Here we go again.
If Brits weren’t suffering from electoral fatigue already, they now have to once again fasten their belt buckles for yet another voting extravaganza.
Theresa May is set to ask the House of Commons for another general election, only two years after the last, with an expected date of 8th June. The vote will easily pass the 2/3rds majority needed as the opposition leader has already expressed his support for the idea, not least because it’s a pretty bad look to be running away from a fight.
May is seeking to take advantage of the current polling figures which give the Tories a handsome lead of around 20 points over Labour, averaging around 40-45, versus the 25 odd percent the opposition currently find themselves festering in. The current slim majority she holds is not sufficient, she has deemed, to pass all the Brexit legislation that will be needed to enact her vision of a hard exit from the EU over the next 2 years (and probably a further 5-10 years beyond that in terms of negotiating a trade deal that isn’t excessively punitive).
In reality, the biggest obstacles May faces to achieving hard Brexit are 1) Her negotiating partners across the table in Brussels, 2) Pro-Soft Brexit MPs within her own party, and 3) The largely pro-Soft Brexit House of Lords. This election therefore will only actually have minimal impact on how easy the negotiations are, given that a mandate for hard Brexit is not something the EU particularly cares about; in general in fact, popular opinion is not exactly an integral facet to the functioning of the Union. Regardless, a big win for the Tories will probably make the Lords a little less bold in their attempts to stop the UK heading face first into a black hole of complete isolation from the continent, and perhaps cow some of the more remoany excesses of the liberal wing of the governing party. Ironically, May in her announcement bemoaned the lack of unity in the Commons, almost lamenting the majoritarian system from which the Tories benefit so much, and implying a plural, consensus-based system so beloved of the EU, would be better.
Given the current state of polling, it’s hard to see beyond a strong Tory majority. Let’s have a look in depth.
Most of the action, perhaps unsurprisingly, will take place in the demographic dominator of the UK; merry old England.
In 2015, the Tories won easily, as was expected, with 320 MPs returned against 205 for Labour, a mere 7 for the Lib Dems, 1 for UKIP (now an Independent seat following Douglas Carswell’s resignation from the party) 1 for the Greens, and 1 seat for the Speaker John Bercow.
The voting cemented the trend of 5 years previous with not a great number changing hands, and those that did consolidating the divide whereby the Tories fared well in rural constituencies, Southern towns, and wealthy city districts, with Labour dominating most other urban areas, including London and Northern & Midlands towns. The Lib Dems’ strongholds, particularly in the South-West, were wiped out by the Tories who effectively scared enough people into voting for them on the basis of an unthinkable Labour-SNP government.
2 years on and we’ve seen some changes.
We’ve voted to leave the EU obviously, but some pundits are overplaying the boost this will give the strongly pro-EU (and now strongly pro-Soft Brexit) Liberal Democrats. They will almost certainly win seats back, and carry on their strong by-election performances so far (especially in Remain areas where Zac Goldsmith was hilariously booted out by Sarah Olney in December).
But let’s look at the stats. If you work out the ratios of how a constituency will vote for a party based on its national polling average (a system I explained here), realistically the Lib Dems are probably only on course to win back about 10 seats they lost two years ago. At the moment, I’ve only projected them to win 7: Thornbury and Yate, Lewes, Eastbourne, Cambridge (from Labour), Twickenham, Bermondey & Old Southwark ( Labour), and Burnley (Labour). Given 3 out of these 7 are actually Labour seats, the Lib Dem resurgence is hardly anything for Jeremy Corbyn to get excited about. Granted there are many more marginals where a couple points shift could deliver more seats for the Lib Dems, but realistically I think their ceiling in terms of gains UK-wide is around 25, so at a very maximum for them would be to end up with 20 MPs from England. As I say, at the moment however, I would guess they’ll end up with 14 (7 + the existing 7).
Meanwhile, the Tories will be picking off Labour seats left, right, and centre. This will include Southern cities where they can sneak up through the middle as educated metropolitan liberals remain lukewarm to Corbyn’s limp approach to the Brexit process, boosted by the pro-hard Brexit sentiment in much of the North and Midlands which largely rejects what it sees as Corbynite wishy-washyness, and even certain parts of London. At present, I think they’ll win a whopping 30-40 seats off Labour in England.
