How to lose votes and alienate people: An examination of the causes of Conservative decline in Liverpool since 1945

This is my doctoral thesis – I’m very proud of it, and I’m even prouder to have a contract with Liverpool University Press to expand this project and write a full book!

You can read the thesis on Academia.Edu here, or directly download here.

This thesis is an examination of the causes of Conservative electoral decline in Liverpool, from the end of World War Two to the present day. This is an area of Liverpool’s political history, and of the history of the Conservative Party, which is understudied. This thesis counters the traditional argument that declining sectarianism, or the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, are the root causes of Conservative decline in Liverpool.

This thesis also discounts theories of local party organisational inefficiency, municipal electoral biases, demographic change, and population drain, arguing that generally these changes were too gradual to account for the sudden, dramatic decline of the Liverpool Conservatives in the 1970s. Similarly, many of these factors do not chime temporally with actual changes in Conservative vote share.

Instead, this thesis proposes a tripartite framework, which separates the periods of success (1945- 197), decline (1973-1986), and irrelevance (1987 onwards). Each period can be explained by recourse to different phenomena. Conservative success in Liverpool can be primarily explained by the socialisation effect of Protestantism, boosted in years when the Conservatives were doing well nationally. Conservative decline is mainly a result of a perfect storm of unresponsive local parties, an energetic nascent Liberal Party, dissatisfaction with the Heath government nationally, and an all-out local election in 1973 (when all seats in council were up for election) triggered by local government reform. Finally, Conservative irrelevance is attributable to a change in Scouse local identity which took on an element of anti-Thatcherism/anti-Conservatism, and has persisted to this day.

This work was supported by the QMUL Principal’s Studentship, co-funded by Queen Mary University of London and the Economic and Social Research Council, award number 1523299.

The Strange Death of Tory Liverpool: Conservative Electoral Decline in Liverpool, 1945-1996

In modern discourse, Liverpool is a by-word for anti-Tory sentiment, yet the city has not always been so inhospitable for the Conservatives. From the mid-18th century until the 1970s, the Conservatives dominated the city council and often held over half of Liverpool’s parliamentary constituencies. Whilst popular opinion ascribes Conservative decline in Liverpool to Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, it began a decade before Thatcher gained power.

This article argues that Conservative decline in Liverpool was due to the increasing inability of socialisation to create new Conservative voters, coupled with dissatisfaction with the Heath government and a rejection of unresponsive local party machines. The Liberal Party, through their use of pavement politics, were able to exploit these issues. Their 1973 local election victory allowed them to displace the Conservatives as the main opposition to Labour in most of the city, thus beginning the strange death of Tory Liverpool.

Link to full article (open access) here:

I have also spoken about this topic in a keynote lecture and written about it for ConservativeHome (back when I was a fresh-faced PhD student).

Princes Park parkrun review

Short review this week. I’m back in Liverpool for research and interviews, so I couldn’t turn down a chance to run at my home parkrun, Princes Park.

The course consists of two and a half laps around Princes Park, which is fairly hilly. The scenery is nice though, and being the only parkrun in South Liverpool it’s usually fairly well attended, regularly getting over 200 runners to turn up. Despite this, there’s usually not much congestion after the race starts, since the paths are fairly wide and there’s not usually that many people there.

As usual, my pet peeve surfaced; slower runners insisting on going at the front. This week was a double whammy: a man with his grandchildren in the second line, and then a woman running with a dog at the front.

Again, people are free to do the parkrun as they wish – that’s part of its appeal and why it’s such a great community – but this works both ways. Some people there aren’t aiming for new PBs each week, that’s cool, do your own thing, let a thousand flowers bloom, and so on, but other people are aiming to get a PB, and it’s unfair for someone to plonk themselves at the front, with hound, and then take up over half the path as other runners have to skirt round/avoid going arse over tit.

It’d be nice to see the group do something social afterwards (if this happens, I haven’t heard about it). There’s no talk of going to a cafe etc., which is strange since Lark Lane is so close.

Anyway, my run went very well. Despite having a few jager bombs and a cocktail last night, I felt alright at the starting line. My target was roughly 19:30, perhaps 19:20 to match the week before at Fulham, but I knew the hills would probably hold me back a bit.

