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.

What to look for in the Welsh local elections

On Thursday voters in Wales and Scotland will elect their local councillors. By popular demand from the Cornish masses (well, one of them anyway), I’ve been persuaded to do a blog on our Celtic compatriots as they troop wearisomely to the polls. Four times within two years in Scotland! Whatever would Brenda of Bristol say? Poor dears must be exhausted by this surfeit of democracy. How will they possibly get the energy required to go shopping?

Two aspects complicate matters if we want to compare the Welsh with the English local elections. Wales has unitary local government so all, rather than some, authorities are up for election this year. And the last elections were five years ago, not four, as the 2016 elections were postponed so as not to coincide with the Welsh Assembly vote. (The exception is Ynys Môn, which held its previous election in 2013). Because this was a year before 2013, unlike in England there was no surge of support for Ukip last time either.

In terms of seats here’s the results of the four Welsh local elections since the devolved assembly was set up.

1999 2004 2008 2012
Labour 563 479 (-84) 345 (-134) 580 (+235)
Independents 295 321 (+26) 334 (+13) 298 (-36)
Plaid Cymru 205 175 (-30) 206 (+31) 170 (-36)
Lib Dems 98 146 (+48) 165 (+19) 72 (-93)
Conservative 75 107 (+32) 174 (+67) 105 (-71)
Other 34 35 (+1) 40 (+5) 41 (+1)

Labour has a bit of a problem in Wales. In 2012 it was riding high in the polls, scoring its best result for years. Now polling between 15 and 20% lower, it faces certain losses. The only question is how many. Roger Scully of Cardiff University suggests over 100. On the basis of the polls this looks decidedly over-optimistic from the Labour perspective. Kernowpolitico of Redruth expects a performance more like 2008, which could bring as many as 200 losses.

[reproduced courtesy of MrPenguin20 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56783543%5D
In 2012 Labour won a majority of seats in all south Welsh urban and post-industrial authorities apart from Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. On a bad night they could lose all those authorities save Rhondda and Neath Port Talbot. However, the number of Labour candidates has held up well and they may avoid this scenario. No doubt the tabloids will be sharpening their pencils, ready to plunge them into Jeremy Corbyn if Labour loses more than 100. Of course, if they do a lot better, those tabloids will no doubt ignore the result while srtill plunging their pencils into Corbyn’s back. Basically, the rule is Labour mustn’t win.

The Tories are riding high in the polls and in a local election poll in Wales amazingly came just two percentage points behind Labour. At the least, they must be expecting to regain their 2008 position, get a majority in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan and make serious gains in places like Newport and Conwy. Their number of candidates is around 10% higher this time, although still well behind Labour. Yet a lot of them don’t seem to be in particularly winnable areas.

If the Tories gain votes and Labour lose, the Lib Dems in Wales might be hoping to sneak through on a minority vote. But a Lib Dem recovery looks less likely than in England. In Wales their poll rating is fairly dismal and a fall of around 15% in the number of Lib Dem candidates doesn’t suggest a party in rude health. Their best hope for gains is probably Cardiff, where they were the largest party before 2012 and where an anti-Brexit stance might bring more dividends.

Plaid has maintained its number of candidates at 583, rather fewer than the Tories but over twice the number of Lib Dems. They’ll be looking to get back over the 200 seat mark, as in 2008. Yet in many authorities their presence is limited. Indeed, in 10 of Wales’ 22 local authorities they have fewer councillors pro rata than MK does in Cornwall. Their strength is still heavily focused on Cymru Cymraeg (with the exception of Caerffili and the Rhondda) and their main hopes lie in their traditional heartland – Caerfyrddin, Ceredigion, Gywnedd and Ynys Môn.

Ukip is standing more candidates this time – 80. But this is many fewer than the other parties, or Independents for that matter, who are contesting more wards than any party other than Labour. In 2012 Ukip won two seats. It’s unlikely to do much better this time. Meanwhile, the Greens have around the same number of candidates as Ukip and will be crossing their fingers desperate to secure their first Welsh local councillor since 1999.

This may be the last local elections under a first past the post format, as the Welsh Government is toying with the idea of introducing PR for local government elections. Although it’s confusing matters somewhat by maybe letting local authorities decide. So can we expect any remaining Labour-run councils to resist PR and stick with the Victorian system? A test of their essential conservatism looms.

