Geography Matters: Space, Place and British Politics

By Catherine Waite

The arrival of autumn means that it is, once more, political party conference season in Britain. This week has seen the Conservative Party Conference take place in Birmingham, following those of the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats in Manchester and Brighton respectively during September. Consequently, in recent weeks, the British media has been dominated by reports of the activities, pledges and promises that have been made at these conferences. At the forefront of the discussions is the state of the economy and welfare provision, as well as continued debates about Britain’s position within the EU and, in the case of the Conservative Party Conference, the media frenzy surrounding ‘Borismania’. Alongside all of these issues an increasing number of references are being made to the forthcoming 2015 general election.

In many ways, politics is inherently geographical and just a brief perusal of the content of any geographical journal will demonstrate the numerous ways in which geography and politics are inextricably linked. Political geography is widely studied and this is reflected in its dedicated Royal Geographical Society research group, PolGRG. Within this subject more specific aspects of politics are given geographical consideration and this is evident in the recent work of Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie on electoral geography. Johnston and Pattie begin one such article by stating “Elections are a geographer’s delight” (2009:1), noting that elections produce vast quantities of mappable data which can be easily cartographically depicted using geographical information systems (GIS). Beyond this, it is clear from their more recent research, published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, that geography can play an important role in understanding voting patterns (Johnston and Pattie 2012). Understanding the dynamics of such processes and their outcomes demonstrates the significance of space, place and society in shaping the British political landscape.

So, over the next two years, in the lead up to the 2015 general election, consider the influence that geography has on politics, because in the words of Johnston and Pattie “Geography matters” (2012:12).

Johnston, R. and Pattie, C. 2009 Geography: The Key to Recent British Elections. Geography Compass 3:1865–1880

Johnston, R. and Pattie, C. 2011 The British general election of 2010: a three-party contest – or three two-party contests? The Geographical Journal 177:17–26

Johnston, R. and Pattie, C. 2012 Learning electoral geography? Party campaigning, constituency marginality and voting at the 2010 British general election Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00527.x

Young, disillusioned, and ready for Ed? The Independent 5th October 2012

David Cameron: Conservatives will never vacate the centre ground The Telegraph 6th October 2012

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