Who will win? Make your prediction. Photo: Charlie Morris/May2015
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Follow every prediction – and make your own – with May2015’s election-forecasting machine

50 years after the BBC and ITN competed to predict election night first, we launch Florence: our election-forecasting machine.

How do you make sense of the most unpredictable election ever? We’re trying. For a while now we’ve been tracking all the latest polls – from the daily stream of national polls to Lord Ashcroft’s batches of seat surveys.

The challenge is turning abstract polls into actual seat predictions for each party. There are 650 elections on May 7, not one big one. In the past forecasters would plug polls into a nationwide swing model – usually uniform swing – but such swingometers are limited in a six-party system.

So we’ve developed a simple model. The Greens, Scotland and Ashcroft are now all fully integrated into our prediction, which we make in two steps. First, we work out what the national polls imply will happen in every seat (by using a slightly more sophisticated model than uniform swing), and then we separate any seats Lord Ashcroft has polled.

The Greens, Scotland and Ashcroft are now all fully integrated into our modelMake your own prediction.

He is polling the election’s most marginal – or closely fought – seats. They will decide the election. We plug them into our model, and then adjust them as national polls change.

This two-step process is shown below. You can see the current national polls hand both Labour and the Tories around 230 seats. These are effectively the election’s “safe” seats – excluding Scotland, which Ashcroft is in the midst of polling for the first time. (We now distinguish between GB-wide and Scottish polls, and you can make your own predictions for each.)

We then add in Ashcroft’s polls. He has published 112, and put Labour ahead in twice as many of them as the Tories.

Some pundits, especially Tory ones, have dismissed these leads – a good bulk of which Labour amassed before their faltering end to 2014. But these polls aren’t static; every day they adjust in line with the national polls. If the Lib Dems surge or Tories collapse in national polls, Ashcroft’s seat polls from last summer will change too.

Other forecasts

As we have discussed before, we are working with limited data (far more limited data, in a more complicated system, than exists in the US). Without more billionaires, predicting British elections will remain guesswork. And we aren’t replacing other forecasts – we are gathering them all together. You can now stay up-to-date with the predictions of Stephen Fisher, Election Forecast and Electoral Calculus on May2015 – as well as Ladbrokes’ latest odds.

A new academic forecast, from the team behind Polling Observatory, will shortly launch on May2015.

Each model offers something different. Fisher and Election Forecast are predicting what will happen in May. We are avoiding extra assumptions and predicting what would happen in an election held today. As we approach the election, the assumptions built into their forecasts (namely a move towards the Tories) will become less important, and every model will increasingly rely on the polls.

Fifty years of forecasts

Machines have been predicting elections since the 1950s, when the BBC’s “Ella” and ITN’s “Deuce” computers duelled on election night in 1959. More recently, Nate Silver famously forecast the 2012 US Presidential election, before the New York Times replaced him with their “Leo” computer.

55 years after Ella, we’ve nicknamed our model “Florence”, after the woman who pioneered not just healthcare, but data journalism. Her coxcomb graphs of the Crimean War – made a century before the first BBC election nights – showed how army conditions killed far more British soldiers than conflict did. She was one of the first campaigners to enlist vivid and simple graphics in making arguments.

May2015 is the New Statesman's new elections site. Explore it for data, interviews and ideas on the general election.

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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.