Swings and Roundabouts
By MICHAEL STEED
THE concept of a national swing became gener- ally accepted in the 1950s, despite some mis- givings about the automatist view of the elector- ate that it seemed to imply. The variations in voting movements from one constituency to an- other evident in 1964 came, therefore, as a surprise to some and a relief to others. Thus their importance is in danger of being exaggerated.
There was, in fact, little more specifically con- stituency behaviour than in previous general elections—and what there was often reflected tactical voting for Liberal candidates. But there was a large difference between the behaviour of urban Britain on the one hand and rural or min- ing areas on the other—and a tendency for some large cities to go their own way. The national average swing of 3.5 per cent to Labour broke down into one of 4.3 per cent in essentially urban, non-mining constituencies and one of 1.1 per cent in the most rural or mining seats: in mixed seats, it fell in between. With the striking excep- tion of the Scottish Highlands, there was no regional variation in mining or rural areas; in- deed most so-called regional swings reflected, not regional behaviour, but the proportion of urban seats in the region.
But, except among the Liberals, there was no greater tendency to vote for personalities or according to constituency issues. Voters con- tinued to exhibit consistent patterns of behav- iour; the difference was that. these patterns were more complex. The complexity did not affect the overall result. The distribution of seats between the two main parties predictable in 1959 from a uniform swing of 31- per cent was within three seats of the actual distribution.
The by-elections during this parliament have suggested that we should expect comparatively complex movements of opinion again. There has been an unusually large degree of variation from one result to the next. Too much cannot be read into only thirteen results but, for the record, Labour has done relatively better where the Liberal vote fell badly, where the turnout stayed higher, in Conservative-held seats and in the more rural constituencies.
Municipal elections, because so much more Poll squatters. numerous, can give us better clues. They suggest that currently Labour has just a little more to fear from abstentions and that both main parties draw approximately equal benefit from a decline in the Liberal vote, but they throw no light on any urban/rural differentiation. However, recen.
municipal by-elections show a very marked difference between Conservative and Labour- held seats. Labour's recovery since last May's borough elections, which became evident last October, has been in the more Conservative wards—in effect in middle-class areas. If this is reflected on March 31. swings may vary, not by urbanisation or by region, but according to the social composition of a constituency; Con- servative gains in Labour industrial strongholds will balance swings to Labour in middle-class suburbs and resorts. Labour would stand to win seats like Cambridge, Exeter. Hampstead and Oxford (and in a landslide South Blackpool, Cheltenham and Thanet) where the swing to Labour was already strong in 1964.
Little evidence of regional variations is clear in municipal or by-election voting. However, there are a number of boroughs where Labour did particularly badly last May—Cardiff. Keighley (which may explain the Economist's poll). Ports- mouth, Preston and to a lesser extent Birming- ham, Bradford, Bristol, Luton, Nottingham, Southampton. All these borough include mar- ginal seats where the Conservatives can, accord- ingly, hope for better than average results— though things may have changed in some of them since last May.
In Tynemouth, the one borough which swung to Labour last May, Dame Irene Ward's hold may be in danger. The Conservative victory at Northampton last November may be a warning for Reginald Paget whilst Labour's victory in the new borough of Warley last month probably points the way for the Black Country. Last May the tide there was still flowing strongly against Labour, particularly in Walsall. But if the turn of the tide back to Labour, evident in Warley, is confirmed by the elections for the other new borough councils in the area on March 17, Labour may make up for lost ground there.
Defence cuts, comprehensives and immigration seem to have been associated with bad Labour losses in May 1965. But defence cuts have gone on : the headlines over Mayhew and the aircraft carrier may hardly affect the national swing, but they could save West Portsmouth and the two . Plymouth seats for the Conservatives and perhaps give them Labour's marginal Rochester and Chatham. If the TSR 2 decision still rankles in Preston, Julian Amery's seat is safer than it looks and South Preston may go Conservative.
