UK voters are now casting their votes in the 2010 general election. Over the last few days we have seen a clear trend in polls in the UK: the Conservatives are clearly in first place around 35%, with the Lib Dems and Labour in a statistical dead heat in second place around 28%.
While these figures are quite clear and consistent amongst all the polls, it is extremely difficult to make predictions. Polls in the past have overestimated Labour’s support, which would suggest we are on track for the Lib Dems to come second. On the other hand, that tradition took place in an era when voting Labour was popular and cool, while voting Conservative was not. It is possible that such a trend could be reversed, and “shy Tories” could be replaced by “shy Labour”.
The biggest question, however, is how the vote numbers translate into seats. Most of the British media has been using the “Uniform National Swing” model to produce figures for how they expect the numbers to go, and expect a variation on this model to be used by the BBC to extrapolate their exit poll into a result. Having said that, you would have to think that with such massive turmoil in the polls and shifts in support and the rise of the Lib Dems, you would expect the swing to be very non-uniform, and in ways that could effect it. I would expect that the result would deviate away from UNS in such a way that sees Labour lose more seats to both the Tories and the Lib Dems.
This has been reflected in the model used by US polling blog FiveThirtyEight, who have developed a model where they make interpretations about which voters are switching between parties and use a variation on proportional swing. While the UNS model used by FiveThirtyEight sees a 36-28 gap between Tory and Labour leave the Tories with only ten seats more (and so far short of a majority that only the Lib Dems could deliver a majority), the FiveThirtyEight model on similar figures sees Labour lose sixty more seats: fourty to the Conservatives and twenty to the Lib Dems.
Despite my earlier refusal, I think it’s worth me taking a punt at a prediction. I won’t make detailed seat-by-seat, or even region-by-region picks, but I will make a few broad statements.
First of all, I think the polls are mostly right, but if anything the Lib Dems could be slightly underestimated, which could see them overtake Labour, but I give Labour a 60% chance of coming second. Apart from that, the voting figures of 36/28/28 will be roughly reflected. UK polls have improved tremendously and the final polls are all very close to each other this time around.
So here’s my prediction. Let’s start with the small parties. I predict that the Greens will win Brighton Pavilion, where they will gain the boost received elsewhere by the Lib Dems, who haven’t shown much signs of campaigning in the seat, so shouldn’t siphon too many votes away from Labour and Green.
I also predict that George Galloway will pull off a win in Poplar & Limehouse, but that Labour will regain his seat of Bethnal Green & Bow, but I reckon there could be a chance that the Respect candidate could retain that seat, giving the party two seats in eastern London.
Plaid Cymru will retain their three seats, despite the redistribution reducing their numbers to two. I predict the SNP will gain seven seats. Without trying to name them, their surge of 2007-8 has receded and Labour appears to be mostly maintaining its position in Scotland, with the small protest vote against them going to the Lib Dems. Having said that, the sole Conservative MP could well lose his seat, leaving them with no seats there again.
I also predict that Sinn Fein and the SDLP will retain their seats (5 and 3 respectively), but I won’t try and make predictions about how the ten unionists seats will be split between the DUP and the UUP/Conservative alliance.
I also predict that Speaker John Bercow and the two independents will retain their seats.
As for the majors, I won’t pick exact numbers, but the Conservatives will get just short of 320 (my numbers came out as 319), Labour just short of 200 and the Lib Dems around 100, possibly slightly over.
The consequences of this result would be a hung parliament, but not one where the Lib Dems are the key powerbrokers. With the Conservatives so close to a majority the option of a Labour/Lib Dem pact is not available. In addition, the Tories would have a number of options, including the Lib Dems, the Celtic nationalists and the Northern Ireland unionists. They could stitch up a deal with the DUP, the Lib Dems, or attempt to go it alone, and wouldn’t have too much trouble getting support on each issue. You would likely see Cameron govern moderately and modestly for a year or two before calling another election when he sees the opportunity to gain a majority.
This is the scenario where the order of votes between Labour and Lib Dem will become important. While I predict the Lib Dems to win around 100 seats, you would expect a lot more seats to become marginals on the Lib Dem target list, seats where the party was not expected to win but had performed strongly. If Labour manages to come second I expect they will pull together and unite to prevent Cameron’s government from functioning with a working majority. But if the Lib Dems manage to come second they will be put in a position where an election a year or two down the track could see them challenge Labour in many more seats and eclipse them as the major force on the left in British politics.
Polls close at 10pm in the UK (7am Australian Eastern Standard Time) and I will be up to blog from then on. At that time we should see the joint BBC/ITN/Sky exit poll, and begin to see results within two hours.