Amongst various other odds and ends, at the beginning of May there will be a reminder that a week is a long time in politics but five years is not much at all.
The 2010 election was advertised as a major life-changing election – a once-in-a-lifetime election – an election which could go in any direction.
The Coalition has pretty much lasted the course and looks set to survive until the formal announcement of the election (and since someone needs to be Secretary of State for Business, in terms of Government roles it will probably remain in place until a new Government is formed).
Parliament is now winding up. The Conservatives have launched their poster. Labour are committed to their leader. The smaller parties are discussing if one of them could get onto the Leaders’ Debates and then let the others in through the studio’s fire escape just before the show starts. All is getting ready for the 7th of May 2015.
2010 will, it seems, be nothing compared to the General Election of 2015.
Considering Likely Results
At present it is not terribly easy to tell which way things will swing. The UK Polling Report offers a Poll of Polls which assumes that if people voted the way they claim they will then (at around 20:00 on the 3rd of January 2015) the results will be as follows:
- Labour on 34% (enough for a majority);
- Conservatives on 31%;
- UK Independence Party on 15%;
- Liberal Democrats on 8%;
- Green Party on 5%;
- Others/ Don’t Know therefore have around 7%.
(Anyone viewing their page a few days/ months/ years later may get different results.)
The problem is that these are the results of polls of the population. These polls are answered by people:
- who may not have decided to vote yet;
- who may not have been paying attention to current affairs;
- who may be thinking of a single issue (perhaps one which is high-profile at the time);
- who may be hoping the Government will read the poll and change their policies to be more popular;
- who may just give a random answer to get rid of the pollster;
- who may not know how many different parties they can vote for.
These points have various impacts on the result. People who have not decided to vote can be left out of the poll but on the morning of the election might decide it’s worth going out – whether because things look tight, because they heard something a random party leader said the night before which clicked with them (or upset them enough to rush out and vote for the other side), because they have nothing else on or because they are inclined towards a minor party which has started to look like it might win something. Some disillusioned Lib-Dem voters may decide, on reflection, as the election approaches and they have to decide if they can really face supporting Labour, the Greens or UKIP (by voting or by staying at home) that perhaps the Lib-Dems haven’t been that terrible after all in the general circumstances. Meanwhile people who haven’t been paying attention to current affairs might think that one party is run by a bunch of clots but upon seeing their policies decide they’re worth voting for.
One never can be quite sure which policies will prove important, however much Ipsos MORI says national infrastructure is not a voter concern.
Polls also vary between asking people:
- “who are you planning to vote for?”;
- “if there was a general election tomorrow who would you vote for?”;
- “if there was a general election tomorrow would you vote Conservative, Labour, Lib-Dem or someone else?”
- “if there was a general election tomorrow would you vote Conservative, Labour, Lib-Dem, UKIP, Green, Scottish Nationalist, Plaid Cymru or for someone else?”
Of course, these four questions all raise slightly different answers. The first two aren’t that different, although the first gets more thoughts about May and the second more thoughts about immediate opinions, but skew towards familiar names; the third draws the answerer towards one of the three “classic” parties; the fourth broadens the field considerably and encourages responses for smaller parties. However, the third question reflects the fact that traditionally only two or three parties have been regarded as seriously likely to be in any way involved in Government after the election and so voters have traditionally returned to them for vote-casting.
One of the fun things about the 2015 election is that there is no guarantee that they will.
On top of the people who have not necessarily given full thought to their answers to the pollsters’ vague questions, there is also the small matter that the campaign has not started properly yet. The parties have not begun smothering the nation’s billboards:
And we have these to look forward to – possibly on a rather larger and more awkward scale:
We have of course had some by-elections lately. These are always good fun for seeing who does truly badly, but are usually won by protest parties or (occasionally) the Opposition. The electorate know that a bad appearance by a governing party at a by-election will not normally precipitate anything serious. When Harold Wilson was forced to go to the polls in 1966 after by-elections had almost eliminated his 1964 majority of 4 he was returned with a majority of 96.
The political relevance of by-elections was broadly summarised in North Minehead:
(Also note how much more navigable the A38 was before all these European immigrants arrived.)
A rough rule of thumb is that come the actual election the leading Opposition party will drop by anything between 5 and 10 points, which will transfer to the Governing party as people look at the Opposition mob properly and decide not to have them in Government. This is complicated a little in 2015:
- One of the minor protest parties has an unusually high level of support (UKIP on 15%) which may or may not stay with them come the actual vote;
- There are two Governing parties (Conservative and Lib-Dem).
