Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The end of hegemony?

I was reading an interesting article by Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully today (it is this one here, though you'll have to pay to read it - I was at the National Library).  Anyway, the article was entitled "The end of one-partyism" and looked at the electoral performance of Labour in Wales between 1997 and 2005.

I wanted to extend it and look at 2010 as well, and performance in Scotland and England too.  So here's the info:

In Wales, Labour polled 54.7% of the vote in 1997.  In 2005, that figure was 42.7% - a massive 12% fall.  In 2010 they polled 36.2% of the vote - down a further 6.5%.  Of course we have to recognise that 1997 was a high watermark, even for Labour in Wales, but in 13 years of government - which included delivering a form of decision-making to Cardiff - their vote has fallen by 18.5%.  (Incidentally, despite being one of Labour's worst election results by share of the vote since 1918 in Wales, they still won 26 of the 40 seats there).

In England, the watermark was not so high in 1997 at 43.5% of the vote.  In 2005 that figured dipped to 35.5% - down 8%.  And this year it was down further - to 28.1% of the vote, down another 7.4%.  Now England - with the exception of the North, Yorkshire, the West-Midlands and bits of London - is not exactly Labour's heartland it is true, but drop 15% of the vote is a rather large fall.

And so to Scotland.  In 1997 Labour maintained their status as the dominant party in Scotland, winning 45.6% of the vote - not as high as Wales, but they faced a more competitive party system.  By 2005 that had fallen to 38.9% - a fall of 6.7% - almost half of the slide in Wales.  In 2010 they actually increased their share of the vote here, up by 3.1% to 42% of the vote.  In terms of seats, all that did was maintain their level of 2005, with the only nominal gains those which had been lost in by-elections during the session and the seat of the Speaker, which was a notional Labour seat anyway.

Which means what?  Well, I don't really know is the honest answer.  Certainly if you look historically at Wales you see a Liberal hegemony from mid-1800s until 1920s and then a Labour hegemony from the inter-war years to the present.  And recent trends (1997 on, as indicated above) show that hegemony waning, particularly in light of the four-party system at the National Assembly. 

Historically, Scotland is a similar story - a Conservative dominance was arrested in the 1950s and replaced by a Labour hegemony which, though less powerful than it used to be, remains in place today.  Obviously some Nats will take issue with the term "hegemony" and point to the SNP Scottish Government and Scottish and European Parliament results as evidence to the contrary, and that is a fair point.  But I haven't used that in the case of Wales (nor England, for obvious reasons) so why use it for Scotland.

I think the bottom line is equally obvious - that we have distinctly different party systems - and party competitions - in existence at the multiple levels of governance that currently occupy our representatives.  And though the SNP have been buoyed by winning Holyrood (2007) and European (2009) elections (and the Conservatives similarly with the European election in Wales) it is Labour who continue to dominate when it comes to Westminster elections, though that hold is loosening.


Anonymous,  14 July 2010 at 09:58  

39.5% in 2005 if you include Michael Martin.

Malc 14 July 2010 at 11:10  

I guess that's where Wikipedia got that figure. The Wyn Jones/Scully article ignored it, so that's the figure I went with.

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