I started strongly, working through the crowd at the start and decided to keep pushing when usually I would have settled down into place. I got the first half mile announcement from Nike+ with an average pace of less than 6 minute miles, so my target became keeping that pace going as long as possible.

Luckily, a lady gained on me and I used her as motivation to keep pushing. We overtook a guy in a MerseyTri t-shirt, and wasn’t feeling too exhausted at this point. This lasted for about a mile until the mid-way point, and then she pulled away (she came second, so at least I knew I would never have been able to keep up!). At the halfway point I was still hitting sub-6 minute miles, and I realised I could beat my course PB.2015-10-31 - Princes

At this point, I was left following a guy I’d noticed at the start. My new goal was to maintain the distance or perhaps catch up with him. Until about 2.5 miles, this was going well. He began to slow a bit and I started gaining on him. At just under the 3 mile point I was overtaken by a guy I’d passed early on, and I realised it was now or never to place fairly well. I’d hit the 3 mile mark, with Nike+ giving me an average time of 6’01/min miles, which was the motivation I needed. I just started to sprint, hoping I could hold on and reduce my average pace. I overtook the two guys I’d been following and pushed harder than I think I ever had before, determined to get a sub-19 time.

I crossed the finish line coming 5th, with my Nike+ saying I’d done 3.16km and my fastest 5k ever. It was a nervous wait for the result, because I had no idea if I’d actually done enough to beat my overall PB. Happily, I did – I (officially) crossed the finish line in 18:51, beating my course PB by 17 seconds, and shaving 2 seconds off my overall PB (set in Edinburgh, which is pancake flat).

This puts me in a good position for a strong half-marathon next week. I’m not expecting to get a PB for the distance, but I don’t think it’ll be as bad as I was expecting it to be. I think becoming a regular at the gym is having a positive effect, as is getting in some quality long runs too. I’m going to stick with what I’m doing until Christmas at least, and then have a review in light of the Manchester Marathon in April, since 3 runs a week might not be enough. Either way, I’ve got a spring in my step today. It’s good to be home.

Main points:

  • Laps: 2.5
  • PB Potential: Low – hilly course.
  • Facilities: Easy parking.
  • First-time friendly: Yes
  • Other positives: You get to be in Liverpool, and you might even get to see me.
  • Downside: Crowded start, no facilities on site.Princes - 5k Record 2015-10-31 - PB text

St Helens parkrun review

It’s my final parkrun in Liverpool for the foreseeable future, so I groggily dragged myself down the Knowsley Expressway to Victoria Park, this time for the St. Helens parkrun. The more astute amongst you will remember that the Widnes parkrun was also at a Victoria Park, but that just goes to show that us northerners aren’t very original when it comes to naming parks (and we just really bloody love Posh Spice).

There’s no carpark, but luckily I’m fast becoming a pro at squeezing into tight spaces… also, parking isn’t a problem here. Finding the starting point was easy – it’s the pavilion in the centre of the park. I was surprised by the size of the crowd, but it turned out that another local parkrun was cancelled for the day so the dedicated had flocked to this one – there were 245 people today, compared to between 160-200 normally. The first-timer briefing and pre-run briefing were both comprehensive, with plenty of clapping for volunteers and a lady who was completing her 100th parkrun. Always a nice touch, and the pre-race vibe was really positive. There didn’t seem to be many club runners either (not that club runners are a bad thing!).

The course is three ‘big’ laps and one ‘small’ lap of Victoria Park. Both laps includes a gradual hill, which although not particularly steep (~40ft) does hit you by the third time round. The course was a concrete path, no track or grass, and had a lot of turnoffs. Thanks to a liberal use of cones (something I never thought I’d have to type) it was easy to keep to the course. Once you’ve crossed the finish line there’s free tea, coffee, and biscuits available. I don’t know the nutritional benefit of a post-run shortbread, but at that point I didn’t care.

The main problem I had with the course was the start – again, it was crowded, with people pushing to the front who really had no business being there. This isn’t some sort of ‘humble-brag’, trying to imply that I’m a fast runner and I’m held back by Tom, Dick, and Harry (I’m not even allowed near them, thanks to the Home Office’s liberal application of restraining orders). I know I’m never going to lead the pack and because of that I don’t have my toe on the start line. I’m happy a line or two behind, and if need be I’ll work my way forward at the start of the race. However, this becomes so much harder when you have a group of slower runners who insist on placing themselves right at the front, standing side by side and essentially blocking any number of faster runners getting past.

For me, it comes down to basic manners – everyone there is trying for a PB, and for the faster runners losing 10s at the start of the race because they’re ducking and diving to get past others can quite easily be the difference between a PB and a narrow miss. I’m not sure people realise they’re doing this, and I would love for marshals to mention this at the start of races, especially since parkrun’s laid back, friendly manner makes behaviour seen as competitive slightly out of place. Basically, my message is – if you’re running 25 minute 5ks, DON’T STAND AT THE FRONT.

End rant.

Actually, there was another thing which I thought was a bit off today. I was running behind a gentleman who insisted on wearing a running top, shoes… and running tights. Nothing else. Now I’m obviously no prude, but at 9am there are some things I don’t need to see jiggle. Certainly the last thing I want to be running behind for 5 minutes is someone in very tight running tights, leaving literally nothing to the imagination. Now, I don’t want to come across all Mary Whitehouse… but SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

End second rant.

Overall, St. Helens parkrun was good. Yes, laps are a killer, but there is a great community feel there – the volunteers were numerous and cheered us on, and free drinks and snacks are a plus. The hill isn’t too big a challenge but it keeps the course interesting. There is also a flickr page for the parkrun, with a few of people taking photos on iPhones (I’ll throw some up if/when they’re uploaded). Results were out by 1pm. I’d be happy to call it my home parkrun!

2015-08-29 - St Helens runMy run was ok. I was pretty excited for this one, since it’d be the first parkrun in ages when I’d be able to run on fresh legs – no gym or run the day before. Foolishly, I went out to see my old drama group do Sweeny Todd (very good, by the way… clearly quality improves when I’m not involved) and stayed out until about half one. I got into bed around 2, sober, but couldn’t get to sleep. I got up at about quarter to eight after about 5 hours of sleep. So, dreams of a fresh run were dashed.

As usual, though, once you start most of these little gripes disappear. I felt like it was a good run, slightly more consistent than usual. As you can see from my Nike+ report, my GPS is crap – it looks like I’d had a few drinks before I decided to start. Hence, the report reads 3.18 instead of 3.11 miles – still, that’s 5 seconds off the Widnes parkrun the week before. See my times here.

Main points

  • Laps: 3.5
  • PB potential: Medium – hill might slow you down, as might the start…
  • Facilities: None that I saw. Free tea, coffee, and biscuits.
  • First-time friendly? Yes!

3 things I learned from Liverpool’s local election results (number 2’s a shocker!)

My to-do list is scary. Actually, there’s no single to-do list, but rather a range of different to-do lists scribbled over different apps. Things have gotten so bad that I’ve made a to-do list which comprises solely of ‘sort out to-do lists’. How meta.

One of the things that’s been sitting on a few of my to-do lists is to put Liverpool’s local election results into STATA and see if the data throws up anything interesting (I know, I need to calm down). Funnily enough, the data confirms a lot of what I had already accepted as fact. This is good for me, since I’m the kind of person who prefers statistics to case studies or ‘common knowledge’.

Anyway, I thought instead of just hiding the results away and perhaps forgetting about them, I’d throw them into a little blog post.

NB: the graphs below will not look great because STATA seems designed to impede the production of presentable graphs. Also, spoiler: number 2 isn’t really a shocker, I just hoped a Buzzfeed-style title would draw in an audience. Next week: 6 things the Liverpool Tories did which lost them votes (you won’t believe number 3!).

1) Labour’s vote was more efficiently spread than the Conservative’s vote

The graph above shows that, on average, both Labour and the Liberals did better in Liverpool on any % vote share than the Conservatives could expect to do. This suggests that the Conservative vote was more concentrated in safe wards, and coupled with the fact that many Labour-leaning wards were smaller, meant that the Conservatives had to work harder to translate votes into seats.

However, there were two local boundary reforms between 1945 and 2003. It stands to reason that changing how Liverpool was divided up would impact on the translation of votes into seats. The next graph breaks up the period into the three boundary regimes.

SS by VS LE by BO

As we can see, until 1952 the relationship between vote share and seat share was almost exactly the same for the two main parties. However, the 1952 local boundary reforms significantly benefitted the Labour party – on average, a vote share of 40% for both parties would result in ~30% seat share for the Conservatives, whilst Labour could expect ~50% of the seats.

Following the 1973 boundary reform, the Conservatives were further harmed by a concentration of votes in a small number of wards, meaning that even when their voters turned out in high numbers, the party could expect a significantly lower seat share – on 35% vote share the Conservatives could expect just over 20% of the seats, compared to Labour’s 40% and the Liberal’s 35%.

Overall, these results suggest that Labour’s vote was indeed spread more efficiently across the city than the Conservative’s vote was. However, when the Liberals replaced the Conservatives as the main opposition to Labour, they did not suffer with this problem to anywhere near the same extent.

2) Labour did better when turnout was high

VS by TO by BO

Again, if we choose to split this period up into the three different set of boundaries we can see three different patterns emerge.

In the first period, we see that in fact higher turnout tends to slightly benefit the Conservatives at the expense of the Liberals. This relationship is minor, however, and the Liberals were goosed either way. Turnout seemed to have no impact on the Labour vote.

Between 1953-73, we do see a strong decline in Conservative vote share as turnout increases. Indeed, this is almost totally as a result of the rise of the Labour vote. This suggests that it was Labour that lost elections, rather than the Conservatives winning them, by not getting enough supporters to vote. Labour apathy benefitted the Tories.

In the third period, we see a similar pattern, but with different parties. Low turnout now seems to benefit the Liberals, and as turnout increases both Labour and the Conservatives can expect to increase their vote share. However, this result is skewed somewhat by the anomalous 1979 local election result (the three dots to the far right). This local election was held at the same time as the 1979 General Election, at the end of the unpopular Callaghan government. As such, both turnout and Conservative vote share are exaggerated here, and without this year included the Conservative trend line becomes much flatter, suggesting that over this period as turnout increases Conservative vote doesn’t change.

However, the third period hides important changes in the effects of turnout on Conservative vote share, due to the party’s rapid decline from 1973 to 2003. If we split the third period into decades (nb the 1990s includes up until 2003…), a clearer picture emerges.

In the 70s, there was a slightly negative relationship between turnout and vote share. This became more dramatic in the 1980s, somewhat explained by high-stake elections in the 1980s surrounding Militant, which would generate higher turnout from its supporters, whilst Conservative voters would face pressure to vote Liberal to keep the trots out. Finally in the 1990s/early 2000s, we see that as vote turnout increases the Conservative vote share increases slightly, but this is all pointless because they rarely top 10%…Con VS by Dec in 70-03

3) The Liberals took more votes from the Conservatives than Labour

This statement passes for common knowledge in the political history of Liverpool, and is justified by the data. VS by Lib VS 2

We can see that in 1953-73, as the Liberal vote increased, the Conservative vote declined whilst the Labour vote remained static. This suggests that the Liberals were indeed taking votes from the Conservatives whilst barely denting the Labour vote. What should be noted though is that, on average, it took a Liberal vote of over 10% in this period for Labour to best the Tories (although as previously mentioned, even with the Conservatives ahead in the popular vote Labour could still win a much greater seat share).

Between 1973 and 2003, the Liberals begin to take votes from both the Conservatives and Labour – although for every percentage increase in the Lib vote share the Conservatives suffer to a greater extent than Labour do (based on the steepness of the line).

Obviously, this is only a basic analysis of election results. There is still plenty to do which could generate quite a bit of new knowledge (and plenty more which would generate nothing). So far though, the ‘received wisdom’ seems to be legit.

NB: if you’ve got any comments/tips/advice/demands for money let me know either in the comments or on twitter, @DavidJeffery_.

Widnes parkrun review

I’m still in Liverpool, so my travels took me to Victoria Park, for the Widnes parkrun.

The first thing I noticed was that the park is surrounded by residential streets, and since there isn’t any dedicated parking space I had to squeeze in on the pavement where I could. Despite arriving about 20 minutes early space was already sparse so do leave time for space searching – or get public transport/walk.

