A projection of the 2017 election

A projection of the 2017 election

I did a lot of work before the 2015 election trying to anticipate what might happen seat by seat in that election, looking at local factors, candidates, demographics, recent local election results, Lord Ashcroft‘s constituency opinion polling and all of that. Like most prediction efforts in 2015, it was not very successful. It was swamped by three things – (1) the broad national tide in England and Wales  that submerged quite a lot of the local differences I anticipated. Part of the Conservative success was built on ‘nationalising’ the election choice, to the detriment of the Lib Dems in particular who were hoping for personal votes to salvage them as happened in elections when their tide has been receding, such as 1979. (2) the completeness of the SNP sweep in Scotland. (3) the extraordinary success of the Conservatives with their protective targeting of the marginals they gained in 2010 and a handful of Labour seats they picked off. I’ve tried out a different approach this time, with a mechanistic formula applied to all the English and Welsh Con/ Lab seats and nowhere else. Martin Baxter at Electoral Calculus has done a vastly more sophisticated and complete version of the same sort of exercise, but this is a crude formula incorporating rather few variables. It’s based on the swing to the Conservatives being partly proportional to the UKIP vote, an element of uniform national swing, a bump in one direction or another for seats at the outliers of referendum voting behaviour (Remain or 60 per cent plus for Leave). There’s therefore a double weighting for strongly Leave seats, which tended for obvious reasons to have high UKIP votes in 2015. The source for constituency referendum voting is Chris Hanretty’s compilation of published local results and his work modelling the others. An allowance has been made where the Greens have stood down or intervened. The initial model had a national baseline of the Conservatives winning by a 15-point margin, which is where a fair few polls were at the time. That would produce a Con gain of 44 from Labour. Allowing for a few gains from SNP in Scotland, and from UKIP in Clacton and possibly a couple from the Lib Dems, this would be a Con gain of around 52 seats for an overall majority of around 120. The way the model works skews the Conservative gains to the North and white working class England. Labour would hold apparently perilous marginals in London such as Ealing Central & Acton and Brentford & Isleworth, but lose some former heartlands. Strikingly, the Tories would win all three seats in Stoke-on-Trent (Labour since 1935) plus Newcastle-under-Lyme (Labour or radical Liberal since 1906) for...

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Housekeeping

Housekeeping

Hello! It’s been a while. I’m not the most assiduous updater of this website – Oskar the cat here has been a sleepy role model – but it’s probably time I collated my recent work and put it on this site and wrote some new stuff. I’m interested in moving into some other areas of work and writing as well, which in time will be reflected here and in another...

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Westland – did the helicopter firm really bring Thatcher to the brink?

Westland – did the helicopter firm really bring Thatcher to the brink?

  From the perspective of hindsight, the middle term of the Thatcher government in 1983-87 may look like plain sailing. It did not seem like it at the time; it was the parliament of the ‘banana skin’ – a term then used to describe a number of unrelated mishaps which tripped up several ministers. The biggest, slipperiest banana skin of them all was the Westland Affair, the one that led Margaret Thatcher to speculate on 27 January 1986 that: I may not be Prime Minister by six o’clock tonight. How did the business arrangements of a helicopter manufacturing company in Yeovil bring Thatcher apparently so close to the edge? She even stepped back at one point after a long meeting between senior ministers and marvelled: Do you realise we have spent three hours of precious time discussing a company with a capitalisation of only £30 million? What is the world coming to? Westland was in financial trouble in 1985 and was looking for a commercial partner so that it could sort out its problems. There were two options: a tie-up with the US helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky (through its parent company United Technology Industries, UTC) or a European consortium. The Thatcher government was divided, in an increasingly public, embarrassing and vitriolic argument, on the best course of action. The main disruptive element was Michael Heseltine as Secretary of State for Defence, who actively supported the European option and worked hard for it, politically and commercially. Heseltine feared that Sikorsky was interested in Westland because it could be used to get a piece of the enormous Al-Yamamah arms deal agreed between Saudi Arabia and the UK in 1985, which allegedly mentioned an order of 80 helicopters. Defence procurement – the very word has a slight whiff of the illicit – has never been a simple or transparent industry and Westland was a cork bobbing on the surface above deeper currents. It should not have been a big political issue. The government professed neutrality, although Thatcher herself had sympathy for the US option. But it worked on fault lines that were already there. Although Heseltine had been a good Thatcherite in many ways, particularly in the 1983 election on defence, their personal styles clashed. Many suspected Heseltine was looking for a reason to have a ‘good resignation’ as part of a long term career plan. A confrontation about something was clearly in the air, and it coalesced around Westland. Heseltine grew frustrated in late 1985 that the future of Westland was not being discussed in Cabinet, and Thatcher felt that Heseltine was blatantly ignoring collective Cabinet responsibility. In retrospect Thatcher should have sacked Heseltine for insubordination in December 1985. She would have...

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The 1966 election – 50 years on

