I think I can assume everyone reading this is already aware there will likely be an early general election on the 8th June. There will be lots of polling ahead, but here are a few initial thoughts:

The overall polling position is a strong lead for the Conservative party. There is some variation between different polling companies, but all the polls are showing robust leads for the Conservative party, most are showing extremely strong leads up in the high teens, a few breaking twenty. As the polls currently stand (and, obviously, there are seven weeks to go) a Conservative majority looks very, very likely. The size of it is a different matter – the twenty-one point lead in the recent YouGov, ICM and ComRes polls would produce a majority in excess of a hundred, a nine point lead like in the Opinium poll at the weekend would only see a small increase in the Tory majority.

It’s harder to tell from the polls how well the Liberal Democrats will do. The swing between Labour and the Conservatives will normally give us a relatively good guide to the outcome between those two parties. The Lib Dems are a trickier question – the polls generally show them increasing their support, and this has been more than backed up by local by-elections. How it translates into seats is a more difficult question, my guess is that their support will be concentrated more in areas that voted Remain and the Lib Dems have a history of very effective constituency campaigning. I would expect them to do better in terms of seats than raw swing calculations would suggest.

The elections will be the test of to what degree pollsters have corrected the problems of 2015. The BPC inquiry into what went wrong at the general election concluded that the main problem was with sampling. Polling companies have reacted to that in different ways – some have adopted new quotas or weighting mechanisms to try and ensure their polls have the correct proportions of non-graduates and people who are have little interest in politics; others have instead concentrated on turnout models, moving their turnout models to ones based upon respondents’ age and social class, rather than just how likely they say there are to vote; some have switched from telephone to online (and some have done all of these!). The election will be a chance to see whether these changes have been enough to stop the historical overestimation of Labour support, or indeed whether they’ve gone too far and resulted in a pro-Tory skew. I’ll look in more detail at the different methodological approaches during the campaign.

Elections that look set to produce a landslide results may bring their own problems – in 1983 and 1997 (both elections that mostly relied on face to face polling, so not necessarily relevant to today’s polling methodologies) we saw polls that largely overstated the victorious party’s lead.

The local elections will still happen part way through the campaign. The local elections will still go ahead at the start of May. It’s been a long time since that happened – in recent decades general elections have normally been held on the same day as the local elections – but it’s not unprecedented. In 1983 and 1987 the local elections were in May and the general elections followed in June. Notably they were really NOT a good predictor of the general election a month later. Comparing the Rallings & Thrasher estimates for the local elections those years with the subsequent general elections, in the 1983 local elections the Conservatives were ahead by 3 points… they won the general election the next month by 14 points. In the 1987 local elections the Conservatives were ahead by 6 points, in the general election a month later they were ahead by 11 points. In both cases the SDP-Liberal Alliance did much better in the locals than the general a month later. In short, when the local elections happen in May and Labour aren’t 20 points behind don’t get all excited/distraught about the polls being wrong… people just vote differently in local elections. It may well give the Lib Dems a nice boost during the campaign though.

The Fixed Term Parliament Act probably ended up a bit of a damp squib. There is still a vote to be had tomorrow and the government still need two-thirds of all MPs so it’s not quite all tied up, but as things stand it appears to have been much less of an obstacle than many expected. There was no need for a constructive vote of no confidence, the opposition just agreed to the election. The problem with the two-thirds provision was always the question of whether it would be politically possible for an opposition to say no to a general election.

The boundary changes obviously won’t go ahead in time for the general election. However, it does not mean they won’t happen. The legislation governing the boundary reviews doesn’t say they happen each Parliament, but that they happen each five years. Hence unless the government change the rules to bring them back into line with the election cycle the review will continue to happen, will still report in 2018, but will now first be used in the next general election in 2022. If the election results in an increased Tory majority it probably makes it more likely that the boundary changes will go ahead – getting changes through Parliament always looked slightly dodgy with a small majority.


