Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Election 2005 - Predictions #1

I'm currently blogging at the General Election Roundup Blog (see sidebar) as well as here. Today I got my ball rolling by announcing my predictions for the results on May 5th - something I will continue to adjust/comment on as the campaign progresses. Here's a copy of what I wrote - and be sure to check the election blog too!

As the media are bound to be full of election experts making their predictions on the outcome of the election, I thought that it might be interesting to put my predictions down in writing two or three times during the campaign, to see how much they change and at which point they are most correct.

At the moment, most pundits are being extraordinarily cagey. The Times’ Tim Hames outlined possibilities from a Labour majority of 20 seats to one of over 100. On Radio 2 this lunchtime, their pollster refused to make a prediction, saying the range of possible results was vast, unlike in 1997 and 2001. The consensus appears to be that turnout will make the big difference. Labour are trying to avoid a slim majority by scaremongering about letting the Tories in by the back door; the LibDems are hoping that rather than staying at home, disillusioned Labour voters will turn out for them. Presumably the Tories are secretly counting on a low turnout, given that a FT Poll today showed that they have a significant lead among those “absolutely certain to vote”.

If I’d been writing this last September, my prediction would have been easy. The Tories were lacklustre in the extreme; they seemed opportunistic and Howard an unprincipled leader (especially with his ‘weasel words’ over the Iraq war). In September, I fully expected the Tories to make minimal gains. Labour’s majority would only have been dented if some seats shifted to the Lib Dems.

Now, however, Michael Howard (and Lynton Crosby) have succeeded in managing to shift the ground away from Labour. They mention travellers and gypsies and yet rarely get accused of playing the race card. The Margaret Dixon affair was a masterpiece in preventing Labour seizing control of debate on health. There is good reason for increased confidence amongst the Tories.

Labour, on the other hand, is suffering from widespread disillusionment. It would seem the principle beneficiaries would be the Lib Dems, because of their opposition to Iraq. Their platform, however, is unknown to most people, and whilst I feel it may actually have a surprising amount of coherence, they will have to make a strong effort to make sure that their message is heard. That said, their effective targeting of key seats will bring dividends, and if they can force Oliver Letwin and David Davis to focus on their own constituencies, then the national effectiveness of the Tories may be reduced.

So, time to put my cards on the table. The one thing I am certain of is that the best possible result the Tories can hope for is a Labour majority of about 20-30 seats. To be even the largest party in a hung Parliament will require a swing of 8.3%, and I cannot see there being enough belief in Michael Howard as a Prime Minister to achieve that. I don’t see such a reduction in majority happening, however. Much more likely is a majority of somewhere between 60-80 seats, with the Tories gaining about 40 seats and the Lib Dems getting the remainder. Let’s see how that looks on May 6th!