Final thoughts on Election Eve

Posted: June 7, 2017 in Politics


I gave up doing the analysis of seats Labour were possibly going to lose to the Tories around the country. The situation in this election has changed by the week. At the start of this campaign just over a month ago, the Tories were projected by ComRes to get 50% of the national vote, to Labour’s 25%. A landslide of enormous proportions seemed likely. Figures from the left, centre and right of the party faced ousting. Jeremy Corbyn looked like he might be heading a party of less than 150 MPs come 9th June, with no representation in Scotland and the loss of a majority of seats in heartlands like Wales and the North East.

What has happened since has been nothing short of incredible. Labour have fought a brilliant campaign while Theresa May and the Tories have floundered. This has been the biggest change in polling over the course of an election campaign. From that potential landslide, some pollsters are now predicting a hung parliament with Labour getting more votes than they did under Tony Blair in 2005. If Labour pull that off, Corbyn will have led the party through one of the greatest election campaigns in British political history, fighting the full weight of the establishment to turn a potential annihilation of the party in large parts of the country into forcing the Tories to beg for the help of Ulster unionists and the surviving Liberal Democrats to get a Queen’s speech through, and possibly another election for which Labour would clearly have the momentum.

But…there’s a problem. YouGov, the largest polling company in the country, are predicting a hung parliament, using a model that correctly predicted the result of the EU referendum and the US election despite every other polling model suggesting otherwise – they are projecting the Tories to be well short of a majority. One or two other pollsters are suggesting it might also be tight. However, there’s a huge spectrum of projections from across the pollsters. ICM and ComRes, who have based their weightings on traditional turnout by demographic instead of declared turnout, are still predicting handsome Tory wins. Likewise, Lord Ashcroft’s polling company – the only other one alongside YouGov to make specific constituency predictions – is predicting a Tory majority of over 60, similar to the sort of majority Tony Blair’s Labour Party had in 2005.

What we can establish from this is pretty obvious – no one has a fucking clue what’s going to happen.

But we can make some educated guesses based on the data and general feel of the campaign. Certainly the Tories are concerned. Theresa May’s bizarre campaign has seen her put herself forward for minimal scrutiny, minimal contact with the public, and the maximum number of attempts to lever Brexit and “strong and stable government” into any discussions about policy. People see right through it, that much is clear – I don’t think there are many voting Tory with any great enthusiasm this time. It’s a sharp turn-around from the start of the campaign when May’s personal approval ratings were so high that the Tory campaign specifically began with it being branded as “Theresa’s Team”.

But is that an indication on its own that the Tories might not win a majority? Probably not. It just suggests that they probably aren’t going to get the massive landslide initially thought. The parties do their own private polling and the panicked expressions and behaviour suggest it’s not comfortable. Beyond that, it’s impossible to tell how bleak it looks for them.

Similarly, you can’t draw too much from Labour’s campaign despite the massive rallies, suggested popular support of manifesto pledges, and the changing-of-heart of centre-left commentators to suddenly back Corbyn after two years of deriding or criticising him. But it does suggest that they aren’t heading for an electoral apocalypse.

For me, as a Labour Party member, I like what I’m seeing from the YouGov polls and other optimistic ratings, but I’m also cautiously sceptical. In particular I’m not sure about some of their lower-scale predictions, specifically individual seats. Take Canterbury, for instance – it’s been exclusively held by the Tories since 1874, and yet YouGov are currently predicting Labour to gain it by about 2%. By contrast, Ashcroft’s predicting it’ll stay Tory by 11-13%. Likewise, YouGov predict Kensington – a seat previously held by the likes of Alan Clark, Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind – will be a “toss-up” with Labour just edging it; Ashcroft’s predicting a Tory win by 8-12%.

Either way, a couple of pollsters are probably going to be catastrophically wrong. It’s the opposite to two years ago, where they all herded around the same assumed outcome and got it wrong – this time they’re all going off in different directions with different weightings and models. Anything’s possible from a Tory majority of 100 through to a hung parliament with the two parties neck-and-neck. Something’s got to give.

However, two years ago is a good example of why we shouldn’t totally dismiss YouGov based solely on the idea that they’re a bit out there with their predictions. Going the opposite way to the other “experts” and assumed knowledge can sometimes be the best way to go about things – just ask Jeremy Corbyn.

With that in mind, I’m going to pluck some figures out of the air in some predictions – it’s probably about as useful as reading the polls:

– In Scotland, the Tories will gain about 4 or 5 seats. Dumfries & Galloway, Berwickshire, and West Aberdeenshire seem likely; East Renfrewshire and Moray are the most likely other two. But the SNP will largely hold firm and won’t lose seats to Labour or the Lib Dems.