It would therefore be reasonable to expect a roughly 5% drop in Labour and UKIP support (each) which would approximately transfer to a 7.5% rise for the Tories and a 2.5% rise for the Whigs. (This is fairly optimistic for UKIP. The Social Democratic Party was supposed to steamroller everyone and sail to victory in 1983. Most of its members are now in the Lib-Dems – hence the Dems bit – while a rump of the party went on to come behind the Loonies in the first Bootle by-election of 1990.) This would change the figures above (rounded off a bit) to:
- Conservative on 38%
- Labour on 29%;
- UK Independence Party on 10%;
- Liberal Democrats on 10%;
- Green Party on 5%;
- Others/ Don’t Know around 8%.
Based on the BBC’s Election Seat Calculator for the 2010 election (proposals to substantially reorganise the seat boundaries fell in Parliament, so the same electoral geography will apply and make results directly comparable) this would give seats as follows:
- Conservatives on 333 (majority of 16);
- Labour on 264;
- Liberal Democrats on 24;
- Others on 29.
But equally the higher profile of smaller parties in the run-up to the election – as the Greens argue for at least equal billing with UKIP and the Lib-Dems try to avoid getting forgotten – may result in votes moving away from the three classic parties this time.
The problem for all sides is that swings are not consistent across the country – UKIP do better in certain geographical areas (largely the more deprived areas of each party’s sectors), the Greens benefit from electorates which are very concerned about the environment but otherwise peaceful left-wing and the nationalist Scottish and Welsh parties only stand in Scotland and Wales. Due to seat distribution, Labour also gets more seats than the Tories for a given percentage of the vote (the 34-31 in Labour’s favour gives them a majority of 72 in the BBC calculator, but if it were in the Tories’ favour Labour is 14 seats short of a majority and 27 seats ahead of the Tories). This mucks up our nice tidy swing.
The upshot is a result based on three voting approaches:
- Work out who is most likely to win and come second in the voter’s constituency under the First-Past-the-Post system and vote for one of them;
- Vote for whoever the voter wants to vote for on the basis that it looks quite possible that other people will too for a change.
- Vote for whoever the voter’s parents voted for because that’s what they always do and the others aren’t worth listening to.
Option 1 is still unlikely to result in a classic two-horse Parliament because the No. 2 party (or, quite often, the No. 1 party) is likely to not be Tory or Labour. Option 2 will result in a hung Parliament and show that First-Past-the-Post does not always achieve the clear result promised in the 2011 referendum on using Alternative Vote. Option 3, done nationwide, would get the usual overall majority for one party and is rather more the problem with democracy than the voting system First-Past-the-Post.
Option 3 is also why this election is so hard to call – so many people vote on that basis (ignore claims about Labour’s “client state” – half Labour’s voters would still vote for them if Labour took all their benefits away and wouldn’t vote Tory if the Tories doubled said benefits) that the number of “swing” voters who decide the election is usually in single figure percentages of the people who turn out and vote. All that single figure percentage has to do is not make up its mind who to vote for until the 1st of May and all polling before then becomes nonsense.
Typical suburban street in a Midlands marginal constituency. May be three-way, may be four, may be held easily by the current Member of Parliament.
Nonetheless, some guesses can be made as to what these polls will turn into on the day.
There are several of these, based on precisely how the votes fall:
- Likelihood: Possible, but not guaranteed by any means. It is often claimed that parties can’t expect their majority to rise after initial election, but this nonetheless happened in 1959, 1966, 1974 (take 2) and 1983. Say about 15% chance.
- Requires: Tory rise in the polls come election time. Party has to hold its nerve. Economy not to look like it’s about to collapse at any point in the next 4 months.
- Political outcomes: Labour leader will be toasted by his party (the fiery way, not the way involving drinks round a table). Outcome for UKIP not easy to guess, but would be a body blow. Could entail losing one or both of the UKIP MPs.
- Policies to implement: More of the same, as the Tories are the leading party in the current coalition. EU referendum in 2017, which unless a snap referendum were offered by another party is the soonest now reasonably possible.
- Likelihood: Also possible and mathematically marginally more likely than the Tories, though hard to believe the news will ever say “The Prime Minister Ed Miliband…”. Governments also usually manage more than one term at a time (Heath and Callaghan both failed in this regard, but both also went and had elections after a winter of power cuts and strikes.) Still, say about 18% chance.
- Requires: Labour to hold its nerve and suppress any Tory/ Scots Nats rise in the polls.
