Saturday, 31 December 2011

Election results 2015: 40 Lib Dem seats

A week is said to be a long time in politics so it's incredibly foolhardy to make predictions about politics in three to four years' time. However, I'm going to do it anyway.

I predict that in the 2015 general election, the Lib Dems will get around 40 seats in parliament.

This prediction comes from taking the results of the latest ICM poll, putting the results into the UK Polling Report swingometer and then making some adjustments.

I chose ICM because they are the "gold standard" when it comes to polling. They got the vote shares in the 2010 general election almost spot on, likewise with the Scottish 2011 elections and they also got the vote shares in the AV referendum within 0.2% of the actual result.

ICM uses a methodology which includes weighting responses by the liklihood to vote and reallocating half of "don't know" answers to the party they voted for last time. Which methodology pollsters should use remains debatable but in ICM's case it seems to be pretty accurate.

Now, ICM has had the Lib Dems at around 14 or 15% for most of 2011. Overall, things have been pretty consistent with them.

So, what I've done is to take the latest ICM poll (CON 37%, LAB 36% LDEM 15%) and adjusted the figure slightly. I've tried to be fair with the adjustments as they're based on the fact that the Lib Dems still don't get equal news coverage at the moment and therefore can expect their position to improve slightly when the next election comes round and the news media (apart from newspapers) is required to provide balanced coverage. In previous elections this has given the Lib Dems a boost of 5 points or more when it comes to votes actually cast on polling day. To allow for Lib Dem unpopularity caused by going into coalition, I've reduced that boost to 3 points. This means reducing the current position of other groups in the ICM poll as follows:

Conservatives: -1 (A slight loss from 2010, probably realistic as support they've won will be offset by the impact of the unpopularity of cuts and by the fickleness of those swing voters who always vote against the government)
Labour: -1 (Still a big improvement on their 2010 position and allows for a slight loss of support due to protest voters reconsidering Labour as they come under closer scrutiny during the election campaign)
Lib Dems: +3 (As explained above)
Others: -1 (Still leaves them three points higher than they did in 2010)

Once these adjusted figures are put into the swingometer we get the following:

Con Conservative 272 seats (-34)
Lab Labour 310 seats (+52)
LD Liberal Democrats 41 seats (-16)
Other Others 11% 9 seats (-2)
NI Northern Ireland

18 seats (nc)

Now, that's based on a uniform swing on the 2010 election results. But the 2015 general election will most likely be fought on the new boundaries which will see an equalisation of constituency sizes and reduction in the number of seats to 600.

One of the main effect of the boundary changes will be to remove the current bias towards Labour. As you can see from the swingometer, Labour can get less votes than the tories and get more seats. This will also mean that all of the parties get less seats than they have at the moment.

Now, current predictions are that, under the boundary changes (and excluding Wales, as the boundary changes there haven't been published yet) the Lib Dems would get 44 seats if their vote share remained unchanged.

The caveat to this however is that the Lib Dems in particular have a tendency of bucking the national trend where they have MPs. This is called the incumbency effect.

For example, the party president, Tim Farron MP, is notable for being one of the very few MPs in the country who won over half the votes in his constituency, including those who didn't turn out to vote. So that means that over half the population in his constituency support him. Yet his seat is being abolished in the boundary changes and is being split between what is notionally a tory seat and what is notionally a very marginal Labour seat. But Tim has a long, long record of squeezing Labour voters in his seat and persuading them to vote for him and there's no reason why he couldn't do the same in the new seat of Barrow-in-Furness. On top of that, his activists and campaigners who have been moved to the new tory seat are highly likely to travel up to Barrow to campaign for Tim there rather than waste their time in a tory seat that they won't be able to win. So it's highly likely that Tim will remain an MP despite his seat being abolished.

It's not unlikely that the Lib Dems could do similar things throughout the rest of the country, but that's not accounted for in these notional predictions of the impact of the boundary changes. But then again, neither is the Lib Dem loss in support since 2010.

So, as a crude measure to take these effects into account, I'm going to say that they'll pretty much cancel each other out. And that's why I'm going to predict that the Lib Dems, after the impact of the incumbency effect, after the seats in Wales are added to the total, and after the impact of the loss of support, are going to win a minimum of 40 seats in the next general election.

