I was all set to write a nice easy post on how voting tactically might affect the bigger picture in the House of Commons this week. However, two things got in my way. Firstly, the English Democrats and UKIP both announced candidates for Sheffield Central meaning I need to rethink some of the statements I made in the last three posts. Secondly, my original idea required a reasonable understanding of the national picture. I set about doing that and 1500 words down a rabbit hole Alice would’ve been proud of and I’ve still no real understanding of the likely outcome in May. Read on for the ravings of a sleep-deprived loon.
Before we get going, I’ll lay out the four possible outcomes of the election
1. Outright majority – one party wins a majority of the 650 seats and forms the government. Historically, this is how most British elections work out
2. Coalition government – two parties teaming up can make a majority. Our current government is the first since World War Two
3. Minority government – when a party with less than a majority reaches an agreement with a smaller party that states the smaller party will support the bigger party on major votes e.g. a budget. Smaller decisions will not have a majority and the ruling party will have to make deals to pass legislation. Last seen under the Major government in 1996-97.
4. A second election – if parties can’t agree with each other than a new election might be needed. I’m happily ignoring this as if it occurs everything I write is moot anyway
As most primary school children (or American adults) could tell you, 650 divided by 2 is 325, meaning a majority should require 326 seats. But due to Westminster’s historical position on Ireland being set firmly at ‘being a massive tool’, Sinn Fein (SF) are understandably quite popular over in NI. This means whichever seats SF win are never taken, meaning the actual number needed to win an overall majority is 325 minus ½ of seats won by SF. This magic number is likely going to be 323. Which, when we look at the table above, puts us firmly in on the ‘holy crap’ train to Yikesville.
Party and ave predicted seats
|Conservatives||Labour||SNP||Lib Dems||DUP||UKIP||Plaid Cymru||SDLP||Greens||Respect|
Yep, you did read that correctly. According to the average results of the 7 predictions, there are two 2-party coalitions possible, one of which has been ruled out by both parties (CON-SNP) and the other which would quite possibly be a sign of WWIII (CON-LAB). Looking at 3 party coalitions, the Tories get no additional options, but LAB-SNP-LD or LAB-SNP-DUP do become options. And frankly, this is exactly why you don’t waste your afternoon averaging out national polling numbers – you could have just looked at the individual polls to tell you that governmental options are pretty limited.
|May2015||Election Forecast||Election ETC||The Guardian||Ladbrokes||Electoral Calculus||Iain Dale||Average|
|*represents a prediction extrapolated from other national polling data|
|2 party options||CON-SNP||None||CON-SNP||CON-SNP
|3 party options||LAB-SNP-LD/UKIP/DUP||CON-SNP-UKIP/SDLP/PC/LD/DUP
If you think it all looks like a bit of mess, well you’d be more right than a Tea Party convention in Kitty Hawk. I’ll simplify things into a list.
2-party options – CON-SNP (5 poll-predictions), LAB-SNP (2), CON-LAB (possibly by every conceivable measure past, present and as yet undiscovered)
3-party options – LAB-SNP-LD (5), LAB-SNP-DUP (3), LAB-SNP-UKIP (2), CON-SNP-UKIP (2), CON-SNP-LD (2), CON-SNP-DUP (x2), CON-SNP-SDLP, CON-SNP-PC, CON-LD-DUP
This gives us 26 predictions of 12 government formations. I’ve discounted the possibility of CON-LAB because this is already making my head hurt a little without having to add an ‘infinitely possible, not-quite-infinitely unlikely’ option.
Before I carry on much more, full coalition is off the table currently. The SNP won’t support the Tories at all, Labour won’t go into coalition with the SNP and the DUP are ‘not interested’ in joining any coalitions. There are other party squabbles as well but I could rule out coalition with just those three, and didn’t fancy adding to the patchwork quilt from hell that is this article.
That means we are stuck with a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, which means a small party agrees to vote for a larger party in votes of confidence and budgets and nothing else. The large party then has to make agreements with other parties on a vote-by-vote basis. Not great but better than never getting anything through.
If a minority government is necessary, the Tories are right royally buggered. Here are their options again.
As the SNP have stated they will not support the Tories, then one lonely option remains to Mr Cameron – CON-LD-DUP. As last resorts go, a current coalition partner and a party that shares the values of conservatism and unionism aren’t half bad. What is more than half bad however is the distinct possibility that the Tories will not have any mathematically feasible options for 2 or 3 party minority governments. Even for a party that’s not won a majority for over 20 years that is a pretty terrible state of affairs
Given that Labour is widely thought to be heading towards less seats than the Tories on May 7th, you’d expect their options to be even more limited. However, Labour have the advantage of not having actively pissed everyone off the last 5 years (just passively doing it) and they have a few options mathematically available.
No points to anyone for spotting the theme. Unless the electorate swings towards them faster than Jeremy Clarkson swings at a producer after being told there’s no steak, Labour are going to be relying on the Braveheart brigade from Beyond The Wall to strengthen their governmental chops. If they had to make a deal over Irn Bru and deep fried pie, then ideally Ed Milliband would like Nicola Sturgeon to be his only dinner guest.
Disappointingly for Ed, 5 out of the 7 predictions I’ve looked at think he’ll have to bring Nick Clegg around the table for further support. Ideologically, Labour and the SNP are pretty aligned, and the Lib Dems would probably be pretty happy to scoot over to the left; it might even help them get over being Tory cannon fodder for the last 5 years.
I nearly removed the next idea from the piece entirely, based as it is off the predictions of a sole political journalist, Iain Dale, rather than statistics. However, said journalist has looked at every seat in the country to make his predictions, and they were just too interesting to ignore. He has the Tories and Labour neck-a-neck, no two party solutions at all and his model gives Nicola Sturgeon the choice of both biggest (David Cameron or Ed Milliband) and littlest spoon (Nigel Farage or the DUP’s Nigel Dodds) for what has to be the world’s least appealing ménage à trois. If you were worried about the Scots become independent a few months ago, you can start worrying about the real possibility that the SNP will essentially have the pick of the bunch when it comes to options on May 8th and none of them look too bad. Need the SNP to form a coalition? Probably have to give them a second referendum. Just want them for a minority party? Get ready to give a lot of nice goodies to Scotland. Happy for them to be in opposition? Get ready for a lot of heckling and stalling from a big block of new MPs who don’t care for the old Westminster clique.
Having looked at all of the national polls, what can we learn from them? Well number one, nobody has a real clue what’s cracking off. The Tories may get the most seats but where will the extra seats needed to get them a majority come from? Labour probably won’t win a majority or the most seats but seems to have more potential partners for a confidence and supply agreement. Secondly, this isn’t going to end prettily. If you thought the Con-Lib coalition came together in a ham-fisted way, wait until you see what we get on May 8th. A single majority seems very unlikely, the likely third party seem just as happy to wreck the whole system rather than get into government and if no one back down from their statements. If so, we might end with a three party confidence and supply agreement that has Labour simultaneously relying on nine N.I. MPs who want to stay in the union and a rabble of Scottish MPs who would jump ship if they had the chance. At the very least, it’s going to be very interesting.