310 Responses to “Some thoughts about the general election”

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  1. Haven’t dropped in here in a long time thanks in no small part to a new job and a new relationship, but just wanted to wish everyone involved with the elections good luck. Let the terrifying and exhilarating part begin!

  2. “The problem with the two-thirds provision was always the question of whether it would be politically possible for an opposition to say no to a general election.”

    Strange behaviour. What has Corbyn got to gain from it all? He could easily barter something from it, such as televised debates. It just odd that he’s all for it.

  3. @Statgeek

    I don’t think it odd. He is desperate to put his support to the country. I think he actually believes that once he’s on the stump again people will flock in their millions like the left wing masses did to his labour leadership clarion call. I really think he believes that.

  4. Interesting that May is currently refusing to take part in any television debates. Will the broadcasters go ahead anyway and threaten to leave an empty chair for her?

  5. @Hireton

    If not, they can kiss goodbye future debates.

  6. Are we likely to get a repeat of the 2016 Referendum Result in which results in London and major regional centres/university seats will differ greatly from those in outlying parts of English regions? And have changes to opinion polls since 2015 been sensitive to such possibilities?? If they just measure swings aggregated within English regions, or if they concentrate on regional “capitals” such as Manchester, Leeds and Bristol,they could well some unstuck again, In my opinion.

  7. “The election will be a chance to see whether these changes have been enough to stop the historical overestimation of Labour support, or indeed whether they’ve gone too far and resulted in a pro-Tory skew.”

    Oh dear, what have you done Anthony?.

    I haven’t visited this site for some time, but if the nature of this site is as it was before the 2015 election Anthony Wells has just given an excuse for UKPR contributors to convince themselves again that Labour are going to break all rules of electoral history (and common sense).

    I read some bizarre stuff on this site for 2 years before the 2015 election. Will we now start reading here that the polls have all got a pro-Tory skew and Labour are going to do fine?

  8. The debates are a travesty. The only possible winners are those lagging in the polls. We should value our politics on substance and the ability to govern above farce and personality.
    Personally they make me cringe and I don’t watch them

  9. Suspect May is doing this because she fears her right flank and doesn’t want a hard brexit.

    If she delivers a bigger majority, she might be better placed to face down her UKIP wing, but the seat split will be fascinating to watch.

  10. The fixed-term parliaments act was specifically designed to stop the senior party in a coalition government from calling an election whenever it felt like it without the agreement of the junior party. The opposition was never really factored into it — but it worked for its purpose of holding the Con/LD government in place for the full term.

  11. Statgeek
    Completely agree re Labour’s strange behaviour. But then I struggled to understand why they rolled over so quickly and so completely on Brexit.

    I wonder what Lab candidates will say to voters on the doorstep when they ask what kind of Brexit the Lab party is going to support, or how Lab would tackle Brexit now that A50 has been triggered?

    LD position is a bit odd, although they may well get away with it, given Lab ineptitude. They’re seen as a strongly pro-European party, but they’re not actually out-and-out opposed to Brexit: having already lost one referendum on the EU they seem to think the solution is to offer another one. Farron is also vulnerable on his fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

  12. @ TerryP

    Just looked at the Scotland GE results 2015 and though the Tories will undoubtedly increase their share of the vote, possibly by as much as double, I just don’t see where they can make serious inroads into the SNP defence. They should gain Berwick but they need much larger swings elsewhere. I’m not sure the LD’s have much to play for though they are within range in 3 or 4 seats.

  13. JT –
    Fear not – I shall dismiss any such ideas. Bottom line is that some pollsters have made only modest changes, so while it is possible that some pollsters who have made a lot of changes have gone “too far”, the idea that all pollsters have just cannot hold water.

  14. @Alec

    But this could backfire… May wins bigger majority in the belief this will strengthen her hand, but when she actually compromises in the negotiations this still outrages her right wing together with UKIP resurgence.

    I don’t think its going to be as easy as she thinks to calm the Europe divisions in her party.

  15. Statgeek – “What has Corbyn got to gain from it all?”

    I expect Corbyn is tired and would like to step down but can’t until he has secured a successor from his wing of the Labour party.

