upon the tenth British Election Study, Critical Elections brings
together leading scholars of parties, elections and voting
behaviour to provide the first systematic overview of long-term
change in British electoral politics up to 1997.
· Part 1 analyzes new patterns of party competition by
evaluating changes in party ideology, parliament, party members
· Part 2 assesses the case for the emergence of new social
alignments by analyzing voting behaviour in terms of class,
race, region, and gender and the decline of voter turnout.
· Part 3 focuses attention on the evidence for new issue
alignments by examining the impact of left-right ideology, the
key issues of Europe and devolution and the rise of 'new
This book will provide an invaluable lens through which to view
and understand comtemporary British politics, using a common
intellectual framework throughout and concluding with a summary
discussion of the extent to which 1997 British General Election
can be considered a critical realignment.
It will be essential reading for all researchers, practitioners
and students of British party politics, elections and voting
behaviour and political sociology.
"A splendid collection from Britain's
most dynamic psephologists."
David Lipsey, The Economist.
"An excellent account of how we have got here, a landslide New
Labour victory, from there, almost two decades of uninterrupted
Conservative Government, with expert analyses on the
interrelated themes of party, social influences and issue
Richard Rose, University of Strathclyde.
"Critical Elections assembles the leading scholars of British
electoral politics to provide a rich analysis of the forces that
propelled Tony Blair and New Labour to victory in 1997. Even
more valuable, by placing this election in the context of
long-term trends, this book makes an important contribution to
the study of British politics and electoral change in modern
democracies. While it is yet unclear whether 1997 represents a
critical election, it is certain that this book should be
considered critical reading for scholars in the field."
Russell Dalton, UC Irvine
West European Politics Review by Herbert Kitschelt, Duke
The analysis of alignments and realignments in electoral
politics is a long-standing pursuit of political science, but
rarely do two important books on this topic appear within a
single year. While both studies employ very different analytical
techniques and deal with different countries, Britain and
France, they share a commitment to the long-term analysis of
voter alignments. Moreover, both books speak to broad
theoretical concerns in the comparative study of parties and
elections and are thus well worth reading for almost anyone
interested in comparative electoral politics.
It is the strength of the volume edited by Evans and Norris to
provide a technically sophisticated, yet theoretically
penetrating analysis of British electoral behavior over several
decades, including the 1997 election. Contrary to most edited
books, the individual chapters complement each other so neatly
that the final product has more the character of a coherent
monograph. The common theme is to determine whether Labour's
victory in 1997 represents a realignment in electoral partisan
coalitions or only an incremental adjustment that may be easily
reversible. With some violence to the subtlety of the finely
crafted empirical analyses throughout the book's 14 chapters,
the basic thrust of the editors' data interpretation is that the
realignment is more visible at the level of political elite
programmes and strategies than that of popular electoral
behaviour. In this sense, chapters by Budge and by Norris show
that it is party and leadership strategies that changed and
'sold' the Labour opposition party's centrist reform programme
to its electoral constituency, yet not a dramatic shift in
citizens' policy preferences that would have made Labour more
attractive to a new coalition of groups.
In fact, data about individual level voter conduct suggest that
1997 was no realigning election in many ideological respects. As
David Sanders shows, most of the ideological dispositions that
predicted the partisan vote in 1997 also shaped voter choices in
previous elections. Where policy preferences do become weaker
predictors in 1997, the decline results from Labour's steadfast
adherence to centrist appeals in the electoral campaign.
Overall, the conclusion of the editors, Evans and Norris,
appears to be on the mark that the strategic centrism of the
Labour Party (but not the Conservatives) induced electoral
partisan realignment, while simultaneously gradual dealignment
reduces the predictive power of social structural background
variables for citizens' party choice. Thus, the chapter by
Evans, Heath and Payne diagnoses a further decline in class
voting in 1997. The evidence on differential turnout by
geographical districts suggests that Labour's centrism
demobilised its core working class constituencies. Nevertheless,
there are some sharply contoured electoral features of the new
dominant party. Thus, Labour is strongly over-represented among
younger and highly educated women, Scots, and ethnic minorities
of all kinds.
Editors and authors realise that it is all but impossible to
give an exhaustive and conclusive answer to the (re)alignment
question based on the 1997 election alone (e.g., pp.xxvi-xxvii).
Whether that election signalled a realignment, we might know in
20 years when we have information on three to four subsequent
parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, the book does its best to
relate 1997 to British electoral history and thus allows us to
determine at least whether the 1997 election continues trends or
represents a break with the past that could indicate either a
single deviant election or a long-term realignment.
Scholars working on electoral politics in other democracies or
in comparative perspective may read the Evans/Norris volume as a
model of the state of the art analytic reasoning and statistical
techniques that should be brought to bear on the field as a