Can Andrew George win St Ives? The message of the maths.

Even though the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships turned their backs on a so-called ‘progressive alliance’, we have a de-facto one in Cornwall in St Ives. But how likely is it that Andrew George and the Lib Dems can unseat the Tories’ Derek Thomas? Here are the voting figures for St Ives in 2015.

Derek Thomas Conservative 18491 38.3%
Andrew George Lib Dem 16022 33.2%
Graham Calderwood Ukip 5720 11.8%
Cornelius Olivier Labour 4510 9.3%
Tim Andrewes Green 3051 6.3%
Rob Simmons MK 518 1.1%
turnout 73.7%

Progressive alliance fans tend to approach things a little simplistically. They assume that all the voters for ‘progressive’ parties will vote for the ‘progressive’ candidate. On that basis things look good for Andrew, who can add another 8,079 to his total. Hold on though. The ‘progressive’ alliance is facing a ‘regressive’ one, as Ukip isn’t standing. So on the same basis add another 5,720 votes to Thomas’s total. This gives us

Derek Thomas Conservative 24211
Andrew George Lib Dem 24101
Chris Drew Labour 0

You might have spotted a small flaw in the logic here, with a Labour vote that even the Tory press might not expect. Because Labour is standing. Its local candidate, Chris Drew, is well-known in the Penzance area. It’s hardly likely that no-one will vote for him even if the Labour campaign is extremely low profile. Current polling indicates that around two thirds of Labour voters last time intend to do the same this time, with one in five still undecided and the rest scattering, including 10% to the Tories. But let’s assume that in St Ives only half their voters stick with Labour, while 10% go Tory. This leaves 1,804 for Andrew.

Let’s also assume Andrew picks up 90% of Green and MK votes, which may be taking things for granted a little. This gives him another 3,212. But what will happen to the Ukip vote? Across Britain 60% of Ukip’s voters in 2015 now intend to vote for Ukip-lite – the Tories – in the absence of a Ukip candidate (45% will do so even if there is one!). Eight per cent are considering voting Labour and just 4% for the Lib Dems with the rest undecided. Let’s assume St Ives’ kippers vote the same way but that the non-Tory vote splits evenly between Labour and Lib Dem.

All this surmising gives us the following.

2015 vote Labour GP/MK Ukip  2017 vote
Thomas 18491 +451 0 +3432 =22374
George 16022 +1804 +3212 +343 =21381
Drew 4510 -2255 +357 +343 =2955

Oh dear, it’s still a majority for Thomas, and a fairly healthy one at that.

Moreover, so far this exercise has made the further very questionable assumption that every single Lib Dem voter in 2015 will stick with Andrew. This is very unlikely. Recent polls suggest that Lib Dem voters are more volatile than any other party apart from Ukip. Only half of Lib Dem voters in 2015 are contemplating doing the same in 2017, with nearly one in five saying they’re going for that strong and stable, but nice, Mrs May and one in ten to Labour. The rest are dithering.

So, in order to win, Andrew has to pick up at least nine out of ten Green and MK voters, retain ALL his own voters from 2015 and get at least half the Labour vote. A tall order. But even all that isn’t enough. So he needs to do all or some of the following as well.

  • Attract Tory voters. This will be difficult as Tory voters in 2015 are proving the most resilient to changing their votes. They’re not called conservative for nothing.
  • Attract more of the Ukip vote. This is made more difficult by the Lib Dems’ strong anti-Brexit stance.
  • Pick up support from non-voters. Easier said than done.

There’s one final possibility. In 2015 Andrew went down with the good ship Lib Dem, sunk by the general swing away from the party across the UK. If there were a rising Lib Dem tide this time it could take him back to Westminster. The problem is that there isn’t. Lib Dem support in the polls is stubbornly languishing at levels similar to or even a little down on 2015. The Lib Dem vote in the Cornish local elections also stagnated and was hardly encouraging.

To win, Andrew has to hope that the remaining three weeks of the campaign see an uplift in Lib Dem prospects generally. Otherwise, you can safely place your bets on Derek Thomas.

Seat predictions for the English local elections: sophisticated modelling or back of fag packet?

Every year Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher at Plymouth University reveal their seat predictions for the local elections in England. This is based on a model which uses ward-level by-election performance to calculate a ‘national equivalent vote’ which is then converted into seats likely to be gained or lost.

