Some gloomy general election predictions

by Atul Hatwal

The next election is not too close to call. Neither is it a contest where the current party system is under threat nor one where voter volatility renders meaningful predictions impossible.

There are excuses wheeled out by pundits and pollsters who are frit. Here are my predictions.

The Conservatives are going to repeat their 2010 performance and secure 36% of the vote while suffering a small fall in their number of seats to the range 290 to 300.

Labour will struggle to 32%, boosting its seats by 20-25 to the high 270s or low 280s and the Lib Dems will exceed their current polling to get to 16% with seats in the high 30s or very low 40s.

Ukip will under-perform their current poll rating to achieve 7% with one seat (Douglas Carswell) while the SNP will lose to Labour in Scotland. However, they will make some progress, boosting their representation by taking 6-10 Labour seats and reducing the majorities for most of Labour’s Scottish MPs.

This is why.

As May 7th draws near, three shifts will take place in the way that the voting public go about their choice that will move the current polling.

These changes happen in every electoral cycle and are the reason that decades of forecasts of new settlements, moulds being broken and unprecedented uncertainty are usually wrong.

They relate to the nature of the decision that voters are making, the criteria they use to make it and how they judge the parties meet that criteria.

First, the way most voters perceive their choice fundamentally changes in the run up to a general election.

For the majority of the parliament, when pollsters (or indeed friends and family) ask about voting preference, the question is taken as a referendum on the government.

Rarely is a government popular in absolute terms, so its rating will suffer and support for the opposition will rise. Even Michael Foot’s Labour party managed to sustain an average poll lead of over 10% for a period of months just a year and a half after Mrs.Thatcher’s 1979 victory.

But as the election draws near, the decision is transformed; it becomes a polarised choice between the Conservatives and Labour – the only two parties that can lead a government – on who governs Britain.

It doesn’t matter if both are unpopular or their campaigns are poor, all that matters is being less disliked than the other because one will almost certainly rule Britain following the election.

This will squeeze fringe parties as voters face a choice of wasting their vote or influencing who runs the country.

It is why the Conservative pitch to their ex-voters who are currently in the Ukip column – vote Farage, wake up with PM Miliband – will ultimately resonate.

It’s why Labour’s pitch to its ex-voters who are currently in the SNP or Green column – vote Nat/Green, wake up with PM Cameron – will be effective.

And it is why the Lib Dem pitch as a moderating influence on both Conservative and Labour parties, is the only way that they can be relevant in the campaign and positions them as a receptacle for anti-Labour or anti-Conservative votes in seats that they already hold.

The binary nature of the choice of government under first past the post, between Labour and Conservatives, is the strongest guarantor that the two-party status quo will remain intact.

The last time there was a major political realignment was almost 100 years ago, when Labour replaced the Liberals in the duopoly. But that took a World War, a massive extension of suffrage and most importantly, the Liberals to split into two bitterly opposing parties – one led by Lloyd George, who was prime minister and the other by the previous prime minister Herbert Asquith – which then remained at daggers drawn for the best part of a decade.

Nothing in 2015 is even vaguely comparable.

The second imminent shift is that the criteria voters’ use to make their choice will change.

The issues that influence voting preference will move from ones that are seen as most important to the country to those that are most important to voters and their families.

This is a critical distinction.

In most cases voters rank issues in both categories similarly; for example, the economy is always the most important for voters personally by some margin, and either the first or second most important issue facing the country.

But for two areas in particular, there are major divergences: immigration and welfare.

In YouGov’s monthly polling throughout 2014, immigration was cited as the first or second most important issue facing the country with 49%-60% giving it top rating.

But in terms of voters’ personal experience, it was only ever the fourth or fifth most important issue, with a maximum of 21% viewing it as most important.

On welfare, upto 30% viewed it as one of the most important issues facing the country, but never more than 16% viewed it as most relevant personally.

Voting is a very personal act and as the public prioritise the policies that will make a difference to their lives, there will be two impacts: a further squeeze on fringe parties and damage to Labour.

