I’ve been quiet on these premises in relation to the British election for the simple reason that I’ve no idea what’s been going on, and neither really has anyone else. The decision of the party leaders to take part in three-way debates launched us into uncharted territory. The polls suggested a significant surge in Liberal Democrat support as a result, but were such a low-resolution image of public opinion that no one yet knows where it came from or what it means. The swing could be uniform across the country, or it could be concentrated in Labour heartlands, evidence of dissatisfaction with Labour, or it could be concentrated in Conservative territory, evidence of an anti-Tory coalition. Each of these three possibilities has a significantly different effect on the election, but no one knows which one it is. People default to “uniform national swing” as it is the easiest explanation, but there’s no real basis for that assumption.
With that caveat, here’s my assessment of the situation on voting day today. The final polls basically show the parties on the following shares of votes, plus or minus one percentage point: Conservatives 36 percent, Labour 28 percent, Liberal Democrats 28 percent. On a uniform swing, the Conservatives need to be both at 40 percent and ten points ahead of Labour to get a working majority. They don’t seem to have got that. However, if the turnout is high, that is likely to reflect widespread disaffection with Labour and the Liberal Democrat surge will hurt Labour in the Conservatives’ favor. I expect the turnout to be high.
Before the campaign began, I said that I thought David Cameron would get a small majority. I am not so confident now. I believe he will be just short of a majority (and note this point from an academic expert), but will be able to come to an arrangement with conservative parties from Northern Ireland that will get him to the level where he will be able to run a minority government that only a lockstep alliance between Labour and the Liberal Democrats — which would be likely to prove damaging to the Liberal Democrats — would be able to bring down.
That’s my gut feeling, at any rate. I could be very wrong. Here’s a useful summary from the Telegraph of what different results would mean. One important point to bear in mind: If the Tories underperform compared to the polls and get about 33 percent of the vote, around what other recent leaders have obtained, then the Cameron project will have unambiguously failed.
If you can’t get the C-SPAN feed, remember you can follow the election on LBC with prominent Tory blogger, Thatcher fan, and all-around good guy, the tastefully-named Iain Dale. One particular seat to watch out for is the steel-working constituency of Corby, where my friend the novelist Louise Bagshawe is the candidate. Assuming a uniform swing, that’s the seat the Conservatives need to win to know they’ve got a majority. Another seat to watch is Normanton, where Gordon Brown’s right-hand man Ed Balls is in severe danger of losing.
Final word should be with Matt, the best political cartoonist in the world.