 2005 in protest at Labour’s all-women shortlist in the constituency. Davies has likely been hurt by some poor decisions of hers.

The LibDems had a poor night. The Cleggmania seen in polls absolutely didn’t translate into increased support for the party, which has in fact suffered a net loss of 5 seats and a gain of only 1% in the popular vote. The reason hasn’t been satisfactorily explained yet, but it’s likely that voters were convinced at the last minute that the election was still a two-horse race, or Labour voters who had toyed around with Nick Clegg decided to vote Labour in fear of a Tory government. Increased media scrutiny of the LibDems and poorer debate performances in the last two debates certainly didn’t help. However, the traditional problems of the LibDem strategy should also be noted: vote spread too thin around the country or poor strategic choices in terms of constituencies. The party suffered 13 loses overall, compensated by 8 gains. In Cornwall, where they held all 6 seats prior to the election, they lost three. It could partly be the result of an unpopular move to a unitary authority in 2009, a move backed by the local LibDems, but I think the LibDems suffered the consequences of that in the 2009 locals rather than in 2010. It should also be noted that the Tory majorities in Truro & Falmouth and Camborne & Redruth were extremely thin (less than 1%). LibDem hopes for gains in Oxford, a major student town, were dashed with a Labour hold in Oxford East and the defeat of the LibDem incumbent in Oxford West. Another student town where the LibDems had hopes was Durham, but Labour won 44-38 there. Perhaps the student vote didn’t turn out as much as it should, or it could be related to the student registration problems in certain places. The LibDems gained 8 seats in all. In Norwich South, the seat with the lowest vote share for the winning party, the LibDems very narrowly defeated Labour MP and internal Brown enemy Charles Clarke, while in Burnley they finally gained the seat infamously known for its 2001 race riots after successes at the local level since the last election.

There were a number of rather shocking results. In Redcar, a very safe working-class Labour seat (held in 1983, so it’s safe), the LibDems won a massive victory with a huge 21.8% swing to the LibDems. The closure of the Corus steel plant in Redcar likely explains the result, along with local government LibDem strength, but it remains the major English shocker of the night. In Montgomeryshire, held by the Liberals/LDs since 1983 (and excluding a one-term Tory between 79 and 83, since 1880) and by Lembit Öpik since 1997, the Tories won a shocking and unexpected victory on a 13% swing to them. Lembit Öpik’s flamboyant and controversial style likely did him in. There were also large swings to the LibDems in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, a safe Labour seat in the South Wales coalfields, were the Labour share dwindled from 61% to 44% while the LibDems saw their vote increase by 17%. Labour held the seat, but it was surprisingly close for a safe Labour seat. The result in Pontypridd was also close, with a 13% swing to the LibDems. Demographic changes and younger professionals moving into this once-coalfield seat likely explains the result there. Also in Wales, Plaid failed to gain Ynys Môn (Anglesey), held by the party’s leader in the Assembly, though it isn’t all that shocking given that no incumbent has lost re-election on the island since the 1950s.

In England, Labour held on to Luton South, where its retiring MP was embroiled in the expenses scandal. The Independent in Luton South, Esther Rantzeen, who stood on an anti-sleaze platform, did horribly with just 4% of the vote. Hazel Blears, another Labour MP embroiled in the expenses scandal, held on in Salford, winning 40% against 26% for the LibDems and 21% to the Tories. Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary and expenses scandal culprit, was defeated in Redditch by a decisive 44-30 margin by the Tory candidate. A number of cabinet ministers lost their seats, but no high-ranking cabinet ministers lost in the end. Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood came close to having a “Portillo moment”, but held on 38-35 against the Tory’s Antony Calvert.

% majority in each constituency

In Scotland, the trend there bucked the trend south of the border, with Labour actually increasing its vote share to 42% by 2.5%. Also amusing is the fact that no seats changed hands in Scotland. The SNP, which forms government in Holyrood, up for re-election in one year, will likely be quite disappointed. Salmond had a goal of 20 seats for the party, though most bookies thought 8 seats would be the SNP’s seat count. It failed to win Ochil and Perthshire South, where Labour increased its majority and the SNP vote fell; and Labour’s majority in Dundee West increased from approximately 5% in 2005 to 20% this year. Glasgow East, a safe Labour seat won by the SNP in a shocking 2008 by-election, wasn’t even remotely close: Labour’s defeated 2008 candidate won 62-25 against John Mason, the incumbent MP. Overall, the SNP increased its vote share only marginally to 19.9%, placing it second, but still far from its 29% level in the European elections in 2009 or the 33% in the Holyrood election in 2007. The LibDems had hoped to win Aberdeen South and two seats in Edinburgh (two seats which they only narrowly lost, though), but its seat share remains stagnant and its vote fell nearly 4%. The LibDems also lost Dunfermline and West Fife, a 2006 by-election gain from Labour, to its original 2005 winner. Gordon Brown also saw his majority in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath increase, now a crushing 50% majority over the SNP. The Tories only marginally increased their vote share and they failed to win either Dumfries and Galloway from Labour, or two SNP seats which were on the party’s target list. Even if Cameron forms a government, the Tories will have but one MP from Scotland.

