British voters will on Thursday 8th June vote on the composition of the 650-seat House of Commons – the third major popular vote in two years – after Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision back in April to trigger early general elections.
Theresa May’s motivations were arguably four-fold: (1) Win a popular rather than party mandate, (2) Capitalise on the massive lead in the polls the ruling Conservatives enjoyed over the opposition Labour Party and thus allow her to push through her own agenda, including a possibly softer form of Brexit, (3) Allow the government more time to secure a new EU trade deal, and (4) Strengthen the government’s stance in negotiations with the EU.
Objectives (1) and (3) will likely be met but objectives (2) and (4) may prove more elusive.
Opinion polls point to a trend-fall in popular support for the Conservatives to around 44% and sharp rise for Labour to 35%, with the gap between the two main parties halving to about 9pp from 20pp six weeks ago. Aggregate support for the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, SNP and Green Party is flat-lining around 18%.
However, there is still great discrepancy amongst polling agencies which in the past have misestimated true voting intentions. Moreover the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system makes it difficult to translate share of votes into seats numbers. Whether the Conservatives significantly improve on their current 330 seats or fail to secure a parliamentary majority, as You Gov currently predicts, is a tough call.
Nevertheless, a number of important themes have emerged in recent months.
First, the slingshot campaign has exposed the frailty and flaws of the Conservative machine, including of its leader and manifesto, and reinforced my view, first set out in December, that the government is ill-equipped, ill-prepared and lacking in institutional capacity to negotiate complex deals with the EU and non-EU partners.
Second, it is a two-horse race between the ruling Conservatives and Labour, with the other parties on course to secure only a modest number of seats – a break with recent elections.
Finally, the political centre of gravity has shifted to the left, with in particular tax rates likely to rise regardless of which party wins next week’s election.
My core scenario is a hollow victory for the Conservatives: 360-370 seats with a low voter turnout. This would reduce the risk of opposition parties and rebel Conservative MPs torpedoing government legislation but would fall short of the landslide victory which Conservatives thought possible back in April.
Finally, a modest (or even significant) increase in the Conservative’s parliamentary majority is unlikely to materially improve the government’s hand when negotiating with the EU.
Read UK Election Special – When Two Tribes Go To War in full on my website.