Labour set for worst share of vote since 1918: why isn’t that a big story?

Iain Dale quite rightly has queried why the prospect of Labour finishing third in the popular share of the vote isn’t a big story being talked about in the media.

But actually Iain is too kind to Labour.

Because the voting abyss Labour is teetering on the edge of is more than simply coming third. More than simply doing worse than Michael Foot. It’s on the verge of its worst share of the vote since 1918.

In 1983 Labour scored 28.3% and in 1918 it was 22.2%. (Both of these are figures for Great Britain, i.e. excluding Northern Ireland, as that’s the basis on which polling figures are also calculated.) Today’s polls have put Labour on an average of 27.4% or, if you exclude the rogue looking MORI poll, 26.8%.

Add in the fact that the polls have traditionally over-stated Labour’s share of the vote (even if by 2005 that error had come down to quite a small figure) and it’s safe to say that Gordon Brown is hovering somewhere between Michael Foot and William Adamson, Labour’s leader in 1918.

An ironic footnote about William Adamson, who led Labour 1917-21: he was born and brought up in Fife – where Gordon Brown also was brought up and lives.

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This entry was posted in General Election and Op-eds.


  • A “Change Coalition” it is, then- even further anti-Union legislation, further privatisations, further unnecessary cuts to public services. Change from the frying pan to the fryer.

  • Could the Labour vote be squeezed further and, if so, where will it go? I fear it woulldn’t necessarily be to the LibDems, since it’s starting to eat into the Labour core vote who, I suspect, are conservative with a small “c” and put off by Trident/immigration/law ‘n order policies.

    Is it also still the case that the polls are overestimating Labour votes? At recent elections, apparently Tories were recluctant to say they would vote that way because of the party’s low popularity, much as Labour now.

  • Philip Young 25th Apr '10 - 2:20pm

    And in 1951, Labour polled 250,000 more votes than the Conservatives, but still had to form the Opposition.
    Perhaps a total meltdown might persuade them of the need for Fair Votes, and electoral-reform, particularly now so many are utterly hacked off by politics.

  • Steve Brundish 25th Apr '10 - 3:56pm

    Its fair to have a go at Labour for their low polls ratings but Lib Dems should remember that real change can only be provided with a change in the voting system. Gordon Brown is offering this so if Labour do really badly you will end up with a Cameron led government (who will never change the system).

  • Philip Young 25th Apr '10 - 5:59pm

    Steve, get real, as Brown likes to say…Labour offered voting-reform before, we have heard it all before from both sides. Labour even set up the Roy Jenkins Commission to come up with ideas (which he did), all burried under the floor-boards as at the time they felt they could carry on regardless.

  • Steve Brundish 25th Apr '10 - 6:35pm

    Look this is the Lib Dems big chance dont mess it up. I am older enough to remember Liberal leader after liberal leader call in vain for fair votes. Clegg needs to get into a coalition with Labour and hold out for voting reform to be top of the list in the queens speech and make it clear you walk as soon as Brown back tracks or allows others to do so. You should also make it clear you expect the Brown to campaign for change during the referendum campaign. Because this is so important to all those who believe in fair votes dont leg Ceggs attitude to Brown mess things up. If Clegg doe not support Labour in a hung parliament the result will be another election and the Tories will say the people voted Lib dem and the party let them down and your chance will have gone. It does not matter if the Lib dems poll 28 or so on may the 6th the way the key seats fall means you will never get more than 90 seats. Thats why I say if Labour support drops so does your chance for real change.

  • The Labour Party’s purpose is done.

  • “Gordon Brown is offering this so if Labour do really badly you will end up with a Cameron led government (who will never change the system).”

    AV is worse than FPTP.

    Proportional Representation is not on Gordon’s table, so Gordon can go whistle.

  • Dane,

    Clegg said only that he would not support Brown for PM if Labour come third in the popular vote. Don’t you think it would be crazy for the third-placed party to think they could rule the country?

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Apr '10 - 8:30am

    Genuine question, but what is unworkable about a directly elected leader of the Executive?

