Archive for the ' General Election' Category

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It could be that the days of saturation general election polling ended at 10pm on May 7th

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

The chart says it all. There have been just 6 general election polls published in the UK since May 7th – a sharp contrast with the numbers we saw even by this stage five years ago.

Confidence in the numbers that are produced has collapsed – a situation not helped by the polling ahead of last weekend’s referendum in Greece. If polling cannot give us even a broad picture of a likely general election outcome then what is the point?

It might be that the British Polling Council study into what went wrong will produce recommendations for change but it is going to take an awful lot before confidence returns.

Hard-pressed media owners are unlikely to invest much in testing public opinion when they know how little this will be rated by their audiences.

Mike Smithson





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Four hours and 26 minutes after exit poll Betfair punters rated a CON majority as a 28% shot

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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Screen grab of Betfair GE2015 outcome market timed 2.26am May 8th

Two months to the day after the election and people are still talking about the outcome which I would argue was a bigger shock than what happened in 1992. Then there was just one poll that was showing a Tory lead. In the run up to May 7th quite a number of the phone polls had reasonable CON margins including a couple which had a blue lead of 6%.

The betting is also something that people still talk about particularly the fact that so few were predicting a CON majority. The screen shot above shows the state of a CON majority on Betfair at 2.26am nearly four and a half hours after the exit poll. Even then a CON majority was an outsider. You could have got the equivalent of 5/2.

I didn’t take that but I know that one leading PB poster, Tissue Price, got bets of 10/1 and more on Betfair AFTER the exit poll. Well done to him.

Over the past couple of weeks on Twitter I’ve had a few arguments over betting being a good predictor of political outcomes. The most that can be said in relation to GE15 was that the Tories closed as favourites to win most seats.

Mike Smithson





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At exactly 2200 on May 7th UK politics totally changed in the biggest shock election since 1970

Monday, July 6th, 2015

ExitPoll

An invitation to PBers to join an academic/Ipsos-MORI post GE15 conference next week

After every election since 1979 there’s been a joint academic and MORI (now Ipsos-MORI) conference to look by at what happened and the lessons for the future. The 2015 one takes lace next Monday and Tuesday in London.

The organisers tell me that PBers are very welcome to apply for tickets. The only cost might be a small catering charge.

Full details and links can be found here.

I’m speaking on the Tuesday and it would be great to meet up with any PBers who can attend.

Mike Smithson





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Nick Sparrow, the pollster who did most to change post-1992, on poll averaging, herding and the pressure to conform

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

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Why Polls End Up Saying The Same Thing

Following the General Election, the pollsters have been accused of having herd instincts.  How else do so many polling companies, acting independently, get to the same – wrong – answer?

In the final days of the campaign, the polls mainly agreed on the likely outcome, and even a late movement to Labour.  Polls of polls ironed out small differences and gave an even greater feeling of certainty.  But the natural belief that the average of independent observations is likely to be most accurate does not apply to vote intention polls.  Almost all the final polls in all general elections since the Second World War show bias and not error.  Put simply, they almost always err in one direction or the other, mainly underestimating the Conservatives.  In short, beware the average, it is only better than the worst and worse than the best.

    Nevertheless, apart from a few days, or at the most weeks after a general election, pollsters are judged by media commentators mainly on the proximity of their predictions to the average, whether that average is calculated or more vaguely expected.  That pressure is steady and, as polling day approaches, increasing. 

    A pollster with results diverging from the average will be asked by their client and others to examine every aspect of the methods for anything that might be “wrong”.  A pollster with results on the average can relax.

Those soft but sustained pressures, over the years, will tend to give greater prominence to those perfectly justifiable methods that tend to lead in the direction of conformity, and less attention may be paid to methods that lead to a greater degree of divergence.  So, the average is not only where the pollsters feel most comfortable, clients and political commentators believe the average is likely to be most right.

However, the pressure to conform to the average of the polls in turn restricts the tone of political commentary.  Common sense might have told us that the Conservatives would do very well in the General Election.   Nowadays it is more similar to a presidential election, with decisions by ordinary voters based only or primarily on the look of the leader, his aspirations for Britain, goals and ambitions.  Cameron vs Miliband was a mismatch.  Inasmuch as party and policy matter, Old Labour was so last century; the policy proposals lacking resonance in modern Britain.  The polls did not have the right smell about them.  Why did so few say so at the time?

