Now maybe not all of your are as au fait with the concept of swing as David Butler or Peter Snow so here it is in a nutshell. It is the difference between the percentage of a party’s vote in one election compared to the previous election. It is a little bit more complicated than that. The best way to explain it is using an example from a Parliament research paper.
The largest national swing from one party to another was in the 1945 general election. There was an average swing of 12 percent from the conservatives to labour. This great labour landslide resulted in a majority of 145 seats.
I watched my first general election at the age of 9. Whilst my family was not overtly political there was a general acceptance that politics mattered and a general election was a big deal. It was because of this mum told us all take bedding, mattresses and pillows down stairs. I suppose as a child doing something so out of the ordinary it didn’t really matter if you were interested in politics or not, it was fun and exciting but as it happened I loved politics. The year was 1987. Out of all the things that happened that year this was the thing I remembered most. Not the kidnapping of Terry Waite or Arsenal winning the football league for the first time in their history but the Election of a conservative government with Margaret Thatcher at the helm for a third consecutive victory.
Growing up in a small mining town in North East Derbyshire this mattered. My family weren’t really working class but I lived in a community where mining had been its life blood.
On Thursday 11th of June I stayed up I think the latest I had ever stayed up. It was long enough to see Roy Jenkins defeated by George Galloway in Glasgow Hillhead. As a child I didn’t really know much about Roy Jenkins but I knew he was important. I must have fallen asleep around 1am probably for the best after all it was a school night.
We all love a good swingometer. Most people associate the swingometer with Peter Snow, cousin of Game of Thrones news reader Jon Snow. Peter however only popularised it. It was invented by another Peter, academic Peter Milne. By 1959 the so-called Sultan of Swing David Butler and Bob McKenzie had made some alterations and with a bit of BBC production magic, a full-sized swingometer was born. The genius of the swingometer was its ability to predict, based on uniform nation swings across the country, what that would look like in terms of seats in Westminster.
Following the death of Bob McKenzie in 1981, the swingometer fell into disuse, the BBC instead opting for computer generated graphics and data. When the revamped swingometer made a come back for the 1992 General Election, the roll of swinger in chief fell to the 6’5 television presenter Peter Snow.
By the 2005 the BBC went all out with green screen technology using not only a virtual swingometer but a virtual Downing Street and House of Commons.
Election guru David Butler was not a big fan of where the BBC took the swingometer. I think making it 3D was a good thing, recognising the increased complexity of a mutli-party system but I see his point that some of the VR graphics were becoming increasingly bizarre. Jeremy Vine will be making his 3rd outing as the swinger in chief for the election of 2017.
No one was quite expecting it but the 2017 General Election campaign is now underway. I will be giving my 6 week long daily countdown with information about UK general elections. This is not a partisan blog but a treasure trove of interesting facts about UK elections. I trust you enjoy reading and all contributions welcome.