“Labour has already won”

John Rentoul

nickharvey 224x300 Labour has already wonI wrote in The Independent on Sunday yesterday about predictions of the next election, again, prompted by the assertion by Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat MP (pictured), that “Labour has already won.”

One of the axioms on which he builds this fallacy is this: “It’s very difficult to see why anyone would vote Tory next time who didn’t last time.” Well, no, because there is always churn – people change their vote, move between voting and non-voting, and come onto the register in between every election.

Anyway, I put his best-case Tory scenario into the Electoral Calculus seat predictor thus: Conservative 37% Labour 35% Lib Dems 15% UKIP 7%, and it came up with Labour the largest party, but 19 seats short of majority. In other words, what Alastair “I have called every general election correctly” Campbell, that other Mystic Meg, says: a Lib-Lab government.

There are four known unknowns to apply to this model, however.

1. Lib Dem incumbency. The Lib Dems will hold more of their seats than a uniform swing would suggest. This will reduce Labour gains.

2. UKIP. As you see, I have put them into Electoral Calculus at 7 per cent: twice what they got last time. I think they will be squeezed from where they are now in a general election: anti-Labour voters won’t want to put Ed Miliband in Number 10, so I think UKIP will take fewer Conservative votes compared with Labour ones than many people think, but they will still have a differential effect, reducing Tory seats.

3. The economy. See my column, in which I quote David Cowling, the BBC’s political analyst, who in turn cites a Populus poll that finds that, even if people think the economy is recovering, they don’t feel it, and the MORI economic optimism index, which turned sharply favourable before 2010, which didn’t win the election for Gordon Brown. But I think wages will catch up with prices next year and that this will lift the Tory vote.

4. Swing back to government. Stephen Fisher, of Trinity College, Oxford, has just updated his model of the next election, which takes account of how opinion has tended to swing back towards the government before elections in the past.

Fisher’s central seats forecast is:

Con : 323 (largest party, short of a majority by 3)
Lab : 280
LD : 20

And his probabilities are:

Con majority 48%
Lab majority 22%
Hung parliament 30%

Con largest party 64%
Lab largest party 36%

Note, though, that his model does not include a UKIP effect.

Compare this with the Electoral Calculus probabilities:

Conservative majority 4%
Labour majority 81%
Hung parliament 15%

And the probabilities implied by the betting odds on the party to win the most seats:

Con largest party 40%
Lab largest party 60%

Last word, though, to Lewis Baston on the history of election forecasting:

There have been several predictive models that have performed reasonably well in the past in British elections. The first one (Goodhart and Bhansali) worked well in the 1950s and 1960s and depended on little more than a time-lagged response to changes in unemployment. It came a cropper in 1983, because the rise in unemployment was so extreme that it predicted the Conservatives would win a negative share of the vote. Another econometric model, devised by David Sanders, worked like clockwork for the 1980s and, in advance, 1992. But it was completely off-beam in 1997 when it predicted a Conservative victory.

So there you go. Prediction models are highly reliable … until they are not.

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  • Pacificweather

    I am glad I am not your wife if you can’t distinguish between contempt and love.

    You made an assumption about why the British voted for the status quo that assumed (contemptuously) that they prefer stable government to democracy. That is plainly ridiculous.

    I countered with an equality ridiculous statement to demonstrate why neither you nor I know the very many reasons different people voted the way they did.

    When confronted with a subtle argument, you resort to personal abuse. I demonstrated personal abuse can work both ways.

    It a failing, one you often display, to project your views on to others.

  • mightymark

    “You made an assumption about why the British voted for the status quo that assumed (contemptuously) that they prefer stable government to democracy. That is plainly ridiculous.”

    No, this is the fallacious nonsense that fails to appreciate that politics in a democracy is about getting the balance between stable (and efficient) government and democracy. It is precisely the failure of the former that historically threatens the latter.

    One could make a good argument that the sophistication of the British lies in their understanding this hence their opposition to PR.

    Could I just remind you of the three stages of you display of contempt for the British electorate – I’ll number them to help you:

    “[1].I think they are mad about lotteries and wanted their government decided by one. They like their odds at 14 million to one so the election lottery with much better odds must be rather disappointing.

    [2]. Give me a government, any government”, they cry. “Please ignore my vote, I don’t want it to have any effect on the outcome. I only vote for sentimental reasons. Let the other votes elect MPs”.

    [3]. The shame of it is that their decision, if that was their decision, shows they had no idea how the electoral system works.”

    Sorry but these are deeply insulting and not just demonstrations:

    “why neither you nor I know the very many reasons different people voted the way they did”.

    In conclusion I must have missed the “subtlety” of your argument – are you quite sure you added some? I am also very, very glad indeed that I am not your husband – not least given you utter confusion between contempt and love!

  • Pacificweather

    Firstly, the British are not so “sophisticated” that they oppose PR. The Scots, Northern Irish and the Welsh all embrace PR.

    Secondly, just because you believe that their has to be a balance between stable and efficient government and democracy does not mean than this is British public opinion. Yet again you project your beliefs on to others.

    Thirdly, in believing there is historical evidence that a balance is required, you are self evidently wrong as the people of these isles will tell you, let alone the Swiss, the Finns et al.

    Fourthly, my clear jests to illustrate the fallacy of your argument are far less insulting than your assumption that your views are the views of the British people.

    Are you British? You don’t have a British sense of humour.

    Do you see what I did there, I assigned my sense of humour to the British people. Now isn’t that contemptuous of me? That is just what you did. I have admitted mine was in jest (for those to dull to see) but you have compounded your contempt by assigning more of your vies the the British people.

  • mightymark

    I haven’t projected anything – I merely suggested that

    “One could make a good argument that the sophistication of the British lies in their understanding this hence their opposition to PR.” (my emphasis).

    Anyway, any alleged “projection” on my part shrinks in comparison to your offensiveness.

    As for a sense of humour it is among my more praised features. Given that this praise goes back to some school reports from a time when Britain was more mono-cultural than now it would seem at least unlikely that mine is not a “British” sense of humour!

  • mightymark

    Sorry – the bolding on the words “One could make a good argument that” doesn’t carry over to the web page.

  • Pacificweather

    Yes, your posts do make me laugh. They have a good sense of humour it Eton. You and Boris could do a double act. Pass the bread roll.

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