So what’s the election result going to be? That’s the question I am asked most often nowadays, and I am sure it’s the one my fellow political commentators also find the most difficult to answer. “Oh, it’s going to be very exciting,” we all say, laughing nervously, because nobody has a clue what the real answer is.
The truth is that this is the most unpredictable election in recent memory and for one very simple reason – for the first time in British political history, we’re now in five-party politics. For the first time ever it’s conceivable that the joint vote share of the two main parties might be under 60 per cent.
The only thing we can say with certainty is that the days of the election night swingometer are well and truly behind us. There is no such thing as a national swing. National opinion polls have been rendered almost redundant. The various internet election forecasting sites have little relevance. Tip O’Neill once said that “all politics is local” and boy was he right.
I have taken him at his word and taken on the mammoth task of predicting the result in each of the UK’s 650 constituencies. Clearly only an idiot or a massive political geek would undertake such a task and put his money where his mouth is. I’ll leave you to decide which I am.
Obviously I am not an expert on each seat. But there’s a lot of information out there if you look for it. Sites such as PoliticalBetting.com and UKPollingReport are mines of useful statistics and opinion. Lord Ashcroft’s excellent constituency-based polls also provide useful data along with other local factors I have researched. I’ve made the predictions as scientific as I can make them on the evidence I have available to me. In the end you also have to sniff the political wind and rely on your own political instinct. And that’s what I have done. It’s served me well over the last year when I got the European election results bang on and made the most accurate predictions in Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle.
I don’t expect to have got every prediction right, which will come as a relief to several MP friends from all parties who I have predicted will lose their seats. But this is an ongoing process, and I fully expect to revise some of these predictions between now and 7 May.
Having completed the task I am so glad I undertook it, as it has confirmed several theories.
In Scotland I just cannot see how the Scottish National Party can gain the number of seats many people are predicting. Some pundits predict with straight faces that the SNP will sweep the electoral board and end up with 30 to 40 seats. They have six at the moment, and try as I might I can’t get them above 18. If they do achieve more than that it would be a political earthquake of epic proportions. They would be overturning Labour majorities of 15-20,000.
The most difficult thing to predict is how well the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Green Party will do. Both could deny each of the major parties victory in many marginal seats. Labour ought to be gaining seats in North Wales, for example, but the strong Ukip vote there – where they are taking more Labour votes than Tory ones – may well mean they don’t take any at all. Indeed, in the North-west of England that same phenomenon could mean the Tories picking up the odd Labour marginal.
The one prediction I am 100 per cent confident in making is that the Liberal Democrats will lose more than half of their 57 seats. A year ago I thought they would end up with 30-35. In October I revised that to 28-30. Now I have them on 24. It could get even worse, but I reckon Nick Clegg will be safe in Sheffield Hallam.
The most recent political phenomenon is the growth of the Greens. While I don’t see them winning any extra seats, it is possible for an increase in their vote to stop Labour winning in some key marginals. If the Lib Dem vote transfers to the Greens instead of Labour, Ed Miliband is in much bigger trouble than my headline prediction suggests.
If my overall prediction is anywhere near correct, Britain is on the verge of months, or maybe years of political uncertainty. It would take three parties to form a coalition, and I doubt whether many of us can see that happening. A safer bet would be that no one could form a sustainable government and we could be in for a second election in the autumn which none but the main two parties could afford – and even Labour would find it difficult to raise the necessary money in such a short time. In the meantime, the markets will get the jitters and the fragile economic recovery could well be threatened.
Welcome to five-party politics. It’s not going to be an easy ride.
Iain Dale presents LBC Radio’s Drive-time show. All his seat by seat election predictions can be found at iaindale.com
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