The course is three and a half laps. Generally, I don’t like laps since the thought of ‘another two to go’ can be quite draining, but the park is very nice and there’s plenty to keep you distracted as you run round. There is only one tricky turn on the route, which is a sharp left as you approach the lake. Today the course was fairly dry, but there were a few leaves, some mud, and bird and dog poo (at least, I assumed it was dog…) around the lake, so it’s not unimaginable that someone taking the corner too fast could slip into the lake. In fact, I’d pay good money to see that happen. Nike+ reported just 37 feet of elevation over the whole three laps.

It’s hard to miss the starting point here, right next to the pavilion in the centre of the park. The paths were fairly wide so there didn’t seem to be much bunching at the start, despite there being 150-odd people present. There were a lot of volunteers today, and one of them took the children who weren’t running to the first marshall point to cheer on runners – a nice touch if you don’t want offspring to ruin your PB chances, like they ruined your finances and social life. The volunteers were all very supportive here, smiling and clapping as I ran past, although at the finish line I did hear one of them having to ask how long the course was…! Also, nobody here seems to take it too seriously so the vibe is quite relaxed – I spotted very few club shirts. When I’d finished, I did see one woman hand her son (I hope…) a water bottle and run along side him as he drank it. That was probably a bit too much. Calm down.

The website says there is a coffee social after each parkrun, in the park’s cafe which opens at 10am. Since it started to rain I didn’t stay, but I think things like that are a nice touch if you enjoy social interaction. There was also a photographer there today – I’m not sure how regular of an occurrence this is, but it meant I had to control my usual ‘I-hate-the-world-and-everyone-in-it’ run face as I passed him. I look forward to the inevitable embarrassing gurns captured forever (if there are any, I imagine they’ll be put on the event’s Flickr profile here). Results were sent out before 1pm.

Overall, the Widnes parkrun was enjoyable. It’s another young’un, this being the 32nd event and again I can see it developing a strong community. However, for me, the 3.5 laps means that Croxteth Park just edges to the finish.

2015-08-22 - Widnes run

My run felt good but my energy dipped early on – it didn’t help that I’d be doing leg exercises in the gym the day before (I refuse to use the term leg day) – and the laps got to me. I just find myself getting bored. Early on I counted 7 guys ahead of me, and so I set a goal of holding my place and finishing in the top ten. As Nike+ shows, in a bid to pull away early I probably went off a bit too fast, and then my average speed fell from 6’05/mile to 6’43/mile. Either way, I still finished in 9th place which I’m happy about, but after my next triathlon I’ll be throwing in some speed, hill, and pacing work to build some consistency in my running. See my times here.

Main points

  • Laps: 3.5
  • PB potential: High – as long as you don’t fall in the lake, and you don’t mind laps.
  • Facilities: None, until the cafe opens at 10. Plenty of seats in the centre for spectators. Flickr profile here.

Update: here are the two pictures I could find of me. As always, I’m looking glam and dressed to impress.

Widnes Parkrun start Widnes Parkrun

Credit to Waldemar Rutkowski.

Croxteth Hall parkrun review

Since I’m still in Liverpool, I decided to go further afield for my weekly parkrun – and drove on down to Croxteth Hall parkrun.

The course is a single lap, on pretty flat terrain (Nike+ reported an elevation of 20ft, which was barely noticeable). The path is a mixture of concrete and trail which, despite recent showers, wasn’t too muddy and there were plenty of volunteers lining the course so it was hard to get lost. There were a few dog walkers on the route, but apart from that the park was fairly quiet. A lot of the route was in the shade, so on sunny days it would probably stay quite cool and you wouldn’t need your factor 50 (though I won’t be held responsible for any dodgy tan lines you might end up with).

My only complaint was that the start was very cramped, with many slower runners (including children) at the front. This carried on for perhaps the first half-mile of the run. I imagine this could be sorted fairly easily by asking people who are hoping for a sub-20 finish to move to the front, sub-25 just behind them, etc.

