13 May 2015

My General Election Prediction Was Completely Wrong.

Yeah. I know. I got the general election completely wrong (though I did ok in my council election predictions). I think I can safely say I wasn't the only one to get the general election result wrong.

Some of you might remember that on a 2pt LAB lead, I predicted the following Westminster seats.

LAB 279 CON 269 SNP 47 LDEM 25 UKIP 6 GRN 1 OTH 23

Whereas the actual result was.

LAB 232 CON 331 SNP 56 LDEM 8 UKIP 1 GRN 1 OTH 21

Even on a slight Tory lead, I was confident both Labour and Tory would be in the range 260-290 and probably less than 20 seats apart.

My biggest errors (apart from believing the polls) were:-

1. Thinking the Tories couldn't increase their popular vote from the 2010 result. They did (from 10.7m to 11.3m).

2. Thinking that if the polls were wrong, they would be underestimating Labour support (due to pollsters methodology allowing for "shy Tories").

3. Believing the narrative that the Lib Dems would hold on to lots of seats despite their dismal poll rating. I should have trusted my instinct on this. If Nick Clegg (in the 50th safest Lib Dem seat was struggling to hang on) surely the other 49 would be too. And most of these had the Tories as challengers.

4. Thinking the 2010 seat boundaries (which were not much different to 2005 boundaries which gave Labour 92 more seats for a tied vote), would still be favourable to Labour in England. They weren't!

5. Underestimating the polarising effect of our voting system (urban vs surburban/rural, North vs South). And with so many "ultra marginals" determined by literally a few hundred votes either way, the sheer lunatic unpredictability of our system.

Our voting system creates voter ghettoes and I think it is very easy to get stuck in a partizan bubble. Whole groups of voters walk around without meeting many of a different ideology amongst their friends and neighbours.

Voting systems affect results in a big way! Not just in seat allocation but in how people vote.

Our system has led, over the decades, to hordes of tactical and protest voters being built up, as voters desperately try to make the most of a bad system. So it is very difficult to make sense of voter preferences from national vote shares.

But it has also led to voter suppression. People hate voting for losers. At this election 63% voted for losing parties. This has a huge effect. A lot of people lose heart. Also in a system where 75% of seats rarely, if ever change hands, supporters of parties become lackadaisical about turning out to vote.

There is a whole host of statistics highlighting the madness of our system -

Nearly 4m UKIP voters get 1 seat whereas 1.5m SNP voters get 56 seats.

While 700,000 Scottish Labour voters get 1 seat, 500,000 Welsh Labour voters get 25.

And worst of all, the lead party, however low their vote, can win a majority of seats and all the power. In this case the Tories on just 37% of the vote got 51% of seats.

The new boundaries due by 2018, would have given them 54% of seats on the same vote. A majority for one party with just 29% of the vote might not be too far away.

Votes clearly aren't equal. Which is what our geographical system is all about. Concentration of a party's vote is the number one and only issue. Everything else, national voteshare and order of parties in terms of votes is incidental.

Having one "winner" in each seat takes precedence over everything else.

Making more predictions now seems heretical, but here I go again.
Looking at the results in more detail shows that Labour actually did quite well in the centre of big towns and cities, but very badly in the outer suburbs, small towns and villages.

This follows the usual pattern of the Labour/Tory split in the vote, but is getting more extreme. I believe growing inequality is one cause but also our voting system exacerbates this by switching off the voters that are continually ignored.

We are seeing two nations develop. The better off are moving apart from the poor. This has always been the case but now it is getting even more intense. The North/South divide continues to grow. As Labour leadership hope Dan Jarvis put it "More people have walked on the moon than there are Labour MPs in the South of England".

The non Labour & Tory vote is still around a third of voters in general electiond. But even this, is probably an underestimate of true support. In the European Parliament elections, Labour and Tory combined struggled to get half the votes.

Labour have a huge dilemma. Scotland is now a whole swath of safish SNP seats. Labour are unlikely to win more than a handful back in 2020, if any.

The Tory/Labour battleground will be England & Wales. The Tories successfully stoked English nationalism to scare voters off a Labour/SNP government. What is to stop them doing this again in 2020. Labour have to find an answer to this.

The only solution is to embrace the SNP and highlight how insulting and undemocratic it would be to exclude Scottish voters choice of MPs. Also they need to highlight how the SNP could be an asset in government and that to not include them would be a threat to the UK. Labour tried distancing themselves from the SNP, but with the SNP politically bound to back any Labour administration over Tory, it lacks credibility.

But even bigger than Labour's Scottish problem are their lost voters in England and Wales.

Labour can either compete for the 40% or so of voters who lean Tory but put at risk their own 30%. Or they can try to unite the disparate, disenchanted and/or leftish vote that makes up the majority, but is spread across a range of parties. But Labour cannot do both of these things.

Going after the Tory vote is probably easier, but they would hemmorhage voters to UKIP and the Greens.

UKIP strangely appeal to disenchanted leftish supporters. If you look at their voter's views on nationalising the railways, the NHS and inequality etc. They are generally to the left of Labour policy.

Of course they also tend to have very rightwing views on immigration and the EU, but most UKIP voters, I think, would recoil at UKIP policies if enacted. Rational?

So, what is the answer to the Left's dilemma?

Caroline Lucas of the Greens has talked about a left of centre pact,  avoiding each other in key seats, but voters generally take a dim view of such things. It could work, as it has for the DUP and UUP in Northern Ireland, but their vote is bound by strong religious bonds. Voters can react in unexpected ways to pacts, as the closer two parties are ideologically, the more tribal animosity between the two sets of supporters can be.

My radical solution, which I know won't happen, but I think would work, would be for all the parties that want vote reform (which admittedly would be an unholy alliance) to stand on one ticket at the next election, with just one policy - electoral reform. This would almost certainly need Labour to be involved but not necessarily.

Would a UKIP/Green/SNP/PC/LibDem alliance as the "Voting Reform Party" be palatable for their supporters and voters when the only policy would be to change the voting system and call an immediate follow on general election? Even on this straightforward platform it would stick in the claw for a lot of UKIP and Greens etc to work together.

Alternatively we can soldier on and head for probable defeat to the Tories in 2020. The landscape of the country could be utterly changed by 2025, with poverty at US levels and constitutional vandalism destroying voter turnout.

Labour could win on a rightwing platform. But I would expect the erosion of the combined Tory/Lab vote to continue, especially the more proportional European parliament elections, which are having a more profound effect than many people realise.

Also the media selling votes as a "retail offer" of selfish short term policies will always favour the rightwing parties. But if Labour gives in to this, it's roots of support will continue to wither away.

Labour deludes itself if it thinks multi party voters will melt away. A lot of these new voters for the smaller parties will never return to the main parties. Indeed, how can any future campaign deny the smaller parties participation in election debates, after the success of this election?

The left will not be kept out of government for ever. But when they do get their chance, they'd be best to embrace electoral reform.

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