Rather than herd instinct, the process by which pollsters and commentators influence each other may be better described as an informational cascade.  Over the long term, the publication of vote intention polls adds to the expectation of what any new poll will predict, sometimes irrespective of any other signals pointing in a different direction.  The theory would suggest that the publication of vote intention polls, strongly promoted as being reliable by the media owners who pay for them, suggesting certainty both for the overall prediction as well as small fluctuations, can rapidly influence a much larger group to accept the likelihood of a particular outcome.  At some point, the theory goes, any person with a correct prediction (however it is obtained) can be convinced, through social pressure, to adopt an alternative and incorrect view of the likely outcome.

Following a 1992 sized polling debacle, pollsters now need to take a hard look at the methods. Still relevant are the recommendations made by the Market Research Society in the report published after 1992:

“We would encourage methodological pluralism; as long as we cannot be certain which techniques are best, uniformity must be a millstone – a danger signal rather than an indication of health.  We should applaud diversity; in a progressive industry experimentation is a means of development.  No pollster should feel the need to be defensive about responsible attempts to explore in a new direction …”

Now that is a lot easier to suggest than to do.  Between 1992 and 1997 I changed from quota face-to-face interviewing to random telephone polls (“you can’t do that not everyone has a telephone”) started weighting by past voting (“you can’t do that, people imagine they voted for the party they now support – Hemmelweit et al”) and adjusted for the likely votes of those who could not or would not say who they would vote for (“you are making up the answers”).

Defiantly, and with the backing of The Guardian, as the General Election in 1997 approached I produced very different predictions to the rest, and in the process had my ear well and truly bent by many political commentators who had come to believe the average of the polls, most of which used methods in 1997 unchanged from 1992.

As it turned out the ICM prediction was most accurate, but in the run up to polling day the pressure to adopt the alternative, less accurate average of the rest, was intense.

Now, as then, pollsters should be seeking new solutions, and be unafraid of producing results very different to each other.  The average is clearly not to be trusted.  Sadly, I suggest, the likelihood is that come 2020 both pollsters and political commentators will again be converging on the average.

Nick Sparrow – former head of polling at ICM



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Continuing his series on the boundaries Antifrank on the role of the Boundary Commission

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Election 2015  Maps of turnout and party strength   BBC News

The body that will oversee the shake-up

In my last two posts, here and here, I’ve looked at the likely impact of the boundary review and considered how the parties might wish to see those boundaries fall.  To date I haven’t really looked at the role of the Boundary Commissions at all.  This is a serious omission.

In fact, it will be the Boundary Commissions that determine the constituency boundaries. The parties can make representations but the Boundary Commissions will have the final say.

On my last post on the subject of the boundary changes, a poster called SirBenjamin commented as follows:

The parties do not have as much power and influence as the post implies.

During the last two reviews (including the aborted one) I’ve advised several associations on representations to the boundary commission during the review consultation period.

1) This has only a limited impact for several reasons:The commission is (usually quite staunchly) predisposed towards their original recommendations – a compelling (and non partisan) reason for altering the proposals is required.  2. In a competitive seat there will be other parties making representations that will benefit them, so any proposals must not only be more compelling than the original proposal, but also better than any competing counter-proposals.

2) Even if beneficial proposals are adopted for one seat or in one area, it may have negative knock-on effects in others, so these must be considered when looking to make representations (e.g. you’re not only competing with Labour, but possibly also with fellow Tories next door). So, on balance, most counter-proposals will not be accepted and those that are will often be countered by an opposition counter-proposal adopted elsewhere that has a negative impact. Finding compelling arguments that are prima face non-partisan can be difficult. As well as the interesting stuff like constituency shapes, electorate sizes and ward boundaries, It also involves a lot of rather dull work researching local commnity ties, access to resources, peoples shopping habits, how rivers, railways and big main roads can or can’t be crossed, that sort of stuff. (And then quietly choosing to discard anything that isn’t to our advantage…)

While the identity of the poster is unknown, this has the ring of authority to me and I happily accept the points made.  It is certainly true that the Boundary Commissions are going to be looking exclusively at non-partisan reasons for taking on board suggestions.  It should be noted that local party branches, local councils and individuals will also make their own recommendations and the Boundary Commissions will look at them all.

