By Rosa Mas Giralt
Earlier this week Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the UK general elections are going to take place on the 6th of May. A much expected announcement which has reignited the electoral campaigning frenzy; a campaign which will include, for the first time, live television debates between the main party leaders. Against the lingering backdrop of the financial downturn and the long 13 years of Labour government, all parties and candidates will be fighting for 650 seats. Several opinion polls have suggested that there are real possibilities of a hung or ‘balanced’ Parliament, that is no single party winning an overall majority, something which has not happened in the UK since the elections of 1974. Ironically, constituency boundary changes have increased the number of seats up for election, which in the current political climate (close poll projections between Labour and Conservatives) seems to improve the chances of a hung Parliament.
The importance of constituency boundaries and how they can be used strategically is at the heart of the relationship between geography and election studies. In an article in Geography Compass, Johnston and Pattie propose that elections are a “geographer’s delight” (2009: 1865) with plenty of spatial data to be analysed and cartographically represented. However, they suggest that geographers have not fully explored the potential contribution of a spatial study of elections; so far, they argue, geography has been considered only as the stage on which elections take place and as an illustrative way of representing results. By using a case study of the British general elections in the last 60 years, they propose a view of geography as a resource which “involves not only the drawing of the map of constituencies within which the election is fought but also the mobilisation of voters in those different territorial containers through various campaigning strategies in order to maximise electoral returns” (Johnston and Pattie, 2009: 1878). In short, they show how “in the conduct and outcome of elections, geography matters” (Ibid.).