Featured, Issues & Ideas | 23rd April 2015

Election 2015: Football lays bare the great divides in British politics

Big football teams play in big cities, and, as the truism goes, Labour is the party of England’s (and Wales’) cities.

Photo: Getty


One of the laws of politics is that the countryside votes Tory but the cities are led by Labour. And in no way is that better captured than by looking to football.

90 per cent of the teams in the Premier League play in seats represented by Labour MPs. Across the Premiership and Championship, 73 per cent of teams are in Labour seats. Big football clubs are in big cities, and the Conservatives aren’t. (As we move down the leagues, more teams in Tory-held towns start to appear.)

Yesterday morning, in a spare five minutes, I tweeted this, and my twitter feed went into meltdown for the rest of the day. Below, and with two minor tweaks, is an expanded version of the graphic.

The figure shows the five top five divisions in English and Welsh football, starting with the Premiership, then the three divisions of the football league, and ending with the Conference. In each case, the colour indicates the party that, until the dissolution of parliament, held the constituency in which the club’s ground is located.

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One of the things I really like about discussing stuff on social media is that you get great feedback, positive and negative. At its best, it’s like the very best of academic peer review.

At its best, Twitter is like the very best of academic peer review.

This was true yesterday. I’d somehow managed to miscode both Gillingham (which is Conservative) and Cambridge (Lib Dem) in my initial tweet, and people soon pointed it out. Both are now corrected. People kept querying Brighton – shouldn’t it be Green? – without realising that there are two Brighton seats. Brighton and Hove Albion’s ground is in Brighton Kemptown (which is Conservative), not Brighton Pavilion (which is Green).

It is, in fact, also right on the border with Lewes (which is Lib Dem). Indeed, the car park and entrance to the ground are in Lewes, the pitch (and crucially for my purposes, the postcode) are in Kemptown. You learn new things every day. And how can Nottingham Forest and Notts County be in different colours, given that they are so close together? Because they are in different constituencies, on either side of the Trent.

There are just three constituencies containing more than one ground: 1) Chelsea & Fulham (which is also the only constituency to feature the full names of two football/premier league clubs), 2) Birmingham Ladywood, and 3) Liverpool Walton. There’s a trivia quiz question for you.

Who cares? Well, judging from my timeline, quite a few people. Is there any point to it? Well, aside from noting that the Lib Dems are in various relegation zones a lot (ho, ho, ho…); and that blue constituencies are outnumbered, but top four of the five leagues; the most obvious thing is this extent to which Labour appears to dominate the higher leagues, but then fade as you work your way down.

Blue constituencies are outnumbered, but top four of the five leagues.

To return to the Premiership, only Chelsea (Conservative, and top) and Burnley (Lib Dem, bottom) buck the Labour trend. In the Championship, 58 per cent of clubs have their grounds in Labour seats. In League 1 that figure has fallen to 54 per cent; by League 2 you’re down to 42 per cent (the same proportion as the Conservatives); and by the Conference the proportion of grounds to be found in Labour seats has fallen to just 13 per cent, below the Lib Dems, and way below the Tories (71 per cent).

There’s also an element of a north/south divide (northern teams are in higher leagues, and southern ones in lower leagues), but then the Premier League includes Arsenal, Tottenham, Southampton, West Ham, and Crystal Palace from London, as well as West Brom, Aston Villa, Leicester, and Stoke from the Midlands. What those football clubs illustrate is the political geography of the British election.

It’s also noticeable how most of the seats housing Premier League clubs are very safe in electoral terms. With the exception of Burnley, which seems likely to turn Labour, you wouldn’t really expect any of them to change hands on 7 May (see May2015’s predictions for each seat). Chelsea could win the League this year as the only Conservative team in a league solely filled with Labour teams.

Most of the seats housing Premier League clubs are very safe in electoral terms.

In each of the Championship, League 1 and League 2 there are six or seven constituencies that are potentially interesting. Even more fascinating are the sort of places represented in the Conference, where about half of the constituencies are up for grabs. This includes the top five teams, all of which sit in marginal seats.

Malcolm Harvey worked out some similar tables for the Scottish clubs, both at Westminster and Holyrood. For those interested in Premier League Rugby, according to Thomas Lydon the breakdown is five Conservative, five Labour and two Lib Dems. Alan Algar – who claims to have scored the last ever goal at Highbury – provided me with the Vanarama Conference data.

One other thing: currently bottom of the Conference sits Nuneaton, which will also possibly be the first marginal seat to be declared on the night. Current Conservative majority of 4.6 per cent, and a Con-Lab fight, it will be the first real insight into how things might pan out. I doubt knowing that the eyes of the nation are upon them will be much compensation to the fans of Nuneaton for relegation, but every little helps.