However, a bit like the ‘sophisticated’ computer models Cornwall Council uses when forecasting population and household growth, there’s only one small problem, The predictions aren’t necessarily that accurate. The media focus on the predictions but rarely if ever ask the obvious question – how well did they turn out in the past? As we can see from the table below the Rallings/Thrasher model usually gets the direction of gains or losses right, but the actual number of seats won or lost are sometimes well off.

Rallings and Thrasher’s predictions compared to outcomes, 2013-2016

2013 predicted    actual 2014 predicted    actual
Con -310 -335 Con -220 -236
Lab +350 +291 Lab +490 +324
Lib Dem -130 -124 Lib Dem -350 -310
Ukip +40 +139 Ukip +80 +163
2015 predicted actual 2016 predicted actual
Con -450 +541 Con +50 -48
Lab -50 -203 Lab -150 -18
Lib Dem -80 -411 Lib Dem +40 +45
Ukip +400 +176 Ukip +40 +25

Their worst performance was 2015 when they completely missed the rise in Tory seats at the expense of the Lib Dems and badly over-estimated Ukip’s performance. Last year too, they forecast a gain for the Tories, which turned out to be a loss. In 2015 the local elections were combined with a general election, when the polls missed a swing to the Tories, and a higher than usual turnout, which made predicting the results of the locals more precarious. Of course, this year we have the novel factor of local elections taking place while a general election has already kicked off, which may also affect turnout, but to a lesser degree.

Here’s what they are projecting this year.

Rallings and Thrasher prediction 2017

Con       +115
Lab -75
Lib Dem +85
Ukip -105

There are around 2,300 seats up for grabs in the county and unitary elections in England. On past performance we might expect Rallings and Thrasher to be around 200-220 seats adrift over the four parties. This could be critical for party morale as their predictions are often used as benchmarks by both media pundits and political parties. If a party does better than predicted, then morale is boosted, if worse it’s dampened.

There’s no evidence of any systematic party bias in Ralling and Thrasher’s model. However, in three of the last four years they’ve over-estimated Labour’s performance. Doing so again this year will only stoke the feeding frenzy of the Tory press. So is their prediction of a 75 seat loss for Labour in England feasible?

Four years ago, when these seats were last fought, Labour made 288 gains, although it was only an average year for them as in the previous set of elections in 2009 (under Gordon Brown’s leadership note) they had performed abysmally, losing 313 seats. Labour are now running at 25-27% in the polls, compared with 38-41% in 2013.This is much lower so some losses must be expected. So a predicted 75 seat loss looks to be on the low side and is surely over-estimating Labour’s performance based on current polling. This is particularly the case as the rural shire counties are hardly the best ground for Labour.

I would suggest a more realistic forecast would be for Labour to suffer a much higher loss, of around 170 seats,(which is still a couple of hundred better than 2009). With Ukip likely to lose over 100 of the 147 seats it won in 2013, the gainers will be the Tories and Lib Dems. The Lib Dems had a bad year in 2013, losing 130 seats, They may well claw back the majority of those. Which leaves a gain of around 150-160 for the Tories, with the Greens, Independents and others taking the balance.

So here’s my alternative prediction, drawn up on the back of a fag packet. By this time next week we’ll know which method has worked best.

Kernowpolitico prediction 2017

Con      +150
Lab -170
Lib Dem +110
Ukip -120

Dutch elections: what you won’t read in the UK media

Is the extravagant hair style compulsory for right-wing populists?

It’s the Dutch legislative elections tomorrow. If you rely on the British media for your info on this you’re probably thinking the Netherlands is the place likely to see the next populist domino fall into place. Geert Wilders’ PVV (Freedom Party) has for some time been touted as likely to ‘win’ the Dutch elections.

However, there are two problems with the simple picture painted by journalists obsessed with far right populism. First, our media seem to be constitutionally incapable of coping with multi-party election systems. Anything more than a two-protagonist contest and they start to struggle badly. Which is why they love US presidential elections. And why on Monday they homed in with a collective sigh of relief on a simple head to head debate between the leaders of the two parties that are polling strongest in the Netherlands. What they didn’t tell us was that at the other televised election debates, between seven and ten party leaders were invited. That includes tonight’s final eve-of-poll debate, which features eight parties.