The SNP’s Welsh allies, Plaid Cymru, did poorly, with their vote down to only 11% in Wales. They won back Arfon, notionally held by Labour, but they fell short by a large margin in Ynys Môn and they fell far, far short of winning back Ceredigion, a narrow LibDem gain in 2005 where the LibDem majority increased substantially. The margin in Ceredigion is now 50-28.

The Greens broke through in Brighton Pavilion, winning their first seat ever (on less than 1% of the national vote) and marking one of the first seats won by Greens in a FPTP national election. MEP Caroline Lucas defeated Labour 31-29, while the Tories polled a rather poor 24% of the vote in a race rumoured to be a two-way Green-Tory contest. The Tories, however, did win Brighton Kemptown and Hove, both won by Labour in the past three elections. The Greens victory in Brighton Pavilion reflects a winning strategy for such parties, especially the Canadian Greens: focus almost all resources on one seat with a star candidate and bomb that seat with leaflets; while forgetting other seats. The Greens did that and it paid them dividends, though overall the party’s share of the vote actually fell slightly and in most other constituencies it did as well. The Greens also did well in Norwich South, their ‘second target’, with 15% of the vote. It polled barely over 2% in both Oxford seats.

George Galloway, Respect’s sole MP and a major victor of the 2005 election, moved from his constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow to Poplar and Limehouse, and he took a trashing there, winning only 18% of the vote against 40% for Labour and 27% for the Tories (who didn’t win the seat after all). In Bethnal Green & Bow, Respect’s candidate won 17% and third-place. Respect’s best result was won by Salma Yaqoob in a massive mud-sliding contest in the new seat of Birmingham Hall Green: Yaqoob won 25% and second place, narrowly ahead of the LibDems and not too far from Labour’s 33% of the vote.

The BNP’s leader Nick Griffin was standing in Barking against high-profile Labour MP Margaret Hodge, and the leader’s result was quite bad for the party and reflects poorly on the party’s overall results. Griffin won only 15% of the vote, the BNP vote actually down on 2005 and still in third place behind the Tories (18%) and far away from Labour, which won 54%, up 4% on 2005. Overall, however, the BNP’s vote increased to 1.9%, likely its best result in a general election to date, and the BNP was the party, with the Tories, that saw its vote increase by the largest amount (+1.2%). This is likely due to running far more candidates than in 2005, though the BNP increased its Westminster presence in the North East. The BNP’s result is not as bad as it’s made out to be (nor is it all that good), but in Barking, it’s very bad and at the local level, the BNP lost all 12 seats in the Barking and Dagenham borough council, where all seats are now held by Labour.

UKIP’s former leader Nigel Farage, injured in a plane crash the day before the vote, was standing against the Speaker in Buckingham. John Bercow, the Speaker, is not entirely popular, especially in his own party, where his pragmatic and liberal stances are not all that welcome. Yet, Farage didn’t make an impact and there was no late sympathy vote. Farage ended up in third, with only 17% and behind an anti-Bercow independent who polled 21%. Bercow’s vote, however, was down roughly 11% on his 2005 result.

