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Expert Comment: Election Day

0119 Prof Bill Jones Thursday 7 May 2015

In the final part in his election expert comment series, Senior Honorary Research Fellow and former Professor of Politics, Professor Bill Jones continues to look at the political climate that is informing today's election. He then examines the possible outcomes before making his predictions for the result.

The Economy

During 2007-9 the UK economy was deeply affected by the banking meltdown inspired world recession and suffered a loss of some 7% of GDP on the 2007 figure. In addition the government had to spend huge sums recapitalising banks which would otherwise have gone under. The 2010 campaign revolved around who was to blame and what was to be done. The Tories blamed Labour for the recession and urged severe cuts in public spending as an antidote to Labour's reckless spending when in office. Labour denied responsibility for a worldwide phenomenon initiated by out of control US banks and, while accepting their need, argued for less drastic cuts spread over a longer period.

Once in power the Tory led coalition government was forced to deal with the euro-crisis which also damaged UK's economic recovery. For three years economic growth was static - earning reproofs from Christine Lagarde of  the IMF - but in 2013 the economy grew by 1.6% and the next year by 2.8%, faster than any other member of the G7 group of economies. Employment rose to a record 73.3% and unemployment reduced to 5.7%. Lagarde praised Britain's leadership as 'eloquent and convincing'. [1]

Labour tended to agree with Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman who described UK economic performance since 2010 as ...'startlingly bad. A tentative recovery began in 2009, but it stalled in 2010. Although growth resumed in 2013, real income per capita is only now reaching its level on the eve of the crisis — which means that Britain has had a much worse track record since 2007 than it had during the Great Depression.'[2]

In practice the 'recovery' did not feel like one to very many; from 2000 onwards real income of UK workers had increased 2.6% per year; after 2010 they declined by 1.2% per year. Productivity slumped as employers took on cheap workers rather than re-equip. On April 16th the IMF judged that the UK recovery was still fragile and threatened by high consumer debt[3].

 

The Campaign to Date

Under Australian Lynton Crosby's wily strategic guidance, the Conservative Party has repeated ad nauseam the twin themes of its negative campaign: i) the Conservatives have turned an economy Labour had trashed into the fastest growing of the developed world which has created 2 million new jobs since 2010; and ii) Ed Miliband, partly responsible for New Labour's wrecking the economy, is totally unfit to become Prime Minister by virtue of being a weak leader in thrall to trade union bosses; at one PMQ session Cameron actually called him 'a waste of space'. The Tories have faced criticism for running a negative campaign and also for coming up with a plethora of un-costed giveaway offers to voters - Labour has condemned this as evidence of 'panic' in the Tory camp.

 

TV Party Leader Debates

After his 'Cleggmania' mistake in 2010, Crosby advised Cameron to avoid debating Farage, and especially Miliband, live on TV. Despite lauding the value of such debates in 2010, Cameron was willing to risk appearing afraid of such a confrontation rather than risk giving Ed a platform on which he might perform above expectations. So only one seven way debate was held on 2nd April involving UKIP, the Greens and the nationalist parties too.  The women  party leaders all performed very well, especially Nicola Sturgeon, though most viewers judged Farage, Cameron and Miliband to have emerged the most persuasive. Miliband indeed did outperform expectations and set in train an improvement in his leadership ratings.     

 

Polls

Labour maintained a two digit lead for much of the three years after 2010 but as the economy improved the lead narrowed.  The Conservatives' wily Australian strategist, Lynton Crosby confidently predicted 'crossover' would occur first in February, then in March, then when the campaign begun and, when their equal ratings refused to budge, the final week of the campaign. To command an overall majority the Tories require a good six point lead over Labour, while the systemic bias of the first past the post voting system enables Labour, as in 2005, to win a possible majority on as little as 35% of the vote. YouGov 17th April 2015: Cons 34/ Lab 34/ LD 7/UKIP 14/ Green 5

 

Government after the Election

This depends of course on the arithmetic on 8th May. A clear majority for either Labour or Conservatives will mean  'business as usual'. If neither party achieves this we will be plunged into a replay of 2010, when it took 5 days for the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition to emerge.   The polls suggest that it the most likely outcome as of now is the third option, which throws up some intriguing possibilities. Complexity of results is likely to produce an extended period of negotiation. In the 1923 election Labour was the second largest party but still ended up in government, albeit for only 10 months. Even though the largest party after an election has no automatic right to form a government- e.g. Labour in 1923 - the party with the most seats will probably appear to start with an advantage. 

 

Partnership Possibilities

Given the public's cooled attitude towards coalitions - only 24% approval[4]; the jaundiced attitudes by both partners of the current partnership, and the eschewing of such an agreement by Labour with the SNP, - a clear alliance between parties to run the government is less likely this time around. The arithmetic will be the biggest determinant of how things play out but it is possible to say that:

i) A Conservative-Lib Dem continuation is again possible though a less likely outcome than in 2010.

ii)Tory 'partners' exclude the SNP and Plaid Cymru so, if the Lib Dems MPs are too few and UKIP are only likely to collect a handful of seats, only the Ulster DUP MPs look like possible coalition partners.

iii) Labour has more options, with the SNP as the most likely partners, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, or, even at a push the DUP also possible allies, but a coalition is less likely than a loose arrangement based on 'confidence and supply'. This would mean that Labour would rule as a minority government with its 'allies' either voting with them or abstaining on motions of confidence in the government or 'supply' (raising revenue).   

iv) Some of those who fear that the SNP (likely to be the third largest party) will extract break-up of the union for its support of a government, have urged a Grand Coalition of Labour and Conservatives, along the lines of the German one, where the CDU governs with the SDP. However, British politics are less consensual than Germany's and few believe the old animosities between the parties could be reconciled in peacetime as they were in wartime 1940-45.

 

Electoral Calculus Prediction, 15/4/15

 

 

2010

Votes

2010

Seats

Pred

Votes

Pred Seats

CON

37.0%

307

33.7%

280

LAB

29.7%

258

31.9%

282

LIB

23.6%

57

10.1%

17

UKIP

3.2%

0

13.3%

1

Green

1.0%

1

5.2%

1

SNP

1.7%

6

3.8%

48

PlaidC

0.6%

3

0.6%

3

Minor

3.4%

0

1.3%

0

N. Ire

 

18

 

18

 

The well known Electoral Calculus site keeps an eye on how predicted voting strength can translate into seats. The above estimate shows both main parties short of a majority, the Lib Dems emerging  with less than a quarter of their present seats the SNP a surprisingly powerful third party on 48 predicted seats.

 

Prediction: I think we'll see emerging a minority Labour government supported on a vote by vote basis by the SNP until such time as a second referendum is called.

 



[1] Economist, Election Briefing, 11th April 2015, p6.

[2] Paul Krugman, New York Times 6th April 2015

[3] Guardian 17th April, 2015

[4] BBC, 25th April 2015

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