The 1966 election – 50 years on

  Fifty years ago this month, in March 1966, Britain went to the polls in a General Election. The 1966 election has not been remembered in history as one of the more interesting or important contests. It was seen as a foregone conclusion and the campaign was rather short of incident. It stands as rather an anomaly – the only decisive Labour majority elected between 1945 and 1997, and the only election between 1951 and 1987 in which the Labour vote, expressed as a share of the whole election, went up. It might have seemed at the time like the start of a long period of Labour ascendancy, but that future was cancelled. And the reason for that goes back, in part, to the campaign that was fought that optimistic March fifty years ago. The Labour government’s parliamentary position was precarious. Its majority was only five seats in October 1964, and that sank to three with the loss of Leyton in a by-election in January 1965. Several MPs were rebellious from the right (Woodrow Wyatt, Desmond Donnelly) or the left (William Warbey), and several others were in poor health; the death of Harry Solomons, who had gained the marginal seat of Hull North, caused a by-election at the end of January 1966. Labour’s popularity had been growing since October, and with the help of the promise of building the Humber Bridge a confident Tory campaign in Hull was heavily defeated. A month later, Wilson called the election for 31 March 1966. The 1966 election was probably the peak of politicians’ faith in opinion polls, which had been broadly correct in the previous few elections and had not yet misfired. Labour was well ahead, and this sucked a lot of the suspense out of the election campaign – and also contributed to the shock that was felt when polling failed in 1970. The year was a peak of scientific optimism – the National Plan to grow the economy was one reflection, and rationality and planning were apparent in the form and content of the 1966 election campaign. Both Labour and Conservative campaigns were disciplined and based on well-founded and researched strategies. Labour’s campaign centred around economic performance, general government competence and the popular figure of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The party’s principal slogan was ‘You know Labour government works’ – a shrewd assertion of the government’s competence and an invitation to electors who had hesitated in 1964 for fear of change to go Labour this time. It was in this election, rather than in 1964, that the description ‘Thirteen Wasted Years’ was most used about the Conservative government of 1951-64, with the contrast drawn between modernisation under Wilson and the...

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LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

LOCAL ELECTIONS 2012 IN RETROSPECT

Local election results – England and Wales The 2012 local elections, leaving the London mayoralty aside, were a considerable success for Labour. While in 2011 Labour did very well in the big urban areas and not so well elsewhere, in 2012 Labour advanced pretty much everywhere that the party is a viable proposition, including such places as Weymouth, Tamworth and Great Yarmouth where the Conservative vote held up well in 2011, suggesting that the party is making progress on a much wider front than last year. In terms of benchmarks and targets for party performance, Labour exceeded all realistic expectations. The party made a net gain of 823 seats across Britain, comfortably over the 700-720 that was the highest legitimate benchmark for a good performance. The party also took nearly all of its target councils, including some which had been regarded as rather ambitious targets: my previous paper describes Dudley, Cardiff and Redditch for instance as tough asks for Labour, but the party won the first two easily and the third narrowly. The only failures were Swindon (where the Conservatives retained a 1-seat majority despite Labour polling more votes) and the always peculiar West Midlands borough of Walsall. As expected, Labour won the inaugural contests for the new mayors of Liverpool (in a landslide) and Salford (easily). However, given the low turnout in these elections, it may be more a case of the Conservatives being in much worse shape in 2012 rather than a large positive movement to Labour. Turnout at around 32 per cent in England was poor, particularly in comparison with last year when it does appear that the AV referendum increased turnout (also significant is that the 2011 elections took place in more suburban and rural areas where turnout is higher anyway, while 2012’s elections were mostly urban). However, while it was pretty low, turnout was not as bad as it was during the first term of Blair’s government and not too much worse than years such as 1995 (which saw a big drop in turnout and a Labour landslide). In most areas, for every ten people who voted Conservative in 2011 about six did so this year, while for every ten Labour voters in 2011 there were about eight or nine this year. The net effect was a significant swing to Labour. Looking at the local elections, another ‘hung parliament’ general election emerges as a strong possibility. A strongly regionalised swing, favouring Labour in the north and the Conservatives in the south, has interesting consequences, particularly when combined with the Liberal Democrats’ resilience in many of their stronger constituencies and the success of the SNP in Scotland. A swing to Labour will take out a...

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Boundary changes

Boundary changes

A few weeks ago the Times – in the person of its excellent political correspondent Laura Pitel – asked if I could have a look at the implications of the forthcoming changes to constituency boundaries which will be argued over between 2016 and 2018 and – barring eventualities – implemented in 2020 for the new election. The political map of Britain changed abruptly in 2015, thanks to the SNP landslide in Scotland, the Liberal Democrats’ disaster and the pattern of Conservative/ Labour swing that ended up making the gradient of the mountain Labour must climb much steeper. I produced a fairly ‘quick and dirty’ version of what the new boundaries might look like, without going into too much detail because the electorate numbers on which the allocation of seats will be based are going to be different in December when the definitive numbers are taken. One cannot simply take the results of the previous aborted review in 2011-13 forward either, for the same reason, although the detail of that review and the arguments that found favour in the revised proposals are of interest in seeing how the Boundary Commissions might approach their new task. By all accounts, the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) will be rather more willing to split wards this time around, which might well reduce the number of cross-border and bizarre seats, but creates problems of its own. Laura Pitel’s article is here (£) and if I do say so myself is well worth reading. The underlying calculations are published here. The headline finding is that the Conservatives benefit slightly from the changes, losing 19 seats (compared to 20 for Labour and 11 for the other parties), which in a smaller 600-seat parliament would increase their majority by 12 seats. Current number of MPs Number of MPs after boundary changes Change in number of MPs Percentage change UK 650 600 -50 -7.7% England (including Isle of Wight) 533 501 -32 -6.0% Wales 40 29 -11 -27.5% Scotland (including Islands) 59 54 -5 -8.5% Northern Ireland 18 16 -2 -11.1% English regions         East of England 58 56 -2 -3.4% Isle of Wight 1 2 +1 +100% South East (not IoW) 83 81 -2 -2.4% South West 55 53 -2 -3.6% SOUTH 197 192 -5 -2.5% LONDON 73 70 -3 -4.1% East Midlands 46 43 -3 -6.5% West Midlands 59 53 -6 -10.2% MIDLANDS 105 96 -9 -8.6% North East 29 25 -4 -13.8% North West 75 68 -7 -9.3% Yorkshire & The Humber 54 50 -4 -7.4% NORTH 158 143 -15 -9.5%   The new rules (legislated in 2011 but postponed until this parliament): The number of seats will be 600. Four seats have...

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