The second problem is that ‘win’ in the context of an electoral system that guarantees a fully proportional result, is not quite the same as ‘win’ in our electoral system, which became unfit for purpose around 1900. The leading party in the Netherlands, according to recent polls, is on around 17% of the vote. Moreover, that party isn’t the PVV, but the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy). This is an economically neo-liberal, centre-right party positioned roughly between our Lib Dems and Tories.

Wilders’ PVV is at 15%, not that much more than Ukip’s 13% share in the 2015 General Election, although enough to give it a lot more seats. Admittedly, for the PVV this is an increase (of about 5%) on its showing in the last Dutch elections in 2012. On the latest polling it’s set to gain 7-9 seats.

GL’s slogans: care for each other, share wealth, a clean economy and one society

While you wouldn’t know it from the BBC, another party is poised to gain even more – from 10-16 seats if the polls are accurate. This is the GroenLinks, or Green Left Party. Funny how we haven’t heard too much about them in the British media, even though their support has risen over the course of the campaign to record levels. They’re not that far behind the four parties vying to become the largest in the Dutch Parliament. Together with the VVD and PVV these are the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), the traditional centre-right moderate conservative party and D66, a centrist party similar to the Lib Dems.

The big loser in the Dutch elections looks likely to be the centre-left Labour Party, forecast to lose between 25-30 of its current 38 seats. A lesson here for those who put their faith in the ideologically very similar British Labour Party perhaps. The combined support for the two parties to the left of Labour (GroenLinks and the Socialist Party) leads to predictions of around 30 seats. This compares with the 22 predicted for Wilders’ PVV. But this is something you’d never guess from our media.

English local elections: gearing up for the Labour leadership coup

Evan Davis: BBC garden gnomes for the Tories tendency
Evan Davis: BBC garden gnomes for the Tories tendency

On BBC’s Newsnight last night Evan Davis said ‘Like the Premier league there’ll be winners and losers in tomorrow’s English elections’. There’s a big difference though. In the local elections we all know in advance who the losers will be. Partly because the BBC has lost no opportunity over the last couple of weeks to tell us.

Labour MPs, unsure whether they’re anti-semites or pro-Zionists, have walked right into the local election trap set for the party. Moreover, the small gang of irreconcilable Labour right-wingers on the backbenches have been vociferously seizing any soundbite going to help them do so.

What’s the trap? The trick is to overstate by a grotesque margin the number of council seats Labour is expected to gain. Then, when they don’t reach some absurdly impossible target, condemn their Leader as a useless vote-loser. Failed leadership candidate Liz Kendall for example has been quoted as saying Labour should gain 400 seats to be credible.

Speculation masquerading as sober analysis in i-news
Speculation masquerading as sober analysis in i-news

The not-quite-Tory press (Guardian and Independent) have jumped gleefully on this. The Guardian editorial pronounced yesterday that ‘Labour needs to be making unambiguous gains in England this week‘, while reporting a forecast that 175 lost seats would be the ‘worst election performance in opposition since 1982’. Friday will inevitably apparently be a ‘day of reckoning’ for the evil leftist Corbyn.

Let’s calm down and look at a few facts. Local elections are normally compared with the last equivalent year in the four year cycle. That’s 2012. As it happens, 2012 was Labour’s best result in some years, when they gained over 500 seats. A loss of 175 would actually be a better result than 2008 or 2004. In those years they lost over 300 and over 400 respectively. The key words in the Guardian’s fatuous claim that Labour is facing its worst result since the Falklands war (is Cameron being subliminally equated with Thatcher??) are ‘in opposition’, although that’s not something either the Guardian or the BBC dwell on.

 

council gains 04-12

A real ‘disaster’ would be for Labour to do even worse than did in 2004 and 2008 and lose over 400 seats. Losing anything less than 300 seats would be a better performance than either of those years, although lagging well behind 2012, its best year since the 1990s, the last time it was in opposition.

Comparing local election results over time is not so straightforward as it looks, however. The list of authorities with elections changes a little and there are always areas with boundary revisions, which means they face all-out elections rather than the usual retirement of a third of the councillors. To allow for this and provide a consistent comparison, I’ve run a PR simulation that compensates for all-out elections and is based on the d’Hondt method (as used in Spain). Here’s the results.

locals 2012 PR sim,

Labour will do very well indeed to get anywhere close to its 2012 performance. So expect the BBC and the Guardian to be braying for Corbyn’s head on Friday.

You might almost feel sorry for Corbyn. Almost but not quite, as he bizarrely compounded the trap yesterday by stating publicly that Labour would lose no seats at all. Either he’s a very brave man, or someone living in cloud-cuckoo land, or someone who doesn’t understand the psephology.

Dismal election prediction for Cornwall: Coalition landslide

With less than a week to go to the election, the coalition is on course for a stunning victory in Cornwall. A week ago Nick Clegg closed the door on a possible non-Tory agreement by refusing to have anything to do with anyone who might rely on those nasty Scots nats. Then yesterday, Ed Miliband made it crystal clear he’d rather have a Tory Government than any deal with the SNP . Dealing with the separartists would lead to our great country either being smashed into smithereens, losing its great Trident nuclear capacity or ending austerity. And you can’t allow any of that to happen, obviously.

Unless the polls show some sudden movement in the last six days of the campaign, given the numbers Clegg’s only option is to prop up another Tory Government. Labour’s only possibility is equally a grand coalition with the Tories. Cameron must be sleeping soundly. And those investors who sold £1 billion of UK bonds in the past few weeks, because of their fear of Labour’s red in tooth and claw redistributive intentions (if only), should buy them back immediately while they’re going cheap.

This general idiocy and caving in to the politics of fear stirred up by the Tories and their press has effectively made the election outcome in Cornwall utterly meaningless. Whether you vote Tory or Lib Dem, you’re likely to get the same coalition government. Voting next Thursday is just a popularity contest between Tories and Lib Dems. Of course, as the chances of a Lib Dem victory in Camborne-Redruth, South East Cornwall, St Austell or Truro/Falmouth recede into the distance, any residual appeals to ‘tactically’ vote in these seats lose their purchase, even if they had any to begin with. In most of Cornwall the 60-65% of voters (or 75-80% of the registered electors) who don’t want to vote Tory might as well now vote as their conscience, gut feeling or tea leaves dictate.

The election forecasting sites are at present in the main predicting that Andrew George and Dan Rogerson will narrowly squeak home at either end of Cornwall, while the other four seats look safe for the Tories. Only the Electoral Calculus site begs to differ. This predicts a clean sweep for the Tory wing of the coalition. Here’s its predicted results …

Camborne & Redruth North South East St Austell & Newquay St Ives Truro & Falmouth
1. Eustice (Con) 33% 1. Mann (Con) 36% 1. Murray (Con) 40% 1. Double (Con) 35% 1. Thomas (Con) 34% 1. Newton (Con) 37%
2. Goldsworthy (LD) 23% 2. Rogerson (LD) 33% 2. Hutty (LD) 24% 2. Gilbert (LD) 28% 2. George (LD) 28% 2. Rix (LD) 26%
3. Foster (Lab) 19% 3. Lingard (Ukip) 17% 3. Monk (Ukip) 18% 3. Mathews (Ukip) 16% 3. Calderwood (Ukip) 18% 3. Hyslop (Ukip) 17%
4. Smith (Ukip) 18% 4. Whitby (Lab) 7% 4. Lloyd (Lab) 10% 4. Hopkins (Lab) 10% 4. Olivier (Lab) 11% 4. Roden (Lab) 13%
5. Garbett (GP) 8% 5. Pennington (GP) 6% 5. Corney (GP) 8% 5. Slade (GP) 7% 5. Andrewes (GP) 9% 5. Westbrook (GP) 8%
6. Jenkin (MK) 0.3% 6. others 0.2% 6. others 0.2% 6. Cole (MK) 4% 6. Simmons (MK) 0.2% 6. others 0.3%

There’s something a bit odd about their extremely sophisticated model, to say the least. It’s a bit like those ONS and DCLG models that insist on forecasting huge rises in Cornwall’s population and household numbers, rises that never actually appear. Electoral Calculus’ s model for example predicts that outside St Austell/Newquay, MK will get around 400 votes in total, down from 3,300 last time. Meanwhile in Truro/Falmouth, MK, the NHAP, the Principles of Politics Party and Independent Loic Rich are set to amass a huge 143 votes between the lot of them, Even the most pessimistic observer of minor parties would hardly rate their chances that poorly.

Could it be a coincidence that the founder of Electoral Calculus, the only forecaster predicting a Tory clean sweep, writes for the Telegraph?