Ukip’s strongest electoral issue is immigration but based on what matters most to voters, its electoral salience will be negligible.

This might sound hard to believe but immigration will be a marginal issue in terms of determining peoples’ votes in May.

Similarly, for Scottish voters considering the SNP, independence will matter less than which of the two main parties would be preferable on the big issue: the economy.

And as the economy becomes the focus for the campaign, Labour will suffer. The Tories have led on the economy by double digits for several months and seem set to maintain this lead if there is not a major game-changing moment.

The third shift in the coming months will be how voters evaluate parties’ ability to deliver on their policy commitments.

The public’s view of the parties’ leaders will be central to this. Electors’ preference for prime minister reflects not only who they feel looks right in front of Number 10 – very important in its own right –  but also impacts their assessment of parties’ competence to make good on their promises.

This is why on health – which is currently the second most important issue facing voters personally – Labour can lead by 10+ points every month through 2014 when it is posed as a choice between the parties, as per YouGov’s polling; but when the names of Ed Miliband and David Cameron are added into questions on who is trusted to manage the NHS, as ComRes did recently, Labour’s lead falls to two points.

It’s why Ipsos Mori could find in April 1997 that the Tories led Labour on the economy by 7 points, but in the Labour research that I saw (in the course of my duties as minor Millbank apparatchik), which added in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s names versus John Major and Ken Clarke, Labour was ahead.

The primary impact of voters viewing delivery through the prism of party leaders’ competence will be to hurt Labour. Ed Miliband has such a poor personal rating that his negatives bleed into every issue and undermine Labour’s offer in every respect. In YouGov’s polls on preference for PM, Ed Miliband has trailed David Cameron by over 10% for the best part of two years.

These shifts will not be evident immediately in the opinion polls.

The general election campaign might have started yesterday for the parties, but it will be months before most of the public engage actively with their election choice. At that point though, the numbers will begin to change and its why, on the 8th May, we will have another Tory-Lib Dem coalition preparing for office.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

Tags: , , , , , ,

21 Responses to “Some gloomy general election predictions”

  1. swatantra says:

    I just don’t believe the polls either. Atul tells it as it is and Labour go into this election as the underdog. Its difficult for any Party to return back to Office after just one term in Opposition. The electorate have long memories; and its not so much the 2008 cris which happened on Labours watch but its the fallout from Iraq and Afghanistan and all that has led to. In fact we should have seed it coming with the Bosnian Balkans crisis.
    And masses of people fleeing their countries to Europe mainly. Its not just Immigration that we have to resolve but Asylum Seekers and Refugees in general. The Asylum System was simply not designed to deal with millions fleeing their homelands in one go. It was designed to deal with a few thousand political prisoners dotted across the World. And the recent crisis in Lebanon has proved it. When there is a mass displacement of a country across the Border and upsetting the fragile balance in neighbouring countries. It happened previously when masses of Palestinians were forced out by Israel and sought refuge in Jordan. There should be an International Conference to review the whole Asylum Refugee situation. it is for the Govt of a country to look after its own citizens, not the job of another country. And it is up to the citizens of that country to esure that their Govt works for them, by whatever means it takes, not for other countries to do it for them. The ideal solution would be for neighbouring countries to close all their borders and refuse to let Asylum Seekers and Refugees in, so that the enslaved population is forced to oust their own Govt by whatever means it takes.

  2. greg davies says:

    I agree with the analysis except in one respect which is the SNP.

    I think Scotland will vote heavily SNP because they see them as a pressure group which will secure a better economic deal for them than the rest of the UK, particularly if they could hold the balance of power. Look at Murphy’s promises on nurses already which plays into this perception ..regrettably the shape of things to come.

  3. Steve Crook says:

    An interesting analysis and one that is largely correct except with respect to the SNP.

    I think they’ve already become the ‘socialist alternative’ in Scotland. People know they can vote for the SNP and get MPs dedicated to Scotland’s interests in the wider UK. When it comes to independence there’s always going to be another referendum so a vote for the SNP isn’t a commitment to anything wider.

