Thursday, 7 May 2015

UK General Election: Thoughts on the Outcome

Tomorrow will see the UK general election, with results declared through the night.  I will miss the election, both in that I'll be flying across the Atlantic while votes are counted, and in that I'm not registered anywhere in the UK.   At this point, having lived abroad for over a decade, I don't think I can be.  Given that my parent's district is quite competitive this year, that's somewhat unfortunate.

I haven't written anything on the election campaign because I've been busy with work, travel and talk writing.  But I've certainly been keeping an eye on things, and I do have a few opinions I'd like to commit to paper (or the internet).  This post has gotten so long, I've decided to split it.  First, let's discuss what we are likely to see come Friday morning.

This is the most unpredictable election I can remember, and this is obviously due to the rise in various minor parties.  we could see as many as five parties getting 5% of the vote, though the most important party probably will not even get that.  I refer to the SNP, whose vote share will be small but will likely end up with the third largest number of seats.  We will obviously have another hung parliament, so the question is what coalitions will or can form.

Throughout the election, my preferred prediction website has been ElectionForecast.  At the time of writing, they give the following predictions:
  • 281 Conservative
  • 266 Labour
  • 51 SNP
  • 27 Liberal Democrat
  • 8 DUP
  • 4 Plaid Cymru
  • 3 SDLP
  • 1 UKIP
  • 1 Green
  • 8 Other (Sinn Fein, Alliance Party, Independent)
It's worth noting that they assume (based on historical evidence) that the polls will overestimate swings.  This is why they have the Lib Dems doing relatively well.  The thing here is that on this outcome, not only would no party have a majority, but the two main blocs would also be unable to govern alone:
  • 317 Labour + SNP
  • 308 Conservative + Liberal Democrat
That's pretty bad.  Now, we have 650 seats, but after subtracting off the Speaker and the 5 Sinn Fein seats (those politicians do not sit in parliament) you need 323 for a majority.  If we add Plaid Cymru and the SDLP to the Labour and SNP side, that comes to 324.  But it is obvious that such a government would be unworkable, since they could not afford to avoid defections.  However, they would potentially be enough to prevent Cameron staying as PM.

The only remotely feasible government on such results would be Labour + SNP + Lib Dem.  This would still be a small majority, and would probably have to operate as a Labour minority government with unofficial support.  It would also be interesting to see what the Tory voters supporting Nick Clegg would think of this...

As an aside, as an ardent leftie the comments on that article are incredibly depressing.  Tactical voting is not cheating, even when it works against you.  It is both an inevitable consequence of plurality voting, and a smart decision to use your vote to get the best outcome you can.  Hell, I remember Labour-Lib Dem tactical voting in 1997 to take down as many high-profile Tories as possible.  But I'm sure those Guardian readers condemned that too, right?

Finally, I should note that ElectionForecast are somewhat atypical.  Most predictions seem to have Labour doing a bit better, good enough to form a majority with the SNP.  See, for example, Electoral Calculus for an example.  In that case, things get simpler.  Miliband will become PM because if Cameron tries to resist, he'll lose a vote of no confidence.  Whether we end with an official coalition or a Labour minority government, the net effect will be similar.

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