As I wrote on this blog yesterday, the snap election on June 8th will end with Theresa May securing a very comfortable majority, which should be rather obvious to everybody. The only question is exactly how large will that majority be? I mentioned some historical parallels the other day, so perhaps that’s not the worse place to start. In 1983, the last time when Labour was both in opposition and this far behind in the polls, it ended up with 209 seats – pretty bad, but only approximately 30 less than what the party commands now. However, the electoral map today looks significantly worse for Jeremy Corbyn than it did for Michael Foot.
What Do The Numbers Say?
So, the current polling average has the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 26%. According to a traditional “Swingometer,” if the vote was held today, that would translate into a Conservative majority of 94, having taken 41 seats from Labour and one from the SNP, as you can see in the graph below.
The Numbers Are Misleading
Well, sort of anyway. Firstly, I have a slight suspicion that the current polling is somewhat exaggerating Labour support. Why? Well, because it usually does, and, as I will explain later, it is highly likely that Conservative support will increase as the campaign properly begins. Under first past the post, even small swings can bring substantial changes to the map. For example, if (instead of 42/26) the Conservatives manage to win 44% to Labour’s 24%, their majority increases to 130.
Secondly, it would be wrong to take these calculations as absolute gospel, even if the projected national swing is correct. That is because some constituencies are likely to see a higher than average swing due to issues such as Brexit. According to the graph above, the Liberal Democrats will only gain one seat (Cambridge from Labour). That is almost certainly untrue, as the party will likely gain a number of pro-remain seats from the Conservatives, as the latter’s election chief has warned. Furthermore, a majority of those happen to be former Lib Dem seats anyway, making their comeback there more likely. Another example could be Labour seats where many people are employed in nuclear power or the defence industry, as such voters will be much more susceptible to anti-Corbyn messaging due to the Labour leader’s previous views on energy and the military. Such local concerns are not represented in national polling.
What Is Likely To Change Between Now and June?
Glad you asked. First and foremost, Labour’s support will likely decline. Since Corbyn was elected leader, his ardent supporters have wasted no time complaining about unfair media coverage. Well, over the next few months they will discover what a Conservative Party media machine really looks like. Tory operatives will dig up everything unsavoury the man has ever said or done and hand it to their friends in the press. Every comment he ever made about the IRA. Every newspaper he ever worked for that condoned terrorism. Every penny he ever took from the “wrong” people. Everything which contributes to an image of Corbyn being simultaneously dangerous and incompetent. They will destroy him, just as they did with Milliband and Kinnock, only this time their people will have far more material to work with.
Speaking of “their people,” Lynton Crosby has already been hired to help lead the campaign. That’s the 60-year-old Australian who engineered Cameron’s surprise victory in 2015. Some of his tactics have certainly come under staunch criticism, but the man knows how to run an election campaign. They’ll wake up at 5 AM every day for six weeks and their machine will be devastatingly effective. Tory HQ has also hired the same pollsters as last time round, also known as “The only people in Britain who weren’t surprised by David Cameron’s majority.” Simply put, as far as talent is concerned, Labour isn’t even close. They weren’t close in 2015, and now most of the party has accepted their face and is only worried about the internal battles to follow.
Now for some counterbalance, I suppose. In 2015, the Conservatives owed their much-renowned victory to a terrifically effective fear factor. Third party voters and apathetic Tories alike were driven to the polls by the feeling that a Labour government propped up by the SNP was a very real possibility. Much of Crosby’s messaging initiative was focused on precisely this.
This time, however, few people in Britain actually believe that Jeremy Corbyn can become Prime Minister, and that’s a problem. If Labour manages to do a decent job of mobilising its voters, then the potential apathy on the other side might ensure that they lose by a significantly smaller margin than most expect. Combine that with moderately sized Lib Dem comeback, and May’s projected supermajority might not be quite as super after all.
That’s what a lot of people, myself included, were undoubtedly wondering as May went back on her approximately 7 million promises not to hold an election before 2020. I suppose the reason she finally couldn’t resist is that it’s unlikely to get any better from here for the Conservatives. By 2020, Corbyn might have resigned and been replaced with someone at least half-competent, while the realities of leaving the European Union without a proper trade deal might begin to set in. This is her best chance to get a huge majority while likely reducing the opposition to its lowest number of seats since before the Second World War. Temptation is a potentially irresistible force.
My Pointless Prediction Then…
All things considered, and while it will be much easier to tell closer to the date, my own feeling is that May will take somewhere between 40 and 50 seats from Labour while the Lib Dems make moderate gains from both Labour and the Conservatives. The SNP will probably hold on to almost every seat in Scotland despite one or two loses to Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives. UKIP will get nowhere. Brexit was the worst thing that ever happened to them.