UKIP are apparently a diminishing force with no MPs and a failure to improve their vote share in recent by-elections, most damningly in strong leave areas such as Stoke. They will not move any closer to winning a seat this time round. Similarly, the Greens’ polling is very similar to 2015, meaning they will probably again return only their leader in Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas. Nonetheless, if the Labour vote drops another 5 points or so as people consolidate to vote on Brexit terms only, we could see one or two pick-ups for UKIP and the Greens, in the North and South respectively, but I wouldn’t ever go beyond a combined figure of 5 seats for these two.
All in all my current projection for England is thus the following:
Conservative: 348 (+28)
Labour: 205 (-36)
Liberal Democrat: 14 (+7)
Greens: 1 (0)
UKIP: 0 (0)
Speaker: 1 (0)
Wales is probably the least interesting to analyse in terms of changing seats. Sorry Wales.
Wales in many ways resembles English voting patterns, the only difference being that there is a far bigger population concentration in the urban areas, with the Cardiff area in particular cramming in so much of its demography. This means that Labour usually comes out on top, and despite everything, will probably do so again this time.
They will still lose seats, but not to the same extent. I’d say they’re in danger of losing about 5, mostly to the Tories in parts of Northern Wales, but there is also a threat from nationalists Plaid Cymru from disenchanted voters who, like many, are sick of elections and just fancy sticking it to ‘the establishment’. 1 seat in particular is likely to switch; Yns Mon, an island off the Northern coast. There are also certain areas in Cardiff the Lib Dems could poach from Labour, although their polling figures in Wales overall are pretty dire.
My current projection for Wales is thus:
Labour: 21 (-4)
Conservative: 13 (+2)
Plaid Cymru: 4 (+1)
Liberal Democrats: 2 (+1)
Scotland in terms of raw seats probably won’t see an excessive amount of change, but we could well see the consolidation of voting patterns along pro/anti independence (and by extension pro/anti EU) lines. The Tories have surges in the polls under charismatic leader Ruth Davidson and are now the party of the Unionists, regardless of what side of the political spectrum you lean toward (within limits). Those who vote Conservative will be those who want to keep the Union together, even if it means having a hard Brexit. Conversely, SNP voters, which will still be the strong majority, while supporting independence, will also be considering a vote for Sturgeon and co. as a vote for the EU, or at the very least, significant enough nationalist pressure to dilute May’s hard Brexit plans.
The battle lines being drawn thus, we could see the final death of Scottish Labour, and I would even argue the sole Lib Dem seat in Orkney is at risk given their status of the pro-EU bunch has been severely compromises by the noises coming from Holyrood over the past year. The Tories as it stands are set to win about 10 seats, giving us a hint at the future of Scottish electoral-political dynamics. Nonetheless, it won’t be enough to stop the SNP from returning a huge majority of Scottish seats, and having a mandate to continue pressuring the Prime Minister for a second referendum.
As it stands, I predict for Scotland thus:
Scottish National: 48 (-8)
Conservative: 11 (+10)
Last but not least, we cross the Irish sea to Ulster.
More sick of elections than anyone else, the Northern Irish will have to go the polls a mere 3 months after they elected a new Assembly at Stormont. With NI politics currently in stalemate with the two leading Unionist and Nationalist parties unable to reach a compromise needed in order to govern as per the Good Friday power-sharing agreements, it will be interesting to see how they respond when choosing who to send (or in the case of Sinn Féin voters, not send) to Westminster.
Rather than polling, I’ve based my projections for NI in terms of the 2017 Assembly election. This will probably replicate the results we saw then: a UUP wipeout, and a consolidation of the Republican-Unionist divide along the lines of the two biggest parties for the respective causes.
As such, here are my current projections for Northern Ireland:
Democatic Unionist: 10 (+2)
Sinn Féin: 5 (+1)
SDLP: 2 (-1)
UUP: 0 (-2)
Independent: 1 (0)
PROJECTED HOUSE OF COMMONS:
Conservative: 372 (+42)
Labour: 190 (-39)
Scottish National Party: 48 (-8)
Liberal Democrats: 16 (+7)
Democratic Unionist: 10 (+2)
Sinn Féin: 5 (+1) in abstentia
Plaid Cymru: 4 (+1)
Social Democratic & Labour: 2 (-1)
Greens: 1 (0)
Independent: 1 (0)
Speaker: 1 (0)
This would mean a Conservative majority of 46, with a mandate to govern until 2022 (unless, who knows, another snap election is called in the meantime.) What this will mean for the UK and the Brexit process is a topic for a different blog. But for now it’s safe to say that as far as having control of the British legislature is concerned, the Tories, as so often in history, are sitting pretty.