Friday, April 30, 2010

Can Cameron now go on to win outright?

I was very impressed by DC in last night’s debate. He finally took the opportunity to be clear and concise about policy, whilst making the audience aware of the inadequacies of the Lib Dems’ proposals. He shone most on immigration.

There was the feeling, I think, that DC didn’t need to attack Gordon – Gordon is attacking himself just fine. He didn’t need help, and, who knows, maybe there is further mayhem to come for the Prime Minister on the streets of Britain.

The media narrative is incredibly important. Everyone (even the Guardian) appears to acknowledge that David Cameron won the debate convincingly. YouGov’s final poll was especially encouraging.

Can DC now go on to win? Let’s take a gander at some numbers:

CON 33-36%

LD 26-31%

LAB 25-29%

These are rough guides to the parties’ current poll numbers. There’s no way the Tories can win a majority if those figures were translated into seats. But what about taking the extremes from those figures, say Con 36 LD 26 Lab 35? UK Elect (with tactical unwind) says:

Con Short by 1

Very close to an overall majority, then. Now, that’s all very well, but these figures assume several things:

  • Quite a few converted Lib Dems don’t turn up to vote
  • Labour do worse than predicted
  • Tories spread their vote more effectively
  • The Lib Dems gain seats predominantly from Labour – Tories lose a couple in the South West
  • The Lab->Con swing is larger in the marginals, especially in the Midlands and North.

Will these things happen on election night? Who knows – but, if the Tories can increase their share of the vote by 2-3% in the aftermath of the debate, Cameron can be more certain of gaining power without having to ask the Lib Dems for help. It should be noted that the Lib Dems can stay on 30% and the Tories can win only 6-7 points ahead. Figures such as Con 37 LD 30 Lab 25 do yield a Conservative majority, albeit a slim one.

I strongly feel that Labour is likely to do worse than suggested – don’t forget that most pollsters have still not accounted for so-called ‘tactical unwind’ – the electorate is no longer voting tactically in Labour’s favour: quite the reverse. The question is, will voters vote tactically in the Conservatives’ favour, or vote Lib Dem as a protest because they believe they can win. If people vote Lib Dem en masse across the country in this way, quite a few Labour and Conservative seats could fall.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

STV: A Study

As a Conservative supporter, I am deeply worried about the consequences of a coalition government and the inevitable ensuing clamour for a change in the electoral system.

Make no mistake: First Past the Post (FPtP from now on) is by no means perfect, but it allows the electorate to send a strong message to the government but simultaneously does not offer fringe parties support, which, in my view, they simply do not warrant. In Britain, it has produced an exceptionally stable conveyor belt of governments since 1945, all of which, with the exception of the February 1974 government (and eventually the October ‘74 and the 1992 governments), had overall majorities. One can argue the merits of these governments’ policies at length, but one surely cannot dispute that each of these governments was the preferred choice of the majority of those who cast their vote; and, in all probability, the choice of the majority of those who chose not to.

With the Lib Dems flying (dangerously) high in the polls, hovering around 30%, all bets are off as far as projections are concerned. Using a Uniform National Swing (UNS) to calculate changes in seats is a complete waste of time. It is exceptionally difficult to know if the Lib Dems’ support is evenly spread: if their new support originated primarily from young voters, there is a good chance that much of it is concentrated in university seats, for example.

If, on the other hand, their vote is increasing across the country, they stand a greater chance of doing more damage to the two main parties’ prospects. Labour will fear that the Lib Dems will make progress in their heartlands – the most recent PoliticsHome/YouGov regional poll indicates that the Lib Dems are polling 35% in the North East of England, up 12 points on the 2005 election. The Tories will fear that the Lib Dems will poll well in suburban and small town seats in the North and East Midlands, which is where the election will be won and lost.

It is simply not good enough for the Tories to think that if there is a Lab->Lib Dem swing, they will ‘slide through the middle’. The Lib Dems may be in third place in many seats which the Tories need to win, but their vote is nowhere near as derisory as it was in the past. A Labour->Lib Dem swing starves the Conservatives of the extra votes they need and may allow the Lib Dems to win swathes of seats, some of them from third place.

So, in the event of a hung parliament, which now looks extremely likely, barring exceptional events, the Lib Dems’ demand for a more proportional voting system may be irresistible. It is my task to explore the outcome of an election conducted under the Single Transferable Vote system: the least popular candidates’ votes are transferred, round by round, to the candidates placed higher. The candidates who claims the most accumulated votes wins.

My forecasting software, UK Elect 6.4, will only allow me to forecast an election using a ‘Two Round’ system. This means that parties polling less than the party placed 3rd will have their vote transferred without any detail. Whilst imperfect, this system does allow us to gain a rough idea of what might happen under STV.

