Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Election Forecast

With only two days to go until voting begins, I thought I'd try to guess the result, declare my favoured result, and generally diss the various runners and riders. Then, after it's all over, I can see how far off the mark I was (or not, given that I'm seriously bet-hedging).

First: the result. The polls are still too variable to very confident, but some sort of minority/coalition government seems most likely to me. Stating the bleeding obvious, I reckon that the Tories will have the largest share of the popular vote, and potentially the most seats in the House, but not enough of the latter to form a majority government. Although the polls (as of this past weekend) point to the LimDems getting a greater share of the popular vote than Labour, I expect Labour to come second in terms of total number of parliamentary seats (to again state the fairly obvious). In fact, I still expect the polls to be wrong, and that the LibDems will come in a strong third place (more than enough for Clegg keep hold of the reins).

Anyway, given this "analysis", Friday morning could theoretically present four possibilities, but I reckon only two of these are halfway likely outcomes. Basically, ...
  • Tories in minority government
  • Tories in coalition government
  • Labour in minority government
  • Labour in coalition government
I'd score the Tories in coalition out because (a) I don't think that the party faithful would stand for it (the leadership has practically talked their way out of it already), and (b) I think that the LibDems would realise that such a pact would represent a Faustian pact that would come back to haunt them in the future. I'd score a Labour minority government out because the party would realise (should realise) that "change done come", and that it would be suicidal to attempt to continue to rule solo. Which of these two bet-hedgings comes to pass will depend on the exact numbers after the election, and I'll almost certainly revise my likelihood guesstimate as Thursday evening progresses.

Second: what I want. My voting record to date has been driven primarily by the need to oppose the Tories wherever possible (more on that in a minute). So, of the two results I've "forecast", I would definitely favour a Lib-Lab coalition. That said, a non-constructive part of me would definitely enjoy sniping at a Tory minority government forced to go begging to the Unionist factions of Northern Ireland (of whom, yes, there are parliamentary parties that I like even less than the Tories).

While I could go off on some progressive fantasy of either a Labour or LibDem triumph, I don't know that I'd actually favour these at this time. I definitely feel that Labour need to atone for their errors, and I'm not (quite) convinced that the LibDems are ready for government. On the latter point (and apologies to Mike), I fear that the wheels of an inexperienced LibDem government might quickly fall off and consign them to decades of marginal existence. Not something that I want to happen to the progressives forces that they (in large, but not exclusive, part) represent.

Third: the parties. Although I had thought that I wouldn't be paying a huge amount of attention this time around, I have (in part because of C) been enjoying the Beeb's coverage of the election, particularly their Campaign Show, and did I watch all three of the debates (though tended to websurf as they wore on). So I have been able to take stock on the parties to some degree, and won't simply be voting instinctively. That's my cover story at any rate.

While I voted Labour last time, and will be voting for them again this time (I'm happy to do this since my sitting MP quit the Cabinet over the Iraq War), I do still feel that they need to be held to account for some of their actions this parliament. I don't buy the line that the UK's current economic difficulties can be laid solely at the door of a global financial crisis. Some of our problems stem from foolish assumptions about corporate behaviour and regulation, and a hopelessly panglossian faith in never-ending economic growth. Having said that, I seriously doubt that the Tories would have done things much differently from the current Labour government. Sure, we might not have wound up saddled with as much debt driven by public spending, but we might well have seen even looser regulation and even greater misplaced faith in capitalism. Also, and this is something where I feel ideology has completely trumped verification, though Labour's policies have aimed to engineer a more equitable society with a narrower wealth gap, they've actually achieved the reverse. This hasn't happened overnight, and has been visible in the statistics for some time - perhaps this is something that a "correction" in their polling might help them reflect upon.

