The Economist’s political map of the UK: the north/south divide revealed

by Stephen Tall on April 21, 2013

Here’s the traditional political map of the UK, each constituency colour-coded to the winning party:

UK-Political-Map1 (1)

It’s a map which flatters to deceive. The Tories appear to be the dominant force across pretty much the whole of England. The Lib Dems’ strength through the celtic fringe appears to put us pretty much on a par with Labour.

The Economist has this week done something very simple: create a political map which equalises the size of constituencies and colour codes according to the turn-out for the winning party…

economist 2 nations map

The result is stark: the two-party state of the UK is clearly revealed. It turns out that the UK is also divided into red states and blue states. As the Economist notes:

Save for a belt of Tory hills and dales across North Yorkshire and the Lake District, the north is red—as are, barring nationalists, Wales and Scotland. The south is deep blue, strikingly so in the surrounds of London (it gets more Liberal Democrat to the west). Only in London and the Midlands do the parties seem to be in real competition.

It’s a far cry from this famous 2001 Lib Dem poster:


Four points:

  1. The Economist map only shows results under first-past-the-post: it therefore exaggerates the extent of support for both Labour and the Conservatives.
  2. The map nonetheless highlights the retreat of the Tories from the north and Labour from the south. This is dangerous for both parties, as there is a likely spiral effect, with each becoming more remote from the concerns of the voters in the areas they don’t represent.
  3. This makes the case for both Labour and the Tories to consider proportional representation at local elections for their own sakes: to increase their representation at the grassroots in areas where otherwise they’ve been wiped out.
  4. Finally, the need to decentralise power from Whitehall: for almost all power to be controlled by Westminster when no party can speak for the nation as a whole is dangerous for democratic legitimacy.

PS: for anyone whose preconceptions have been up-ended by the new political map, here’s some solace courtesy of The West Wing and the Peters projection map of the world…

(Available on YouTube here.)

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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