    I suppose Scots may worry it’s “Vote Sturgeon get Cameron”. But there’s always the prospect of a Labour+SNP coalition and they will have (we assume) devo max as a buffer against Westminster. Truly a nirvana for a Scottish socialist.

    This is going to be the first general election I’ve really enjoyed in a very very long time.

  4. Steve Peers says:

    Probably the party with the biggest number of seats will have the first chance to form a government. So a shift of Labour seats to the SNP, by increasing the chance that the Tories will be the biggest party, increases the chance that the Tories form the government. The Labour party will presumably point this out ceaselessly, and we will see if it indeed has an effect on voting intentions.

  5. Tafia says:

    Look at Murphy’s promises on nurses already

    Murphy is well getting this piss ripped out of him on social media for this. Health is devolved and as a result staffing levels in NHS Scotland have absolutely nothing to do with a Westminster General Election. The number of nursed NHS Scotland has (incidentally more than twice as many per capita as England already), is decided exclusively in Holyrood.

    Mind you, the other day a scottish Labour MP had a go at two SNP MSPs over free school meals for early years and lambasting them for expecting free meals for their kids given the incomes they had. All well and good but the 2 MSPs he had a go at were actually childless and it’s got nothing to do with an MP anyway – it’s devolved. Not to mention that free school meals for early years are actually Labour policy in Wales – so you have Scottish Labour saying one thing, Welsh Labour saying the exact opposite and Westminster Labour running round in circles.

    Labour need to get a grip, remember this is a WESTMINSTER election and say one thing that means the same all over the UK. Currently, they are fighting an election on England issues only because they are forgetting the impact devolution has in areas like Health, Education etc. Burnham – should Labour win, may well be SoS Health, but really he will only have any say in NHS England – the rest of the UK is none of his business.

    As Atul says, closer it gets to voting day, the more important things that directly affect a voter and their family become. So a Labour voter in Wales or Scotland will not be the slightest bit interested in what the tories are doing to the NHS in England – it simpky is of no relevance.

  6. paul barker says:

    Compared to a parallel exercise over on Labour List this is a masterpiece of Rational thought, its a shame so few Labour members will read it.
    However, Atul fails to follow through on his own arguments. If The Tories have a steady 10% lead on both Economy & Leadership why should they end with only a 4% lead on May 7th ? I think Atul is overestimating both Tories & Labour, can we really imagine that the Big 2 Parties will get more votes between them than in 2010 ?
    Atul points out that Michael Foot managed 10% leads in 1981, Milliband did much better in 2013, he got 11%.
    We will know much more in a few months but right now I see The Tories getting 32 or 33% & Labour 24 or 25%. Scotland, of course will be a wipeout.

  7. Landless Peasant says:

    “It’s why Labour’s pitch to its ex-voters who are currently in the SNP or Green column – vote Nat/Green, wake up with PM Cameron – will be effective.”

    So that’s it? That’s all you’re offering? Vote for us because at least we’re not the Tories. Not good enough. Labour must pledge to abolish Benefit Sanctions and to increase JSA to a reasonable amount or I’ll vote Green. Simple yet effective.

  8. BenM says:

    @paul barker

    “…right now I see The Tories getting 32 or 33% & Labour 24 or 25%. Scotland, of course will be a wipeout.”


    Lots of GB pounds to be made on the betting markets if you really believe in this outcome.

  9. live in hope says:

    I have always thought the Tories would get more seats than Labour though less than last time. My hope, though, is that in spite of this, the Liberals will go with Labour this time and just manage to form a coalition, maybe with SNP support. There is no law that the largest single party must form the government. Why this is more than just hope depends on an analysis of Liberal thinking. Last time, Clegg’s big effort was to persuade his party, before the election, that it could do what it would find hard to stomach, support the Tories. Of course, this was in keeping with Clegg’s Orange book background. This time, I suspect even he would rather go with Labour, even if Labour have slightly less seats than the Tories. So, as long as the maths don’t rule it out, I predict a Lab-Lib coalition.

