Friday, 12 May 2017

My five questions about the 2017 general election and other thoughts

With nominations for the 2017 general election having closed yesterday afternoon, it is clear that the surprise general election turned up with fewer candidates as a result. Due to 'Progressive Alliances' and 'Regressive Alliances', many seats have ended up with only 3 candidates (from Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats) for the first time in 12 years or more, and many constituencies have no Green or UKIP candidate (not many have both a Green candidate and a UKIP candidate either, in addition to the major parties above). The Liberal Democrats are also not standing in Skipton & Ripon or Brighton Pavilion, in endorsement of the Green Party candidates there. The total number of candidates in this election is 3,301, down more than 1000 from the last general election.

Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister's constituency, Maidenhead, attracted the most candidates, with 13 on the ballot, whereas Islington North, held by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, attracted 10. Tim Farron's constituency of Westmorland & Lonsdale saw only 4 candidates coming forward. Unlike in 2015 there are far fewer constituencies with double-figure candidate totals on the ballot paper, and most have no more than 5.

Will a Progressive Alliance have any real impact in constituencies where it appears to be taking place?

In general, the answer is no. The Conservative polling lead is simply too high for the Progressive Alliance to work, and in any case UKIP is bolting on to the same tactic of standing down to help the Conservatives, in many cases within the same seats such 'Progressive Alliance' arrangements are taking place e.g. Wells, Twickenham, and Lewes. In many competitive seats, the Conservative and UKIP votes combined are greater than the combined votes of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party; even if one party withdrew and endorsed another many of that party's voters still will not vote for that other party for a variety of reasons. A large proportion of UKIP voters will switch back to the Conservatives, but not all of them. There are also fewer UKIP candidates than there are Conservatives, and not just in London either, and many Green voters will still not vote Labour or Liberal Democrat given the recent history and actions of those parties in power.

Polls have shown the combined Conservative and UKIP vote among respondent to be at least 52% in the weeks leading up to this campaign, whilst the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green votes combined generally hover around 42% at most. In any case, Labour has not stood down anywhere, even in constituencies where they and in fact expelled three activists in the South West Surrey (fka Farnham) constituency, currently represented by infamously bad Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, when they suggested Labour stand down for Dr. Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party:  As has been shown in the past, there are limits to which votes can be squeezed of any of those three parties. With UKIP no longer having any real purpose now that Britain is on course to leave the EU, its vote will be squeezed tighter than a top-notch accordion, even in constituencies where it once had a good chance of winning.

In any case, the seat gains the Conservatives manage from Labour this year will more than counteract any vote transfers these specific deals might provide. The mathematics just does not add up for the idea at present in a majority of constituencies.

Recent news has shown Jeremy Corbyn and Labour closing the gap on the Conservatives. Can the gap be closed enough to prevent a Conservative victory?

Almost certainly not-the gap between the opposition and government (whichever way around it is) generally closes around election time anyway, but there are limits, especially since many voters already decide who to vote for many weeks before polling day itself. In 1979, the Liberals were languishing on 7-8% on average, and could only close the gap to hit a 13.5% vote share (down 4.5% on October 1974), especially since the Rinkagate affair, as well as the Lib-Lab pact, were fresh in voters' minds. Many fiscal Liberals would have tactically switched to the Conservatives in marginal seats anyway due to Margaret Thatcher's economic mantra, and that is exactly what they did. The outcome is often effectively set many months before the election is called; a late Green surge in 2014 could only in 2015 increase the Green vote share in the UK by 2.9% despite many more candidates (including myself in Hemel Hempstead that year) to vote for than in 2010. The UKIP vote shift to the Conservatives will also overtake Labour with ease, even though Labour's vote is likely to remain rather stable at approximately 30%, also accounting for a further decline in Scotland and a significant drop in Wales.

Which seats will be the key barometers of this election, even though a Conservative landslide appears certain?

The Conservatives are likely to make significant gains in Wales and could even overtake Labour in terms of seats won. The key battleground area is Clwyd, where four Labour seats are particularly vulnerable to the Conservatives, and elsewhere Bridgend and Newport West are key targets. Former mining and industrial areas particularly in the Midlands are now within the sights of the Conservatives for the first time in more than 80 years. North East Derbyshire and Newcastle-under-Lyme are near-certain Conservative gains this year, but Mansfield within the East Midlands, Birmingham Erdington in the West Midlands, Bishop Auckland in County Durham, and Alyn & Deeside in Flintshire are key barometers to indicate how large the Conservative victory will be. The swings required in each seat seem considerable but UKIP votes in all of them can potentially provide a Conservative gain of all four and many similar seats besides:

Conservative seats within the firing line of the Liberal Democrats (the Isle of Wight is in the Green Party's sights) still include prosperous seats in the south such as Eastbourne and Lewes, and suburban southwest London seats like Twickenham and Kingston & Surbiton. Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire can also spring a surprise or two for the Liberal Democrats in heavily pro-Remain areas.

To what extent will the Brexit issue affect the election result?

Handling of Brexit will be one of the biggest issues of this election, if not the biggest, even though many Remain voters do not want a second referendum but rather a dampening of the Brexit blow where Britain leaves the EU but remains in the European Single Market. Given that Britain is still very divided over the Brexit issue ('Bregretters' are becoming less prominent), the issue will produce some rather interesting results. Pro-Remain MPs in Leave-voting constituencies*, and Pro-Leave MPs in Remain-voting constituencies*, may be in for a rude awakening.

With more Green Party candidates than UKIP candidates, and regionalist parties like the Yorkshire Party fielding more candidates, are we veering towards Canadian-style politics?

In a way, yes, but without the large swings that typify Canadian elections as opposed to British ones. The Green Party will likely reassert itself as at least the fourth party in British politics, as it was for some years until Euroscepticism and hostility towards the EU, and associated issues, achieved greater media coverage and indented themselves into the public consciousness. Some UKIP votes in 2015 were protest voters who may switch to the Greens, or any party that is neither Conservative nor Labour, and possibly to meritable Independent candidates.

Other notable things about this election....

The Christian Peoples' Alliance is standing its highest ever number of candidates at this general election-31. In England, the CPA and the Yorkshire Party, with 21 candidates, are the only parties other than the largest five (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP) to stand more than 10 candidates this year. Due to the timing of this election, only 31 MPs are retiring, although Simon Danczuk is standing as an Independent after Labour did not re-admit him, and David Ward is an Independent candidate in his former seat of Bradford East after the Liberal Democrats sacked him over anti-Semitic remarks. In next-door Bradford West, ex-Respect** frontwoman Salma Yaqoob is making a play for it even though she lives in Birmingham and built up her political profile there. Claire Wright now stands a better chance of winning East Devon as an Independent than she did in 2015, but former Independent Health Concern MP Richard Taylor (now 82) will not be trying to regain Wyre Forest. Newcomers in political party terms include the Women's Equality Party with 7 candidates, and the Friends Party with 3 candidates.

In minor candidate news, David Bishop of the Buss-Pass Elvis Party returns to this election having not stood anywhere in the 2015 election, but perennial Wessex advocate Colin Bex does not feature among candidates this year, although the Wessex Regionalists have a candidate by the name of Jim Gunter in Devizes, Wiltshire.

*Constituencies that are estimated to have voted Remain or voted Leave based on estimates for Remain/Leave results by ward; exact ward results are not available.

**The Respect Party dissolved in 2016.

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