    Under Labour nomination rules, the nominee would need 15% (something like 38 nominations) from the current PLP + MEPs to get on the ballot, which they won’t get, as no-one is going to be kind this time.

    However if the PLP is shrunk by the electorate, it gets a lot easier, as the number of nominations required shrinks in line, and he then has enough people in his wing to fill the quorum. And if he can get rid of pesky moderates in marginals while his die-hard supporters survive in safe seats, so much the better from his point of view.

    Some people are looking forward to the demise of Corbyn, but depending on who loses their seats, the Labour party might get even more left wing after the election.

  16. @,Statgeek

    “Strange behaviour. What has Corbyn got to gain from it all? He could easily barter something from it, such as televised debates. It just odd that he’s all for it.”

    I agree, but the Tories are so hell-bent on calling the GE that they would have gladly called a vote of no-confidence in TM in any event. So, in reality the GE cannot have been prevented.

  17. Hireton
    “Interesting that May is currently refusing to take part in any television debates. Will the broadcasters go ahead anyway and threaten to leave an empty chair for her?”

    That would be an overtly political act and a very “brave” thing for a broadcaster to do to a leader who is very likely to win with an increased majority.

    Personally, I’m glad she has ruled them out. They are a complete wast of time, boring in the extreme and are only of benefit to small parties.

    On the link you posted on the last thread in answer to my question, I can’t view it as the Spectator demands that I register with them ( and probably pay), so I’m afraid Im non the wiser. Have you a synopsis?

  18. Mossy

    The Turkish model worked well for the Government, so copying at least parts of it seems a good strategy for May.

    Arguments and debates are divisive, and weaken the government, so clearly they must be suppressed.

  19. @Candy:

    I understand that the proposal to reduce the 15% threshold is not supported by the Labour NEC so won’t be instituted.

    And if the Corbyn supporters lose in proportion to the anti-Corbyn MPs, which would be the default assumption, shrinking the PLP wouldn’t necessarily make it any easier for a Corbynite successor.

    Anyone know if there is any reason to suppose Corbynites are less likely to lose their seats? That might be the only hope for that wing of the party.

  20. Can’t we just ask TOH what the result will be and then all do something more useful with the next few weeks?

  21. I have to say that Labour are their own gravediggers. They should not have agreed to back the motion for an early election given their position in the polls – talk about turkeys voting for Christmas!! Corbyn should have rejected May’s demand for an early election, which will clearly benefit only the Tories. What an idiot.

  22. @ROBERT NEWARK

    “Personally, I’m glad she has ruled them out. They are a complete wast of time, boring in the extreme and are only of benefit to small parties.”

    Well, democracy is a waste of time and boring in the extreme, but it’s still necessary.

  23. @Candy

    “Some people are looking forward to the demise of Corbyn, but depending on who loses their seats, the Labour party might get even more left wing after the election.”

    Left/right is largely a question of presentation. The more important thing is basic political competence.

  24. Whys ithe Lib Dem position odd?! Look at Labour. What is a Labour vote for?

    May will get a decent majority but in return a (smaller) cleverer, louder, stronger opposition without Corbyn.

  25. JT – “Anyone know if there is any reason to suppose Corbynites are less likely to lose their seats?”

    Some Corbynites like Kate Osamor hold their seats with a 61.4% vote. I think another Corbynite is Richard Burgon, who holds his seat with 53.7% of the vore. Rachael Maskell holds York Central with 42.4% of the vote. Rebecca Long-Bailey holds her seat with 49.4% of the vote.

    I’m going of the following leaked list where the Corbynites listed MPs according to whether they were Core or hostile:

    http://labourlist.org/2016/03/leaked-list-ranks-labour-mps-by-hostility-to-corbyn/

    The MPs I listed were “Core”

  26. The odd thing is that the election will change precisely nothing – the conservatives will still be in power, albeit with a bigger majority. May currently has a working majority and no internal rebellion, so why did she feel it so necessary to call a general election? There is nothing that any opposition party can do to stop Brexit right now, so there is no rationale for this election at all.

  27. My prediction:

    Conservatives – 40%
    Labour – 25%
    LibDems -15%
    UKIP – 10%
    Greens – 5%
    SNP – 4%

  28. Oldnat
    There is and will continue to be plenty of opportunity for political debate and scrutiny. What we don’t need is pantomime events which demean the process IMO. I get that some people enjoy the spectacle, but I don’t and don’t think a bad performance in a TV debate should overshadow the performance of a political term and determine the outcome of any election. I respect your right to think differently

  29. @LEWBLEW

    “May will get a decent majority but in return a (smaller) cleverer, louder, stronger opposition without Corbyn.”

    Numbers are all that matter insofar as opposition parties are concerned. If the LDs win 20 back from the Tories, but Lab lose 75 to the Tories; their majority still increases by over 100. There is no opposition when the majority is that large. It’s an elective dictatorship.

    And it is an exaggeration to say the Labour’s weaknesses are exclusively down to Corbyn. Progress will attack any (even mainstream) Labour leader who does not share their vision.

  30. The headlines polls look good for May – but there is a consistent and large DK element, at around 20%. This group is also saying they are likely to vote – so that could go anywhere. Whilst a Tory victory is likely I would not be so sure that it will be that great at this time, until we see where the DKs shift

  31. Mossy

    “What we don’t need is pantomime events which demean the process”

    If by that you meant the ridiculous photo-ops of Davidson sitting astride a tank gun, or riding a buffalo, I would agree with you.

    But a leader debate would only be a pantomime one, if the audience was able to shout “Behind You!” as the ghost of a previous statement by them loomed behind the speaker.

    Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea!

  32. @RAF

    “Numbers are all that matter insofar as opposition parties are concerned. If the LDs win 20 back from the Tories, but Lab lose 75 to the Tories; their majority still increases by over 100. There is no opposition when the majority is that large. It’s an elective dictatorship.”

    Yes, an elective dictatorship – and this is why I keep hammering home the point that we need electoral reform in this country. Until we have PR in place we will never have the stable centrist democracy that exists in France, Germany and others. The FPTP system is designed to keep one or two parties in power FOREVER! It is not representative and it is anti-democratic.

  33. Tancred

    “The odd thing is that the election will change precisely nothing”

    Precisely. Nothing much is at stake now. Unlike the referendum which changed everything (or at least will do; not much change yet).

    I foresee a good Spring for Netflix, and low turnout.

  34. Tancred
    “so there is no rationale for this election at all.”

    Perhaps Mrs May is hoping that more moderate Tories will be elected, so that she can get away with conceding points in the negotiations with the EU.

  35. The idea that there is an agreed successor to Corbyn, who will hoover up the necessary 15% of the nominations, rather ignores the Judean Peoples Front/Peoples Front of Judea question. Never underestimate the ability of the fringe left to disagree and break into factions over basic questions such as what the Romans ever did for us.

    On a separate point…

    Those suggesting that this is an act of naked self-interest seem to be ignoring the fact that it will in all likelihood bring Labour’s recovery at least 3 years forward. Instead of 3 more years of vapid ineffective opposition, during which time Labour would likely become less and less relevant, the recovery can start much earlier, and (probably) from a less dire position.

    And it is far from unlikely that the full horror of Brexit will only be coming into full focus around 2022 when the transitional arrangements finally expire. In 2020 there worst would probably not yet have become apparent.

    (Of course, another 5 years is plenty of time to take us the rest of the way back to the 50s, which is where May seems to want to take us.)

    This may be in the Tories’ short-term interest as it sidesteps the effects of the electoral expenses investigations. But in the longer term it is probably in Labour’s interest. (Although that’s not to say they should make May’s life easy and simply wave the election through.)

  36. Eric Goodyer – “The headlines polls look good for May – but there is a consistent and large DK element, at around 20%”

    ICM adjust for that. They explain how they do it on page 2 of the following document (see the bit about partial refusers and total refusers).:

    https://www.icmunlimited.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/2017_guardian_campaign_poll1_april18.pdf

  37. Mrs May wants a bigger majority simply because she doesn’t want to rely on other parties to get things through the commons.

    For example before he resigned, Cameron had a deal with the DUP. Mrs May likely finds it problematic as it prevents her intevening in NI.

    Her room for manoeuvre on all sorts of things improves with a bigger majority.

  38. Tancred
    Time will tell. It will be interesting to see the results. Presumably the Tories already have most of their candidates selected. I wonder if any analysis has been done of the Brexit/Remain tendency of candidates in winnable seats?

  39. “Until we have PR in place we will never have the stable centrist democracy that exists in France, Germany”

    Are you under the false impression that France has Proportional Representation?

  40. Reminder of this recent news report

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-polling-votes-mps-elections-lose-to-liberal-democrat-labour-jeremy-corbyn-theresa-may-lynton-a7669211.html

    “Private polling by the party has found their former coalition partners could be on track to regain all the 27 seats they lost in 2015 – including all their gains in south London and most of the former Lib Dem strongholds of Cornwall and Devon.”

    This from the pollster who allegedly got 2015 correct.

    This should be fun to watch…if Labour manage to hold on and Lib Dems recover their 2010 losses, who will form the next govt?

    Jeremy for PM…the Daily Mail will have a fit…

  41. Richard
    Does that allow for a possible UKIP collapse?

  42. Let’s be clear – TM’s decision was opportunistic.

    It has become apparent to the Tory hierarchy that Labour were/are going to do badly in the local elections and Corbyn would resign.

    So TM, anxious to take on JC at a GE, felt compelled to call a GE now to ensure that he was her opponent. I think this was the essential explanation for the timing of her announcement.

    Plus a couple of reassuring polls over the weekend.

  43. “This should be fun to watch…if Labour manage to hold on and Lib Dems recover their 2010 losses, who will form the next govt? ”

    Indeed, it would be very interesting if things that are highly unlikely to happen, occur.

    Interesting but not plausible on any evidence that anyone can put forward.

  44. @Pete B

    I guess so..its ‘private polling’ so who knows..I guess UKIP is not strong/was never strong in those ex Lib Dem seats anyway, so probably not relevant there.

    All these national swing projections don’t really work in Lib Dem seats….

  45. @RICHARD

    I reckon that May’s advisers have already taken these possible losses into account and still believe that they can win enough seats from Labour to more than make up for these losses, by quite a big margin.

    At present I am estimating a Labour meltdown and a Tory majority of around 70. LibDems will regain many of their losses, but not all, and end up with around 30-35 seats.

  46. OK, the ICM refusers reallocation firstly favours both Labour and the Tories over all other parties (by allocating 75% of Lab and Con partial refusers back, but only 50% for the others.

    Secondly it favours the Tories over Labour explicitly in the total refusers (who refuse to admit previous vote history), after repeating the first weighting.

    This methodology probably worked well in 2015 when Lib Dem don’t knows were switching to Labour and Tory, but if the opposite were happening it would underestimate the Lib Dem vote.

    The fact that ICM have an exceedingly complex method for dealing with DKs does not remove the fact that the more DKs, the less accurate the polls are likely to be…

  47. Richard
    I may be wrong, but I had the impression that UKIP were a force in the SW (of England, ON), where the LibDens are also strong.

  48. @DW

    “Are you under the false impression that France has Proportional Representation?”

    They have a two round system, which is akin to the alternative vote. Not fully proportional, but much more so than FPTP.

  49. G’night all. I’m about to turn into a pumpkin.

  50. The rationale for the election is simple: The government believes it cannot get through its parliamentary programme necessary for Brexit with the numbers it has.

    Whether the situation is likely to be materially better after an election remains to be seen, but the choice is between guaranteed failure and a gamble. The government has logically chosen the gamble.

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