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 campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.