There is no single right way of carving up boundaries. The relevant Boundary Commission will need to choose between competing possibilities.  But the new strict rules mean that the Boundary Commissions will have much less freedom of manoeuvre. In fact, the task is likely to prove to be a real nightmare for the Boundary Commissions, made easier only by the fact that they have already had a trial run.

They must do so in accordance with the legislation.  They are going to need to implement the proposed reduction in seat numbers to 600 and introduce new tight parameters on the number of registered voters in each seat.  The Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to this in Prime Minister’s Questions on 1 July 2015, noting that it was a manifesto pledge.

Historically, boundaries have so far as possible emphasised a sense of place. It is likely that we will see composite constituencies, simply because they will be needed to make the sums add up. But let’s have a more detailed look at the considerations.

The Boundary Commissions are permitted to take into account the following considerations:

  • special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency;
  • local government boundaries;
  • boundaries of existing constituencies; and
  • any local ties that would be broken by changes in constituencies.

I’m going to focus now on the Boundary Commission for England in the interests of keeping this piece of manageable length.  Different boundary commissions may take different approaches on some of the points that follow (and some will not be relevant for other parts of the UK).  Since England is by far the most populous part of the UK, I make no apology for doing so.

Last time around, the Boundary Commission for England stated that it did not consider that it would be appropriate to start from a blank sheet of paper and that it intended to have regard generally to existing constituencies as far as possible.  It would not try to make the constituencies as equal in numbers of registered voters as possible, merely to make sure that the constituencies fell within the permitted parameters.  As far as possible, it would seek to create constituencies from whole wards, from wards that are adjacent to each other and that do not contain detached parts.  I expect that it will take the same approach this time.

Its revised proposals last time round, which were as far as it got before the process was brought to a halt, can be viewed here.

The detailed proposals are found at the very end of each regional report.  Given the allocation of seats between the component parts of the UK (and within England, between the different regions) at present look likely to be similar to what was envisaged for the abortive boundary review, you could do a lot worse at present than assume that the constituencies will look very like what was set to emerge from the review last time round.  It won’t get you all the way there because the English regions do vary a bit from last time round and the numbers of registered voters in the individual constituencies have also changed quite a bit, but it won’t be a million miles away from what emerges.

If you have any interest in how the boundary reviews work in practice, I recommend dipping into these regional reports to get a flavour.  Some practical examples will tell you more than any explanation can.

The Boundary Commission in practice placed considerable weight on not disturbing constituencies if it could avoid doing so.  For example in Suffolk one reason it gave for preferring its revised proposal over another that had been advocated was that it left five of the existing constituencies undisturbed.

It seems likely (though it is not a legal requirement) that the Boundary Commission for England will respect regional boundaries – this is what they proposed last time around.  So, for example, there may be cross-county seats between Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, both of which are in the East Midlands region, but there will not be cross-county seats between Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, since the former is in the Eastern region.

In accordance with the consideration of maintaining local ties, I expect that the Boundary Commissions will seek to keep sizeable towns in single constituencies wherever possible.  We may see a single constituency of Luton or we may see expanded versions of Luton North and Luton South (in the abortive boundary review, Luton North was to be linked with Dunstable, to the apparent horror of the residents of the latter town). But we are unlikely to see Luton divided five ways with a mix of town and country in each one.

This would place due respect to local ties if the revised rural constituencies have even a residual coherence.  To give a hypothetical example based on a county I know well, if Ipswich or Bury St Edmunds were to be partitioned between different constituencies (as has already happened to Ipswich), this would cut across local ties. On the other hand, South Suffolk is a large rural seat with two main towns, Sudbury and Hadleigh.  Both towns are also in the same district council, Babergh, which covers almost the same area as the Parliamentary seat and the two towns have long been associated for political purposes.  But if the seat were split up and the two towns were put in separate constituencies, this would not offend local sensibilities.  Residents of both towns would look towards Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Colchester before they looked to each other.  This would be a fairly usual state of affairs in rural constituencies.

