Election Preview: UK 2010
The United Kingdom votes in its long-anticipated general election on Thursday, May 6th. For an election which was awaited by so many electoral pundits, it has not let them down one inch. The inclusion of three TV debates between the three major leaders – a novelty in British elections – has changed the general outlook of the election vastly. Whatever the results may be, it will likely go down as an historic election of sorts.
The Liberal Democrats’ historic surge since the first debate, up to 33% in some polls and rarely falling below 28% or so since then, is obviously the most striking aspect. Because of the appeal of their new, young, charismatic leader, Nick Clegg; but also because of a general antipathy towards Conservatives and Labour. The LibDems have an unusual electoral coalition, including various groups of voters which on the outside are worlds apart on policies in a number of cases. They don’t have any old lasting strongholds (except Orkney and the Shetlands!), like Labour has in the coal fields or the Tories in rural England, meaning that their electoral successes often come from a localized message against their party of choice or policy of choice. If not, it comes from a personal vote.
The result is that it renders even more useless the holy universal national swing (UNS) calculators. Those little gadgets work on the flawed assumption that the national swing from one party to another will be the same in all constituencies, in all regions. The UNS is a good thing to sell papers and grab headlines, but it isn’t the most useful of electoral outcome predictors. The LibDem surge renders it all the more useless.
The current lines in polling seems to have the Tories at around 33-36%, Labour and LibDems usually at 28% each, giving or taking a few points. The polls have been remarkably stable in that range, though YouGov’s daily tracker today had the LibDems down to 24% – something not yet backed up by any other pollster. In terms of seats, the UNS and other predictors seem to indicate that the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament with somewhere in the high 200s-low 300s in terms of seats, with Labour likely in second with somewhere between 210 and 250ish seats. The LibDems would likely be between the high 70s and mid 90s. A poll in marginal constituencies indicates a Tory majority of two, but if there’s one thing I am allergic too, it is those polls in ‘marginals’ or in specific constituencies.
This would result in a hung parliament, which would mean that no party would have an outright majority. There are a lot of possible consequences of this, including a minority government similar to Canada, a Tory deal with the Northern Irish unionists (or SNP, but only if the Tories are very close to an overall majority) or a coalition deal between one of the parties and the LibDems. The LibDems will probably be in a good position to ask for a number of concessions on stuff such as electoral reform or working with Labour on condition that Brown goes, so I would personally argue that there’s a better chance for a Tory minority government than the Tories agreeing to LibDem electoral reform and forming a coalition with them. However, there is an outside chance that Labour could push Brown out and agree to work with the LibDems, but it would require the Tories to be far away from the majority threshold, and at least the tolerance of other parties such as Plaid or the SNP.
There have been differing analyses of where the new LibDem vote comes from exactly, but given the topic, it’s better to wait until the 7th to see the results. The LibDems would be leading, according to YouGov’s last regional breakdown, in the South-West, which would indicate their resistance in all 6 Cornish seats but also pushing through in Devon and around Bristol where they’re already naturally strong on balance. In London, they could win marginal Labour seats in Islington and that general area of northern London. In Birmingham, the bookies seem to be betting on the LibDems picking up the new inner city seat of Birmingham Hall Green. In Liverpool, the constituency of Liverpool Wavertree, a rather well-off seat in the middle of deprived Liverpool could be won by the LibDems, who could also pick up Burnley, famous for its race riots in 2001 and for being the original base of the BNP. In the mining Labour heartland of the North-East, the LibDems could pick up seats in Newcastle and Durham (City), bourgeois enclaves in proletarian land.
The minor parties, namely the Greenies, UKIP and BNP will each have their eyes seat on one seat each. The Greenies hope to pick up Brighton Pavilion, a Labour-held seat where the incumbent is retiring and where the Greens are running their leader and incumbent MEP Caroline Lucas. The LibDems seem to have informally ‘dropped out’, leaving the seat wide open for Lucas, who is the favourite in this very hip and young seat in the coastal resort of Brighton. Former UKIP leader and incumbent MEP Nigel Farage is taking on the Speaker, John Bercow, in his Buckingham seat. As per usual, neither Labour nor the LibDems are opposing the Speaker, who is a former Conservative. Farage is unlikely to win. The BNP will watch the east London seat of Barking, where its leader Nick Griffin (also an MEP…) is facing the Labour incumbent. Barking is a white working-class Labour stronghold, but the BNP’s rhetoric plays well in this area close to major immigrant areas in Tower Hamlets. Griffin is unlikely to win, but the BNP wishes to do well enough to increase its representation on the borough council (all London boroughs are also up on May 6, with a number of other seats in English local government). The controversial George Galloway won a shocking and controversial victory in Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005, in a race dominated by the Iraq War in the Bangladeshi heart of London. Respect, Galloway’s party, has since gone down the route of civil war and divisions, and got creamed in recent electoral outings. Galloway is now running in the new seat of Poplar & Limehouse, next door to Bethnal Green & Bow, probably to lose as a candidate rather than as an incumbent. Some say Galloway’s standing might split the left vote and allow the Tories to pick up Poplar & Limehouse (which includes the gentrified Docklands, where I assume there’s a base of Tory support). Respect is also going to watch Birmingham Hall Green, where Salma Yaqoob is running and already won the support of some Labour members.
