That set me thinking. Yesterday I voted UKIP, but I would have happily voted Conservative if iDave had said that a Tory administration would amend the smoking ban. But he didn't, so I didn't vote for him. What might have happened if he had? What if he'd offered smokers their own smoking rooms?
There are about 45 million voters in the UK electorate, and assuming that smokers make up 25% of that electorate, there are about 11 million smoking voters. Of those 11 million, I'd guess that about 10% of them are very angry about the smoking ban, while the rest are less angry, or not much bothered. Some small percentage of smokers even approve of the smoking ban (I don't understand why). So there were about 1.1 million angry smokers with votes to cast. They wanted their pubs and clubs and cafes back.
In 2005, Labour voters made up 37% of the vote, and Conservatives made up 35% of the vote, and Lib Dems 23%. Distributing the 1.1 million angry smokers in these proportions among the parties, that works out as 407,000 Labour voters, 385,000 Tory voters, and 253,000 Lib Dem voters. And given 646 constituencies, that's 630 Labour angry smokers per constituency, 595 Tories, and 390 Lib Dems - a total of 1615 angry smokers per constituency.
Without Dave's promise, these angry smokers had no-one to vote for. It didn't matter whether they voted Labour, Tory, or Lib Dem, it wasn't going to make any difference as far as the smoking ban was concerned. Some of them probably didn't vote. Or like me, they voted for a fringe party like UKIP or BNP. In all likelihood, many of them simply voted as they always had before.
But if the Conservative party had promised to amend the smoking ban, these angry smokers would have voted Conservative. And so in a typical constituency the Tory candidate would have gained another 1020 votes, and the Labour candidate would have lost 630 votes, and the Lib Dem candidate 390 votes. Or, putting it more simply, every Tory candidate would have got over 1600 more votes.
I then wondered how many extra seats the Tories would have gained with those extra 1600 votes. So I looked at a list of the top 150 target seats that the Tories had hoped to gain, and looked at the results for each one, to find the ones which they'd lost by a fairly small margin. I ended up with a list of seats which the Tories would probably have won with those extra votes. There are 18 of them:
|Target Constituency||1st place||2nd place||3rd place|
|13. St Austell and Newquay||LD 20189||C 18877||L 3386|
|47. Birmingham Edgbaston||L 16894||C 15620||LD 6387|
|58. Sutton and Cheam||LD 22156||C 20548||L 3376|
|66. Eltham||L 17416||C 15753||ld 5299|
|72. Halifax||L 16278||C 14806||LD 8335|
|79. Wirral South||L 16276||C 15745||LD 6611|
|86. Bolton West||L 18327||C 18235||LD 8177|
|91. Gedling||L 19821||C 17962||LD 7350|
|99. Mid Dorset and North Poole||LD 21100||C 20831||L 2748|
|120. Hampstead and Kilburn||L 17332||C 17290||LD 16491|
|130. Derby North||L 14896||C14283||LD 12838|
|141. Telford||L 15974||C 14996||LD 6399|
|151. Wakefield||L 17454||C 15841||LD 7256|
|169. Blackpool South||L 14448||C 12597||LD 5082|
|174. Middlesbrough South and Cleveland||L 18138||C 16461||LD 7340|
|187. Plymouth Moor View||L 15433||C 13845||LD 7016|
|193. Walsall North||L 13385||C 12395||LD 4754|
|198. Southampton Itchen||L 16326||C 16134||LD 9256|
So, with 10% of the votes of Britain's smokers, the Tories would have won an extra 18 seats. Instead of the Tories getting 306 seats, and Labour 258 seats, and Lib Dems 57 seats, the actual figure would have been Tories 324 seats, Labour 243, Lib Dems 54. And the Conservatives would have been able to form a government with a majority of 1 vote in the 646 seat parliament.
Maybe more, since I've only checked the top 200 Tory target constituencies. And that's almost without trying. If the Tories had made a stronger pitch for the smokers' vote, they could have maybe got 20-30% of the smokers' vote from other parties, and would have had a majority of maybe 40 seats.
Of course, it would have cost the Tories a few votes too. But how many people, apart from diehard antismoking zealots and froth-mouth doctors, don't want smokers to even have their own smoking rooms? Hardly any, I'd imagine. Deborah Arnott would have screamed her head off, of course. But she only has one vote in any election.
So, just by promising smokers their own smoking rooms, David Cameron would have gained a small working majority. But he spurned the opportunity, and now he's trying to construct a coalition government with the Lib Dems. He threw it all away.
But he may get another chance soon. Coalition governments are fragile things. And when it all comes to bits, and we have another election in November, iDave would do well to reach out to disenfranchised smokers. Labour is not going to try and grab those votes too - or not without looking like utter hypocrites. The Lib Dems might try, but so what if they win themselves a few smokers' votes too?
So I think the smoking ban did play a significant role in the election, but largely by its absence. If the Tories had bid for smokers' votes, iDave would probably have been sleeping in 10, Downing St tonight. But he didn't, and so he isn't.
Update: Dick Puddlecote has drawn my attention to a similar argument being made on ConHome, but with the difference that it's that the UKIP vote prevented the Tories getting a majority. There's some overlap with my list, but it provides another 6 constituencies where angry smokers could have voted in a Conservative. This would have produced a Tory majority of 13:
|Constituency||1st place||2nd place||,|
|Dudley North:||L 14,923;||C 14,274;||UKIP 3,267|
|Great Grimsby:||L 10,777:||C 10,063:||UKIP 2,043|
|Morley (Ed Balls):||L 18,365;||C 17,264;||UKIP 1,506|
|Newcastle-Under-Lyme:||L 16,393;||C 14,841;||UKIP 3,491|
|Solihull:||LD 23,635;||C 23,460;||UKIP 1,200|
|Wells:||LD 24,560;||C 23,760;||UKIP 1,711|
I think both arguments can be made. I voted UKIP not so much because it's anti-EU, but because it would amend the smoking ban.