The SNP are now forecast to win at least 39 seats in May. Photo: May2015.com
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Five election forecasts concur: Labour & Tories to fall at least 40 seats short of a majority

Three new forecasts published today reiterate how similar predictions are for this election – and that a hung parliament appears to be an inevitability.

Track all the latest election polls and predictions on our election site: May2015.com.

The Guardian has joined the polling and prediction business. Since September May2015 has been tracking the polls and making election predictions. Earlier this year we started to track other models, and the Guardian have now been added to our page of forecasters.

May2015 now tracks five forecasts – our own model, a pair of academic ones (Election Forecast and Elections Etc), the Guardian’s, and the bookies’ (Ladbrokes).

They are remarkably similar. The five forecasts range from 270 to 285 seats for the Tories, and 271 to 283 seats for Labour. An average of the five models gives 278.1 seats for the former and 275.3 for the latter.

May2015’s 270-seat prediction is the most pessimistic for the Tories. Election Forecast are behind the more favourable 285-seat prediction. We also offer the lowest estimate for Labour (271), along with the Guardian. Elections Etc, in a new forecast out today, suggest the party will win as many as 283.

Will the SNP win more than 50 seats?

Our forecasts are the lowest for both main parties because our model is so favourable to the SNP. That’s because we used Lord Ashcroft’s 16 Scottish seat polls to predict the whole of Scotland (his polls account for 26 per cent of Scotland’s seats).

We feel comfortable doing so because the national vote share his polls implied – SNP 48 per cent, Labour 23 per cent – are largely in-line with more than a dozen Scotland-wide polls released since the referendum. As new Scottish seat polls are released, our forecast may change (Ashcroft polled seats that were more likely to vote “Yes” – and therefore SNP – in the Scottish referendum).

Our forecasts are the lowest for both main parties because our model is so favourable to the SNP.

The Guardian are the only other forecaster predicting more than 50 seats for the SNP (51). The way we make our predictions are very similar – we both rely on a mixture of national and local polls.

The two academic models and the bookies offer less sensational predictions for the SNP. But they are now far more nationalist than they have been. All three now predict the SNP will win around 40 seats. Two months ago the bookies suggested the SNP would only win 25. (An average of the five forecasters gives a prediction of 44.9 seats.)

Can the Lib Dems hold onto more than half of their seats?

We recently launched the New Statesman’s Political Index, which suggested the Lib Dems could win at least 30 seats in May. We revealed how private polling is offering hope to the coalition’s minor party.

We will shortly be launching the Index as a standalone prediction (and ranking every seat in the UK), but none of the five forecasts we currently track suggest the Lib Dems will do so well.

These models are all based on public polling, which doesn’t take into account how well the Lib Dems say they are doing in seats like St Austell & Newquay, Cardiff Central, Solihull, Bermondsey, Leeds North West and St Ives.

Until these polls are made public, or Lord Ashcroft returns to these seats and confirms the Lib Dems are doing well (or national polls improve for the party), Lib Dem seat predictions will remain below 30. An average of the five forecasters suggests they will win 25.9 (that’s down from 57 in 2010).

All roads lead to a very hung parliament

The most important part of these predictions are their forecasts for Labour and the Tories. And they all agree: both parties will fall at least 40 seats short of a majority.

The Guardian has some whizzy graphics that detail how many seats various coalition or confidence & supply deals could have.

The key number is 326. If a group of parties can get to 326 they will have a majority in the Commons (there are 650 seats). But the magic number is really 323; the Speaker is apolitical and Sinn Fein’s five MPs don’t take their seats. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of how many seats various groupings could have:

  • Labour (275.3) + SNP (44.9) = 320 (3 seats short; figures rounded)
  • Tory (278.1) + Lib Dem (25.9) + Ukip (3.3) + DUP (8) = 315 (8 seats short)
  • Tory (278.1) + Lib Dem (25.9) = 304 (19 seats short)
  • Labour (275.3) + Lib Dem (25.9) + Green (1) = 302 (21 seats short)

Who will form the next government?

If either party forms a coalition just with the Lib Dems, they will be around 20 seats short of a majority.

The only two feasible majority scenarios are a Labour-SNP deal, or a Tory-Lib Dem deal propped up by Ukip and Northern Ireland’s DUP.

If either party forms a coalition just with the Lib Dems, they will be 20 seats short.

There are reasons to doubt both outcomes. The SNP and Labour are currently fighting a fierce battle in Scotland – are they going to easily come together after the SNP wins dozens of Labour’s Scottish seats?

The SNP’s Westminster leader also recently told May2015 he is not spending any time preparing for a coalition; any Lab-SNP deal would only be a confidence & supply deal.

A Tory-led, four-party coalition is also hard to envisage. A Tory-Lib Dem deal, with occasional Ukip and DUP support, is easier to imagine, but accommodating four parties – as well as Tory backbenchers, the most rebellious MPs in the House – will be extremely complicated.

NB The Financial Times have started to publish a prediction by Populus, the pollster, and Hanover, the PR firm. It is not yet updated regularly enough for us to track, but its latest predictions are very much in line with those we do track.

They are predicting 277 seats for Labour, 272 for the Tories and 44 for the SNP. We have stopped tracking Electoral Calculus’ model because it is too irregularly updated.

Explore May2015.com.

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

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.