General election latest: computer model predicts the Lib Dems might have even more influence

My view is that when the voters come to make their choice they will shy away from Ed Miliband

Share

I bring alarming news from the computer model. Stephen Fisher of Trinity College, Oxford, updates his forecast for the general election every Friday. Last Friday's data run was a shocker. Having predicted since last autumn, when he started doing election forecasts, that David Cameron would be returned as Prime Minister, this time the numbers suggested Labour would be the largest party.

I call this alarming not because I find the prospect of Ed Miliband as prime minister disturbing, although I do, but because of the precise arithmetic of Fisher's central forecast. He predicts that Labour will win 296 seats, and the Conservatives 295. Assuming that Sinn Fein win five seats again, and continue to refuse to take their seats, that means Miliband would be 27 seats short of a majority. Cameron, therefore, would be 28 seats short. As Fisher's prediction is that the Liberal Democrats would win 31 seats, Nick Clegg's party would be in the position they were not in last time of being able (just) to deliver a majority to either of the two larger parties. Neither would be a secure majority: just nine with Labour or seven with the Tories, compared with 79 for the coalition now. So, despite the Lib Dems losing nearly half their seats, they would be in the powerful position of being able to trade on equal terms with both parties.

After the last election, Clegg was still trying to use talks with Labour to squeeze last-minute concessions out of Cameron when Gordon Brown finally put the phone down on him and went to the Palace to resign. But it was never a totally convincing tactic because Cameron knew that the "rainbow" alternative to a Con-Lib coalition would be held together with bits of string, Blu-Tack and Northern Ireland MPs who are often regarded as visitors from the land that time forgot, where gay cake is still banned.

Of all possible election outcomes, this must be one of the least attractive. Maybe that is just me. I am unenthusiastic about Miliband, whereas I think that on balance Cameron has been a reasonable prime minister, but worse than either of them is the prospect that the Liberal Democrats might have even more of an influence on government than they have at the moment.

So, it is worth asking some hard questions about Fisher's model. It takes the current opinion polls and projects them forward according to what happened to average levels of support for government and opposition before previous elections. Friday's projection was based on a current Labour lead of five points. But the forecast is both sensitive to the data put in, and quite imprecise. The three most recent polls have shown Labour leads averaging three points: if that had been put into the model the central forecast would have been for Cameron to win the same number of seats as last time, with Labour gaining at the expense of the Lib Dems, but still 25 seats behind the Tories.

The other point is that the central forecast is at the middle of a range of possibilities. Fisher quotes a "95 per cent prediction interval" – the range in which we would expect the outcome to fall 19 times out of 20. It covers everything between a Labour majority of 99 to a Conservative one of 133. Obviously the outcomes at the middle of the range are more likely than the ones at the edges, but it makes it hard to deal with uncertainty.

Probability is hard enough to understand anyway, of course. Look at Nate Silver, the guru of American election predictions. He said Brazil had a 65 per cent chance of winning against Germany in the World Cup semi-final. Well, you could say that their 7-1 defeat fell in the other 35 per cent but – after the event – we can be pretty confident that the 65 per cent figure meant little useful.

And that is before you get to the politics. The most important things that will happen between now and election day are not which statistician can best tweak their model, but the politics, politics, and politics.

My view, and this cannot be based on opinion polls, is that when the voters come to choose they will shy away from the prospect of Miliband as prime minister, just as they shied away from Neil Kinnock in 1992.

The importance of Fisher's projection, though, is that it reminds us that some election results that might seem arithmetically improbable are on the same spectrum as those with which we feel more comfortable, such as "a small Labour majority" or "roughly the same as last time". It is just as possible that we could find ourselves back in 1974, with governments made or broken by Northern Ireland MPs, Nationalists, or single-issue rogue MPs. Imagine the irony if the Scottish National Party, having lost the referendum this September, then found itself holding the balance of power at Westminster?

twitter.com/@JohnRentoul

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
 

Nature Studies: The decline and fall of the nightingale, poetry’s most famous bird

Michael McCarthy
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine