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.

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

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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear