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12 February 2019

Sorry YouGov, future election predictions are redundant until we resolve the Brexit crisis

The pollster’s forecast of a slim Tory majority looks plausible, but can’t account for the Brexit deadlock. 

By Stephen Bush

Good morning. Conservatives forever? That’s the prognosis if you believe the estimate from YouGov’s MRP model for the Times. According to its forecast – which accurately predicted the outcome of the 2017 election – an early election would see the Conservatives up four seats to 321, enough for a wafer-thin majority (although 325 is the magic number for a majority of one, the working number is smaller since Sinn Fein do not take their seats), Labour down 12 from 262 to 250, the SNP up four from 35 to 39, the Liberal Democrats up four from 12 to 16, and the rest up one from six to seven.

How seriously should you take the prediction? Well, just as there is no reason to suppose that Survation will necessarily get the next election right just because they got the 2017 outcome right, closest past performance is no guarantee of future return.

These numbers pass the smell test: they look plausible and accord with everything we can see and hear about how people feel about the political parties at the moment.

Don’t forget, though, that the night before Theresa May unveiled her disastrous manifesto in 2017 the MRP model predicted a Conservative majority of 80.  A lot can change in an election campaign. Much hinges on how a mini-Ukip revival affects the seat-by-seat picture, but we don’t know if this new and more dysfunctional incarnation of Ukip will be able to field candidates in every seat or anything like it. And we have no idea if, faced with the forced choice between a Conservative government and a Labour one that our unlovely electoral system foists on the voters whether the people saying they will vote Liberal Democrat, Green, SNP or Plaid Cymru will grudgingly lend their votes to Labour again.

But the biggest caveat I’d put on these numbers is, of course, the Brexit deadlock. However it is resolved, whether through a no-deal exit, May’s deal, May’s deal revised along Corbyn’s lines, or no Brexit at all it is going to leave at least one of the big two parties with their coalition in pieces. Even if there is an election while Brexit is unresolved, much depends on how it comes about (one important battle will be which party gets the blame for making people vote again).

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Unless and until we know how the Brexit crisis ends, predicting the next election result is akin to predicting which species will become Earth’s dominant one after the meteor wipes out all human life: an interesting intellectual exercise, but not one that is likely to reveal very much about anything.

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