Bright spots of the 2010 election result: growth in number of winnable seats

The small overall net loss of seats in this month’s general election understandably rather overshadowed the growth in the party’s share of the popular vote, which was up for the third general election in a row.

The seat total was hit by the party not getting the lucky breaks in very close contests. The party won five of these knife-edge results but lost eleventwelve.

That gives a hint as to what was happening overall to the number of seats won or close to won. If you total up the number of seats the party has won or come within 10% of winning over the last five general elections, you can see there is a consistent and significant long term growth:

Seats won or within 10% margin

Voting reform for the Commons may make this trend partially redundant, though going into an election under AV against a backdrop of steadily increase the number of strong constituencies would be much better than if our base had been shrinking over the years. The trend also illustrates how the party has managed to successfully combine heavily concentrating efforts in key seats with also growing the number of key seats over time.

Overall the number of second places also grew, as Mark Thompson has pointed out.

A footnote: the list of seats where the party was within X% of winning has never been, and I very much doubt ever will be, the same as the party’s actual list of target seats. I have no complaints about people think the two are the same because that helps make for some very nice constituency odds each time which keep my bank manager happy 🙂 The overall numbers do however give a sense of how the field is shifting.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in General Election.


  • Ivor Cornish 21st May '10 - 1:35pm

    The campaign for a fairer voting system must continue in spite of this cosy coalition.
    I suggest that all Lib Dems get involved with the TAKE BACK PARLIAMENT campaign:-
    Support from Lib Dem members and others, for the campaign, will help Clegg and other Lib Dem M.P’s with negotiations they have with Cameron and co.
    A PR system is not only fairer it can help put a stop to the ‘jobs for life’ culture that now exists amongst a large number of M.P.’s

  • You’re preaching to the converted here Ivor, most members are still fighting for PR. Sadly, even though I think when the debate comes PR will be one of the options up for division (a backbencher will table it), the tories and Labour will vote against it in preference to a referendum on AV.

  • paul barker 21st May '10 - 2:11pm

    Ivor, why are you even talking to us ? It is Labour & Tory MPs & activists you need to be lobbying, LibDems will push for PR as hard as they can. Your post only gives credence to the allegation that TBP is a Labour front.

  • Ivor: Yes, more time needs to be spent promoting PR to those parties that dont support it, rather than those that do, like the Lib Dems. You could start with the Labour Party, and ask them why they betrayed their manifesto pledge for a referendum on PR 3 elections in a row.

  • i too am getting extremely pissed off by the way the TBP campaign seems to be nothing more than a Labour front, for example, this from their website:

    “I asked Clegg whether he’d be pushing for a proportional option on the ballot paper to give voters a “fair choice on fair votes” as thousands of us demanded on streets up and down the country on Saturday.

    Brandishing a piece of purple cloth I challenged Clegg to wear purple to show his support for this demand.

    Although Clegg assured me he had a nice collection of purple ties (though he was wearing an orange one at the time!) he refused to be drawn on whether he would be pushing for full PR.

    More’s the shame. AV is an improvement on first-past-the-post, of course, as Clegg says. But if we’re going to have a referendum on the voting system let’s have a fair choice with the option of fair proportional system.

    Why should the public’s choice be limited for the convenience of political parties? It should be up to us to decide how we select our politicians, not the politicians themselves.”

    See what I mean – criticism of the only major party to back PR, as it has done for decades before TBP was even thought of, but I can’t seem to find any criticism of Labour at all .

  • Paul McKeown 21st May '10 - 3:57pm

    Look guys, you don’t know what will happen with PR in this parliament. There are some Conservatives already in favour, perhaps some on the right might fancy a realignment on the right with UKIP, perhaps Cameron and mainstream Conservatism might be persuaded by persistent high levels of public support, particularly if this coalition is seen to be a success. Nick Clegg probably will have one good opportunity to push the case; it’s success will depend on timing and goodwill. Pissing everyone off with continual whining and backbiting will certainly not help. Give it time.