As already noted above, for me the Tories serve largely as an impetus to vote. Against them. Growing up with Thatcher cast a long (without end so far) shadow over my opinion of them. But by the time that the election campaign started, Cameron's makeover of the party had definitely smoothed off some of the cut-glass edges. While I was still fired up to vote against them, I had convinced myself that the tide was high for the Tories, and their seeming lack of fatally objectionable soundbites made them a shoe-in for the election. They'd even pretty successfully weathered class-war assertions about Cameron's toff roots. But as the campaign has rolled on it's become increasingly obvious that any change that appears in the party is pretty skin deep. Furthermore, as well as running on empty policy-wise, they just cannot stop themselves, even in an election year, from scoring own-goals like their proposed inheritance tax cut (even if it's not as inflammatory as opponents make out). In a way, it's strangely reassuring that the Tories are incapable of deep-down change, and that they'll always come back to protecting certain core interests. It's also darkly funny to hear the Tories championing the so-called "Big Society" when those with a memory stretching back to the 1980s are unlikely to forget that "there is no such thing as society". This seems no more than a cynical, and cheapskate, attempt to palm off services to unaccountable charities and churches eager to expand their empires. Somewhat like the Republicans in the US (although nowhere near as poisonously crazy), the Tories still seem split between economic conservatism and a social conservatism that make uneasy bedfellows. This story over the weekend, in particular, neatly summarised this aspect for me. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

About the only thing everyone seems able to agree on in this election is that the LibDems have been something of an unexpected revelation. Going into the race, they seemed destined for their traditional third place finish, but Clegg's performance in the first debate seems to have kicked them into high gear. Personally, I thought he finished only slightly better off than the other two leaders, but The Press Has Spoken, and who am I to disagree? For me, their big selling point this time around was having been less bullish about the economy prior to its unravelling (or, at least, having one prominent member of the party being less bullish). That put them in a better place than the other two parties for me, but I can't say that I've heard much more beyond this that's enhanced my faith in them. True, I'm with them on their progressive stuff, but perhaps because they haven't had to change much during the campaign I've not been especially inspired. I am keen that something happens to shake up the moribund electoral system, and this election may be the one that gives them enough of an edge to achieve this, but none of their other policies jumped out and grabbed me. Scrapping Trident, sure, but I didn't feel that Clegg's "fairness" was appreciably superior to Brown's "fairness". Although Clegg does have the advantage of not have let the wealth gap grow. I guess, overall, I want the LibDems to do well, but, treacherously, I don't want them to inadvertently give the Tories an "in". So much for my ideals.

Of the smaller parties, only the various nationalist enclaves and the Greens have made much of a dent on me. The nationalists (at least so far as one can judge from their infrequent TV appearances) seem focussed on getting some sort of hung parliament so that they can hold a gun to the head of the resulting minority government. Hardly the most constructive of viewpoints, but I'm not exactly "philosophically aligned" with their divide-and-rule plans for the UK. Of course, when I lived in Scotland I actually had to vote SNP in my local seat to keep it Tory-free, but I'm pleased to be out of that.

The Greens, as ever, pose something of a dilemma for me. On the one hand, I am "philosophically aligned" with their (ostensible) core beliefs. For straightforward ecological reasons, I'm good with environmental protection and sustainability. But it's perhaps because of this theoretical similarity that I remain otherwise quite hostile towards the Greens. Much like other environmental advocacy groups, they are happy to use science when it suits them (e.g. climate change), but dispense with it in favour of green theology whenever it doesn't (e.g. nuclear energy). That said, they've gotten smart enough to realise that dismissals of nuclear energy have to be phrased in economic terms rather than faux-environmental ones. Which makes their 1970s socialism on economic matters seem all the more strange. I don't think that socialised economies are necessarily any better than properly regulated market economies when it comes to environmentalism, but the Greens appear to still have this as an article of faith. All of which makes them largely unelectable. Which, given the importance of environmental protection, makes them something of an impediment rather than a help. So long as the general public associates environmentalism with old school economics and a fuzzy love for trees, the Greens strike me as dangerous. As Garrett Hardin once said of pesticide-zealots, "[w]ith friends like these the environment needs no enemies".

P.S. Further to the above, I've just watched a rather barn-storming speech by Brown to a gathering of party workers in Manchester. While he got in some nice pot-shots at the expense of the Tories, the highlight was a rather extended period in which he listed, at some length, a list of Labour's achievements since 1997. What was interesting to me was how many of these I'd forgotten about, and how many I take for granted now. Maybe there's life in the old dog yet?

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