Elections in the UK are often fought on bases of classes, and those patterns have remained largely stable since 1935. On a map, the Tories win the most land area (as they did in 2005), because they represent largely sprawling rural or suburban areas. The party’s strongest majorities are found, obviously, in the South-East and East, though in rural and very wealthy areas as a general rule. As previously mentioned, the Tories gained ground from Labour either in seats were the boundaries make them closely split between Labour and Tories, or in more well-off urban and suburban areas won by Labour in its 1997 landslide (eg, Lincoln and so forth). In other rural areas, old patterns based on historical religious adherence, die hard. Cornwall, parts of the South-West and Wales have always been weaker Tory land because the Tories were historically seen, especially in Celtic Cornwall and Wales (Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnorshire), as the English Anglicans in opposition to non-conformist Celtic Cornwall. In Wales, the Tories have usually found strength in wealthy areas (Cardiff North, the Vale of Glamorgan) but also areas with a large number of English retirees (Pembrokeshire) and areas more English than Welsh (Monmouthshire). Scotland actually used to be a strong Tory area, but Thatcher’s policies and the SNP killed it off. Thatcher was unpopular by the end in Scotland, and the SNP appealed to those voters who had voted for the Unionist Party of Scotland (merged into the national Tories in 1965) because of the Unionist’s Scottish Protestant rhetoric. Labour has been reduced in this election to its base in working-class (usually old mining) areas. Almost all Labour seats are found in urban or densely-populated industrial valleys, giving the impression on a general map that they’re a small party. Labour’s best areas are in the Welsh valleys (the Rhondda etc), Liverpool and surrounding industrial hinterland, coal mining areas in the Yorkshire and Derbyshire, the mining stronghold of County Durham, Scottish mining areas in central Scotland and Fife, the Black Country around Birmingham, and the working-class areas in East London (or similarly working-class areas in western-ish London) and other cities including Glasgow. The Liberal Democrats have strongholds built largely on persons rather than demographics. While they do well in traditionally Liberal areas such as Cornwall, the Scottish Highlands or eastern rural Wales, personality encourages a lot of their vote. The LibDems, as mentioned in previous posts, often take different rhetoric to win different seats. It can sometimes even be borderline populist and nationalist, such as in Burnley, or Cornish nationalist as with Andrew George in St. Ives. As evidenced by the result in Ceredigion and especially Westmorland and Lonsdale, their MPs often have a large sophomore surge. That being said, there are some traditionally LibDem demographics: students (Durham, Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff Central, Manchester Withington), young professionals and wealthy liberals (parts of south London), and some strength in certain resort towns (Torbay, Southport, Eastbourne). Sometimes, the LibDems win under slightly disconcerting circumstances (in some cases, gay opponents: Norfolk North and Simon Hughes’ 1983 by-election win in Bermondsey). The LibDem’s weird patterns of support, which are generally well spread out and peaking only in a handful of seats, account for their weak results under FPTP. However, the LibDem strategy of working hard in certain seats to win them and hold them makes sure that on 23% of the vote, they manage 57 seats in 2010 rather than 23 on 25% in 1983, so it has its dividends as well.

A note on local elections: after 157 of 164 councils declared, the Tories hold 65 (-8), Labour has 37 (+15), the LibDems have 13 (-4) while 45 remain NOC (-3). The Tories lost 121 seats, now holding 3364 councillors against 2857 for Labour (+414) and 1615 for the LibDems (-141). A notable Labour gain is in Liverpool, where the LibDem majority has been defeated. In the London boroughs, Labour has picked up a good number, and Barking and Dagenham is an entirely Labour council. The BNP has only 19 councillors left, down 26. More results here.

David Cameron is favoured to form cabinet, and negotiations are underway as this is posted with Nick Clegg’s LibDems. Labour had called by election night for a Lib-Lab pact, but Clegg had said during the campaign that the party with the most votes and seats should have first digs at forming a government. Hope for a Lib-Lab pact is extremely low, and Labour already rebuffed SNP offers at a grand Labour-LD-SNP-SDLP-Plaid coalition. Cameron yesterday highlighted the common ground between LibDems and Tories, but there remains significant differences, most notably on Europe, immigration and electoral reform. Electoral reform remains a top priority for the LibDems, but the Tories are the most reticent of the two major parties (Labour called by election night for some sort of talks on the matter) for electoral reform. The Tories might bury LibDem calls for electoral reform by accepting to long-winded committees on the matter or STV voting for the Lords or local elections. The LibDems ought to be cautious and intelligent when talking to the Tories. If there was to be a deal, an informal deal between both would be far better for the LibDems than a formal coalition, where the LibDems would obviously have the shed their ‘alternative’ image and would be associated by voters with Tory policies. It also remains to be seen if the LibDem electorate, a lot of which vote for the party because it’s neither red nor blue, would be happy about a Lib-Tory deal. If talks fall through, Cameron could still form a minority cabinet relying on on-and-off support from Northern Ireland’s unionists, the LibDems or even the SNP-Plaid for a majority on various matters. However, such a minority wouldn’t be as stable as Harper’s minority in Canada, given that Labour is probably structurally and financially stronger than the Canadian Liberals and could afford to defeat Cameron in the House and force a snap election. It is quasi-certain anyways, however, that the current Parliament won’t last as long as its predecessor and an election might be held as soon as winter.