Let’s take the 2005 election first:

Original result (old boundaries):

Lab  35.0%, 355 seats, 55.0% of total seats

Con 32.4%, 198 seats, 30.7% of total seats

LD 22.0%, 62 seats , 9.6% of total seats

Result: Lab Maj 66

Result using STV (old boundaries):

Lab 35.0%, 356 seats, 55.1% of total seats

Con 32.4%, 171 seats, 26.5% of total seats

LD 22.0%, 86 seats, 13.3% of total seats

Result: Lab Maj 68

From these figures we can see that the Lib Dems might have won 26 more seats under STV than FPtP in a 2005 election scenario. But what about the latest voting intention?

Possible 2010 result based on PoliticsHome/YouGov regional data (data entered on a regional basis, not UNS)

Con 33%, 276 seats, 42.5% of total seats

LD 30%, 106 seats, 16.3% of total seats

Lab 28%, 235 seats, 36.2% of total seats

Result: Con Short by 48

Same data using STV (final round):

Con 33%, 196 seats, 30.2% of total seats

LD 30%, 161 seats, 24.8% of total seats

Lab 28%, 260 seats, 40.2% of total seats

Result: Lab Short by 64

As we can see from this STV projection, Labour gain a very large number of seats because it is assumed that most Lib Dem voters would have Labour as a second preference. Whether or this is the case or not in this election remains to be seen – Labour look set to have their number of seats reduced dramatically, perhaps to under 200 under FPtP.

As a Conservative, I am horrified that Labour might continue to govern with the support of the Lib Dems. If Lib Dem voters are voting on an anti-politics basis, I doubt very much that they would choose Labour to be their second choice in an STV scenario. In a different climate, I have no doubt that such a system would make it extremely difficult for the Tories to win outright.

It’s interesting to explore how far ahead the Tories would need to be under an STV system to win outright. Let’s take the figures from the 1992 general election: Con 41.9%, Lab 34.4%, LD 17.8%.


Con 275 (42.3% of total seats)

Lab 282 (43.4% of total seats)

LD 60 (9.2% of total seats)

Result: Lab Short by 42 (1992 FPtP Result: Con Maj 21)

Once again, the Tories are punished in seats where they do not outpoll the sum of Labour and Lib Dem votes.

What about the 1983 general election figures? Con 42.4%, Lab 27.6%, LD 25.4%.


Con 309 (47.5% of total seats)

Lab 212 (32.6% of total seats)

LD 95 (14.6% of total seats)

Result: Con Short by 15 (1983 FPtP Result: Con Maj 144)

As we can see, even with 14.8 point lead, the Tories still cannot win outright under STV, starting from their current base. With figures of Con 44%, Lab 27%, LD 25%, they would scrape home with a majority of 8 with a 17-point lead. As I have shown, Labour can be only 3 points ahead and win an outright majority with STV because of assumed Lib Dem second choice votes.

And what of the Lib Dem position? Well, they certainly do an awful lot better under STV, because they take a lot of Conservative second choice votes in places where Labour can’t win, but this is by no means a perfectly proportional system, and it still under-represents their vote. It does, however, retain the constituency MP, which, if removed under pure PR, would surely not be a popular choice in the current climate.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Labour – United in Defeat?

Many months ago, I raised the prospect that, in the event of a large Conservative majority after the next election, Labour might struggle to continue as a unified political entity.

These thoughts have been speculatively confirmed by Paddy Ashdown, who, in an interview with the Telegraph (not available online it seems), indicates that up to a dozen Labour MPs are unhappy with the direction of the Party and want to jump ship to the Liberal Democrats.

This would come as little surprise. In 1994, New Labour distanced itself from the left – the abolition of Clause 4, promotion of a market economy, and the seduction of big business, to name but three methods by which it achieved this. It appears, that after the 2009 Budget (perhaps even before) that New Labour is well and truly dead. No political party which is serious about wealth creation can think that to take over half the income of a successful businessman or entrepreneur is a viable policy. No government which swore by fiscal prudence could allow debt to spiral so inexorably upwards that its repayment would burden future taxpayers for over 20 years.

Yet that is precisely what New Labour allowed to happen. New Labour was a lie, an illogical collision of contradictory political doctrines, and now it is seen to have failed, Labour has nowhere else left to turn – for they know, and it was proved on three occasions, that they cannot persuade a fundamentally market-driven electorate that socialism is a viable alternative. ‘Ah yes’, some left-inclined commentators might say, ‘but the game has fundamentally changed. Gone is the greed and arrogance of market capitalism. The state must now step in to guard against the reckless excess of the market.’ Nonsense. The game has not changed. The British people are not about to perform a swift U-turn in the direction of Attlee and Wilson. People will still want things, people will still want more money and want to make more money. Socialists believe that much of an individual's income is best spent by the state on the greater good. The British public have not agreed with this principle for some time.

This is why Labour could face a much more uncertain future than the Conservatives did in 1997. Conservatism has shown it can adapt, through Churchill, to Macmillan, then Thatcher and now Cameron. It had appeared as if New Labour had moved the goalposts for the Conservatives. Now the economy is in ruins, it appears that David Cameron will now have to emulate the 1979 victor, not the former member for Sedgefield.

