Monday 7 June 2010

Why did Wilfred lose Chippenham?

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, the Conservative candidate for Chippenham, took part in a TV documentary "Cameron's black Tory" and wrote last week for The Guardian about his unsuccessful campaign to win the seat.

So why did Emmanuel-Jones lose Chippenham? The main answer is that the Conservatives struggled to win target seats from the LibDems, including many of those where they began a close second. Chippenham was a new constituency. The nominal result for 2005 was:

LibDem 41.1%
Tory 38.4%
Labour 16.8%
UKIP 2.1%
Other 3.6%

In the 2010 election, Emmanuel-Jones successfully mobilised the Tory vote, winning 21,500 votes and increasing the Tory share of the poll by 3.4%. That was not enough because the LibDems, having begun with a small lead, were equally successful in mobilising their supporters. They won the hard-fought two-party marginal by significantly squeezing the Labour vote, which fell from 17% to 7%.

This was the Chippenham result for 2010:

Duncan Hames (Liberal Democrat) 23,970 45.8% +3.4%
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones (Conservative) 21,500 41.1% +3.4%
Greg Lovell (Labour) 3,620 6.9% -9.9%
Julia Reid (UKIP) 1,718 3.3 +0.2%
Michael Simpkins (BNP) 641 1.2% +1.2%
Samantha Fletcher (Green) 446 0.9% + 0.9%
John Maguire (English Democrats) 307 0.6% + 0.6%
Richard Sexton (Christian) 118 0.2% + 0.2%

Despite the strong Tory vote, there was no swing from the LibDems, who would appear to have won as many tactical anti-Tory votes from Labour, as the Conservatives won switchers from Labour or the LibDems who wanted to vote for them to get David Cameron into Downing Street. An appeal to vote LibDem to keep the Tories out also helped the LibDems successfully defend several other marginal seats - such as Somerton and Frome, Taunton Deane, Sutton and Cheam, and others.

The summary of hits and misses from ConservativeHome, shows the Chippenham result does not stand out as unusual or atypical among Tory targets from the Liberal Democrats.

3. York Outer
- Julian Sturdy MP - Con win
4. Romsey
and Southampton N - Caroline Nokes MP - Con gain
6. Cheltenham - Mark Coote - Lib Dem hold
11. Somerton and Frome - Annunziata Rees-Mogg - Lib Dem hold
12. Eastleigh - Maria Hutchings - Lib Dem hold
13. Westmorland and Lonsdale - Gareth McKeever - Lib Dem hold
20. Hereford and South Herefordshire - Jesse Norman MP - Con gain
26. Carshalton and Wallington - Ken Andrew - Lib Dem hold
29. Taunton Deane - Mark Formosa - Lib Dem hold
*** 43. Chippenham - Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones - Lib Dem win
57. Torbay - Marcus Wood - Lib Dem hold
59. Sutton and Cheam - Philippa Stroud - Lib Dem hold
63. Cornwall North - Sian Flynn - Lib Dem hold
65. Richmond Park
- Zac Goldsmith MP - Con gain
67. Cheadle - Ben Jeffreys - Lib Dem hold
70. Portsmouth South - Flick Drummond - Lib Dem hold
86. Truro and Falmouth
- Sarah Newton MP - Con gain
88. Southport - Brenda Porter - Lib Dem hold
95. Leeds North West - Julia Mulligan - Lib Dem hold
96. Brecon and Radnorshire - Suzy Davies - LD hold
97. Camborne and Redruth
- George Eustice MP - Con gain

The Channel 4 programme captured why being a candidate is a tough and long slog. It showed that Emmanuel-Jones had strengths and weaknesses, as most candidates do. Local Conservatives chose him decisively on the first ballot in the candidate selection. That gave them an engaging and high profile candidate, though one with relatively little experience of the election ground war at constituency level.

The candidate, writing in the Guardian, asks "do I think race was a contributing factor to my defeat?" and concludes that "during the election, my being black was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it meant I was highly visible, and a curse because the tag of not being local was obvious for people to see".

Race was certainly the main reason for Emmanuel-Jones' high profile in the national media. It is difficult to find any grounds to think it had any important impact on the constituency result, and certainly not a decisive one.

LibDem blogger James Graham has made the central point about the Chippenham result well:

[Emmanuel-Jones] actually increased his share of the vote. The bizarre thing about this racism claim is that, unfortunately, it suggests more than a little sense of entitlement. It is one thing to suggest that Conservative supporters didn’t vote for him because of his skin colour (in fact they did); it is quite another to suggest that Lib Dem and Labour supporters are racist for not voting for him.

There are lots of areas in British society where race is a factor, associated with disadvantage: there is robust evidence that 'ethnic penalties' persist in the labour market in recruitment and pay, while issues of ethnic disadvantage in mental health services and criminal justice appear stubborn and deep-rooted. Each of these spheres needs to be examined in its own right.

The evidence to date suggests that the race of a Parliamentary candidate is a very weak factor in British general elections: certainly that race is enormously weaker than party label . There are dangers in asserting the opposite unless there is good evidence. As the leading academic in this field Shamit Saggar said to the BBC a decade ago, an exaggerated sense of the electoral barriers they face was for a long time a significant reason for the reluctance to select non-white candidates, with this being rationalised as reflecting political realities and interests, rather than pandering to prejudice:

I think what is taking place in the Labour Party like other parties, is a form of imputed racism.
That is to say, selectors who are mainly white, are taking the view that whilst they are not racist, and do not discriminate against black and Asian candidates, their fear is - entirely unfounded by the way - that voters will discriminate on that basis, and for those reasons, selectors play safe and shy away from adopting black and Asian candidates, particularly in marginal seats.

This fear of electoral resistance may have become less of an issue, with non-white candidates increasingly successful in being selected in the last decade. The Labour party has broken down any aggregate 'ethnic penalty' in selecting new candidates: now five times more likely to be non-white than they were in 1997. The Conservatives elected nine new black and Asian MPs, taking their total to eleven, including two MPs first elected in 2005. Prior to that, there had been two non-white Tory MPs ever - one from 1895-1905 and from 1992-1997. Emmanuel-Jones puts an interesting challenge about whether the new MPs will face too much pressure to take a colourblind approach, though they may equally find themselves projected (and potentially pigeonholed) by their own leadership as symbols the party has changed.

Both media and political mythology can often trump the evidence. Note how often the Tory defeat in Cheltenham in 1992 is still habitually and erroneously cited as the loss of a "safe Tory seat" (to take a small selection, BBC, 2001, Sunday Times, 2004, New Statesman, 2007, Daily Mail, 2009, Observer interview with Emmanuel-Jones, 2009, Sunday Times, 2009) despite the Tories polling almost 29,000 votes with the LibDems winning a 5% swing in the target seat, similar to that which saw the LibDems also take marginal Bath from the Tories in the same General Election.

Unless further evidence to the contrary can be cited, the evidence suggests that the answer to the unlucky Chippenham candidate's question 'was race a contributing factor to my defeat' looks like a pretty clear 'no'.

Emmanuel-Jones did not lose Chippenham because he was black. He lost the seat because he was a Tory.

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