Is it worth voting in the 2017 General Election in Farnborough & Aldershot?

FEATURE
by Tom Walker, 11th May 2017.

With the General Election coming up in June, the Obelisk & Elephant investigates …

The Obelisk & Elephant site provides coverage of the Camberley & Farnborough area, which also includes their surrounding towns of Sandhurst, Blackwater, Bagshot, Frimley etc. From an electoral point of view, that means that three counties are covered by this site, and with a general election coming up, we thought that we would look at the electoral choices for people in the local area. This article is the first of three articles looking at electoral choices before you, starting with Farnborough and Hampshire, but without diving into the politicians personal appeal, track records, demographic shifts and other ‘political’ factors. Instead, this article purely examine the historical voting patterns, with the goal of establishing whether your vote matters.

Many people feel that when they cast their vote in a first past the vote system (FPTP), it leads to a ‘wasted’ vote in any constituency with a large incumbent majority. The advantage of the system is always knowing who your local MP is, and a stronger, single party executive government; the disadvantage is the lack of representation of other viewpoints. The proportional representation (PR) system allows multiple points of view to be reflected in the make-up of Parliament, with the disadvantage being the lack of linkage back into the constituency MP (although there are forms of PR that may provide for this). As with anything in life, many viewpoints exist about the pros and cons of single-party governments.

Looking at Farnborough and it’s surrounding towns and villages in Hampshire, it is a part of the Aldershot Parliamentary constituency, and is currently represented by Sir Gerald Howarth of the Conservative party. Sir Gerald is standing down in the 2017 general election, and the party has put forward Leo Docherty as a candidate.

In the 2015 election, Sir Gerald won with a 50.6% share of the vote and 23,369 people voted for him. This is an increase on the 2010 election when he won 46.7% share of the vote, and 21,203 people voted for him.

In 2015, Labour came second with 8,468 votes and a 18.3% share of the vote, with UKIP in third place (8,253 / 17.9%) and the Liberal Democrats in fourth (4,076 / 8.8%) and the Greens in fifth (2,025 / 4.4%).

Therefore, even if the 14569 who voted for second to fifth place combined their votes into a ‘progressive alliance’ (excluding UKIP), it still wouldn’t have been enough to defeat the incumbent. 23,369 voted Conservative and 22822 voted elsewhere. Based on this, those who argue that your vote is ‘wasted’ if you don’t support the Conservative party would have a point.

Is 2017 a ‘slam dunk’ for the Conservative Party in the Aldershot constituency?

Based on the 2015 voting data, the answer would definitely have to be ‘yes’, especially when considering that UKIP surged into third place in the constituency, and many of their 8253 votes may well gravitate towards the Conservatives now that the Brexit vote has taken place.

In 2010, Sir Gerald won 21,203 and 46.7% of the vote, the Liberal Democrats came second (15,617 / 34.4%), Labour came third (5,489 / 12.1%), UKIP forth (2041 / 4.5%), and the English Independence Party fifth (999 / 1.8%). Therefore, the ‘progressive alliance’ won 21106 votes, narrowly losing to the Conservatives’ 21203 votes (and ignoring the independence vote). There were less than 100 votes in it (the sixth place party won 231 votes).

An analysis of this shows that the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote in 2015 was staggering, and although Labour came second, the constituency is not a natural Labour hunting ground. From having second place and 34.4% of the popular vote, the Liberals collapsed to fourth place and 8.8% share of the vote. National polls are not showing a Liberal Democrat recovery, and with the Conservative pivot towards Brexit and a Lib-Dem pivot towards EU membership, can the Conservative party assume that the UKIP surge from 2015 will now see those voters move towards the Conservative party? If they do, then Aldershot truly is a safe seat.

However, the pro-Brexit, pro-EU split in 2017 politics, along with the lacklustre showing by Labour so far towards their traditional support base (further complicated by Jeremy Corbyn’s strong support in the some grassroots areas) means that the 2015 alignment of votes may change quite dramatically in 2017. If voters decide that the Lib-Dems won’t be ‘punished’ for the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, then they may well return to their 2010 and 2005 (15,238 votes / 31.7%) level of support. What is unknown is what the Lib-Dems and Labour voters who favour pro-Brexit may do. However, with a large proportion of the big three parties votes already going to the UKIP surge of 2015, it can be assumed that those votes will stay with UKIP or shift to the Conservatives. Labour and the Lib-Dems may not find their overall votes too affected by Brexit.

Therefore, looking at the data, 2015 indicates that unless you’re voting Conservative, you might be right in thinking that your vote doesn’t matter. However, an examination over the last two to three elections shows that a progressive alliance would have a chance of overhauling the Conservative majority, especially with the incumbent MP retiring, the unprecedented uncertainty over Brexit, the unpredictability of the Labour and UKIP votes. However, this would require a well-organised campaign, ambition and strong local presence from the party. More than likely, ‘progressive’ votes will be split amongst Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens, and that the Conservatives are right: just like Surrey Heath and Bracknell, this is the Conservative heartlands. However, every vote matters, no matter the electoral system, or the perceived outcome, and this is a democracy, even if you disagree with your choices. As for who you vote for – go with the party that best represents your beliefs. If in the unlikely event we have another hung parliament, your vote may very well shift power one way or another.

Sources:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

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Tom Walker

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