Northern Ireland

Its best to analyse politics in Northern Ireland separately from the ‘other island’ because of the major differences. Northern Ireland has 18 constituencies (which also serve as multi-member STV constituencies for the Assembly elections). Politics remain sectarian in Northern Ireland despite the power-sharing in Belfast and the end of the Troubles, and political parties reflect those sectarian lines. However, the increase of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland will sooner or later trouble the delicate balance of power between the two major sectarian forces. Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs are ignored in times of majorities, but in times of hung parliaments, the unionist MPs are courted actively. The Tories in the past sometimes depended on support from unionist MPs, and Sinn Féin’s abstentionist MPs reduce the magic majority line from 326 to 323 in 2010. The unionist MPs might come in vital for a Tory minority government.

In Northern Ireland as a whole, Sinn Féin topped the poll with 25.5% of the vote, up 1% on 2005, while the DUP share of the vote fell 8.7% to 25%. The SDLP, the second nationalist party, saw its vote go down by only 1% to reach 16.5%, while the second unionist party, the UUP/UCUNF won only 15.2%, down 2.6% on 2005. The non-sectarian liberal Alliance won 6.3% (+2.4%) while the hardline anti-power sharing TUV won only 3.9%.

In Antrim North, Ian Paisley Jr. had no trouble in the race to succeed his father, winning 46.4% against 16.8% for Jim Allister, the TUV leader and former MEP. While Paisley Jr’s result is down 10% on 2005, he maintains a comfortable 29.6% majority in the seat. Allister’s result is rather bad and would only yield a handful of Assembly seats next year if the numbers hold up.

Reg Empey, the leader of the Ulster Unionists, was standing in Antrim South, the only seat where Empey’s UUP-Tory coalition had a real chance of winning. Despite a 3.6% swing from the DUP to the UCUNF, Empey is 3.5% behind incumbent DUP MP William McCrea with 30.4% against 33.9% for the DUP incumbent. The TUV polled 5.4%. Empey’s defeat will likely call into question his leadership, which is already rapidly evaporating, but also the continued existence of a clearly dwindling UUP, especially in face of the 2011 Assembly elections, where Martin McGuinness could become First Minister on the back of unionist divisions.

The shock came from Belfast East, the seat held by incumbent First Minister Peter Robinson, also leader of the DUP, since 1979. Robinson temporarily stepped down as First Minister earlier this year after it was revealed that his wife, Iris Robinson (formerly an MP as well) had sexual affairs and illegal financial dealings with a teenager. A poll had shown he wasn’t at much risk in a Protestant DUP stronghold, but they failed to see the wave, which came not from the nationalists or UCUNF, but from the non-sectarian Alliance. Its candidate, Naomi Long, elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2009, won 37.2% of the vote against 32.8% for Robinson, on a massive 23% swing to the Alliance from the DUP. Robinson remains as First Minister, but his authority is severely shaken by this shocking defeat.

In Belfast South, the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell had been elected in 2005 thanks to vote splitting between the unionists, but this time around he had no trouble winning. His share of the vote increased by nearly 11% to reach 41%, giving him a 17% majority over his closest rival, the Democratic Unionist Jimmy Spratt, who won 23.7%. Anna Lo, an Alliance Assembly member of Chinese descent, won a very pleasing 15% of the vote, which shows her popularity as an Assembly member (it isn’t an ethnic vote, obviously, only 3% of the constituency’s population is non-white) and the party’s appeal in the seat. McDonnell’s large victory reflects Sinn Féin’s drop-out in his favour, but also the growing Catholic population in the seat.

Gerry Adams managed to increase his vote in Belfast West, Sinn Féin’s heartland, to 71%. In Belfast North, despite a 7% increase in its vote share, Sinn Féin failed to wrestle the seat from the DUP, which won 40%. However, Sinn Féin’s 7% increase here is larger than the SDLP’s 4.5% slide, reflecting the growing Catholic population in the seat and maybe a sign that Sinn Féin might be able to win it in the future.

Lady Sylvia Hermon, North Down’s MP, was the UUP’s sole survivor in 2005, but she left the party after it allied with the Tories and stood for re-election as an Independent against Ian Parsley, the Alliance-turned-Tory guy. Parsley obviously wasn’t a top-caliber opponent to a very popular local MP. Hermon won 63%, up from 50% in 2005, against Parsley’s 20.4%. The Alliance suffered from Hermon’s popularity and their vote slid by 2% to only 5.6%.

Another setback for the Robinson clan was in Strangford, Iris Robinson’s old seat, where she was retiring (obviously). The DUP’s vote slid nearly 9 points to 45.9%, mainly to the benefit of the UCUNF, which won 27.8% (+6.4% on 2005). The DUP held on narrowly in Upper Bann, with 33.8% against 25.7% for the UCUNF and 24.7% for Sinn Féin, which placed a disappointing third after a poll had showed them in a strong second to the DUP.

