This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Despite expenses, incumbent MPs do well

One of the most intriguing – and unexpected - features of Thursday’s election was the relative success of local, incumbent, MPs. The BBC/ITN/Sky exit poll found that in Labour held seats with new candidates, the Con-Lab swing was 7.5%. But in seats with incumbents, the swing was just 4%. The former would have been enough to win a majority for the Conservatives.

The latter was not. In other words, all the work put in by the much maligned incumbent members of the Parliamentary Labour Party over the last few years in their constituencies – holding surgeries, answering letters, dealing with constituents’ problems and so on – may have been enough to prevent a Conservative majority.

Of the top 100 Conservative targets, there were just nine Labour-held seats which the Conservatives did not take. Of these nine, eight were held by incumbent MPs.

You can see this in seats close to the University of Nottingham, where one popular hardworking local MP, Vernon Coaker, survived, despite holding exactly the sort of seat that the Conservatives were winning elsewhere. And in Broxtowe, right next door to the University, another equally hard working and popular local MP, Nick Palmer, almost hung on, limiting the Lab-Con swing to just 2.6%, and losing by a mere 389 votes.

Of course, there can be other factors involved. Lots of these target seats had relatively large non-white populations, for example, and there is some evidence that those types of seats also performed better for Labour.

What’s surprising, though, is that there is any effect at all. A growing incumbency factor has been building up in recent elections, but most people suspected that the expenses scandal would counter-act that this time – that this may be the very worst election to be an incumbent, and the best to be a challenger. Not so. It may be that with many of the ‘worst’ expenses offenders gone, expenses was nullified as an issue – and that those remaining MPs were able to dig in.

Professor Philip Cowley


  1. Counterpoint.

    Incumbency is a bonus, undoubtedly,except where expenses came into play for that specific MP.

    Examples: Younger-Ross lost Newton Abbot witha massive swing against, but Adrian Sanders held Torbay with a massive swing in his favour. Younger-Ross had made some very dodgy claims and been criticised for a deal made on his flat, Adrian was pretty much spotless.

    Tessa Munt took Tory Wells on a large swing to the Lib Dems, despite the rest of the Tory/LD marginals swinging away. Jacqui Smith is gone, Hazel Blears lost a massive chunk of her majority, etc.

    The only explanation I can see for some of the random results, with all three parties losing safe-ish MPs, is expenses; virtually all of those lost unexpectedly had a problem with expenses.

  2. And yet voters did not punish the parties where MPs stepped down after being caught in serious expenses scandals. The Tories did quite well in Gosport where 'floating duck island' claimer Sir Peter Viggers had been MP; Labour kept Luton South and lost only 2,000 voters on 2005; the three seats where the previous MP has been charged with false accounting did not step out of line with their neighbours.

    Perhaps one thing which helped Labour in inner London (one of the best areas) was that inner London MPs never got the second home allowance, so couldn't be accused of abusing it.


Please feel free to post comments, but please note comments are moderated, and offensive or inappropriate comments will not be published.