Either way, this is a minor gripe (and common to a lot of parkruns). The park is lovely – especially the grand Croxteth Hall – the route is flat, and the volunteers were all very friendly and encouraging. The onsite parking is convenient (and less than 5 minutes away from the starting point – which is right next to Croxteth Hall), and so are the toilets. Although only young (this was only the 23rd iteration), the organisation was slick – I can easily see the run regularly passing the 200 runners mark as word spreads.2015-08-15 - Croxteth Hall run

My run was good – I always find new locations mentally easier since I concentrate on the surroundings and forget about the effort/exhaustion. Compared to last week’s parkrun, I was 22s quicker – but that’s probably due to the lack of hills rather than improved fitness. See my times here. I’m hoping to get back to the 19m-somethings, and then eventually sub-19m… MamaJ also enjoyed the route, with the horses grazing an added bonus.

Main points

  • Laps: 1
  • PB potential: High – could get slippy after a bit of rain though. That might mean you move quicker, or it might mean you break your neck…
  • Facilities: Toilets, onsite car parking, playground (meant to be for kids, but I had a little swing as I waited for MamaJ to finish)

Me, myself, and my research: an introduction and an explanation.

It’s been five months since I started my PhD, and I can honestly say I feel like it’s just my second week. The time is flying by, and I have very little I can point to in the way of work – and yet I tell myself I’ll have time to maintain a blog.

For my first post I thought it would be a good idea, to paraphrase Maria from The Sound of Music (I won’t make a habit of that, don’t worry – habit, because she was a nun – keep up) to “start at the very beginning” since it’s “a very good place to start”. She was a wise gal.

For my PhD, the beginning is best summed up by my research proposal. Over the course of three to four months, I spent my free time frantically searching for relevant literature which would address the broad question that was forming in my mind – What caused the Conservative electoral decline in Liverpool? Part of me wanted to find an answer, to show that I wasn’t the only person interested in the topic, whilst another part was desperate to continue to hit a brick wall – funding proposals are always stronger when you can say you’re plugging a gap in the literature.

As time went on, I realised that there had been no comprehensive study of the Conservative decline in Liverpool (or indeed any other Northern city) – there had been studies into the decline in Scotland, but often a nationalist aspect was invoked to explain this sudden collapse of the Scottish Conservatives, whilst the Welsh were never one for the Tories to begin with.

Instead of finding works that would answer my question directly, I instead increasingly found myself stumbling across different frameworks that could be applied to Liverpool. I couldn’t believe my luck – within a few months I had developed a proposal which I was really proud of. I’m happy to say that it survived reviews from more than ten different academics (including about 8 potential supervisors) without any significant changes being suggested, and it secured funding from a few ESRC Doctoral Training Centres. In the end, I plumped for London, and that’s how I ended up at Queen Mary.

The point of this blogpost, however, is not the nice background story (perfect for a film adaptation, I think) but instead to explain the base of my research, the document which shapes what I will be spending the next 3-4 years studying, and how I will be conceptualising the problem of Conservative decline in Liverpool.

My proposal focused on six different hypotheses, which can broadly be considered under the headings of ‘exogenous’ and ‘endogenous’ factors. Under each, I will sketch out some initial thoughts/findings.

Exogenous factors

  1. Religion and class: The replacement of religion with class as the basis for party support eroded the Conservative vote (Butler and Stokes: 1974).

I was initially excited by this prospect, but this has dimmed somewhat. As I hope to make clear in later blogposts, Conservative decline began in earnest around 1969, and again in 1979. Religious dealignment seems to have occurred following the Education Act of 1870 up until 1945, but mainly between the wars. Thus there is no reason why it would take until 1969 for the effects to filter through (and to filter through so suddenly).

  1. ‘Vote drain’: A process of suburbanisation led to Conservative voters leaving Liverpool, thus creating a ‘vote drain’. (Jackson: 1985).
  2. Economic restructuring: The replacement of the traditional casual labour force with a large public sector workforce led to an increase in support for Labour (Blais et al: 1990).

For me, 2 and 3 are related. Liverpool’s population approximately halved between 1931 and 2001, from a peak of around 850,000 to 420,000 as the city underwent a long-term economic decline. Taking into account death, there must still been a large-scale outward migration flow as people sought out better opportunities throughout the country (and perhaps even further afield). It stands to reason that those who could leave were more likely to be wealthier, with greater occupational mobility – this screams out the middle classes (and perhaps upper-working class), as well as the children of better off families, who would leave Liverpool for university etc. and not return – thus not ‘replacing’ their parents in the local electorate when they died. Simply put, it is possible that Tory voters were more able (and thus more likely) to leave Liverpool – this would contribute to a long term structural decline in the Conservative vote share in the city.

