Friday 7 May 2010

'Most gains for 80 years' - a misleading Tory talking point examined

"We have often gained many fewer seats and gone on to govern", Theresa May told the BBC, amplifying the constantly repeated Tory talking point that they have made more gains that at any election since 1931. Is this another bizarre new Tory constitutional doctrine - where it is no longer the number of seats which counts, but the *change* in the number of seats which determines victory?

Of course, the Tories won (had) more seats in the elections 1955, 1959, 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992, holding an overall majority in the Commons, so they did not have to negotiate to secure the confidence of the House of Commons, nor indeed to spin the claim to a victory since they had in fact achieved one.

The Conservatives have never in the last century governed with as low a share of the votes or as few seats as they have won in this General Election.

That is partly because the party has an extensive - and mostly forgotten - history of being the party of coalition in British politics, whch David Cameron might be well advised to seek to resurrect. It has even chosen to have coalitions - in 1918, 1931 and 1935 - even when it had its own single-party majority.

This result does resemble the 1923 election - where the Conservatives led by 38% to 31% (Labour) and 30% (Liberal) in the popular vote, and in seats by 258 to Labour's 191 and 158 for the Liberals, but Baldwin gave way to the first ever Labour minority government before the Tories won a majority a year later.

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