Comparing the 2017 election to previous ones

Myths abound in politics. This is because most people get their political information second or third hand, or worse. So it is always worth reminding ourselves of some basic facts.

For example Labour “moderates” often refer to Labour’s 1983 election with Michael Foot as the lowest point reached by Labour in the post war period. This is blamed on a manifesto which, it is alleged, was far too left-wing. Few of the people making this claim have actually read that manifesto but that is how myths develop. Furthermore, the simple fact is that it was not Labour’s lowest point in terms of support from the electorate as a whole. That dubious honour must be claimed by Gordon Brown (see the graph below).

How do we count electoral success? Obviously by the number of MPs elected. But there is a problem with this. Our first past the post system gives a highly distorted reflection of actual support from the electorate as a whole. The obsession with Parliamentary politics, to the exclusion of all else, including the development of socialist ideas and policies, leads many to look behind the results at the reality of which they are a very distorted reflection.

With this in mind I put the graph below together to show Labour’s position in elections since 1979 both in terms of share of the vote and in terms of support from the electorate as a whole (i.e. the number of Labour votes as a percentage of the total electorate). The result is, I think, both interesting and important.

What is clear is that, after all the predictions of electoral disaster for Labour, the result actually stands up well in comparison with other elections since 1979. Corbyn actually had more support than Tony Blair in 2005 (after people had experienced his style of politics for eight years). It also goes without saying that Labour under Corbyn did significantly better than under Brown or Miliband – just look at the graph.

I think that it would be useful if Momentum members could be clear about these facts before attending post-election discussions about Labour’s way forward in the Labour Party branches.


Author: David Pavett

Interested in politics, philosophy (particularly Marxist), archaeology (I love the idea of reading minds through objects), history, music (from baroque to modern), food (I like cooking big batches of tasty stuff for the freezer), beer (I have a penchant for the really strong stuff e.g. McEwans Champion - what a drink!), wine (my palatte is not developed for wine, so long as it doesn't taste of vinegar I will happily drink it).

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