Monday, 15 April 2013

Peering into the electoral crystal ball - again

This column isn't bad at picking elections. It said that President Obama would 'probably' be re-elected. Well, big deal, you might say, but it looked closer at the time than it proved once the fog of battle cleared. And we've picked the exact outcome of a British General Election before (registration required). So it's not such a bad old record.

And now? Well, we look forward at the moment to another Hung Parliament. There will be more Labour MPs; there will be fewer Liberal Democrat MPs. The only question is over the scale of those gains and losses, and how well the Conservative Party will do.

Start with this: without boundary reform, the Conservatives face an uphill battle that looks like the north face of the Eiger.

They need to win by seven or eight percentage points to gain an overall majority of just one seat (always supposing that Labour poll at least in the low 30s - an almost impossibly low bar for them to clear). And it's not looking promising right now. Labour numbers aren't all that great, either, as they continue to labour under the electorate's low view of their performance under Gordon Brown and of the party's young and untested new leader. Plenty of Blairite Labour people aren't sure about Mr Miliband either, but that's another story. But the Conservative numbers are pretty, pretty bad. They're now polling just under 30 per cent of the vote on average, a number that's been falling without sign of an upturn for more than a year.

And what of the Liberal Democrats? Well, they've been experiencing a bit of an uptick in the polls recently. Ever since the Eastleigh by-election put a bit of a spring in their step, and ever since they started picking more fights with their Conservative 'partners', they're been looking a bit rosier. This column has been very, very gloomy about the party's electoral prospects in the past, rating them likely to win only between twenty and thirty seats (down from 57). Now? Well, maybe we can add a few back - thirty to thiry five might be more likely. Most of which, of course, they will hold at the expense of aspiring Conservative MPs, making Prime Minister David Cameron's task of winning an overall majority (above) all the harder.

No doubt they'll throw everything at it. They'll throw nasty stuff about migration and welfare about, as they've already being doing at the behest of their svengali-like electoral planner, Lynton Crosby. They'll rant and rave about Ed Miliband's 'left-wing' tendencies, hoping that his relative lack of connection with the voters will close off all debates but: who would you rather be Prime Minister? It'll win some voters back, and it might well see the Conservatives win more votes than Labour - overall. But there's one big problem with that strategy. It might appeal to UKIP voters, who might gently flow back towards the Conservatives as the date of the General Election approaches. But Mr Miliband doesn't need any of them to actually win a small majority, or at the least to lead the biggest Parliamentary party. He can just sit back and let the Conservatives' right-wing rhetoric win him the election by alienating leftish Liberal Democrat defectors, keeping them at Labour's side.

Mr Cameron's abandonment of his 'One Nation' phase of compassionate Conservatism will then have cost him dear, as it destroyed William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith too.

The ultimate test at the moment? Look to the bookmakers. A Conservative overall majority is rated at a likelihood of between 15 per cent and 25 per cent, while a Labour majority might be judged at about a 45 per likelihood. No overall majority? The chance is not all that far behind. And likely to grow and grow.

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