New Labour diehards like Charles Clarke, Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers have no future in this Labour Party. The more marginal seats which were won for the first time in 1997 will be lost, and those MPs who owed Tony Blair their jobs in parliament will receive their P45s. New Labour-minded MPs will be in the minority in a 2010-2014/5 Labour opposition. They will have no place in a Party dominated by those MPs whose seats were too safe to fall to the Tories – mainly the left.

There are two main options: firstly, a SDP-style split of the Labour Party, which risks leaving a Labour rump completely unelectable for the foreseeable future, and a fourth-place political party in a FPTP system which has no chance of gaining any influence; alternatively, some New Labour MPs may hold their noses and cross the floor to join the Liberal Democrats. This could leave the two main opposition parties, Labour and the Lib Dems, with similar representation in parliament, and, psephologically at least, it would be a more logical move. It would probably also cause a substantial increase in the Lib Dem vote. Look at where Labour are now – 26-27% – and you realise quite how little support is commanded by the left of the Party in the country.

Both scenarios may hand the Conservatives the keys to Downing Street for a considerable period of time. It is critical that we do what we believe is right for the country, not what we believe will win us the next election. That is real politics – not New Labour’s shameless opportunism. We will need courage, leadership and a great deal of luck; and we will, as we did in the 1980s, prove to the electorate that our approach is the right one, not the profligacy and incompetence of Labour.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Labour can still win – but not how

Many commentators have chosen this moment to sound the death knell for the Labour Party’s electoral prospects. A dismal budget, a smears scandal inside Number Ten, expenses scandals, a truly dire economic situation have all combined to create a truly hellish few weeks for the government.

Luckily for the Tories, and ICM poll which showed them only 10 points ahead has probably been proved to have been a rogue. YouGov’s poll for the Telegraph this morning shows a very healthy 18-point lead – confirming similar data from BPIX (methodology aside) and Marketing Sciences (sister to ICM). Anthony Wells’ UK Polling Report General Election Projection (AWUKPRGEP if you prefer) now stands at a Conservative majority of 102.

Despite these poll leads and the seemingly unstoppable torrent of awful headlines, many Conservative supporters like me will only believe the victory is in the bag on election night itself – likely to be June 4th, 2010. We could be 50 points ahead at the moment and I would still not deny that Labour have the ability to surge once again. The 1992 election proves that an incumbent government can win with 3 million unemployed. The major difference on this occasion, I feel, is that it appears that the public have more faith in David Cameron and George Osborne to sort the economy out than they did in Neil Kinnock and John Smith. I am hopeful, however, that the next election has more in common with 1979 than 1992.

There are a few reasons why it’s still possible Labour will win:

  • The FPTP system is biased towards parties whose vote is more evenly spread across constituencies. The Tories rack up huge majorities in safe seats where they are effectively ‘wasted’
  • Hence, in connection with the last point, the Tories still need to be around 9 or 10 points ahead to enjoy an overall majority, and need to achieve a very large swing across the country
  • The Tories need to deal effectively with the Lib Dems, in particular weaker LD incumbents, otherwise safer Labour seats need to fall in order to provide an overall majority – an expanding Lib Dem parliamentary Party has greatly assisted Labour
  • The expenses row will reach a peak in the summer, when all MPs’ claims are published. We do not yet know if this will take an equal toll on the Tories and Labour. Could the Lib Dems benefit?
  • Will the economy be as dire as we think it is? Well, to be honest, probably, yes. But who knows? A few encouraging figures here and there and maybe, just maybe, Brown and Darling can emerge as architects of a recovery.
  • I don’t believe voters in suburban seats are yet convinced that the Conservatives are a better alternative to Labour. There are countless seats in the north of England which the Tories simply must win to form an overall majority.

However, as I allude to in the title, the above are all reasons why Labour can win the next election. I am at a total loss as to how they can win.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lib Dems back down to earth with ICM

Con 42 (+2)

Lab 30 (+2)

LD 18 (-4)

Not a lot to say here, other than the Tory number is heading in the right direction, Labour appear not to be crashing into the twenties as they did last year, and the Lib Dems’ 22% appears to have been anomalous. We’ll have to wait for March’s poll selection to see if the Tories increase their lead. I doubt any further Ashcroft coverage would do them any favours.

The Polls – Running Average

This is a test I’m doing using Google Docs to see if I can satisfactorily embed my Polls spreadsheet into the blog. It’s certainly a better result than Scribd, which refuses to publish it in landscape mode. I am not, however, satisfied by the lack of dates on the x axis – it starts in May 2005 and runs to Feb 2009.

Polls Latest

A quick update, taking all February polls so far into account. Word from Anthony Wells is that we’ll be hearing from ICM this evening. It will be interesting to see if they confirm their previous Lib Dem increase of six points, and how far ahead the Tories are. At the moment, there is a large margin of eight points between the best poll for the Tories (MORI) and this one. Will the Tory number increase?