- Political outcomes: No EU referendum, so awkward for any UKIP supporter in a marginal Tory/ Labour constituency who’s just done themselves out of a referendum. Tory leader will be toasted by his party; party will probably lurch to the right again. Labour leader will be congratulated on one of the most successful party comebacks of living memory.
- Policies to implement: Hard to say what the current position on deficit cutting is. Tax increases looks likely. More nationalisation and state intervention (which has to be paid for).
This is not likely, even if all the other party leaders turn out to have been regularly attending parties thrown by bankers who own tabloid newspapers where children were ritually abused and then murdered as a cover-up.
- Likelihood: Numbers may still favour it with small rises in Tory and Lib-Dem polling on the day. Probably about 7%.
- Requires: Similar result overall to last time – Tories largest party with Lib-Dems in a position to push them over the finishing line. Also Lib-Dems not vetoing another 5 years with the Tories; pulling the coalition agreement together will be much harder going than last time, particularly as there will be no rush to get the previous lot out before people start murmuring about more elections. Lib-Dem leadership trying to sound open to any coalition.
- Political outcomes: May as well merge the parties – some high-profile members on both sides may favour this. Five more years of “unelected ConDem government”. Lib-Dems are however not currently expected to have enough MPs left to get a reasonable number of seats in the Cabinet or a worthwhile say in policy.
- Policies to implement: More of the same, presuming that a second-term coalition stays the course. Lib-Dems may try to make the elimination of the EU referendum a deal-breaker, possibly in exchange for not promoting more constitutional reform.
- Likelihood: Ummm… maybe 7%.
- Requires: Tories to do well, but UKIP to be required to help them over the finishing line. UKIP to agree to some of the Tories’ policies. Farage has previously said that he’ll go in with anyone who’ll give him a referendum, although Cameron’s timetable may be too long for his liking (Cameron has recently suggested he’d be open to re-writing it).
- Political outcomes: Long-term association of the Tories with UKIP. If UKIP agree to too many of the Tories’ demands then they will go the same way as the Lib-Dems. Labour leader will be both toast and made to watch as all his favoured policy positions are ignored.
- Policies to implement: UKIP are opposed to immigration, non-hetrosexual relationships, High Speed 2 and of course the European Union. Expect a ban on speaking languages other than English (and possibly Welsh and Gaelic) on public transport.
- Likelihood: Little (1%).
- Requires: Greens to get enough seats to be a coalition partner. Both parties to find some sort of common ground – current Tory leader has been a bit Green-inclined in the past and both fancy EU referendums.
- Political outcomes: Small political earthquake, as the Greens are rather to the left and hate the Tories. Labour to either implode, obtain most of the Green membership or both.
- Policies to implement: Liberal end of the Tory spectrum plus argument over nationalisation until the coalition collapses.
Tory “rainbow” coalition
“Rainbow” is the term for 3 or more parties forming a brightly-coloured coalition. There are two problems with this:
- the three parties have to be able to agree a political position;
- not enough other parties like the Tories.
Might allow 1% just so this article doesn’t look too stupid when this is announced on the 10th of May.
This has happened twice – during the Second World War and as a result of the Great Depression (until the Labour Party voted to expel their leader for going into coalition with the Tories and retired to Opposition). Whatever some bestselling 1920s novellist (who became Governor-General of Canada) may have said about the differences between the parties – and however much Flanders and Swann may have sung on the subject (Bi-Party Line) – it cannot reasonably be expected to happen this time.
- Likelihood: Not very – maybe 7%.
- Requires: Lib-Dems to fire Nick Clegg as leader (which they may take pleasure in). Lib-Dems to have enough seats to be left to be of help. Labour to want to go into coalition with the party formerly in Government, bearing in mind that Labour has spent the last four years pointing out how many voters they’ve picked up from the Lib-Dems who want the Lib-Dems to suffer.
- Political outcomes: Current Lib-Dem and Tory leaders will both be toast. No UKIP policies to be met, so UKIP voters will face the same awkward fate as under a Labour majority.
- Policies to implement: Similar to Labour majority, but with more constitutional reform.
- Likelihood: Not very – 7%.
- Requires: Greens to get enough votes to make a worthwhile coalition partner. Labour to head for left-wing idealism arm and stop passing terrorism laws. As Greens on Brighton Council aren’t working under a party whip, may require Greens to either come to terms with Westminster expectations or Labour to work with a party which is constitutionally unsuited to a coalition with itself, let alone anyone else.