But it does mean, if the Boundary Commissions decide to do this, that some of the remaining seats are going to be very different.  Some existing rural constituencies are likely to be subject to heavy reorganisation, as the effect of the reduction in seat count is concentrated in these areas.  The Boundary Commission for England seems to prefer concentrating all the upheaval in odd constituencies rather than tinkering around the edges with quite a few.

It’s also very likely that some rural constituencies will inevitably lack even a residual coherence.  Cornwall, for example, will have too many voters for only five constituencies and too few for six constituencies, so it will inevitably need to share a constituency with Devon.  Local feeling in such a cross-border constituency will be outraged at such sacrilege.

We have already had a taste of that from the abortive review in the last Parliament.  In their revised proposals for the South West, the Assistant Commissioners drily commented:

“We have been struck by the efforts of many of those making representations to reflect the history and unique cultural identity of this region. Those issues are particularly important to those who seek to ensure that a particular county, historic area, city, or broader urban area remains whole in the sense that it is exclusively encompassed by one or more constituencies. Cornwall, Wessex, Gloucester, Plymouth, and the urban conurbation around Bournemouth are obvious examples. We are particularly grateful for the enormous amount of work that has gone into the detailed representations in relation to the unique cultural identity of Cornwall.

However, we are constrained by the statutory requirement that each constituency must have an electorate within 5% of the electoral quota.”

And the same problem is going to arise in most of the counties in England which have fewer than eight or nine seats at present.

All this is going to change the nature of some constituencies quite dramatically, both in terms of the current boundaries and in many cases in terms of the degree of internal coherence of the constituency.

What would this mean in practice?  If as I expect the Boundary Commissions prioritise keeping cities and towns within a single constituency wherever possible and dividing them between as few seats as possible where that is not possible, those constituencies are inevitably going to contain high concentrations of the urban voters who are much more likely to vote Labour than their country mouse cousins.  In the south of England, that maximises Labour’s chances of taking seats despite their weak levels of support there.  The Conservatives do not benefit from the reverse in the north east of England and have not done so in Scotland for some time because their support in their weaker areas is so much more diffuse.

This is good news for Labour, obviously.  But it does not come close to counteracting the bad news that much of its support is piled up in inner city areas.  Taking 75% of the vote in a constituency is a waste.  You’d rather give at least 25% of that to another more marginal constituency.  Right now this phenomenon is working more against Labour than the concentration of its weak support in the south in single constituencies is working for it.  It is too weak in the rural south and too strong in the inner city north.

Still, if the Boundary Commissions adopt this approach on a seat count reduction to 600, this will prove disorientating for those incumbents in highly disrupted seats (almost all of whom will be Conservatives, given that they hold almost all the rural seats in England), even if the new seats created are also safe Conservative seats.  The Conservative party establishment are going to need to hand out lots of tranquillisers and reassurance if they are going to get the seat reduction through.

Antifrank



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How the voters moved on May 7th

Monday, June 29th, 2015

This is a great bit of analysis of how the voters moved on election day from the previous general election, Martin Baxter explains

The graphic shows the various migrations of one hundred typical voters from 2010 to now. Voters who have switched from one party to another are shown moving along the corresponding arrow. “Lost” supporters are shown in grey, and “gained” supporters carry a white plus sign.

There are four key changes: the collapse of the Liberal Democrats; the rise of UKIP; the SNP surge in Scotland; and the growth of the Greens. On the graphic, we see five outbound arrows from the Lib Dems, and several inbound arrows into the three insurgents.

Compared with the pre-election estimates, there are the following differences:

  • The Conservatives gained one per cent support, rather than losing three per cent, and only have four voters going to UKIP rather than five. They effectively lose none to the Greens.
  • There is a net two per cent swing of voters from Labour to Conservatives.
  • The Lib Dem flow to UKIP is two rather than three
  • The Lib Dem to Conservative flow is three rather than two
  • The Lib Dem flow to Labour is seven rather than six
  • Two voters rather than one move from Labour to SNP
  • UKIP gain three voters from “Other” parties, such as the BNP (not shown)

These are direct transitions from 2010 voting choice to 2015 voting. For example, the two voters moving from Lib Dem to UKIP represent the fact that two per cent of the GB electorate chose to vote Lib Dem in 2010 and then switched their votes to UKIP in 2015. In other words, less than one tenth of 2010 Lib Dem supporters defected to UKIP in 2015 (two out of twenty-four).