The effect of the Liberal vote will almost certainly be talked about more than it will matter. Liberal intervention in 168 seats in 1964 had practically no effect on the result—it probably cost Labour one or two more seats than it cost the Conservatives. Labour hopes based on North Hull or Conservative beliefs that Liberals must be more anti-Socialist than Socialist will probably prove groundless. The final list of Liberal candi- dates this time is not yet known but it seems likely that there may be up to one hundred withdrawals (the few interventions announced for marginal seats are where Liberal intervention is more likely to hurt Labour—South Beds. South Croydon, Grantham and East Harrow). Putting together knowledge of the effect of Liberal intervention in the relevant region, the history of Liberal candi- datures in the constituency and any relevant local election evidence suggests that Labour is more likely to be helped by prospective withdrawals in Bristol Nerth-West, Colchester, Eastleigh, Hert- •
ford, East Herts, Herts South-West, Hitchin, South Ilford, West Lewisham, Lowestoft, Merton tind Morden, Mitcham, Central Norfolk, Smeth- wick, Uxbridge, Yarmouth and York, but is more likely to be hurt by likely withdrawals in North Bradford, Oldbury and Halesowen, Pentlands, Pollok and West Renfrew. This assumes that Liberal voters without a candidate will behave much as they did when in the same plight in 1964. Whether they do or not, it is unlikely that they Will have mattered in any seat where one of the other parties has a majority in 1966 of much more than five hundred. Who will benefit from a drop In the Liberal vote is more problematical. In 1964 a change in the vote for a third-place Liberal already present probably decided only one result —Uxbridge. It may do no more this time.
Population movements also tend to affect those who predict election results more than they do the results themselves. Since 1950, there are only three cases (Epping, Hitchin and Putney) where population movements probably handed a seat from one party to another. But Mr. Thorney- croft's seat at Monmouth is seriously endangered by the expansion of its urban industrial end ad- joining Cardiff and Newport. A growth of 7,175 electors between 1959 and 1964 accompanied a 6.2 per cent swing to Labour; Since then the electorate has had a further substantial increase. He may be saved by Labour's local unpopularity in Cardiff and Newport which was so striking last May; but South Wales is just the area which may wish to express gratitude to the Government for the proposals on leasehold reform.
Though very few people vote for a candidate rather than a party there are always a few con- stituencies where a popular MP defies the rules. One such has been Falmouth and Camborne which went against the national tide at the last three elections: with Mr. Hayman no longer there, a large question mark hangs over the result. Other marginal seats where the sitting MP is not standing are Southall on the Labour side and On order of increasing age of the MP) Heeley, Cambridge, Holland-with-Boston, Hornsey, Nor- wood and Carlton on the Conservative side. Analysis of past elections suggests that most MPs build up a small personal vote, which produces something like a 0.5 per cent swing movement against their party when they withdraw—but that some elderly MPs outstay their welcome and end up more of an electoral encumbrance.
On the Conservative benches, even a small swing to Labour will endanger many prominent faces. Apart from Mr. Amery and Mr. Thomey- croft, a 1 per cent swing in their seats would sweep out Sir William Anstruther-Gray (chair- man of the 1922 Committee) and promising ex- junior ministers such as Christopher Chataway and Peter Emery. Mr. Brooke and Sir Samuel Storey (Deputy Speaker) would fall to a 21 per cent swing; Mr. Heath and Mr. Soames to one of 5 per cent, to say nothing of many less-known ex-ministers and prominent rebels (from Anthony Fell to Humphry Berkeley) on the way. If the latest polls are right, however, there is no point in being mesmerised by a 1964 majority of only three figures: most of these will be four-figure Labour majorities this time. The real 1966 marginals would be seats like Banbury, Bath, Bexley (Mr. Heath) and Bury St. Edmunds (Eldon Griffiths)—seats likely to be Labour on last week's NOP Poll, but just Conservative ac- cording to Gallup. And if this landslide really materialises, any Conservative MP with less than 60 per cent of the two-party vote could be in danger from a large local swing—this includes Sir Edward Boyle, Mr. Godber, Mr. Marples and Sir Cyril Osborne.