  • TBP is just a Labour front, it was being used as a mask to try and stop the coalition from forming in the first place. I bet half of them don’t even know what PR means. Professional protestors like Mr Bragg.

  • George W. Potter 21st May '10 - 4:53pm

    Geoff, actually you’re wrong. The organisers do seem to be pro-Labour but, speaking as a Lib Dem who went on the London protest with them, there were plenty of non-Labour there. And everyone I met was passionate about PR and believed in the cause. Half of the Lib Dems from my uni attended and I met several others there as well. The supporters themselves are plural, they come from all backgrounds.

  • I think the STV is a two parliament project. Get AV in this one, and multi-member seats in the next, and there you’ll have STV.

  • George W. Potter 21st May '10 - 11:34pm

    @Patience Actually STV is a fair bit more complicated than that but I agree with you that AV is the first step. If we can get that past then we can use it as a stepping stone to STV.

  • The trouble is with the negative (and minor positive) forseeable effects of the coalition on our votes, and the consequences of an alternative voting system, mean that any projection is bound to be inaccurate. Even if you were to find out how many seats we’re in second wherein we would win if we picked up Labour, Tory or SNP second preferences (vs the incumbent) that figure would probably not hold up in the election. Actually I think if you took such a figure and halved it you’d have the number of seats we’re likely to have come the next election assuming (a) the coalition holds together and (b) the voting system changes to AV. Probably about 80-100 seats total.

    P.S. – The ERS projections are all mad. They have the Greens losing Brighton. How the heck would they lose it under AV if they can win it under FPTP?

    @Colin – TPB is emphatically /not/ a Labour front (though many of its members may well be) but was in fact an outgrowth of the Facebook “We Got Rage Against the Machine to No. 1 Now We Can Get the Lib Dems Into Power” group which at it’s height had 165,000 members.

  • It’s quite interesting how a number of ‘Liberal commentators’ such as Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy have said that they always expected a coalition to be with Labour rather than the Tories; prompted by a desire for a historic realignment of the left. And that they were disappointed not to be able to work with Labour.

    But why did they think that really? We are the LIBERAL Democrats NOT the SDP. There are times when we are closer to Labour and there are times when we are closer to the Conservatives. Very odd that Ming and Charles didn’t grasp that very quickly, and I for one am pleased that we now have a leader that isn’t fixated on realigning the left.

  • Terry Gilbert 22nd May '10 - 11:21am

    @ChrisD – But there are other old lefties who were more open minded; I made the ‘mistake’ of setting the bar for accepting a coalition with the Tories at an elected House of Lords, only to see it in the agreement! If Clegg can deliver, fair enough. If not…..(sharpens dagger…)

  • Duncan – the Greens could quite easily have lost Brighton under AV, if first-choice votes remained the same. (I believe that’s one of ERS’s assumptions). They didn’t win it by that much – it was Grn 31/Lab 29/Con 24/Lib 14.

    It wouldn’t have taken much flow of later choices to Labour over Green for the Greens to fail. Bet the Conservative later choices wouldn’t favour the Greens.

    That’s the problem with AV – it doesn’t really help small parties in practice. It allows people to vote first for them freely without feeling the need to tactically vote for a big party, but that’s probably outweighed by the flow of secondary choices towards the “centre”.

    It’ll help the Lib Dems a fair bit, but no-one else. Except in as much as getting more Lib Dems increases the chance of real reform, hopefully.

    By the way, when a backbencher or Green or someone does introduce an amendment to add AV+/AMS/STV to the referendum, my reading of the coalition document suggests the Lib Dems would be whipped to vote against this:

    “We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.”

    That’s gonna hurt. But I guess the moment it’s got anything more than an FPTP/AV choice, you know the Conservatives will no longer be whipped to support it.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 11:51pm

    “But I guess the moment it’s got anything more than an FPTP/AV choice, you know the Conservatives will no longer be whipped to support it.”

    It depends how much trust the parliamentary LD faction can build with both Conservative and Labour sceptics and how much benefit it can demonstrate in “New Politics” to the country. I reckon Nick Clegg will have one chance to push STV in this parliament; its success will depend on timing, trust and goodwill.

