Labour and Conservative Decline Traces Back Over Half a Century

This morning I posted about the decline in the overall share of the two “major” parties and how this pointed to a certain hung parliament.

The post attracted a lot of traffic and several comments not least from one Ben Goldacre, journalist, doctor and author of the Bad Science blog.  I used ICM/Guardian data and plotted a graph showing the decline in votes over the last 20 years for the two major parties. He accused me of bullshitting and repeatedly called me a twat because I had omitted data from 1984-1990 that was available from the Guardian.  In fact the reason for starting from 1990 was because 20 years seemed like a good length of time to support the argument and there was a blip in the early eighties caused by the split of the SDP from Labour and their alliance with the Liberals.  I ought to point out that I wasn’t entirely blameless in the exchange in that I suggested he’d had a drink or two. Sorry Ben.

I am now posting using election data from the last 50 years and the latest poll data for 2010.  I think the picture is pretty clear and undistorted and supports the earlier hypothesis.  The combined support for the two main parties has been falling for 50 years.  If that continues and there is no proof that it will then two-party politics is on the way out.  The defining moment might just be on Thursday.

8 thoughts on “Labour and Conservative Decline Traces Back Over Half a Century”

  1. hi, this is rather tediously thin skinned of you. the data may well show the trend you suggested, i don’t know, i don’t trust you any more, after seeing what you did cherrypicking the data on the last graph, and there’s no reason why i would: you’re an anonymous person on the internet who refuses to use his name, and the only thing i know about you is that you cherry picked the data on that graph. surely you can understand that i’m now not going to go and research the subject at great length myself, invest all that time, on the off chance that the anonymous man on the internet who cherry picks his data (and gets in a childish huff when people point that out) turns out to be right?

    i should also say it wasn’t just me who was very correctly unimpressed that you cherry picked the data, so was everyone else on the comment thread, so i’m not sure why you’re so excited that i mentioned it too:

    in fact, now i come to look at it again, what’s that line on the graph? how did you generate it? by hand? is it a rolling trend?

    if anything, i blame myself for linking to your dodgy graph, and giving it attention it didn’t warrant, but i’ll do my best to make sure people know it was a mistake – it’s the least i can do – and i’ll have to try not to make the same mistake again.

    meanwhile, getting anonymous abuse on the internet from someone such as yourself isn’t ever very impressive. grow up, accept you made a mistake, and put your real name behind your thin-skinned silliness. tell me. tell us: who are you?

    1. The graph is certainly very interesting. It does indeed point towards a hung parliament, but maybe it also points towards a trend against party politics. The others vote has increased dramatically over the last few years and maybe this suggests a swing towards independent candidates, what do you think?


      Independent Network,

      1. Livia – if you look at the makeup of “Other” what you mostly see is the rise in the SNP’s fortunes and, over the last few years, UKIP. Doesn’t really say anything, to my eyes, about any shift in attitude to independents or party politics.

        Cynicism about party politics is nothing new, I fear.

    2. Right, the graph still doesn’t support the conclusions. Here’s Wikipedia’s (best I could come up with in 10 seconds) chart of UK vote share in general elections in the 20th century:

      Labour could have made a similiar claim (“the two-party Liberal/Tory system is dead”) in the 1920s, but all that actually happened was that the two-party Lib/Con system became the two-party Lab/Con system.

      Without reform of the system, with the Lib Dems in ascendancy (for the moment) and Labour in decline it’s entirely possible that we won’t get a string of hung parliaments, but back to a two-party Lib/Con system with Labour as a distant third party as they were before 1922. Why? Because the FPTP one-member-constituency system is very good at producing a stable two-party state..

      A hung parliament, if it materialises this time, does not tell us anything about how people may vote in future, and I think it’s simply incorrect to be making assumptions.

  2. The data wasn’t cherry picked, you have to start somewhere and starting at 1984 when 83 & 87 were the only two elections in which the SDP featured would have been wrong because as the 50 year trend shows this skewed the data. It seemed sensible to me at the time to look at a 20 year period. It is fair to disagree but not fair to label me as a bullshitting twat as a result.

    The anonymity thing is a fair cop but because this is a hobby and not my job I don’t want to compromise the former in any way. I appreciate that this isn’t optimal and that you feel it undermines my arguments. I don’t understand however why you think it is reasonable to be abusive just because we disagree over presentation.

    The line on the graph was a trend line produced by Excel.

    The most important thing to me is that the argument that the combined Tory/Labour vote is in decline is entirely supported by the data whether we look at the last five years or the last 50.

  3. Having a go at Ben Goldacre like this is stupid. He is obviously annoyed because he’s the Bad Science man and he linked to your Bad Science graph. You were caught out fair and square. Everyone commenting on the previous thread has explained why. Stop digging.

  4. Pat – I expected the post to upset people, because there is a lot of vested interest in the two-party system. I was suprised that it was Ben rather than a Tory or Labour supporter that got so upset and I think your reasons as to why are right. The people commenting on the last post were in the main responding to Ben’s outburst and it is clear that he commands a lot of respect.

    The graph uses accurate data plus the trend line was automatically produced. I regret that I set the range at 55%-95% but it is clear. You see far worse in the press every day. I’m not digging just defending against some fairly lurid accusations. For me the only important thing is the trend that this post I think conveys better than the last one – so job done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s