Conservative Party support is heading south and has been for over 50 years – I mean this literally, rather than metaphorically.
In the 1955 general election the Conservatives won over half the seats in Scotland. If you look at election maps from then and since, the Conservative blue patches have nearly disappeared from Scotland and much of northern England, while the rest of England has gradually become more and more solid blue.
In the Labour high point of the 1945 election, you could travel all the way from London to Liverpool without leaving a Labour-held constituency. After the even bigger Labour win in 1997 you would only have got as far as St Albans. The Conservative blue still dominated southern England even after the party’s serious defeat.
The Conservative drift to the south is reflected in the party’s choice of leader, which in turn reinforces the party’s southern image, which in turn means that there are fewer candidates for the leadership from outside southern England. The Conservative Party becomes more and more English, and southern English at that.
When you compare the three major parties, since 1945 the Conservative Party has had 11 leaders, Labour 10 and the Liberals/Lib Dems 9, demonstrating a surprising amount of equality and stability. On average a leader of any of the major parties remains in post for over seven years.
When you look at the seats represented by the leaders of each of the parties over this time though, an interesting geographical imbalance emerges.
Liberal/Lib Dem leaders’ seats since 1945
Labour leaders’ seats since 1945
Conservative leaders’ seats since 1945
So, while the Labour and Liberal/Lib Dem leaders have included an over-representation of seats outside England (according to population), the Conservative Party has only had one leader representing a seat outside England. This was Alec Douglas-Home, who was only party leader for two years and that was half a century ago.
Tellingly, one Conservative MP described John Major as representing a ‘northern seat’. Huntingdon is not in the north of England on most people’s maps – it is not even north of Birmingham!