Realistically there are four main battlefields in the general election. First is that between Conservative and Labour, which is the battle that will really determine how large the Conservative majority is (and how badly Labour are damaged by an election fought when they are at a historic low). Next there are the Lib Dem battles, against Labour and against the Conservatives – polls and by-elections suggest the Lib Dems are staging a recovery, but what is the potential to convert that into seats? Finally there is the position in Scotland, which these days is a wholly distinct battle from the rest of the UK: will the SNP repeat their almost clean sweep of Scottish seats?

Note that EU referendum results weren’t actually counted by constituency – the figures here are all the estimates produced by Chris Hanretty of UEA.

Conservative vs Labour battleground

This is the largest, and the real show in this election. How many seats will the Tories take off Labour, how deep into usual Labour territory will they stretch?

There are forty-two Con-Lab seats that would fall on a uniform swing of five points (including Copeland which the Tories have gained in a by-election already), eighty-two that would fall on a swing of ten points. To explain that to those who I know find talk of swings at elections baffling – a swing of 5 points is the equivalent of one party going down five points and another going up, so if a party has a majority of ten percentage points, their opponent would need a swing of five points to defeat them. This means a five point swing is the equivalent of a seventeen point Tory lead in the GB polls (ten points up from 2015), a ten point swing would be a towering twenty-seven point lead in a GB poll. A victory by twenty-seven points is, of course, a fairly outlandish prospect, but in reality the swing will not be uniform. Labour will hold some seats against the tide, and the Conservatives will take some seats that needed swings beyond the national average.

Looking down the list there are a couple of inner London seats that are heavy with young professionals and voted strongly Remain… but these largely have very small majorities, so might fall to the Tories despite that. There are also those seats that Labour took off the Tories in 2015, largely ripe for being retaken on modest swings – places like Brentford, Chester, Dewsbury, Enfield North, Wirral West and Wolverhampton SW. Birmingham Edgbaston, a perennial Tory target that people assume has remained Labour due to the personal popularity of Gisela Stuart is there (Stuart is not, she is stepping down)

The small number of Labour holdouts in the South outside London are almost all on the list – Hove has a majority of only 2%, though was heavily Remain. Labour’s last seat in the South Hampshire conurbation – Southampton Test – falls on a four and half percent swing, as does Bristol East. Exeter would need a swing of six and half percent to fall. Luton South and Bristol South fall on seven percent swings. That leaves only Slough (a 15% Labour majority and a high BME vote that the Tories would struggle with, though Labour lose any incumbency vote from Fiona Mactaggart’s retirement) and the probably impregnable 22% majority in Luton North.

Most of the list is, however, made up of seats in the suburbs and provincial towns and cities of the Midlands and North. The outskirts of the West Midlands conurbation are well represented, with seats in Dudley, Coventry, Northfield, Walsall and Wolverhampton on the theoretical target list, as is Greater Manchester, with plausible targets in Bury, Bolton and Worsley. There’s another group of marginals in North-East Wales and the Wirral – Wirral South and West, Ellesmere Port, Wrexham, Delyn and Alyn & Deeside. The great Northern cities themselves aren’t there – the Conservatives are not viable in Liverpool, Manchester or Sheffield; Tynemouth is the only seat on Tyneside.

Looking down the list of Labour MPs at risk there are pro and anti-Corbyn MPs in the firing line: John Woodcock who is standing but refusing to endorse Corbyn is in the 8th most vulnerable seat, Corbyn ally Cat Smith is in the 14th. Mary Creagh and Vernon Coaker have only 6% majorities to defend, Lindsay Hoyle – a favourite to be the next Speaker if he survives – has a 9% majority in Chorley.

Conservative vs Lib Dem battleground

The expectation is that the Conservatives will win seats from Labour, but that this will be blunted to some degree by losses to the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have staged a modest recovery in the national polls and a strong recovery in local by-election contests. On a straight national swing we shouldn’t necessarily expect them to win anything from the Tories – the Tory vote has increased as much as the Lib Dem vote. In practice, however, I would expect the Lib Dem recovery to be concentrated in places with a history of recent Lib Dem support and places that voted against Brexit.