- Political outcomes: Current Lib-Dem and Tory leaders will both be toast. No UKIP policies to be met, so UKIP voters will face the same awkward fate as under a Labour majority.
- Policies to implement: Similar to Labour majority, but with more constitutional reform and added impetus to nationalisation. More wind turbines, more councils turning streetlights out and junior coalition partner pushing for less nuclear power.
- Likelihood: Almost certainly not – 1%.
- Requires: Labour leader so desperate to hear the words “the Prime Minister Ed Miliband” on the news that he accepts the idea of “the Deputy Prime Minister Nigel Farage”. Labour to agree to EU referendum.
- Political outcomes: Another small political earthquake, but with the authoritarian wings of each party finding common ground in drafting anti-terrorism laws which are actually aimed at immigrants generally.
- Policies to implement: Random, badly drafted bits of authoritarianism combined with periodic stupid remarks about each others’ voters followed within a few weeks by another election.
- Likelihood: The most likely of the coalition options. Let’s say 15%.
- Requires: Labour to be largest party but the Scots Nats and Plaid to be required to get them over the finish line. Labour to be willing to go into coalition with the Scots Nats after the SNP have taken most of their Scottish seats. SNP to be willing to take Labour seats and then join them in coalition. Labour to agree to remove nuclear warheads and associated submarines from Scotland.
- Political outcomes: Current Lib-Dem and Tory leaders will both be toast. Probably no EU referendum, but will be compensated for with constitutional reform (Barnett formula re-weighted to benefit Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and possibly another Scotland independence vote.
- Policies to implement: Aside from the constitutional reform, probably a general socialist agenda of higher taxes and increased public spending. Moves by junior coalition partners towards nuclear disarmament – meanwhile Trident would ideally go to Milford Haven if Plaid will wear it (where closure of the oil refinery and associated job losses were announced a month ago) and the Plymouth/ Devonport/ Ernesettle naval bases and weapons dump if not. (The SNP wants it gone, together with the employment opportunities in Glasgow.)
Devonport. Useful place to put nuclear-warhead-carrying submarines, at small risk that the submarines will swap crashing into Skye with getting tangled up in the Torpoint chain ferry.
Coalition not involving Labour or the Tories
- Likelihood: Not even in this election – 0%.
- Requires: Vote share to become so divided that most seats are won by a non-classic party. These parties (none very centre-ground) to then bury the hatchet enough to form a coalition.
- Political outcomes: Tory and Labour leaders will both be toast. Mass defections to new Government.
- Policies to implement: Five years of argument over what sort of nationalisation looks best and if we really need an EU referendum to nationalise things.
“Confidence and Supply”
- Likelihood: Probably the most likely option of the lot, but this isn’t saying much – 20%.
- Requires: No party to be able to form an overall majority on their own, but no party able to reach a coalition agreement with another party to form a majority (either because nobody wants such an agreement, because key policies are so diverging or because no two parties other than the Tories and Labour can add their combined seat share up to get a majority). Given what happened to the Lib-Dems after 2010, there is no reason why anyone should want to form such an agreement (unless the Lib-Dems’ vote goes up from 2010 on the day, whereupon the precedent may look better).
- Political outcomes: Largest party forms a Government and gets other parties to back the Budget plus other odds and ends in exchange for jam, not necessarily of well-advised flavours and possibly tomorrow. Leaders of the losing classic parties will be able to cling on (unless they lose their seats) to avoid destabilising the party with another election looming after a six-month political deadlock.
- Policies to implement: None, as no party is sufficiently popular with the others to be able to carry anything without a formal guarantee of a quid pro quo, ideally at the same time as whatever was being carried in the first place.
Official Monster Raving Loony Party majority
- Likelihood: None, as the Loonies don’t put up enough candidates (326 MPs required for a majority) so sadly 0%.
- Requires: Everyone else to do so badly – and look so stupid by polling day – that the Loonies sail to victory, probably on a trifling vote share. OMRLP then to suspend its usual constitutional rule that anyone who wins an election isn’t a proper Loony and so will be ejected from the party.
- Political outcomes: Complete political meltdown, as Loonies aren’t supposed to win elections.
- Policies to implement: The policies that would otherwise have to wait until the classic parties pick up on them in a few years.
- Likelihood: 1%
- Requires: None of the above to come off.
- Political outcomes: Small earthquake of hard-to-define proportions.
- Policies to implement: Who knows? Not that it matters, as the above is all rather vague anyway.
Anyway, we will all find out what will happen on Election Night, or shortly after, if at all: