Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Does a 2-point swing mean a 2009 election?


Further to yesterday's post about the prospect of a 2009 General Election, I fed the numbers into UK Polling Report's Swing Calculator and found the following result:

CON 41% = 312 seats (+114)
LAB 34% = 281 seats (-75)
LD 16% = 28 seats (-34)

If this poll were to be replicated in a General election, the net result would be a Hung Parliament, with the Tories 14 seats short of a majority. That, bear in mind, is with a 7 point gap between Labour and the Tories.

If however, Labour manage to close the gap to a 5 point Tory lead (unthinkable a couple of months ago) there's a different story to be told:

CON 40% = 293 seats (+95)
LAB 35% = 300 seats (-56)
LD 16% = 29 seats (-33)

Labour still lose the vote by 5 points... but they end up with seven seats more than the Tories. End result is still a Hung Parliament, but it is Labour 26 seats short of a majority (Tories 33 short). Crucially, while remaining on 16% the Lib Dems would actually hang onto an extra seat (presumably at the expense of a Tory gain) and return 29 MPs... which would leave them in a position to negotiate coalition with Labour (but not the Tories).

Enough of the electoral mathematics done on the back of a napkin, what's my point? Namely this... the way the constituency boundaries work favours Labour. They can maintain a level of vote that is slightly over a third and yet still return almost half the seats. That puts them in a favourable position of not actually having to beat the Tories in terms of vote share to win an election. They simply have to win more seats. And the likelihood of them doing so is high if they can claw back a couple of percentage points back from the Tories.

These numbers are, of course, worked out on the basis of uniform swing, which is unlikely. It also doesn't take into account regional strength, relative strength of nationalist competition in Scotland and Wales or the Tories recent electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionists who, presumably, would support them in the event of a Hung Parliament.

My question is this: If this is as good as it will get for Labour - realistically, they are not going to pull ahead of Cameron's Conservatives anytime soon - if they can get to within 5 points of them nationally, why wouldn't Gordon Brown go to the polls?

With 300 MPs and 35% of the vote there are many commentators who (after the spanking Labour have been taking in the polls over the last few months) would see this as a massive result for Gordon Brown. To only be 26 seats short of governing - with the economic mess and unemployment rising by the hour - would be nothing short of miraculous.

A betting man would like the odds. And surely, there's a small part of Gordon Brown that thinks he might just go for it...

Just so you know, I didn't ignore the Populus poll (Con 43 Lab 30 LD 18) published yesterday - I hadn't seen it when I'd written this. I do think it is something of an outlier though and that, rather than leading up to a Cameron lead, the polls are squeezing. Thoughts?

4 comments:

subrosa 7 April 2009 at 09:34  

It's not going to happen Malc. Brown will hang on until the bitter end. Being MP is what he's wanted all his life and there's no way he'll let go without being shoved - and hard.

Malc 7 April 2009 at 09:58  

I think you mean "being PM" not MP, but I take your point.

But my point is that - if a 2-point swing in the polls would give him a shot at keeping the job (as opposed to waiting a year, the Tories opening up a double-digit lead and wiping out Labour in May 2010) why wouldn't he go for it?

To coin a phrase, it's pretty much shit or bust time for him (and he knows it).

Holyrood Patter 7 April 2009 at 14:45  

he does know it malc
but he is renowned for his stubborness, and, something that has surprised me since he took over, his downright arrogance.

He is convincing himself that he can win in 2010. He has to go for it in June or Labour could lose like the tories did in 97. Just total wipeout, ministers losing seats, a complete disaster.


Needs a brave minister to tell him that he has to go to save his, and their, job

Sam 7 April 2009 at 19:08  

In my comment on your last post I said he wouldn't do it because the maths still doesn't favour him and your talk of hung parliaments is the best case for making that argument.

No politician already in power gambles on a hung parliament. And your other two commentors, whose analysis of Brown's mentality seems bang on, show why he is even less likely too than any other politician.

You said before that the ending of the G20 bounce suggests Labour should go for it now. But the last thing you want even in a short campaign is the polls showing your support declining. Especially if, as you argue, those gaps are narrowing in the long term.

Most people, the Chancellor included, still think the economy will start to get better in 2010. Taking credit for that would almost make up for being perceived as the party that made it happen.

Political Betting had an implausible but intriguing prediction for how Labour could win a fourth outright. Unlikely, but I think a very good bet is that Labour won't go to the polls significantly early without a new leader.

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