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

Exclusive: inexplicable late swing to Lib Dems (embarrassed cough – comment added morning after poll)

In 2010 the Great British Electorate confounded the pollsters by not voting Liberal Democrat in the expected numbers. Today, they’re confounding the polls once more by indulging in an irrational and whimsical late swing to the Lib Dems. Although this time it’s more the Little English Electorate, as the Scots have tumbled to it and decided not to encourage them any more.

VI MarMay 15

While Scottish polls remain sternly unmoving, and elsewhere the two bigger parties are still locked together, there’s been a noticeable movement in the last two weeks to the Lib Dems. Having bumped along between 7 and 8% for months, they’ve suddenly put on a couple of percentage points to reach 9-10%. They’ve narrowed the gap to Ukip, although still unlikely to close it, especially as up to a fifth of voters have already posted their ballots and fortunately can’t change their minds.

What are the implications of this late shift?

First, if, as is possible, the turn back to Liberal Hypocrisy Democracy is greater in Lib Dem held seats, then the Lib Dems may well be looking at a seat total nearer 35 than 25, thus enhancing their bargaining power in the now smoke-free rooms following the election. If the pundits are right and the Tories are back as the largest party, then the outcome looks more likely to be another Tory/Lib Dem coalition. Suggesting we might as well not have bothered with the whole circus in the first place.

Second, in Cornwall it looks as if St Ives and North are safe for the Lib Dems while even Yellow Tory Gilbert may even have a sniff of saving his seat at St Austell and beating off Blue Tory Double. Retaining all three Cornish seats would be nothing short of miraculous and cause wild jubilation among the Lib Dem faithful. It also means anyone agonising today over whether to vote with ‘head’ or ‘heart’ need agonise no longer. Vote for what you believe in; it’s vital to maximise the vote for the challenger parties in order to keep their issues on the agenda. In any case, this is a false and simplistic dichotomy, as voting with your heart is in the long run also voting with your head.

In that long run of course, all this is mere window dressing. If/when Clegg and Cameron (or his successor) patch up their differences and cobble together another working relationship, the Lib Dems face another five years of attrition, the loss of hundreds more council seats and languishing in the polls. If they escape by the skin of their teeth this time, then surely they won’t be able to do it three times running. Will they? Please?

Meanwhile, the government will have to deal with the consequences of European austerity politics and Grexit, the next financial crash when it inevitably arrives, and the growing contradictions between the infinite growth they all thoughtlessly sign up to and the finite globe we live on. Sooner or later, people will begin to realise there have to be alternatives to the sham democracy that legitimises an ideology ruthlessly and irresponsibly pillaging our planet. In the meantime by all means vote, but then get down to some serious politics and organise.

Polls frozen: royal princess to rescue?

You have to admire the English ruling class. Almost perfect timing for the birth of another royal highness, dear of her. Pity it wasn’t Tuesday, but even five days before a close election a couple of days of wall to wall royalist sycophancy can’t possibly do any harm to the Tory cause. In a tight election even a single percentage point fillip might just do the trick.

And it is a tight election as, back in the real world, the polls remain static with the two biggest parties still locked together. What movement there’s been over the past week has involved a slight rise for the Tories and an equivalent fall for Labour. Labour were ahead in four of the week’s seven daily YouGov polls, compared with a lead in six of the previous week’s seven. All of which indicates a slow shift back to the Tories.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems also gained a bit over the last week, while both Ukip and the Greens slipped back. Yet if we compare the polls now with those of a month ago when the campaign proper began, we can see that campaign might as well not have happened for all the effect it’s had, which would would have saved all of us a lot of grief.

w/e May 2 w/e April 5 change
Conservatives 34.0% 35.4% -1.4%
Labour 34.1% 34.6% -0.5%
Lib Dems 8.4% 8.0% +0.4%
Ukip 12.7% 12.4% +0.3%
Greens 4.7% 4.6% +0.1%
SNP/PC 4.7% 4.6% +0.1%

And in Scotland? Here, there does seem to be more of a definite trend as the SNP has increased its lead over Labour for the fourth week running. This is not good news for Ed who gambled the party silver heavily this week on foolishly ruling out any deal with the SNP in order to mollify middle England and the Tory press. By doing so he’s as good as stated openly that he prefers the continuation of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition to an anti-Tory government involving the SNP. Insane.

snp lead

North Cornwall poll: Lib Dems shading it though still too close to call

The last Cornish constituency poll of the election appeared yesterday. This was for North Cornwall, now polled four times in a year by Ashcroft. Over that time, the share of the vote for Lib Dem Rogerson and Tory Mann has risen, while that for Ukip and Labour fell. The Greens have hovered around the 5% mark.