    Absolutely nothing. It would be the best way to keep real power in the voters’ hands. And before the “presidentialism!” posters get started, I’d like to point out that a directly elected PM dealing with a PR-elected parliament would be phenomenally less powerful than the leader of a party with a solid parliamentary majority. An Obama would kill for the individual power of Brown.
    (In fact, I remember one of David Steel’s less intelligent observations, on his support for monarchy in the 1980s, when he said that his most telling argument against republicans in the UK was “President Thatcher” — ignoring the obvious fact that PM Thatcher was vastly more powerful than any president in a democracy, and that if a requirement was winning half the votes she would have found it harder to get elected anyway.)

  • Andrew Suffield 26th Apr '10 - 8:42am

    I think “sarcasm about the constitution we don’t have” has now descended into silliness.

    For historical reasons, we have “parliamentary sovereignty”, which means that any parliament in session can do anything it likes, organise itself however it likes, and is bound by no rules (while it often chooses to operate under certain familiar processes, these are not enforceable). The executive branch of the government doesn’t have much by way of rules surrounding it, but rather exists because parliament tolerates it doing so; as such, the executive leader is whoever parliament says it is. When one party has a majority it’s obvious what parliament will do; in a hung parliament anything can happen. There is no constitution to “abrogate” and no law to change. People like to point at past precedents, but parliament is not obliged to follow them.

    In simpler terms: UK constitutional “law” is embodied by the phrase “Parliament is not bound by its predecessor” (Albert Dicey), which means we don’t have any constitutional law. All we have is a bunch of things which every past parliament has chosen to do, and a lot of MPs who are inclined to keep doing things the same way they’ve always done them.

    If nobody manages to form a government that can survive a vote of no confidence then we have a “constitutional crisis”. Historically these were resolved with civil wars; today we would probably get a caretaker government while a constitutional convention was put together to write some more sensible rules. This is something that we probably need to do anyway, although a more carefully planned approach would be good.

    If you are wondering why this system works at all, the answer is simply that people have so far allowed it to do so. It’s full of holes, but critical organisations (the judiciary, civil service, and military) choose to ignore them and get on with their business. There have been one or two cases in recent history where the judiciary has indicated that its tolerance of this is not unlimited, and the government has chosen to back down rather than provoke a constitutional crisis.

  • David Allen 26th Apr '10 - 5:48pm

    Dane, if you actually want to understand the constitutional position, see:

    The convention gives Gordon Brown the first shot at forming a viable government, but that’s all. It doesn’t (how could it?) tell us whether we should support him or not!

    Yes, seats count, if they give one party an absolute majority. But we’re talking about what happens if Labour come third in votes, first in seats, but do not get an absolute majority. In that case, which is beginning to look like the likely outcome, seats do not dictate five more years of Gordon. Clegg can take what attitude he likes, and to say that the third-placed party in terms of votes should not supply the Prime Minister is just blatant common sense.

  • David Pollard 27th Apr '10 - 11:48am

    Listen to Lord Norman St John Stevas, constitutional expert. Gordon Brown stays Prime Minister until he loses a vote of confidence in Parliament or resigns The Queen then asks if anyone else can form a Goverment by getting a majority vote of confidence. Only if no one else can, does the Queen allow a dissolution of parliament and a new election be called. Once elected a Parliament is very difficult to shift, as Oliver Cromwell found. His solution was to wave a few guns around in the House of Commons and everyone got the message!
    Nick Clegg was clever ( or lucky) to say that the leader with the largest mandate should get the first chance to form a government. With LibDems only 1% behind the Tories in the polls and debate between Vince Cable and George Osborne coming up (sorry, Nick Clegg v David Cameron) there is still a lot to play for and LibDems could win teh popular vote

  • Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I think they (Labour) ought to be doing a lot worse. While I understand there’s a fair amount of people set in a mold, it just doesn’t explain away Labour’s 27+ percent.

    There’s a new video up on youtube, maybe it will help. Well, it will if it goes viral…

  • Anthony Aloysius St 27th Apr '10 - 11:51pm

    To be honest the assertion of the headline seems a very odd one, seeing that Labour’s current poll rating is about 28% – 6 points higher than their 1918 percentage.

    On the evidence we have, Labour being “set for worst share of vote since 1918” is rather more unlikely than the Lib Dems having a smaller share of the vote than in 2005. That is, very unlikely.

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