This would have the effect of leaving the public sector as the prime source of middle class employment, and since public sector workers are more likely to vote Labour, we can see a shift of middle class support from the Conservatives to Labour.

This idea ties in with a new hypothesis I have been developing – socialisation – which I will explore below.

Endogenous factors

  1. Policy difference: A divergence of policy preferences between the public and the Conservatives (Seawright and Curtice: 2008).

I do not see policy preferences making a significant difference to Conservative party support – as is well documented, the average voter has very little knowledge of policy proposals. Furthermore, many Conservative leaders and policies  resonated with the ‘working class’ (e.g. Right to Buy), and yet Liverpool did not seem to mirror the increased Conservative support seen elsewhere.

  1. Perception: A failure of the Conservative Party to represent the interests of northern cities like Liverpool.

I think perceptions will tie in to socialisation, below.

  1. Structural problems: A decline in the local party association in Liverpool (Whiteley and Seyd: 2003).

I admit to being excited by this idea at first – but Ball’s magisterial Portrait of a Party, and Ramsden’s forensic biography of the Conservative Party between 1940-1957 and 1957-1975 highlighted the relative lack of importance attributed to local party structures – the Tories still did well, even when the local association was in periods of crisis in the 1950s and 1960s.  More recent studies have shown that local electioneering probably doesn’t make a significant impact on the final outcome of elections – and even if it did, it seems clear to me that a decline in the party association would follow – rather than cause – a decline in vote share (and indeed would probably be quite a delayed reaction, since those involved in party associations tend to be loyalists, who are willing to be involved even when winning is an unlikely prospect).

7? Socialisation

Socialisation was not part of my original research proposal, but is an idea that has grown out of my research so far. The basic premise of socialisation is that one’s political identity is significantly shaped by the period one grows up in – someone who had their formative years during the the 1870s will most likely hold different values to someone who grew up following World War 2.

The next step in my research is to sketch out a model of socialisation in Liverpool for various cohorts, and predict how they would be likely to vote (of course, no cohort ever votes in a uniform manner – there is variety – but I am referring to trends/likelihoods/probabilities).

Broadly speaking, I think those who were socialised before World War I would be more inclined to see politics as a Conservative vs. Liberal contest – they would have grown up in a time when Labour was not a viable contender, and thus would be less likely to trust them. As this cohort aged, and the Liberals were replaced by the socialists as the main opposition to the Conservatives, it is indeed possible that many Liberal voters would rather back the Conservatives than the party they see as replacing/destroying their first choice.

For those who grew up in the interwar years, they would be used to an era of Conservative electoral dominance. They would be left with the lasting idea that the Conservatives were the natural party of government, and perhaps they reflected this in their electoral choices.

It is not until 1945 that Labour is able to form a successful, stable, majority government that lasts a full parliament. Those whose formative years fell during this period would be shaped by horrors of World War II, would perhaps reflect favourably on the post-war welfare state, and would certainly not see Labour as an upstart party. For these voters, the contest was between the Tories and Labour, and there is evidence that these voters tended to lean towards Labour. Voters born between 1945-1952 would have been eligible to vote first in the 1970 general election (due to the lowering of the voting age to 18 in the Representation of the People Act 1969) – this roughly corresponds to the start of Conservative electoral decline.

Furthermore, there is the potential for a ‘positive reinforcement’ mechanism (not so positive for the Conservatives, however) – as Conservative voters left Liverpool the city became more left-wing/Labour-voting. This could have created and perpetuated an environment where it was ‘normal’ to be Labour, and thus the default option for new voters being born. Additionally, those who were Conservative may have sought out new places to live which better reflect their political persuasion.

That is a very rough sketch of my socialisation model, and hopefully I will be able to go into greater depth as time goes on.

So, that is my research as it stands so far!

Please do comment with your thoughts, suggestions, reading recommendations etc.!