Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Mandelsonian Legacy

The election campaign where I am at the moment is very boring. This is because it is in the North-East, and the political geography of the region is such that there are few, if any, marginals. The fact that Stockton South, a seat that has had since 1997 a very solid Labour majority, is one of the top Tory target seats in the region, is perhaps the best example of this. To regain the seat, the Tories would need a swing of 10% which, if replicated nationally, would see them gain an overall majority.

Incidentally, the Tories possibly have a hope at this seat due to a reasonably high-profile candidacy of James Gaddas, an actor who has appeared in Coronation Street and Bad Girls.
Why, though, have seats like Darlington (until 1992, one of five constituencies to have elected the governing party every time since the war) and Stockton South suddenly become solidly red? The short answer is that Mandelson managed to shaft the Tories.

Following the Boundary Commission review of seats after the 1991 census, Mandelson organised it so that Labour had regional plans. Cutting into the majority of hugely safe seats wasn’t a problem, so safe seats such as Sedgefield were prepared to concede areas that traditionally voted Tory, to take them away from the marginal constituencies. Meanwhile, the Conservatives had no regional plan, and lost out majorly.

Tony King explained this very well in yesterday’s Telegraph:

The coming election will also be unusual in two more mechanical but politically significant respects. One relates to the functioning of the electoral system. Partly because Labour nowadays wins more seats with small electorates and partly because the Conservatives “waste” votes by piling up huge majorities in places such as Buckingham and Arundel and South Downs, the electoral system currently disadvantages the Tories on a massive scale. If Labour and the Conservatives were to win identical shares of the vote on May 5, Labour would probably still
win 100 or more seats than the Tories.
Mandelson may be a political hate figure, but he continues to outsmart his opponents.