Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Very Definition Of A Cut & Run Election

You may remember a piece that I did about four weeks ago saying that May would not be calling an election this year.  You may remember me saying that there looked like there was no space in May’s plans for an election in May, June or September.  No chance of an election, no suree.
PM May announces her intention to disolve parliament ahead
of a June 8 vote.


To be fair, I did point out in the same piece that if May was in Downing Street living off Cameron’s mandate by the time the bells ring in 2018 then her chances of a large majority will recede, so I didn’t get everything wrong. It’s just I rubbished the bit that turned out to be correct.

May’s calculation clearly is that with tough negotiations ahead and with the likelihood of choppy economic conditions ahead, then this was the time to seek a new improved mandate.  Whether she will get that remains to be seen.  The last genuinely cut and run election (as opposed to elections called with months left on a five year parliament) was the one Wilson called in the autumn of 1974, attempting to win – and ultimately gained a nether less small three seat - majority that would see his government last five years.  That one took place 8 months after Heath’s own cut and run gamble backfired. Running on a “who governs” platform, Heath won the popular vote but finished four seats behind Wilson’s Labour, clinging on until the Monday in the hope of a deal with Thorpe’s Liberals.

May’s own position is rather more secure than the position which Wilson found himself in.  Assuming the parliamentary vote goes May’s way, her Tories will end the shortest parliament in 40 years looking to extend their working majority from 17 seats.  If the polls are correct, she will do that and a bit more.  Comparing the result of the 2015 election to current polling, there has been a swing of 5.5% from Labour to the Tories.  On a uniform swing, this will be enough to take 48 of Labour’s current 229 seats and give May a landslide win with a majority of between 98 and 108 seats.

For the record, not that the polls are indicating it, Corbyn’s Labour party will be looking for a uniform swing of 8.75% which will enable them to take the 94+ seats that will put Corbyn into Downing Street.  Of course, that list of targets includes SNP held seats which means that the swing required will be higher, about 9.5% if the SNP held seats are taken out of the equation.  As a matter of interest, a swing to Labour of 0.45% from 2015 would be enough to wipe out May’s majority.

Of course, Britain’s third party is no longer the party which began the last General Election in government and defending 57 seats.  The Liberal Democrats will go into this election defending 8 seats.  There is talk however that their openly pro-EU stance will attract “remain” voters which will hopefully (for them) boost their numbers.  Polling however only puts them up a couple of percentage points from their showing 2 years ago, maybe enough for 2 additional seats.  Of course, that’ll be dependent on if there’s any more homophobic gaffes from their accident waiting to happen cum leader Dim Farron.

Meanwhile Britain’s third party are already in full election mode.  Given that there are council elections in two weeks time – and they were the only blot on the SNP’s electorial copybook  since 2011 – the SNP will be looking forward to defending the 56 seats they won in 2015.  Conventional wisdom dictates that those seats will be mostly safe, of the 56 Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk is the only seat that falls into the ultra marginal category with Calum Kerr vulnerable to the Tories on a swing of 0.3%.  If there is a Lib Dem revival, they could target the East Dumbarton seat held by John Nicholson (2% swing required here) the Edinburgh West seat won by Michelle Thomson (2.9% swing required here) and the North East Fife seat, won by Stephen Gethins (4.8% swing needed).  Not that they’re in any position to challenge, but the SNP’s most vulnerable seats to Labour are Kirsten Oswald’s East Renfrewshire seat (3.3%), Deidre Brock’s Edinburgh North & Leith seat (4.8%), George Kerevan’s East Lothian seat (5.75%) and…  well…  this seat.  Mhairi Black being vulnerable in the (highly unlikely) event of a swing to Labour of 6.15%.  Having said that, there were signs of voter fatigue with the SNP in last year’s Holyrood election.  If the Lib Dem’s and the Tories manage to replicate their results which propelled Alex Cole-Hamilton and Ruth Davidson into Holyrood as constituency MSP’s, things could be interesting and not quite so rosy for the SNP.

There is the very real possibility that the SNP could take the other three seats they lost out on 24 months ago.  Of the three, David Mundell’s seat is the most vulnerable.  A swing to the SNP of 0.75% would be enough for the dislodgement of the man SNP supporters have dubbed “Snackbeard”.  A swing of 1.8% would be enough for the SNP to dislodge their hate figure from two years ago, Alistair Carmichael while Iain Murray’s Edinburgh South seat is the safest of the three – though that’s not saying much with the required swing being 2.65% to unseat Murray.

Assuming that May’s Commons debate goes her way today, there will be a Westminster Election on June 8.  The polls point to a likely May landslide with a majority around the 100 seat mark.  I’m not that sure that this will be the likely outcome as election campaigns tend to take on a life of it’s own.  I think May will remain in Downing Street, but I think that’ll be the only thing that will go precisely to plan.  I don’t think the SNP will hold all of the 56 seats they won two years ago.  Other than that, I’m not sure what will happen.  If you need a reminder of the unpredictability of elections, cast your minds back 47 years to when Harold Wilson called the first post war June election.  Wilson’s Labour were heavy favourites…  until Ted Heath won a 30 odd seat majority.