The DUP held on in East Londonderry with a 15% majority on Sinn Féin while high-profile DUPer Sammy Wilson won re-election in East Antrim with a 22% majority on UCUNF.

Sinn Féin faced a very, very tough contest in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, a majority Catholic seat but one where a united unionist front can win. Rodney Connor, the unionist unity candidate, was the favourite against Sinn Féin incumbent Michelle Gildernew. Gildernew held on by four votes about a number of recounts against Rodney Connor. Both polled 45.5% of the votes. Because Gildernew was threatened, the SDLP’s vote was massively squeezed, being halved to reach only 7.6%. If the SDLP had dropped out to save Gildernew, it would have been a much easier election for Gildernew.

Sinn Féin easily held on in Mid Ulster (Martin McGuinness’ seat), Tyrone West and Newry & Armagh. The SDLP’s former leader, Mark Durkan, was re-elected in Foyle with a 12.7% majority over Sinn Féin, though both parties vote slid, likely in favour of Eammon McCann of the far-left People before Profit, which won a record 7.7% in the seat. The SDLP’s new leader, Margaret Ritchie, held on in South Down, with a comfortable 19.8% majority over Sinn Féin, despite the retirement of popular SDLP MP Eddie McGrady.

The DUP will send 8 MPs against 5 Shinners, 3 SDLPers, one Alliance and one independent – for the first time since its creation, Northern Ireland will not be represented in Westminster by a unionist majority (10 unionists in 2005, now down to 9 against 8 nationalists and one non-sectarian).

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Posted on May 8, 2010, in Northern Ireland, Scotland, United Kingdom, Wales. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Some perspective from a British political scientist.

    There is a pattern to the large unexpected swings in certain places. Firstly incumbent MPs who were implicated in the expenses scandal suffered massively. These include Ed Balls, and several of the Lib Dems who lost their seats. Incumbent Labour MPs also typically did well in areas with a high ethnic minority population. For example Sadiq Khan in Tooting ‘should’ have lost his seat, but didn’t. This even applied when the opposition put up a prominent ethnic minority candidate. In some ways this election result heavily resembles an American election result in terms of the racial polarisation of it. MPs who are seen as honest, decent and principled have generally done well. For example Tim Farron, Lib Dem MP for Westmorland, won by 800 votes over the Tories in 2005, he won by 11,000 this time. The speculation is that his constituents valued the fact that he resigned from the Lib Dem frontbench in order to vote in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, in direct contravention of party policy.

    There is much talk of the Lib Dems not having done well. I would question this. Unarguably they have not reached the heady heights that they were dreaming of in the last few weeks, though the polls were perhaps not as inaccurate as people make out. Polls show a Great Britain result, not a UK one, they discount Northern Ireland. Within Great Britain the Lib Dems got about 24%. The last ICM poll shows the Lib Dems on 26%, and several others showed them on 27%. This is all within the 3% margin of error. Nonetheless they have gained their highest popular vote since 1983. Considering 2005 was a true highpoint and the conditions of that election (Lib Dems had Iraq and University Top-Up fees to boost them, and everyone knew Blair would win so it didn’t matter if you ‘wasted’ your vote) the Lib Dems have done well for themselves. A year ago I was genuinely thinking that they may lose 20 seats (especially considering that something like 80% of Lib Dem held seats are in former Conservative territory). They have held the majority of their seats, gotten their best popular vote in 27 years and they have essentially prevented the Conservative Party from getting a majority. This is a positive picture for them in some regards.

  2. Kevin McNerney

    Thanks for this analysis but I couldn’t see the name of the author.

  3. Best to retract your “Lib Dems win against gays” line, Gael – it certainly doesn’t apply to North Norfolk, where Mr Lamb beat a straight Tory MP first, then succeeded again versus a challenger who happened to be gay.

  4. Paddy Matthews

    North Norfolk, where Mr Lamb beat a straight Tory MP first, then succeeded again versus a challenger who happened to be gay.

    I’d say that North Norfolk in 2005 showed the same pattern as Lewes (in Sussex) in 2001 and Westmorland in 2010 – in all three cases, the Liberal Democrats had won what had been a safe Tory seat narrowly at the previous election, then polled very well at local elections in the area, taking control of the local council, and went on to win the seat by a landslide at the subsequent general election. In addition, there was a sizeable Labour vote to squeeze in North Norfolk (it was a Labour seat up until 1970).

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