– In Wales, things will largely stay the same; the Tories won’t make further inroads, but I don’t see Labour taking more than one or two seats extra as now being predicted. Plaid face being squeezed but their vote could be concentrated more on seats they are looking to gain; I suspect they will run Labour close in Ynys Mon and the Rhondda but just miss out, but will hold on to two of their three seats for sure, with Arfon looking a bit tight.

– In the South West and South East, the Tories will continue to hold sway. I can’t see Labour making too many gains outside London here. The Lib Dems may pick up a couple of seats in places like Bath and Lewes but it’s a real stretch to see them making serious inroads; the fact is a lot of their seats here either voted Leave or at least weren’t convincingly Remain so it’s hard to see exactly where they can force the Tories out. I think Amber Rudd will hold on but with a reduced majority which will mean she has no chance of taking the Tory leadership when May goes.

– In London, Labour will do well – they have consistently done well since Corbyn took over in urban areas and I think that should continue this year. Just how many gains they will make is anyone’s guess, but they are also protecting several marginals; most of them will probably stay red. My gut feeling is, though, that they won’t quite make the substantive gains they need in places like Enfield Southgate and Finchley.

– In the Midlands, I think we’ll see a trading of seats. The Tories will pick up some of the Brexity seats like those around Stoke and Walsall, but Labour stand a good chance of taking some marginals back like Derby North and maybe my old seat of Warwick and Leamington, a strong Remain area which was Labour from 1997 to 2010. The worst case scenario is, of course, that Labour take a battering in Birmingham, Coventry and the East Midlands and aren’t able to claw back any seats at all. This could be the key battleground.

– East Anglia is almost entirely Tory and I suspect it’ll stay that way. They will probably gain North Norfolk from the Lib Dems too, unseating Norman Lamb. However, I think Clive Lewis should now hold on in Norwich South, which would be very good news for the Labour left.

– In the broadest sense, the North is currently dominated by Labour and I doubt that will change. But again I think there will be a trading of seats; Labour may lose few seats in the North East and Yorkshire where Leave votes piled up, like Middlesbrough South, Wakefield and Bishop Auckland, but they could also pick up a couple in Greater Manchester in places like Bolton and Bury. It is hard for Labour to make substantive gains here because they already hold most of the seats and a lot of the Tory seats are safe rural right-wing strongholds.

The general picture then for each party is this:

– The Tories will win a majority. My gut feeling says a majority of around 60, putting them on around 350-360 seats. I know this doesn’t quite seem to match what I’m saying but I suspect it’ll be a little bleaker than what I’m thinking on an individual seat basis

– Labour will be on around 210-220, which is a decent result all things considered, but not as good as the more optimistic pollsters are suggesting. I think the excuse will be a combination of the usual shy Tory factor, a “late Tory surge”, UKIP voters changing to the Tories at the last minute or something like that, but this has been the most likely outcome for the last couple of weeks despite my hopes otherwise

– The Lib Dems will probably end up on around 5-6 seats. Most of their current seats will go, including Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam. But they will gain a few others which will counter that, though it will be a disastrous election for them. However, I suspect Tim Farron will just hold on in Westmorland and Lonsdale. Ceredigion and Orkney & Shetland will also stay orange.

– The SNP will hold firm and Plaid won’t lose all their seats which will give a nationalist presence of around 50-55 seats

– I don’t think East Devon will go to the independent Claire Wright who YouGov are forecasting will win the seat, but it does seem like a hyper-local issue so I won’t claim to have any particular knowledge on that; it’s just hard to see it happening within YouGov’s likely general underestimation of the Tory vote, or overestimation of the liberal/centre-left vote

– I think it’ll be a lot more mundane than people are expecting. Most seats will stay the same. There won’t be too many outlandish results, although both main parties will make gains. It’ll probably head back in The direction we were expecting it too a few weeks ago when Labour started to counter the huge advantage the Tories had picked up after calling the election. It’ll be a campaign that both sides will claim to have won, but which realistically no one has really won convincingly. The Tories will be disappointed with their majority not growing as much as it could have, while Labour will come up short of that hyped hung parliament possibility and end up in another dirty, damaging leadership contest with Corbyn being challenged by another weak candidate from the right of the party. Brexit will continue as planned while all this is going on and May will hang on for another couple of years before handing over the reins.

I don’t think they’ll call another early election again – I’ve seen/heard it suggested we might get several elections and referendums in the next few years but I think it’s unlikely; knowing how much of an elitist authoritarian May is, I can’t imagine she’ll take the risk again. Sadly I fear it’ll be a pretty bleak few years, with more cuts, privatisation and stripping out of basic rights, as well as the much-feared boundary changes which will hand the Tories a huge advantage by minimising the influence of Labour/centre-left strongholds.

No to the Tories

It's a Tory landslide.jpg

But we still have a chance to stop that. Get out and vote tomorrow.


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