VI change North Cwll May 1

Although there’s been a considerable shift back to the two familiar parties since last year, this poll shows very little change since the last one taken in March. Rogerson continues to eke out a narrow 2% lead, but one still uncomfortably within the margin of error. It looks like the winner here will be he who squeezes the other parties most in the last five days. Mann has a 14% Ukip share to aim at, while Rogerson can try to steal back a 13% Labour/Green/MK share. Neither has an obvious advantage in the tactical vote struggle, therefore.

Moreover, the total score for others, at around 27%, has not shifted over the last month of campaigning. It could be that the low hanging fruit was picked over the winter. The Ukip and Green vote now looks fairly stable. Moreover, the leap in the score for others over the last month by 2%, from 1% to 3%, may prove welcome news for MK. Here’s the change since the last election.

VI change NC May 2

The sealed train election

It’s been a strangely muted week. Outside Scotland there’s little energy. All vision seems to have been crushed by the narrow beancounting approach of the media, which has predictably fallen into the Tory/neoliberal trap of reducing politics to cost-benefit analysis.

Refusing to discuss their austerity policies or the precise nature of the further cuts they collectively plan, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband stumble on aimlessly towards the electoral horizon. Labour offers us a Tory manifesto; the Tories a Labour one. Cameron is one day in Cornwall promising countless thousands of jobs and apprenticeships and later in the same week he’s in Croydon promising countless thousands of jobs and apprenticeships. Clegg exists in a sepia-tinged retroworld where people still vote Liberal Democrat and indulges in increasingly bizarre and impossible promises as if to trigger some reaction from a soporific and sated electorate.

The whole tired leadership caravan rumbles on in its sealed train across the deserted and featureless election campaign landscape of neoliberalism. Cameron and Miliband refuse, for the first time since 1974, to do a BBC Radio 4 Election Call, Cameron avoids TV debates much as the landed classes avoided lepers in the 14th century. His team refuses to allow a candidate from the National Health Action Party to appear with him on the same hustings in Tory Oxfordshire. He in particular is ensconced inside a tight security cordon where potential naysayers are ruthlessly ejected. Unscripted encounters with real voters are as rare as snow in Cornwall.

Meanwhile, the lumpen masses gaze on at the spectacle passively and rather contentedly (at least those most likely to vote are contented, the others haven’t bothered to register). They’re determined to slumber on until polling day when the whole embarrassing charade thankfully ends. Some of course received their postal ballot this week and, unable to summon up enough energy to stagger down to the polling booth or otherwise suffering from voter fatigue – poor dears – have already voted. Actually, quite a lot may have. Up to a fifth perhaps in Cornwall, where the proportion of postal votes cast in the last election ranged from 16.6% in Truro to 25.7% in St Ives.

Tory view of the SNP
Tory view of the SNP

Not even the Tories’ attempts to don the cloak of English nationalism and paint the SNP as a more ferocious version of the wildlings from the frozen lands north of the Wall in George Martin’s Game of Thrones is unable to nudge the polls in their direction. Only something like a sudden Greek exit from the Euro when they fail to make their next IMF payment this coming Friday is likely to have much impact.

The polls are immobile. In the equivalent week of the 2010 election they shifted by 12.9%. This past week they’ve only budged by 1.3%. Unlike then, when they yo-yoed wildly up and down, this time they betray a solid stability, or should that be stolid indifference. The much touted most exciting election since 1886 is turning out to be a damp squib, crushed in the machine of control politics.

w/e April 26 w/e April 19 change
Conservatives 33.4% 33.4% nc
Labour 34.6% 34.9% -0.3%
Lib Dems 7.7% 7.9% -0.2%
Ukip 13.3% 13.3% nc
Greens 5.4% 5.1% +0.3%
SNP/PC 4.9% 4.6% +0.3%

If anything, it looks as if, over the past three weeks, the Westminster clique’s efforts to squeeze the challenger party vote has failed dismally. The combined vote for the three old parties is now two percentage points lower than it was at the beginning of the month, while that of Ukip, the Greens and the nats is two points higher. And in Scotland, Labour’s nemesis rolls ever closer as the SNP’s lead over them is now one point larger even than it was three weeks ago.