  10. 07052015 says:

    Tricky business political players making predictions-tend to state what the predictor wants to happen as they do on this site.

    There may have been movement just before xmas -yougov which was bouncing between a tory lead of one to a labour lead of two has suddenly gone labour lead of 5,2,4 and 3 yesterday .We need to see another week of such figures but the bullish labour response to the Autumn Statement suggests voters may have reacted badly to the promise of five more years tough times.

    Atuls analysis is politics as usual but most forecasters think the rules have changed ,they just dont know what the new rules are.Big tory giveaway budget coming as the tories get desperate.

  11. Tafia says:

    “It’s why Labour’s pitch to its ex-voters who are currently in the SNP or Green column – vote Nat/Green, wake up with PM Cameron – will be effective.”

    England-centric bilge. Because of devolution, a lot of what Westminster politicians say has absolutely no relevance outside England and is of little interest outside England.

    Threatening nationalists (welsh or Scot) that voting for nationalist parties will result in a tory government is risible. They don’t care. They don’t like London anyway so the nastier the government in Westminster, the better it suits them.

  12. John Reid says:

    Paul barker excusing Scotland it’ll be a lower turnout that 2010 as far as I know, elections that have followed elections that seen change in governments ,have had lower turnouts than the previous ones, 51-55, the Feb 74 election turnout was doen on 1970′ and the Oct 74 election turnout was down on feb 74′ same as 1983 the turnout was doen 4% on 1979′ same as 2001 the turnout down 13% on 1997

    As such both the tories an labour could get fewer votes than last time,and their percentages hughes, as pointed out the Ukip vote will be lower than suggested due to many a person sYing they’re a Ukip voter ,not turning up,another point was many voters recalling the Tories as the nasty party,just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Tory last time,will have seen the Tories being pro gay marriage etc, labour was also thought of being the party of law and order in 2010 ,one of 2 policies they were more popular than the Tories at 5 years ago, what are they more popular with the public, than the Tories now?

    Swatantra,as I’ve alluded too,issues that made a party unpopular 5 years ago,aren’t alwys that damaging, the Sleaze of Profumo, saw the Tories out in 1964′ But Wilson got less votes when he won in 1964 than Gaitskell got when he lost in 59′ and the fall in turnout, saw him win in 1974 with 11.4 M votes down on the 12 m, labour got when we lost in 1970, Labour could do well by default in May due to a low turnout

    My Prediction
    LibDem 10%
    Tory 38%
    labour 30%
    SNP, NI parties greens others 11%
    Ukip 11%

  13. Blairite says:

    I disagree about the Lib Dems and UKIP. I really doubt the Lib Dems will get 16% because while it is true that support shifts back to the governing parties, voters shift to the Tories over the economy not to the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems have lost their protest vote to UKIP and the Greens, they have lost the soft left vote to Labour, Greens and arguably the SNP and the student vote (which was a large part of their support) has completely disappeared (it actively hates them now). It’s very hard to see how their vote can double from now until May. I actually think that they will continue to get around 9% or 10%. UKIP may subside between now and May but I reckon they’ll pick up seats in areas where they are strong like Boston and Skegness, Great Grimsby, Thurrock, South Thanet, maybe Great Yarmouth and possibly Eastleigh and Rotherham. It will be interesting to see what happens to Mark Reckless. But the Tories will get more votes than Labour and possibly more seats.

  14. Ex Labour says:

    Most of this analysis is on the money, but there is one issue not mentioned which is EVEL.

    Most voters are somewhat pissed off that the Scots get their cake and eat it. The largesse dished out comes mainly from the English purse via the Barnett Formula. The SNP at least abstain from English only matters, whilst the Scotlabs dont.

    However Jim Murphy has had the good grace to score the biggest own goal by gloating about the London / English Mansion Tax being used for Scotland.

    This is great stuff for both the Tories and SNP, and will ensure that EVEL will be an issue at the GE. Even Labour MP’s are pissed at this moron, but Moribund remains silent.

