Our constituency has only ever had three MPs: a Thatcher ally removed after he turned out to be quite possibly the greatest heel in Tory history (in a competitive field); a diligent but unremarkable backbencher, ejected to make room for a SPAD on the fast-track; and the SPAD himself
This post was updated on 19 January 2024 and includes data from a 15 January YouGov opinion poll.
The chart shows 36 years of Hertsmere General Election voting, from the Thatcher high water mark of 1983 (the biggest landslide since Labour’s 1945 win) to 2019’s big result for Johnson, via that other high water mark – Blair’s even bigger 1997 landslide.
The Hertsmere Parliamentary constituency has only existed since 1983. Before it there was a constituency called South Hertfordshire that itself only lasted for three general elections. Cecil Parkinson was Hertsmere’s first MP. He had entered Parliament in the 1970 general election that brought the Conservatives under Edward Heath to power. Parkinson became a close ally of Margaret Thatcher and joined her cabinet in 1979. He moved to the new Hertsmere constituency for the 1983 election (the ‘Falklands election’), when he also ran the successful Conservative election campaign. He resigned later that year, after a particularly grim scandal and, although he had returned to the cabinet in the meantime, stepped down again on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation and left the Commons in 1992 (ennobled, of course), to be replaced in Hertsmere by James Clappison, who went on to be a popular and hard-working constituency representative – always a backbencher – for five Parliamentary terms.
Clappison was summarily dumped by his party – one of those brutal ejections that the Conservatives are fond of, for the 2015 election. History records that Hertsmere very nearly became home to one Boris Johnson. In the event, though, Johnson was installed in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and we got David Cameron adviser Oliver Dowden instead. Local boy Dowden is also a hard-working constituency MP, visible in the area and always ready to support local causes. He’s had an interesting few years, first promoted to a junior ministerial role by Theresa May. His period as Culture Secretary under Boris Johnson took in the pandemic and a pandemic bail-out for theatres and art galleries. Moved to the holding position of Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party he took up the Culture Wars with a vigour that some found surprising. In that period he famously endorsed privet hedges and took up arms against unisex toilets and woke road signs.
For a second-tier politician, Dowden’s always been pretty close to the action (once a Number 10 staffer, always a Number 10 staffer). He was first to endorse Johnson to replace Theresa May but also first to resign as Johnson’s final crisis began. Joining #TeamRishi was another low-key masterstroke for our operator, although his return to the front bench was delayed by that weird 49-day Liz Truss thing, during which Dowden was very much on the outside (we learn that he was partying with #TeamRishi at a hotel in Leicester Square the night before Kwasi Kwarteng’s dismissal. Schadenfreude, much?). Ultimately, of course, Sunak was choppered in by the membership and Dowden’s (quite short) period in the wilderness was over. There was some speculation at the time that he wouldn’t stand at the next general election, which can take place no later than 28 January 2025. At this writing (19 January 2024) he has not declared his candidacy but it seems likely he’ll stand.
So, back to the elections. What all the results in our chart have in common, of course, is the winner. Hertsmere has been a comfortably Conservative seat for its whole history. Even the Blair revolution, in which Labour took 418 Parliamentary seats, the largest number ever held by a UK party, couldn’t (quite) touch that and, since then, although Corbyn narrowed the gap a bit in that surprising 2017 result, the Tories are now further ahead in Hertsmere than they’ve ever been.
In some ways, the Liberals’ trajectory in the constituency since 1983 is the grimmest of all – essentially a steady fall from a quarter of the vote – and second place ahead of Labour – to less than half that and a poor third place. Among the also-rans, you can see the collapse of the far-right parties as their platforms have been absorbed by the ever-adaptable Tories.
This chart shows the Conservatives’ winning majority in Hertsmere, over the 36-year period. You can see just how close things got in 1997. It’s also interesting to note how long it’s taken the party to recover from that enormous electoral shock – essentially a whole political generation.
And this chart shows turnout over the same period, a pretty steady picture that puts Hertsmere a little above the 2019 average for the UK – although roughly in line with other constituencies with a similar, older-than-average, age profile.
To keep the top chart simple, we’ve left out the minor parties – the levitating transcendentalists from the Natural Law Party (please watch their amazing 1994 European Parliamentary election broadcast); James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, whose programme looked pretty kooky at the time but now looks like a model of sanity; the Independent Communist candidate whose vote exceeded 2% back in 19831; Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the BNP, whose Daniel Seabrook ran once in 2010 before being rendered entirely irrelevant by UKIP.
On 15 January 2024, polling company YouGov published a big national opinion poll – commissioned by the Daily Telegraph and using the gold-standard MRP technique which involves a much bigger sample than ordinary polls and clever demographic weighting. The result induced visible terror in Tory MPs and a frenzy of recrimination in the corridors and meeting rooms. For Hertsmere the projected result is dramatic but leaves Dowden in his seat:
In fact, if this actually happened, the Conservative margin in Hertsmere would still be slightly larger than it was in the 1997 Labour landslide. The Reform Party, aiming to stand everywhere, polls 10% in the YouGov estimate, which is interesting but, in Hertsmere, not material to the result.
The raw data, including the smaller-party numbers not shown above, is in this spreadsheet, with the graphs, in case you’re interested, you weirdos.
- Sources: Wikipedia, BBC and YouGov.
- The detailed voting data for the whole period – plus the January 2024 YouGov MRP polling – is in this spreadsheet.
- The Wikipedia entry for the Hertsmere constituency is typically thorough and has some detail about the boundary changes which will affect voting from the 2024 (or 2025, God help us) general election.
- The MRP technique is significantly more accurate than ordinary polling but not infallible. YouGov’s 2017 poll came very close, predicting the hung Parliament and some of the outlier results but 2019’s was less accurate, underestimating the size of Johnson’s majority.
- It took us a minute to figure out that it’s actually quite unlikely that there were 1,000 Communists in Hertsmere in 1983 and much more likely that the fact that the candidate’s surname, like the winner’s, was Parkinson, contributed to his surprising vote share. ↩︎