Ed Balls is the only important cabinet minister facing a tough fight in the new seat of Morley & Outwood, and given that he is a likely leadership contender if/once Brown leaves the leadership, his victory or defeat will be a mjaor point. Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty, two of the largest names involved in the 2009 expenses scandal will likely go down to a hard defeat.
The race is also being played in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where issues are sometimes different.
The Conservatives are looking to make major gains in Wales, where they currently hold (notionally) three seats against 30 for Labour, 4 for the LibDems, 2 for Plaid and one seat held by an Independent. The Conservatives did top the poll here in the European elections, which marked the first time since 1918 or so that Labour didn’t top the poll in its Welsh heartland. From their three seats today, the Tories would like to gain at least five seat to have a Welsh caucus of eight seats. The LibDem surge seems to have affected Wales as well, though seemingly to a lesser extent, which means that the LibDem’s on-the-wire victory over Plaid in Ceredigion in 2005 will likely be secured and the LibDems may target seats such as Swansea West. Plaid is seemingly polling quite poorly, but Labour’s decline might help it gain Ynys Mon and win outright in Arfon (held by Plaid, but Labour on notionals). A Plaid gain in Ceredigion, however, seems more and more unlikely.
The SNP is putting a lot of stock into this election in Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament, led by the SNP, is up in May 2011. However, Scottish voters seem to prefer Labour at Westminster and the SNP in Holyrood. However, the SNP did rather poorly in 2005, polling roughly 18% to the LibDems’ 22%. Their vote will undoubtedly go up, and they could gain around two seats from the six they currently hold. The LibDems in 2005 had managed to coalesce a part of the Scottish anti-Labour vote, which usually floats between them and the SNP, so them improving on their 2005 result even minimally would be excellent and allow them to gain ground in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
In Northern Ireland, much has been made of the electoral pact between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists, forming the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists-New Force (UCUNF). But the pact was not approved by the UUP’s sole MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down, who left the party and is standing for re-election as an independent and is very likely to win. Lady Sylvia has been close to the Labour Party in the past, and she said that she was not a Tory. The UCUNF’s only major hope is in Antrim South, where its leader Reg Empey faces incumbent DUP MP William McCrea. The bookies seem to be betting on Empey for a narrow win, but a p0ll by the Belfast Telegraph says otherwise. Empey’s defeat would call into question his leadership and maybe the party as a whole (if he loses, 2010 could be the first election since… the 1800s that the Ulster Unionists do not win a single seat), especially in regards to the 2011 Assembly elections and the prospect of the Shinner Martin McGuinness become First Minister on the back of Unionist division. In Antrim North, the old patriarch of the DUP, Reverend Ian Paisley is stepping aside in favour of his son, Ian Paisley Jr., who is facing his father’s former hardline ally, Jim Allister and his new anti-power sharing Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) in his first electoral outing. The goal for Allister is not to win, but to make a strong showing as to better position the TUV to win seats in the Assembly next year. The Telegraph says that TUV would win up to 5 seats on its current numbers. The other race to watch is in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, a majority Catholic constituency held by Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew (and held by hunger striker Bobby Sands for a very short while in 1981) but one where a unionist unity candidate could conceivably win. The unionist parties (DUP and UCUNF) agreed on the candidacy of Rodney Connor, who must be the narrow favourite in the seat, which is, ironically, the birthplace of the late 20th century Sinn Féin party. However, a poll by the Telegraph has Gildernew leading him by just one point – 44 to 43. The SDLP did not drop out here, but Sinn Féin did in South Belfast, where the SDLP’s 2005 gain was on the back of unionist divisions. With Sinn Féin out there, and the Catholic population increasing, the SDLP will hold on rather easily.
There’s a mock election poll running on this very blog – down the right-hand side. After 34 votes, the Tories are ahead on here with 32% against 26% for the LibDems. The Greens are third with 12%, while there’s a massive tie for fourth with Labour, UKIP, BNP and SNP each at 6%. Mebyon Kernow and Plaid have 3% each. This would give a Tory majority of 94, with 148 LibDems, 89 Labour and 40 others…