Election notebook #17: my final prediction

by Stephen Tall on June 7, 2017

It was 24th April when I made my first (and, ’til now, only) prediction of this campaign. I forecast a Tory landslide, a Labour drubbing and a very small Lib Dem recovery. Six weeks’ later, I stick by one-and-a-half of these expectations.

I didn’t expect the Conservative campaign to be this poor (by which I mean the ‘air-war’ – I suspect they’ve done very well in the targeted ‘ground-war’). And I didn’t expect the Labour campaign to be this successful, somehow uniting the two squabbling ‘because of’ and ‘in spite of’ Corbyn wings of the party.

As a result, the election has become more binary than any in my lifetime. If you’re anti-Corbyn, you’ll vote Conservative and, if you’re anti-Conservative, you’ll vote Labour. Some 80 per cent of you will, at any rate. The situation’s a bit different in Scotland and Wales, but across England, bar a couple of dozen seats, the Lib Dems won’t get much of a look-in.

That’s disrupted my initial calculations. I still expect a Conservative landslide (ie, a 100+ majority) and a heavy Labour defeat. But the Lib Dems will, alas, have to wait ’til 2022 for our next ‘one more heave’.

My estimate of the final vote-shares hasn’t actually changed for the Conservatives. I reckon they’ll get c.45%. But Labour, who I thought would fade, have surged. I’d now estimate they’ll finish on c.34%. And, by contrast, the Lib Dems who I thought would shine have been eclipsed. I think we’ll do no better than in 2015, on c.8%.

How will that convert into seats? Well, my working assumption is that Labour will pile up votes in seats it already holds or where it’s too far behind to make a difference; while the Conservatives will have ruthlessly targeted Labour seats to maximum effect, especially in heavily Leave-voting areas. In the office prediction competition, I’ve guesstimated as follows:

Conservative 381 MPs
Labour 197
SNP 44
Lib Dems 5
Plaid 3
Greens 1
Ukip 0
Others 19
Conservative majority = 112

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If (and obviously it’s a big if) this is the result, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about it.

I take absolutely no pleasure in the prospect of a Conservative landslide. However, it may just mean Theresa May has the votes to negotiate a more sensible Brexit deal than if she’s reliant on her hard-right Europhobes. It will also mean she ‘owns’ the outcome, that there can be no attempt to sidestep responsibility for what follows. (Though the right-wing media will do its best to pin all the blame for a bad/no deal on the foreigners, of course.)

For Labour, the outcome will fall into the “it’s bad, but could’ve been worse” category. Jeremy Corbyn has emerged with credit from the campaign, not least because the Conservatives haven’t put much serious effort into contesting his spending splurge on middle-class subsidies. Left-wing populism, we’ve discovered, is quite capable of energising a significant minority vote. The hope for those of who want to see Labour as a viable party of government again is that the next leader will be as comfortable in their own skin as Mr Corbyn, but with the integrity and competence to (1) understand the need for economic credibility, and (2) target re-distributive support towards the working poor.

As for the Lib Dems, what to do? Labour’s continuing survival rules out the prospect of a new moderate progressive party emerging out of the ashes of Corbynism and my party’s demise. So those of us who are liberals need to focus on re-building Lib Dem capacity once again, recognising that’s not easy or quick work. If Brexit fails, the Lib Dems opportunity might come sooner than we think. If it succeeds, then it’ll be a generation’s toil. There are no ‘silver bullets’, no instant fixes.