GE2015 minus 02: a predictable result but an unpredictable outcome

Posted: 5 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

“With a little under forty hours until polls open in the most unpredictable election…”

Well, let’s be fair, you’ve seen similar openings to blogs, opinion columns, editorials, but it’s not. Unpredictable, I mean. As a moment’s thought should show, the election results don’t appear to be that unpredictable. Labour and Conservatives will get somewhere around 270-280 seats, Lib Dems somewhere around 30, the SNP 50+. 

So the results of the election aren’t going to be that surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to the polls the last few weeks. They haven’t materially moved since even before the official campaign started. What is in doubt, however, as others have more accurately said, is the outcome.

I’d been waiting for Nate Silver to weigh in and what do you know? He came to the same conclusion: the wholesale results aren’t that difficult to predict, the outcome almost impossible. Sure, there’s likely to be the odd surprise. Constituency polling indicates, for example that people who’d normally vote Tory in Sheffield Hallam constituency are now throwing their weight behind Nick Clegg, in order to ‘save’ him. The results for the constituencies of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey and Paisley and Renfrewshire South will be particularly interesting, both having sitting MPs named D Alexander, Danny and Douglas respectively. And both, should they survive their respective challenges by the SNP would form part of any government involving their parties. And both, obviously, wouldn’t even be in the House of Commons should they not. There’ll be a few dozen seats worth paying attention to on Thursday night as the results come in, either because they have long-sitting and senior party MPs, or because the seats are known marginal… or even more interestingly, no one thought they were marginals, but they turn out to be. That turned out to be a bit more complicated that I anticipated, but you know what I mean, yeah?

But the outcome of the election? That’s far from certain. In fact it’s so far from certain that if you were standing on the Empire State Building using the Hubble Space Telescope, you’d have trouble even glimpsing it.

The constitutional position is surprisingly clear: if the sitting Prime Minister can’t maintain a majority – in other words, if he loses it – he has to go. Both literally and figuratively; he’s supposed to go to the Monarch and advise her that he cannot command a majority and advise her to call Ed Miliband. Note that it’s not dependent on Miliband being able to command his own majority, it’s solely down to whether Cameron’s lost his

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act adds a few tweaks to the existing system but none that materially affect the basic rule: the sitting PM goes to the Monarch if he loses his majority. What the Fixed-term Parliaments Act does is give a sitting Prime Minister a certain period to try and put together a majority he can command; three weeks or so. But, and it’s a big but, don’t forget that such negotiations are fairly new to the British public, and indeed to everyone in this generation of politicians. Last time, it was only five days between the date of the election and the formation of the Cameron administration  they might get slightly longer this time, as 2010 proved the world doesn’t fall apart; the UK didn’t fall apart in those five days. I recall other countries who were much more used to coalition negotiations exhibiting surprise that it only took five days. Though, of course, that recalls the utter astonishment from Americans that we don’t have a transition period, that if the former opposition win the election, they move into Downing Street the day after the election.

As it is, I suspect many candidates and their supporters will empathise with Dick Tuck who, after an unsuccessful run for the US Senate from California, memorably said: The people have spoken… the bastards.”

But there will be many, many more people on Friday morning, echoing Bill Clinton from 2000: “The people have spoken; we just don’t know what they said.”  

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Comments
  1. Which reads as all too familiar from first-hand experience here in Ottawa.

  2. It feels a little like 1974. Ted Heath was in Downing Street waiting for the arrival of Jeremy Thorpe. They couldn’t do a deal so Harold Wilson was next in the door. The Queen has a very political role at this point. Suddenly the nation wakes up to the uncomfortable notion that the monarchy is not ‘politics free’ as she is involved insofar as the palace presses the party leaders not to let he become obviously involved.

    In 1974 one election wasn’t enough. By 1976 there wasn’t even a majority and the Lib-Lab pact was created to keep Labour in power with the help of David Steel. Finally in 1979 it was those SNP MPs that tabled the motion of no-confidence that led to the General Election.

    There is nothing like events to scupper the predictions and deal making. It’s possible to throw a few thoughts out there. If Nick Clegg fails to win in Sheffield but the LibDems do hold a few other seats just who will Cameron be talking to if he wants another coalition. After two General Elections when the Conservatives get back into power with help from another party just how will the far right euro-sceptics react to a pact without a referendum on Europe? If Labour form a minority Government will the SNP repeat their trick of 1979 and voting out a Labour Queen’s Speech? If UKIP get a few seats but Farage doesn’t will he stay as leader from a seat at Strasbourg?

    If there is a second election within months which leaders will be left?

    I think the ‘who will be the Government’ is a good question but the little battles may have quite a few knock on effects…..

    • Proper response later; and this time I hope nobody close to me dies and prevents it… but I think it’s unquestionable that a Tory government suits the independence aims of the SNP.

      Also, don’t forget that the Fixed-term Parliament Act makes it a LOT harder to have another election. It’s not simply losing votes on the Queen’s Speech or The Budget. It’s not even losing a vote of confidence. The motion – for a vote of no confidence – has to be very very specifically worded; if it’s not, no election. Similarly, you need a 2/3 majority to vote to have an election. They’ll never get that.

      • My understanding is that a motion of “no confidence” will lead to an election unless a new Government is formed within 14 days. Potentially it would just be a see-saw of possible Governments.

        We need to thank the LibDems for that new constitutional noose.

      • I would say as much about the Canadian Conservatives and the Québec separatiste movement in general, and Pierre Karl Peladeau’s branch of the PQ in particular, given what you’ve just said of the UKConservatives and the SNP.

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