The full explanation is available here.

TSE



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Guest Slot: Social media and shy rightwingers

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Dan Hannan Tweet

Tissue Price on the polling errors across Europe

The inquest into the polling disaster at the UK General Election continues. Matt Singh of NumberCruncherPolitics provided an excellent overview of the pollsters’ initial thoughts last week, ahead of the first meeting of the official BPC/MRS inquiry.

Some pollsters think faulty sampling was the principal cause of error, some blame turnout modelling, and one thinks a genuine late swing was the biggest single factor.

Dan Hodges channels Emile Zola in accusing the pollsters of herding, and Danny Finkelstein (£) thinks we’ll never know the true answer.

However Matt’s bet – and mine – is that Peter Kellner is right and that 2015 was a classic case of shy Tory syndrome. Peter chiefly attributes this to the Tories’ image, but I wonder whether his earlier explanation of “social satisficing” – not wanting to admit your views to a stranger for fear of being thought less of – might be nearer the mark, notwithstanding the fact that the majority of UK polls were online.

The reason for thinking this is that similar polling errors have occurred in other national elections this year. In Israel, Likud were predicted to gain 22 seats (of 120) and ended up with 30, and last week in Denmark the blue block were expected to win by 1 or 2% and actually won by 5% – with the populist DPP notably outperforming their eve-of-election polling by 3% (21% to 18%).

On more limited polling, the same pattern can be seen in Finland – with the Centre Party overestimated by about 3% at the expense of the populist True Finns and centre-right National Coalition Party; in Estonia, where the winning centre-right Reform Party were underestimated; in the Croatian presidential election, where the polls didn’t give the narrow winner Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović much of a chance (though interestingly the exit polls nailed it); and in Poland’s presidential election, where Andrzej Duda’s first round victory came as a total shock.

You could even make a case that Ireland’s marriage referendum fits the pattern, with the 62-38 victory for Yes contrasting with opinion polling expecting a 70-30 result.

The social media explanation

Is there a ready (and no doubt oversimplistic) explanation for why people all over Europe, in a variety of elections, might have been conditioned into suppressing their true intentions – even online? I think that perhaps social media – Twitter, and more importantly Facebook – has the answer.

Twitter has long been described as an echo chamber, and undoubtedly has a leftwing bias in terms of the sheer number of tweets. Dan Hannan’s tongue-in-cheek Venn diagram (at the head of this article) is to the point; the FT provided a more aesthetically pleasing proof of the same effect with some very nice network graphs.

However on Twitter you can choose who you follow and what you are exposed to. On Facebook you have to put up with your friends’ opinions. Now I am a fully paid-up PB Tory, with a social circle to match, but even I have some leftwing friends. And they didn’t shy away from signalling their virtue!

That’s anecdotal, but here is some data from the British Election Study posted by Philip Cowley of Nottingham University which confirms that left-wingers were much more likely to post content online during the election campaign:

Bes1

Bes 2

NB the wider reach of Facebook – it’s by far the more important social network for communicating with the electorate at large. Ofcom estimate that there are about 35m Facebook users in the UK and only 12m Twitter users.

My supposition is that it’s easier – as in, less risk of argument or confrontation – to post left-wing opinion online. Your intentions are assumed to be good and your motives pure, whereas right-wing opinion may often carry a whiff of self-interest in financial matters and might be supposed to be xenophobic or worse in other areas.

So, there’s my overarching theory to explain the multiple failures of polling across Europe this year: an online culture in which leftwing messages get disproportionately liked or retweeted into your timeline might have helped to bring about the emergence of shy Tories. What do you think?

Tissue Price



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Guest slot: The boundaries of reason

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Antifrank looks at The boundaries of reason: the possible shape of the 2020 election

I previously looked back at the impact of demographic changes on party politics from 1992 to 2015.  That’s all well and good, but what changes can we expect for 2020?  To determine that we first need to consider what the new boundaries are likely to look like.

