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The Electoral Geography of Great Britain – The Conservatives

The Conservative Party has been the dominant party of the 20th century.

Conservative support in the 1950s and 1960s was in suburban areas and seaside towns and in the middle class areas of the big cities and in most rural areas and small towns.

Although weaker in Wales, they had a majority of seats in Scotland in 1955 and Unionist MPs in Northern Ireland took the Conservative whip. To a degree they were the glue that held the various parts of the United Kingdom together.

From 1959, they began to lose support in Scotland and to a degree in Northern England.

In 1970 they consolidated their control on rural areas and, in 1979 and 1983, made inroads into mixed industrial/suburban/medium sized towns that had previously been Labour such as Dartford, Wellingborough and Hayes and Harlington.

1983 marked the Conservatives highpoint in terms of seats and from 1987 they have begun to experience losses that have made winning an overall majority more difficult:-

  • In Scotland, increasingly seen as an English Party and hostile to devolution, they lost all their remaining seats in 1997 and have only won one back since (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale).
  • They have lost seats in the big cities, mostly to Labour but a few, such as Nick Clegg’s seat in Sheffield , to the Liberal Democrats. There are fewer of these with population decline but the party now has only one seat in the twelve main provincial English cities (Wolverhampton SW).
  • The boundary of Greater London is further out than in other cities and the Conservatives hold some seats here as well as the unusual inner city area around Kensington and Chelsea but Labour still holds a majority of London seats.
  • Labour has gradually consolidated its hold on the Merseyside, Tyneside and Teesside conurbations and the Conservatives only won two back here in 2010, Wirral W. and Stockton S.
  • The Liberal Democrats have captured a varied group of seats over the last twenty years that were previously safe Conservative and have never been won by Labour. There are over 20 of these and the seats would have given Cameron a working majority in the House of Commons in the 2010 election if the Conservatives still held them.
  • Unionist MPs separated from the Conservative Party in the 1970s and the rise of the Democratic Unionist Party has made the rift even greater.

The Conservatives had major successes in the medium sized towns of the South-East and Midlands and in the more prosperous parts of the North such as Cheshire and the Pennine Towns in 2010 but overall they appear as a party of the South and Midlands now, rather than as a national party.

Recent Challenges

In recent times they have faced electoral challenges from the UK Independence Party. This included the defection of two MPs, Douglass Carswell and Mark Reckless, who both won on by-elections, and losing seats in the 2014 European Elections.

In the 2015 General Election despite polling figures, David Cameron’s Conservative Party was elected with a majority. Although a victory in its own right other factors such as the electability of Labour’s Ed Miliband, the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the promise by Cameron of an In/Out Referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union all played a part.

In 2016 the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union took place. On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU. David Cameron resigned.

The Conservatives entered a new chapter with Theresa May being elected Prime Minister by Conservative MPs. In 2017, (under the Fixed-Terms Parliament Act) Mrs May was given consent by Parliament to ask the Queen to allow a General Election. Mrs May had a disasterous campaign leading critics to label her ‘The Maybot.’ It wasn’t exclusively May’s position on Brexit. She refused to take part in head to head debates and events were seen as staged and as a result she lost the Conservative Parties majority.

Now, being only the largest party, the Conservatives went into a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland.

After three years attempting to strike a deal on ‘Brexit’ and three times having her Withdrawal Agreement voted down by the UK Parliament, Theresa May announced she would resign on the 7 June 2019 and spark a leadership contest in the Conservative Party.

After several rounds and candidates, Boris Johnson was elected Leader of the Conservative Party. The following day, 24 July 2019 he went to the Queen and became the British Prime Minister.