BY DAVID EYLES
“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it sharpens his mind wonderfully.” – Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784).
Note 1 – Declaration of interest: I am currently a member of the Conservative Party. However, in the light of recent events, that status is now under review.
Note 2 – This article is a follow-on from an earlier article published in Country Squire Magazine on the 8th June 2018. That article, together with an earlier version of the schedules, was submitted to a small number of senior members of the Conservative Party. The schedules were withheld from the public domain at that point. In light of the Chequers meeting today, it is now felt appropriate by me and the magazine editors that the schedules should be released for public consumption.
Section 1 – Interpretation of the schedules
The schedules are a risk assessment of each constituency held by a current Conservative MP. The scores indicate the vulnerability of each MP to being lost to another party at the next General Election. The higher the score in any category, the greater the risk afforded by that category. The scores for each category are summed to give a total for each MP.
The scores are not an opinion poll or an attempt at a prediction of how people will actually vote. They are a risk assessment based upon previous behaviour.
Each score is derived from the voting patterns in the two General Elections of 2015 and 2017, along with the results for the 2016 EU Referendum, for each Conservative constituency. This is therefore a measure of voting behaviour by people who have actually voted. It is not a measure of how people say they will vote.
For that reason, it is not a predictive measure of people’s future voting intentions (which may, in any case, alter as time and events proceed).
However, we can say that when a government is seen to be in total disarray (as it currently is) the verdict of the electorate will be savage. The Conservative Party should remember, at all times, that John Major lost 171 seats in the 1997 General Election. Theresa May has already lost thirteen seats in an unnecessary, unforced General Election (2017) which was predicated upon the manifesto promise that Brexit would be delivered. If that promise is not delivered, then the Conservative Party can expect to lose many more seats. Those MPs mentioned in the following schedules are the most likely to fall.
Section 2 – Anomalies and caveats in the schedules
In the earlier private version of these schedules, Sir Alan Duncan had somehow had his name substituted for that of Iain Duncan Smith (it was to do with the ‘sort’ function in Excel). As a result, in this earlier version, Sir Alan was allocated Iain Duncan Smith’s score. Iain Duncan Smith is actually vulnerable and has a moderately high score under this assessment; whereas Sir Alan has one of the safest seats in the country. So my apologies to Sir Alan for that error. However, he has recently and very publicly demonstrated a level of arrogance and contempt for those who voted Leave – and also for many of his colleagues who are attempting to get the government to carry out its manifesto promises. There are sufficient ‘Leave’ voters in his constituency to remove him from his comfortable position should they be so minded. No MP should be complacent about the outcome of the next election. We live in interesting times.
Each constituency and each MP are electorally unique. Many constituencies have particular issues which figure greatly in the minds of their voters. For instance, Boris Johnson has a small but reasonable majority (and does not appear on these schedules) but is highly vulnerable to the Heathrow third runway problem and could easily lose his seat because of that issue alone.
A number of Conservative MPs have risen to prominence in the public eye because of their persistent rebellion against the government in its various attempts to carry out the instructions of the electorate. Some are in safer seats and do not appear in the schedules. Some are in very marginal seats and so appear in the schedules. A few names are worthy of comment:
- Anna Soubry – By far the noisiest of the recidivist Remainers, Soubry has appeared countless times on television to put her case, as only she can. She appears near the bottom of Schedule 2 as being at moderate risk. However, her regular rebellions and the high Leave percentage, to say nothing of disagreements with her own agent suggest that her time as an MP is drawing to an end.
- Nicky Morgan – also prominent as a rebel and a very high Leave percentage.
- Amber Rudd – former Home Secretary and a Remainer whose brother, Roland, is one of the chief movers and shakers of the Continuity Remain campaign. Her majority is tiny and the Leave percentage in Hastings and Rye is one of the highest.
- Jonathan Djanogly – a rebel in a very high Leave constituency, but does not appear in the schedules. Otherwise rather quiet in that he does not appear in front of the television cameras very often, but is nevertheless imperilled. His constituency members have expressed concern, but he is intent upon following the example of Ken Clarke. Despite not making it into the schedules, he is at grave risk of being de-selected at the ballot box.
Other rebel MPs such as Dominic Grieve, are in very safe constituencies and which are in areas which voted Remain (mostly in the leafy, prosperous suburbs surrounding London). Conversely, Peter Bone is shown by this assessment to be at moderate risk of losing his seat, despite being one of the consistently Eurosceptic MPs in Parliament. He is in a very high Leave percentage constituency and this assessment allocates to him an improbably high score. But assuming that Brexit is still the main issue at the next election, Peter Bone is an excellent constituency MP and may well be forgiven for being a Conservative and be returned by the electorate.
Section 3 – The Categories
- “Low Majority“: Their majority is the first thing a sitting MP looks at when assessing their chances in the next election. In general, the lower their majority, the harder they work as constituency MPs; and the harder they have to fight as candidates in the election. Conversely, the opposition knows how much work they have to do to gain the seat. For this reason, a low majority is afforded the greatest weight of all the categories.
- “Brexit Vote“: This is a measure of vulnerability caused by a high ‘Leave’ vote in each constituency. The higher the Leave vote above 50%, the higher the score. Leave votes which are below 50% score as zero. A high score for any MP who makes public statements which are favourable to remaining in the EU, or who otherwise obstruct the progress of Brexit, suggests that they are likely to receive a sharp correction from their constituents.
- “UKIP“: This score represents the dangers presented by UKIP votes in each constituency. In 2015, UKIP gained nearly 3.9 million votes, and only 594,000 in 2017. The reduction in UKIP votes would suggest to many that UKIP has died because its raison d’etre – an EU referendum – has been achieved. However, this is a grave mistake for any UK political party to make. The scoring system takes the election results for 2015 – the high point of UKIP’s success – and values them according to the number of votes polled. Whilst that may seem a bold strategy, it should be noted that the whole of UKIP’s election network is still in place, and that voters appeared to transfer their votes from UKIP to elsewhere because the other parties pledged to uphold the referendum. In the event of the referendum not being upheld – or even fudged – then those votes are likely to be transfered back to UKIP or some other protest party.
- “Voter Volatility” is a measure of the amount that voters in each constituency have demonstrated that they are prepared to switch allegiance from one party to another. This can be Labour voters who switch to Conservatives and vice versa. It can also be UKIP voters who switch to Tories and back again. Between the General Elections of 2015 and 2017, many voters shifted their votes from UKIP to the Conservatives on the basis of promises made that the Conservatives would deliver Brexit. These voters are casting their votes conditionally and are likely to shift their votes back again if the Conservatives fail to deliver. Similar things will happen to Labour. This sector of the electorate are highly mobile because they are continually assessing the performance of the government and opposition parties. On average, these volatile voters represent a minimum of 17% of the electorate in Conservative constituencies. In many constituencies, it will be more. This percentage is enough to cause devastation to any incumbent government and opposition party, should the electorate decide to shift their allegiance.
Schedule 1 – Conservative MPs in the highest risk category
Schedule 2 – Conservative MPs in the moderate risk category
Schedule 2 – (Continued)