It might be thought that the future musings of the Boundary Commissions are imponderable, but we have quite a lot of clues to go on.  We should use them.

The terms of any boundary review are closely delimited in legislation.  The following will occur unless the law is changed or the proposed boundary changes are defeated in Parliament:

1) The election will be fought on 600 seats.

2) There will be two Isle of Wight constituencies, a constituency for Orkney & Shetlands and a constituency for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

3) The 600 seats will be allocated between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland according to a strict formula based on the number of registered voters as at the review date in each.

4) Except for the exceptions already noted, the seats will have a population of 95% to 105% of the average constituency size (there are size requirements that are relevant only in Scotland and Northern Ireland has special rules).

These are pretty prescriptive rules. There are already rumblings among Conservative MPs that the seat count should be kept at 650.  As we shall see, this may be in the interests of individual Conservative MPs but it is unlikely to be in the interests of the Conservative party as a whole.

The next thing to realise is that the Boundary Commissions have already started looking at this once (until their work was brought to a juddering halt by the Lib Dems ganging up on their coalition partners: as we shall see, this was absolutely correct from a narrow party interest).  So we already can see the general direction of travel.

For the moment I’m going to work on the basis of a 650 seat Parliament to explore what difference the boundary review might make.  While this is not what the law currently requires, it makes it easier to see what difference the impact of movements in registered voters might have.

Allocation of seats around the component parts of the UK

So, what should we expect?  The first thing to do is to determine the number of registered voters in each part of the UK.  This will be set at the end of this year, so we don’t have the precise figures, but the numbers from the general election should provide a fairly decent guide.  We have the electoral commission’s preliminary results:

This gives a national total of registered voters of 46,425,476.

I’ve separated these out into the component parts of the UK:

From these we can derive the following totals of registered voters:

Northern Ireland:1,236,683, Wales: 2,282,297, Scotland: 4,094,784, England: 38,811,712

When the seat allocation is eventually determined, it is done by a broadly proportionate approach.  Since we don’t have the relevant registered voter numbers yet, it is pointless doing anything more than a pro rata approach.  If the seat allocation stays at 650, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 17 seats, Wales to get roughly 32 seats, Scotland to get roughly 57 seats and England to get roughly 543 seats (with one seat up for grabs).  If the seat reduction to 600 seats takes effect, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 16 seats, Wales to get roughly 30 seats, Scotland to get 52 or 53 seats and England to get 501 or 502 seats.  This is almost exactly what the allocation would have been if the boundary review had gone ahead last time.  So much for all the fuss about the voter registration changes.

Either way, English MPs will become still more dominant in Parliament.  This can only be good news for the Conservatives, whose who dominate much of England and rely on it for almost all of their seats.

Allocation of seats within England

Just as important as how the seats are distributed in the UK is how the seats will be distributed in England.  The Boundary Commission for England is not legally obliged to follow the same approach when allocating seats between English regions, but in practice it intended to do so in the last Parliament and I expect it to do so again this time.

The English regions had registered voter totals at the general election as follows:

Eastern: 4,364,656, East Midlands: 3,350,769, London: 5,401,616, North East: 1,941,841, North West: 5,240,724, South East: 6,419,548, South West:4,076,494, West Midlands: 4,140,587, Yorkshire & the Humber: 3,875,477

This would result in the following seat allocations, based on England having 543 seats in a 650 seat Parliament (I have assumed a 650 seat Parliament for ease of comparability):

AF Table

*Plus two Isle of Wight constituencies

Again, this seems to benefit the Tories.  More seats are being added in their strongest areas while the seat count in the North West and the North East, two of their weaker areas, continues to decline.

Putting numbers on these changes

So, what would these movements mean in real seat numbers?  Unfortunately, we cannot simply apply a formula because much depends on how the boundaries are actually set.  Thinking about the detail of boundary commission reviews will need to be the subject for another post, but some general principles can be laid down now.

1) Boundary reviews are bad for incumbents.  The more extensive the boundary alterations, the less of an advantage incumbency gives.

