In the UK Parliament, the 2015 election results for party leaders going into the 2017 election were:

  • Theresa May, Conservative Party, Maidenhead, 65.8%. Next party is Labour Party at 11.9%. Chance of unseating negligible.
  • Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, Islington North, 60.2%. Next party is the Conservative Party at 17.2%. Chance of unseating negligible.
  • Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats, Westmorland and Lonsdale, 51.5%. Next party is the Conservative Party at 33.2%. Chance of unseating slim.
  • Caroline Lucas, Green Party of England and Wales, Brighton Pavilion, 41.8%. Next party is Labour at 27.3%.

However, in the Scottish Parliament, the 2016 election results for the Conservative Party leader is actually very marginal: 30.4% for Ruth Davidson, with the second party, SNP, at 28.6%. Chance of unseating significant.

Is there any pattern in which party leaders in UK parliaments are typically from safer seats than average MPs?

  • It's fairly categorical that the Green Party of England and Wales co-leader Caroline Lucas is standing in the safest Green Seat in the country, since it's the first one they've held, and they've yet to win another. All other parties with representatives seem to currently serve in devolved assemblies. – origimbo May 15 '17 at 19:23
  • @origimbo UKIP had one MP but its leader never won a seat, so I don't think that follows automatically. – gerrit May 15 '17 at 19:28
  • Sorry, my main thesis was that given your selection criterion was party leaders going into the 2017 election, Lucas ought to be listed. – origimbo May 15 '17 at 19:30
  • Is there any (practical or theoretical) reason to assume that this is a pattern instead of a fluke? – user4012 May 15 '17 at 19:51
  • @user4012 Possibly. Perhaps politicians who are good at gaining overwhelming trust in their local communities are also good at gaining support to become party leader; or (rather opposite/cynical) parties parachute their up-and-coming career politicians into safe seats so they reduce the risk of embarrassing losses. Imagine if the Conservative Party would gain a majority, but the PM would lose her seat. That would be embarrassing (and unprecedented?). NB, Corbyns nr. 2 McDonnell (who tells people to read Marx) gained his seat of a pro-apartheid conservative 20 years ago, now has a 35% majority. – gerrit May 15 '17 at 20:08

This is a question which we can attempt to get some figures for. Limiting ourselves to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party (since the Greens, the Northern Irish parties and the Nationalists all have broken sequences) the last 6 elected leaders had the following vote shares on accession:

  • Conservatives: 65.8% 49.3% 45.0% 48.2% 48.9% 63.6% mean 53.5%

  • Labour: 60.2% 47.3% 58.1% 60.5% 61.3% 59.4% mean 57.8%

  • Liberal Democrats: 51.5% 51.1% 52.1% 38.7% 51.4% 43.6% mean 48.1%

If we look at the 2010 general election results, we can see that 116 MPs (from 649 excluding the speaker) got a higher vote share than the average Conservative leader, versus 48 for the Labour leader and 277 for the Liberal Democrat leader. So, this paints a fairly compelling narrative that party leaders are more likely to hold a safe seat than your average MP.

On the other hand, looking at the 2010 data, half of MPs were elected with a majority of 20% or more, so it's not like there aren't a lot of safe seats out there.

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  • "116 MPs got a higher vote share than the average Conservative leader", do you mean 116 Conservative MPs? I'm a bit confused. – gerrit May 15 '17 at 20:35
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    No, that's 116 MPs in total, regardless of party. This is attacking your literal question of whether party leaders have safer seats than the average MP. I suspect to do this "right" you'd have to come up with distributions for the majority of an MP from each of the three main parties, then test the null hypothesis that the party leaders came from the same distribution. But that's too much like real work for me I'm afraid. – origimbo May 15 '17 at 22:26

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