One of the plausible paths, in the Brexit chaos, is we end up with a general election in the autumn.
Boris may simply attempt to get a mandate for No Deal (or some other fantastical invention) on the strength of his personal brand or he may lose a vote of no confidence for trying to force No Deal through. If just a couple more Tory MPs were to resign the whip, it is not even clear he has a majority in the Commons and, in that case, the Queen may not have a basis to make him PM and an election would again be inevitable.
Would anyone win a majority? How many seats would each party get?
This could be one of the hardest elections to predict. The four main parties in England (Con, Lab, L-D and Brexit) each polling evenly with around a quarter of the vote, tells us very little about how they would perform in an election in a first past the post system.
If their votes are spread evenly across many constituencies as the Lib-Dems often are, then they can end up with lots of votes and very few MPs. If their votes are more concentrated in fewer constituencies, they can end up with far fewer votes but lots of MPs, like the SNP in Scotland.
Let’s start with the following assumptions and then think of some scenarios:
- Current opinion polls show Brexit, Lib Dem, Conservatives and Labour all with similar levels of support.
- Current polls on voting intentions show that almost half of Conservative voters intend to vote Brexit party, and almost half of Labour voters intend to switch to Lib Dem or Green
Attempting to factor in the first-past-the-post system, if we look at every constituency individually and try to project these shifting preferences, the landscape of elected MP changes dramatically. The result of this is nicely outlined in this post https://sluggerotoole.com/2019/06/02/general-election-seat-forecasts-are-no-longer-useful/
Pretty stunning results! Not a single Conservative MP in the next Parliament!
Peterborough by-election results
Usefully there has been a recent by-election so we can judge how this model performed.
A real first-past-the-post, 3-way marginal thriller with Labour, Brexit and Con all on numbers of votes and Labour just winning and claiming it as an important victory.
- Does this mean that Labour will do much better in a general election than the polls suggest?
- Is polling data is meaningless and is a general election impossible to predict?
I do not think either of these are true. If we were to add an extra filter, then the results differ from the model in a very predictable way. The filter is that Peterborough is a strong Leave constituency.
I think it is sensible to say that in Leave areas, Labour’s “nuanced” Brexit stance will help its vote hold up better than the model suggests and as a result, the Lib Dems and Greens do worse. Conversely, the simple arithmetic implies that, in Remain areas, they will lose more votes to the Remain parties. The result of both these hypotheses will be the Lib Dem vote will be far less uniform that a simple model suggests.
For example in Battersea, Labour has a large majority but an 88% Remain vote. These are likely the type of voters for whom Labour’s “nuance” looks pro-Brexit. This makes for a seat that could swing from safe Labour to Lib Dem.
In this scenario, the Lib Dems win far more seats. The simple model suggests the Lib Dems are in with a chance on 558 seats; adding a material swing for Leave/Remain, then they could win perhaps half of those, and lose the other half by larger margins. London could easily become a Lib Dem stronghold in the way the SNP takes so many Scottish seats.
Another possible boost for the Lib Dems is tactical voting as we may have seen in the European elections. The polling intentions suggest a large number of Labour voters switch to Green. Some of those may be willing to vote Lib Dem if they believe that candidate has a viable chance of winning the seat. In a race with such tight margins, a small shift here could make a massive difference to total seat count.
The post quoted above says that forecasting MPs is a “fool’s errand”, and so these are best seen as projections and scenarios rather than forecasts. But on current polling, we could easily see the Lib Dems as the largest party, followed by Brexit Party, with the Conservatives and Labour both relegated to small fringe parties, even adjusting for first-past-the-post.
The Conservatives would likely react by emulating the Brexit party even more. Whether they succeed or not does not matter. The Conservatives will either be replaced by the Brexit party or become it.
Labour could face up to this fiasco by retreating further into ideological purity; the British Communist Party takeover of the Labour party will be completed and Labour becomes a fringe group. Or they could replace Corbyn with a centrist Remainer, aiming to recapture young, progressive voters. The first step of course would be to form a coalition with the Lib Dems to stop Brexit.
Maybe the media is covering the wrong leadership campaign if they want to examine the next Prime Minister…
Jo Swinson in Number 10 by Christmas?