That said, the Liberal Democrats will have pull out some impressive swings to get more than a modest number of gains. There are only ten Conservative seats with the Lib Dems in second that have majorities under 10%, another fifteen with majorities under 20%. Few of these seats were strongly pro-Remain: Kingston & Surbiton and Twickenham voted heavily against Brexit and are high on the target list, but the Lib Dem targets in Cornwall and the South West mostly voted to Leave. All of these seats are places that had Lib Dem MPs recently, and I would expect many of those former MPs to seek a rematch – the most prominent, Vince Cable, has already confirmed he is to stand again in Twickenham.

Labour vs Lib Dem battleground

Given the catastrophic performance of the Lib Dems in Labour areas in 2015 there are actually very few Lab-Lib Dem marginals on paper. In many seats that we are used to thinking of as Labour held Lib Dem targets (Sheffield Central, say) the Lib Dems collapsed to such an extent they are no longer in second place. There are plausible places where they could come from third place to win if they do particularly well, such as Bristol West and Norwich South. While there are Leave seats on this list, the most plausible Lib Dem pick ups are the mix of inner-city and university seats that voted overwhelmingly for Remain – the sort of young, well-educated areas where the Lib Dems have traditionally excelled like Cambridge, Bermondsey and Manchester. Again, these are all seats that the Lib Dems previously held and in some cases former Lib Dem MPs will be standing again – Julian Huppert and Simon Hughes are confirmed as the candidates in their former seats.

The SNP Defence

In 2015 Scotland was a crushing victory for the SNP, sweeping almost all before them. It was an effective lesson in what happens under the First Past the Post system when a new political cleavage becomes dominant, people on one side have a clear main party to vote for and the other side is split between three different parties: the side with a united vote utterly smashes the other side.

In terms of support the SNP are in the same sort of dominant position they were in 2015 and I think we can be relatively safe in predicting another easy SNP victory. The interesting thing in terms of seats will be the behaviour of the other parties. The defence list of SNP seats is below – but don’t just look at the majorities, look at the shares too. For example, in both Dumfries & Galloway and Paisley & Renfrewshire North the SNP has a majority of 12%. However, in Paisley that represented an overall majority of the vote, in Dumfries the SNP vote was ten points lower, but the Unionist vote was split.

The SNP will almost certainly win the vast majority of seats, but whether they manage another almost clean sweep depends on if the Unionist vote remains split, or whether Unionist voters vote tactically for the party best placed to beat the SNP. Since 2015 the Scottish Parliament elections and the subsequent polls suggest that the Scottish Tories have sneaked past Labour to become the most popular Unionist party in Scotland… whether Scottish Labour voters are willing to vote tactically for a Tory is an interesting question.

Other interesting seats

Besides those main battlegrounds there are, as always, various other seats that are interesting in their own unique ways and worth keeping an eye on:

  • Thurrock was an extremely tight three way marginal between UKIP, Conservative and Labour in 2015. If the UKIP vote collapses towards the Tories it should be safe for them.
  • Richmond Park was a Conservative seat in 2015 but has already been won by the Lib Dems on a huge swing after Zac Goldsmith’s resignation. Can they retain it without the focus of a by-election and a proper Conservative candidate against them?
  • Brighton Pavilion is currently the Green party’s sole seat – with Labour in retreat they should hold it.
  • Bristol West and Sheffield Central both have the Green party in second place. In Bristol the Greens are very clearly the main challenger, 5000 ahead of the Lib Dems in third place. Sheffield Central meanwhile is a very pro-Remain university seat where the Lib Dems have traditionally done very well.
  • Manchester Gorton was due to have had a by-election, cancelled because it was overtaken by the general election. The Lib Dems were reporting a strong performance there and they will, of course, already have done a lot of leafletting and campaigning there.
  • Ynys Mon and Edinburgh South are the two Labour seats at most risk to Nationalist candidates – Plaid in Ynys Mon and the SNP in Edinburgh South, their sole remaining Scottish seat
  • In Southport the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh is standing down. Given their reliance upon the personal vote of their Members of Parliament the Lib Dems have sometimes struggled to pass on seats when an MP retires (though they have done so in Southport before, retaining the seat when Ronnie Fearn stepped down in 2001)
  • Orkney and Shetland is the Lib Dems sole seat in Scotland, a Liberal seat since 1950. Alistair Carmichael survived a failed legal challenge to his election in 2015, concluding that he had not committed any illegal practice, but that he had lied. Whether that saga has any impact on Carmichael’s support remains to be seen.
  • Finally there is Clacton, UKIP’s sole constituency at the 2015 general election. It was held by Douglas Carswell at a by-election when he defected from the Conservatives and again at the general election. Carswell himself has since left UKIP and endorsed the Conservatives at the next general election, though will not stand himself. That may mean it is an easy Conservative gain, though Arron Banks is still to confirm whether or not he will go through with his intention to stand there now Carswell has stepped down.

The Times’s first YouGov poll since the election was called has topline figures of CON 48%(+4), LAB 24%(+1), LDEM 12%(nc), UKIP 7%(-3). The Conservative lead of twenty-four points is the highest they’ve recorded from YouGov since way back in 2008. In terms of a starting position for an election campaign this is a huge gap – to put it in context, when the 1997 election was called, polls in the first week put Labour between 21 and 29 points ahead of the Tories. The Tory lead now isn’t as large as Blair’s huge Labour lead then… but you can see we’re in the same sort of territory.

More interesting to me is that UKIP score – the lowest YouGov have shown since 2013. This echoes the ICM flash poll yesterday, which also also had UKIP dropping sharply to a record low. While I’d still like to see it repeated in other polls before assuming too much, it looks distinctly as if an actual election being called has led to some people who were saying they would have voted UKIP switching to the Tories. Perhaps it’s the sudden difference between a theoretical election that could be three years away, and thinking about what they might do in an election just seven weeks away.


-->

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.


A few people have asked me if I know where there is a spreadsheet of the general election results available so they can crunch the numbers and explore results themselves. Until now I’ve been using results scraped off the BBC website, but the British Election Study team have now released a data set of the election results for download here.


Stephen Bush over at the New Statesman has written an interesting article about the mountain that faces Labour at the next election. I’ve now had chance to sit down and play with the election results and the picture is as bleak for Labour as Stephen paints – for various reasons, the electoral system has now tilted against Labour in the same way it was tilted against the Conservatives at the last few elections.

Looking at how the vote was distributed at the general election the Conservatives should, on a uniform swing, be able to secure a majority on a lead of about 6%. Labour would need a lead of almost thirteen points. On an equal amount of votes – 34.5% a piece – the Conservatives would have almost fifty seats more than Labour, Labour would need to have a lead of about four points over the Conservatives just to get the most seats in a hung Parliament. The way the cards have fallen, the system is now even more skewed against Labour than it was against the Conservatives.

How did this happen? It’s probably a mixture of three factors. One is the decline of the Liberal Democrats and tactical voting – one of the reasons the electoral system had worked against the Tories in recent decades was that Labour and Lib Dem voters had been prepared to vote tactically against the Tories, and the Lib Dems have held lots of seats in areas that would otherwise be Tory. Those factors have vanished. At the same time the new dominance of the SNP in an area that was a Labour heartland has tilted the system against Labour. Labour had a lead over the Conservatives of 9% in Scotland, but Labour and Conservative got the same number of Scottish seats because the SNP took them all.

Finally there is how the swing was distributed at this election. Overall there was virtually no swing at all between Labour and Conservative across Great Britain, but underneath this there were variances. In the Conservative held target seats that Labour needed to gain there was a swing towards the Conservatives (presumably because most of these seats were being contested by first time Conservative incumbents). In the seats that Labour already held there was a swing towards Labour – in short, Labour won votes in places where they were of no use to them, piling up useless votes in seats they already held.

labourswing

And, of course, these are on current boundaries. Any boundary review is likely to follow the usual pattern of reducing the number in seats in northern cities where there is a relative decline in population and increasing the number of seats in the south where the population is growing… further shifting things in the Conservatives favour.