  15. a simmonds says:

    It sounds like a realistic assessment, and is probably a good reminder to not rely too much for our mental well being on ‘hope’ over facts. But it does say something about how gullible (poorly educated in critical thinking) we are here in the UK. Simply based on the loss of an outstandingly successful, cost effective, comprehensive, publicly accountable and publicly funded national health care service ( a loss guaranteed in England at least under another libdem/Con administration) not voting for the Conservatives is a no-brainer, on one of the most important self-interest issues of our generation. The other 2 self-interest issues that most people are not educated enough to fully appreciate the (personal) risks arising, is course extreme inequality and climate change – and the likely fascistic, authoritarian responses we will likely see over the next few years/decades as a result of increasing, panicky responses by the authorities. It is also clear that this form of capitalism, that depletes and destroys the basis of wealth (natural resources, biosphere) is totally unsustainable and is quite likely to lead to a very unequal mass culling of the human population, with much pain and misery along the way. Happy New Year 😉

  16. Tafia says:

    However Jim Murphy has had the good grace to score the biggest own goal by gloating about the London / English Mansion Tax being used for Scotland.

    When Murphy said that – and it would be spent on nurses, he was relying on voters having the IQ of roadkill. In reality most voters with an IQ above that of a chimp know that :-

    1. Mansion Tax cannot be redirected to Scotland.

    2. (and most importantly) NHS is devolved and staffing levels in Scotland have got nothing to do with Westminster and nor is how Scotland’s government spends it’s health money – they can spend it on lottery tickets and ferraris if they want.

    3. There are more nurses per capita in NHS Scotland than any other NHS in the UK.

    Murphy is being ridiculed all over social media in Scotland and even Labour candidates are having a go at him for saying it and telling him to shut up and I’ve read at least oine report from a reputable newspaper that London has told him to shut up as well (which maybe why this has suddenly disappeared as a story)

  17. kle4 says:

    Although I disagree with your conclusion, I do respect that at least you are not trotting out the usual, and probably false line, about things being too close to call.

  18. John P Reid says:

    Arguing that New labour ,lost us 5 million votes don’t take into account the turnouts are lower,it increased By 5.2 in first place from 1987-1997 and also the 5.6m.between 1951-1983, or the 35.3 % blair in 2005 compared to the 34.5% Kinnock got in 1992, even though Kinnock got 2 million more votes than blair 92-2005.
    I recall one Union boss. Said after 1992 I think we’re backing the wrong horse

    Without taking into account it was the policies he’D made labour have in at least 1987 the members didn’t want that had caused us to lose

  19. ldiot Savant says:

    A massive underestimation of the UKIP factor is the glaring error here. Governments going full term don’t poll higher than in the previous election. With even a slight increase of a few percent in UKIP’s share the Tories have no chance of hitting 36%.

  20. uglyfatbloke says:

    I think the general view here- that the SNP will do well – is valid. The old line of ‘keep the tories out’ is pretty much past its sell-by-date; largely because the Scottish MPs are (mostly) pretty ineffectual…lots of shouting, little substance. Whether the gnats are really to the left of Labour or not is n’t really the point; they are perceived as being so. The needless dithering over he bedroom tax has given the gnats great big stick and Sturgeon will use it. In the past the difference between Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions was a reliable bulwark against Salmond etc but that does n’t look like it will help much in May.
    On the plus side, the gnats wil never go into coalition with the tories, but a confidence agreement in exchange for FFA (however much Osborne would hate it) might be on the cards. Naturally that possibility could be sunk right now simply by Ed declaring for FFA as the first action of the next Labour government.

  21. Tafia says:

    Big point being made in Scotland yesterday and today is that Jim Murphy’s campaign manager is in favour of more privatisation. He said in interview in The Tomes “Labour is committed to 20Bn of cuts if elected. The NHS needs the savings that privatisation creates”. There’s also some argument going on about Labour saying they will oppose ending the cuts to the arts.

Leave a Reply