  • The bigger constituencies will more than cancell out any benefit from AV (which isn’t all that great)

    I have no enthusiasm fro reducing the number of MPs.

    The way the Conservatives have bene able to get away with the “Constituencies are different sizes “is frankly embarressing. Typiclaly, people high up in the party who seem to know nothing about these things have gone along with it.

    Even if it was true, it has cmpletely crowded out arguements about what is really wrong with the voting system.

    Yes the Isle of wight has a lot of voters (that was their choice BTW) and the western Isle don’t have very many,
    but aside form the remote part of the UK and the isle of wight, anyone name 10 other saets with big disparities ?

    Will these new “equal” seats be based on chucking out the reliance of local government boundaries and county boundaries ? If so what happend to the idea it was about a constituency link not pure number crunching ?

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 8:27pm


    Our policies should simply be ones we believe in. It is then up to us to argue for them on their merits.

    I would suggest that we really need to propose serious democratic reform to the EU. Our present policy is nonsense, we aren’t going to join the Euro anytime soon, and as Democrats we shouldn’t accept the rubbish that passes for the EU’s democratic structures.

    Immigration: nothing wrong with our policies, just need to argue them better.

  • Paul McKeown 24th May '10 - 9:43pm


    The Orange Book brigade are economically and socially liberal with great big wierdy-beardy green stripes running through them, too. I can’t see them mutating into hangemflogems with navies of submarine launched ballistic missiles to launch against any colonies of dark skinned lesbians threatening to get uppity and take advantage of our asylum system to become workshy welfare dodgers. Relax they’re just Liberal Democrats with a little more emphasis on the Liberal than on the Social Democrat.

  • Aberconwy electorate = 44592, Arfon = 41197, Vale of Clwyd = 55783, Montgomeryshire = 48722, Inverclyde = 59167

    Knowsley = 79957, Oxford East = 81855, Shrewsbury & Atcham = 75445, Oxford West & Abingdon = 86493
    St Helen’s South = 77971

    Proves my point really ! We know wales is over represented, but if exceptions are made for remote rural areas
    (and montgomeryshire is pretty big) your not really looking at many seats.

    Oxfordshire is proportioantely entitled to 6.6 MPs. Now you can either give then 6 and make them too big or 7 and make them too small or 6.6 and ignore county and other “natural boundaries” when drawing up constituencies.

  • @ColinW

    Take Back Parliament are not a Labour front. They have Labour members and Labour supporters but they’ve got plenty of Lib Dem links: Unlock Democracy (New Politics Network/Charter88 including LD troublemaker James Graham), and Power2010 (funded by Ol’ Joe Rowntree), Electoral Reform Society (Ken Ritchie is Labour, but Carina Trimingham’s one of our own).

    That said, Vote for a Change could be some sort of Labour thing. They dont say who exactly they are on their website, and their list of supporters is pretty Labour (with a few token Lib Dems).

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 2nd Jun '10 - 10:24am

    Normally, I’d be pretty dismissive of strong second places (you get nothing as runner-up) but the real prospect of AV – flawed system though it is – at the next election makes them genuinely important. Well done to those who got within touching distance and I hope many of you will give it a further heave next time.

  • ‘ Ritchie is Labour, but Carina Trimingham’s one of our own ‘

    I should say so!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nonconformistradical
    "the stunt did get coverage on mass media and the point of it was explained in the footage I saw." Quite. e.g.
  • Chris Moore
    Nonetheless, in spite of the whingers and purists on here, the stunt did get coverage on mass media and the point of it was explained in the footage I saw. I...
  • Laurence Cox
    Ed Davey falling off the paddleboard reminded me of when we exposed the pollution of the River Thames. That was just Sarah Ludford and Dee Doocey, the former ho...
  • expats
    Chris Moore 28th May '24 - 1:40pm...And it’s a total travesty to say all we get is gimmicks....But in any case, it seems like it’s the gimmicks that have st...
  • David Allen "The Liberal Democrats have pledged to put environmental experts on (water company) boards..." Let's hop...