2) Within an area, a seat reduction will increase the advantage of the party with the most support.  To give an extreme example, if Wales were reduced to one constituency, Labour would expect to take 100% of seats in the area.  Considered on a wider scale, it would obviously be to Labour’s detriment to have only one seat within Wales, but within Wales itself it would accentuate its political dominance.

3) With a seat reduction in an area, regional strength of trailing parties will outweigh general strength in the area.  For example, if Wales were reduced to four constituencies, Labour might reasonably hope to take all four constituencies.  But it would probably be most worried about losing a seat to Plaid Cymru because of its regional strength in north west Wales.  The fact that the Conservatives poll twice Plaid Cymru’s vote share across Wales as a whole would not affect this calculation.

4) An increase of seats in an area will naturally tend to produce more seats for the dominant party in the area, but the increased granularity may help another party gain an odd seat where a pocket of support has previously been swamped by the dominant party’s support in previously-attached areas (this is the inverse of the last two points).  For example, Peterborough is a Conservative-held marginal seat comprising a city with outlying areas attached.  Making the reasonable assumption that the city is more Labour-leaning than the outlying areas, I infer that if the seat count in the area were increased and the boundaries are confined more tightly around the town, Labour might hope to pick up a new seat in an area of Conservative dominance.  Incidentally, this will tend to work better for Labour than for the Conservatives, given the way in which Labour support tends to cluster in towns.

With these principles in mind, and without going through the detail of my thought process (which is more art than science in any case), my guess is that if the votes cast in May were cast on the boundaries of a new 650 seat Parliament that I have outlined above, the seat count would be something like:

Conservative: 335, Labour: 229, SNP: 55, Lib Dem: 8, Plaid Cymru: 3, UKIP: 1, Green: 1, Speaker: 1, Northern Irish parties: 17

So I imagine a hypothetical increase in the Conservative majority by ten or so, but it wouldn’t fundamentally alter the dynamics of the next election.  I feel that I have made midpoint assumptions in coming to these numbers.

The impact of switching to a 600 seat Parliament

But as the law stands, the boundary review will be conducted on the basis that we will get a 600 seat Parliament, and that will intensify some of the effects that I have just noted.  The new 600 seat Parliament would be comprised roughly as follows:

Scotland: 52, Wales: 30, Northern Ireland: 16, England: 502, – Eastern 56 – East Midlands 43 – London 70 – North East 25 – North West 68 – South East 83 (including two Isle of Wight constituencies) – South West 53 – West Midlands 54 – Yorkshire & The Humber 50

The seat reorganisation would be relatively minor in the Eastern, South East and South West regions, given the minor adjustments in seat counts, and these are as it happens all overwhelmingly Conservative areas.  They would, however, be very extensive in Wales, the North West and the North East: all Labour areas (Scotland also would be seriously affected).  Of the Conservative-leaning areas, only the West Midlands would see heavy reorganisation.

The consequence might well be that the bulk of Conservative incumbents could see their incumbency damaged in only minor ways, while Labour incumbents would be much more likely to see their incumbency seriously affected.

It gets worse for Labour.  Many of the constituencies with the lowest number of registered voters are in contiguous Labour-held areas.  On a shrinking seat count determined by numbers of registered voters, that is the worst permutation for a party, because there is much less scope to recoup lost seats in the area by taking seats of a rival party.  Leeds, Bradford, Hull and Liverpool are all stuffed full of constituencies with very low numbers of registered voters, all with large Labour majorities.  If the seat count in those areas is reduced, that will probably come straight off the top of the Labour seat total.

Meanwhile, the smaller parties all get hit still harder because of the consequences of reducing the seat count noted above.

My artist’s impression of how the results of the last election might have translated onto reasonably normal boundaries on the new basis is something like the following:

Conservatives: 316 Labour: 209 SNP: 50 Lib Dems: 5 Plaid Cymru: 2 UKIP: 1 (maybe) Greens: 0 Speaker: 1 Northern Ireland: 16

By this stage, the Conservative majority, now hypothetically 32, is starting to look very solid given the smaller size of the House.  Again, I don’t feel that I have particularly stepped out in one direction or another.

So if you want to see why the Opposition (and the Lib Dems in particular) might seek to block the boundary review, this is why.  Their task is hard enough, without the Conservatives being given a still greater head start.

Antifrank