As anyone who reads me will know I quite like making predictions. Some good (the 2014 World Series and the cricket World Cup for example) and some bad (too many to mention). But today I’m attempting my hardest task. To call Thursday’s UK General Election which is the most unpredictable since 1974.
I wasn’t even sure how to do it. I thought of predicting all 650 seats in the UK but most of them are safe (ie one party is a certainty to win) so it would have been boring to read – and boring to write. I thought of just predicting the marginal (the UK equivalent of “swing states” in the US) seats. Sky News has even produced a list of marginals for its “In The Margins” series but not all the 150 seats in that list are marginal. For some reason best known to Sky the list includes safe seats like Aylesbury (Conservative majority 12,648) but not Keighley (Conservative majority 2,940) a seat that has changed sides seven times since 1959. So Sky’s list is flawed.
What I decided to do is do a prediction range for each party – predicting the minimum and maximum number of seats I think each party will win. The range is actually very narrow. Since the war the conservatives have never fallen below 165 and Labour have never fallen below 209. But before I make the predictions for those who don’t know UK politics (or don’t remember) the 2010 election produced the following result:
Conservative 306 seats, Labour 258, Liberal Democrats 57, Scottish National Party (SNP) 6, Plaid Cyrmu 3, Green Party 1, Speaker 1 and Northern Ireland 18* (the UK parties don’t stand there) I should also say a party needs 326 seats** for a majority.
So here is the prediction and I’ll start with the two main parties:
Conservative: 275-295 (that means in my opinion they won’t win less than 275 or more than 295)
As you can see that means it is not certain who will be the biggest party but I would give the edge to Labour because the UK constituency boundaries favour Labour as their seats are in cities thus smaller than the Conservatives and need less votes to win them. It is possible (like February 1974) that Labour will get more seats than the Conservatives but less votes. All the polls suggest a swing to Labour of 2-4 per cent which means Labour should gain seats from the Conservatives as most Con-Lab seats go with the swing. Only 32 Con-Lab seats went against the swing in 2010. I do think the Conservatives might gain a couple from Labour against the swing – Hampstead and Kilburn (majority 42) and Southampton Itchen (majority 192) are two possibilities. But it is clear Labour will make gains from the Conservatives.
But this election isn’t as simple as that. The result will be decided by what happens to the small parties – the Lib Dems , SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cyrmu and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). And they are very hard to predict. But I’ll try.
Lib Dems: 20-30. It shows how ghastly the Lib Dem poll ratings are (down from 23% in 2010 to 10% if they are lucky) that some people will be amazed that I think they won’t fall below 20 and might get 30. But the Lib Dems are hard to “dig out” of a seat – especially if they have a sitting MP. They will struggle in three scenarios. Where a sitting MP is retiring (ie Berwick upon Tweed) where there is a large student population – like party leader Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat – and in Scotland which has not forgiven them for joining with the Conservatives in coalition after 2010. So I reckon they will hold seats they should lose like Wells (majority 800) which is not a university seat and where the MP was first elected in 2010 but lose safer seats like Bristol West (majority 11,366) which has the university in it. It will be bad for the Lib Dems – but not as bad as people fear.
SNP: 20-30: This goes against the polls that think the SNP could win 50 seats or even all 59 in Scotland but I doubt that. There are signs of a backlash against the SNP with unionists thinking of voting for the party best placed to beat them in different seats. Plus the fact that in most Scottish seats the SNP are a long way behind (for example the closest Labour-SNP seat is Ochil and Perthshire South (majority 5,197) and it would not take much of a “switch back” to save quite a lot of seats) The SNP will make gains. But I’ll be surprised if they get more than 30 seats.
UKIP: 1-5. I wrote about UKIP back in October and nothing has happened to make me change my opinion they will get votes but not many seats. Douglas Carswell their first MP will hold Clacton but that might be all they get. Their other MP Mark Reckless could lose his Rochester seat back to the Conservatives and party leader Nigel Farage is a toss up to win Thanet South. Polls say they could win Thurrock, Castle Point (their best bet) Cambourne and Redruth, Great Grimsby and maybe even Rotherham but I’ll be surprised if they win more than 3 and they won’t win more than 5.
Plaid Cymru 2-4. Could gain Ynys Mon (Anglesey in English – majority 2,461 ) from Labour or lose Arfon (majority 1,455) to them but I reckon they will hold their three seats and gain none.
Green Party: 1-2. Fairly easy to predict. Former leader Caroline Lucas has been a good MP and should hold Brighton Pavillion. They are targeting two Lib Dem seats – Norwich South and Bristol West. They might gain the Norwich seat which needs a 7.3% swing to go but won’t gain the Bristol one.
Respect: 1-2. Didn’t win a seat in 2010 but gained Bradford West – with George Galloway the MP – in a 2012 by election. Galloway should hold it and they have a slim chance of gaining Birmingham Hall Green (majority 3,799) from Labour.
As you can see my prediction (as almost everybody’s is) is for another hung parliament. But this time I don’t think we will get a coalition but a minority government (that is where one party rules but other party/parties agree not to bring the government down). And since most MPs outside of the big three are more pro Labour (as I wrote before) it is possible that Labour leader Ed Miliband could form a government even if Prime Minister David Cameron has the biggest single party. In that scenario I reckon (like 1974) there will be another election before this year is out (October?) as Labour try to become at least the biggest party and gain legitimacy. In that situation I think the SNP, Greens and UKIP would all lose votes and Labour might even get a majority.
One thing is certain. it will be a tense nervous night and it could very well be a case as in 2010 of “A long Night with no winner” (as the “British General Election of 2010” put it)
*Four seats changed hands in by elections between 2010 and 2015 so the current total is Conservative 303 seats, Labour 258, Lib Dem 57, SNP 6, Plaid Cyrmu 3, UKIP 2, Green Party 1,Respect 1, Speaker 1 and Northern Ireland 18
**But as Sinn Fein’s 5 MPs don’t turn up in practice the number of seats needed for a majority is 323.