‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Want to know the politics of an area? Dig a hole

You may think that things move slowly in British politics, with all three major parties having qualified for a telegram from the Queen. 

If you look at a map from 1910, the pattern of political support is recognisably the same as today, with Conservative areas dominating rural England, Labour with heartlands in northern England, south Wales and central Scotland and Liberal support around the fringes of England, Scotland and Wales.

If you think this is antiquated, you can discern current voting patterns pretty accurately from religious buildings dating back to Victorian times, or even before. If you travel around Britain, if you find yourself in an area with small Non-Conformist (Baptist or Methodist) chapels you are almost certainly in a traditional Liberal area. The parts of the country with the grander Church of England parish churches with steeples and spires are the areas of strongest Conservative support.

If you want to go back even further, then geology can tell you pretty accurately how people still vote. If you look at a geological map of Britain, Conservative areas are built on chalk, Liberal areas on granite and slate and, perhaps less-surprisingly, Labour areas on coal.

These correlations are more than just coincidence. Religion used to (and still does) influence how people vote. Conservative support has always been strongest in the most Anglican areas, Liberal support in Non-Conformist regions and Labour has had an enduring advantage among Catholics. There is a link with the geology too. The wealthy rural Conservative areas of sheep farming on chalk downs paid for the wool churches, such as in East Anglia, the coal mining areas provided the staunchest support for the Labour Party and Liberalism was fervently supported by slate miners and hill farmers.

So, although opinion polls can give a daily picture of fluctuations in party support, you can see the lasting underlying patterns by digging a hole in the ground. Perhaps there is such a thing as a rock-solid seat after all.

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