What's very much harder to predict is the totals of seats that Labour and Tories will get. The notional impact of the boundary changes (excluding Wales) would give the Tories 293 seats and Labour 209. Given that both parties are likely to have fairly equal levels of support in 2015 I've decided to split the difference somewhat. This gives both parties about 250 seats each. However, the Tories are likely to stay ahead somewhat in England where they are traditionally stronger than Labour and Labour are likely to stay ahead somewhat in Wales where they are traditionally stronger than the Tories.

Wales is due to lose 10 seats under the boundary review, bringing the total number of seats to 30. I'm going to guess that Labour will continue to get well over half the seats in Wales while the tories are likely to lose most of their gains from the last election due to the combined impact of the seat reductions and of the swing back towards Labour.

It's impossible to hazard a guess of any sort on the exact numbers of seats Labour and the tories are going to get but it's almost certain that neither of them will be able to achieve a majority with their current polling figures. It's also likely that one or both of them will be able to form a majority with the help of the 40+ Lib Dem seats. So this means that, despite our loss in support, the Lib Dems will still be in a position to enter a coalition or a confidence-and-supply agreement which would enable us to continue implementing some Lib Dem policies.

Personally, I think some sort of agreement with Labour would be best, preferably a confidence-and-supply agreement, because that would show that we are capable of working with both of the other parties whereas a second Lib-Tory coalition would risk us losing our identity as an independent party. And a confidence-and-supply agreement would also allow us to get the occasional headline grabbing Lib Dem policy implemented whilst also giving us time in opposition to rebuild our support. That's my personal preference though and the fact is that the outcome of the next election is still very much in the lap of the gods.

Things could also change radically between now and 2015 as unforeseen events can overturn everything in an instance (after all, Thatcher was well on the way to becoming an unpopular, one-term Prime Minister before the Falklands Conflict boosted her popularity to a landslide second term). That said, I think that my key prediction is likely to come true:

At the next election the Lib Dems will win 40 or more seats in parliament.

P.S. I've assumed that Scotland won't vote for independence in a referendum and will instead plump for some sort of devo-max.


  1. You seem to have based your prediction on the assumption that the boundary changes will completely abolish the bias towards Labour, which is not correct. The bias towards Labour in the electoral system is around 8%, of which approximately:

    2% is due to boundaries
    2% is due to efficient vote (Labour won a lot of seats very narrowly at the last election, whereas the Tories had a lot of big majorities but their vote wasn't always where it counted)
    And 4% is due to differential turnout, i.e. in Labour safe seats the turnout can be as low as 35%, whereas in some Tory safe seats the turnout is above 70%.

    Those last two factors cannot be addressed by changing the boundary system, so there will still probably be around a 6% bias in favour of Labour in the voting system.

  2. Using your figures, what do you imagine the outcome would be at the next election?

    Labour, the biggest party, would have the first shot at forming a coalition. Mindful of the fact that 'others' consist mainly of National parties and the Irish 18, which really can't properly go into coalition except on matters which affect them (ie, not any issues involving England only, which is the bulk of the UK government's work), what do you think would happen?

    Would Labour try to go it alone with confidence and supply from the National parties?

    Or would the Liberals go into coalition with them?

    Or would the Liberals stay with the Tories?

  3. @Will

    Thanks for that, I wasn't aware that there would still be a 6% bias towards Labour though I had a gut feeling there might be. Fortunately, this gives me slightly more hope that my preferred scenario might come true :)

  4. @tris

    Labour are handicapped by having a leader far less popular then their party - much like the tories were with Ted Heath.

    So I think that they won't be able to win enough seats to be within touching distance of a majority. That would make a pact with nationalists or something similar unworkable as it still wouldn't provide a majority.

    As such I imagine we'd see a repeat of the 2010 coalition negotiations only with the Labour and Tory positions reversed.

    We've already established the precedent of the Lib Dems talking first to the party that has the largest amount of support from the country. That might make things complicated though if the tories get more votes but less seats.

    I think in the event of Labour being the largest party then a coalition agreement is possible though a confidence and supply arrangement is more likely.

    I think it's extremely unlikely that we would remain in coalition with the tories when most of us thoroughly, thoroughly dislike them and have a tendency to view Labour as the least worst of the two other main parties.

  5. I cannot see this coalition standing the full course till 2015.

    Nick Clegg is finished as far as the electorate are concerned.Its just,when will the night of the long knives begin within your own party.Perhaps the Ides of March.

  6. as ever excellent stuff George but can i add one other thing to factor in: Scottish Independence. If it is approved in 2014, then this will have a monumental effect on our position - and an unknown affect on the polls. who knows how this will shake things up.


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