UK 2015 Election: Proof I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About

In the blog-post I wrote right before this one, a few days before the UK general election, I decided to predict the outcome, and guess which of the major parties would form a government, and how long it would last.

I’m currently resting up (or at least, I’m supposed to be) after a 24-hour marathon stint on the Heart and Capital radio stations, breaking all the overnight stories of the election. As the ballot-booths are flat-packed away for now, and the black-and-white “Polling Station” signs are taken down off the walls of community centres and school halls across the country, I think it’s only fair that I look at what I wrote a few days ago, and see how it tallies with the reality.

And it’s pretty clear. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the outcome if I tried. I didn’t even entertain the idea that there might be a majority government, given the consistent message from the polls that suggested otherwise.

So I’m W. H. Wrongy McWrongstein, of Wrongsville, Carolina. Population: Wrong.

Proof, if any proof were really needed, that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But how did all the polls get it all so wrong? We had months of the polls, from a host of different pollsters, day in and day out, all showing that no party would have enough MPs to form a majority. But when the big day came, we had one clear winner.

David Cameron and the Conservative Party wiped the floor with virtually everyone (except in Scotland, of course. There, the pollsters were spot on about the Scottish Nationalist Party and their dominance). UKIP were decimated. The Greens; right back where they started. The Liberal Democrats exiled to obscurity. And Plaid who?

And as I write, David Cameron is live-tweeting announcements about his new cabinet, fully Liberal Democrat-free following his 331 seats in parliament.

An outright Conservative majority. How did we get here?

The only explanation I can think of (and given how wrong I was in my election prediction – did I mention that? Way, way wrong – my explanation may not carry much weight), is that we’ve seen a repeat of the 1992 election.

Then, a beleaguered Tory government – Lead by John Major – was sleepwalking into a comprehensive defeat.

Their opponents – Labour – were all but guaranteed to form the next government. Labour’s leader Neil Kinnock even went as far as to host a victory rally before polling day.

Then the election day came. And the Tories won. Comprehensively.

I believe that yesterday – as in 1992 – the public maybe didn’t quite form an opinion of how to vote until they got into the polling booth. Major’s government were as far removed from ‘cool’ as you could get. Voting for them was almost an embarrassment to some. Why would you tell a pollster that’s what you were going to do? Even if it was what you were going to do?

But even if it was only in the back of their mind, there was a genuine concern about where the country was headed under a Kinnock government. Back to the old days of economic illiteracy and ‘managed decline’. The people blinked, and Major stayed in Number 10. A few years on, and our deficits turned to very impressive surpluses.

The unique way in which the global market crash in 2008 hurt Britain was – for a big part – down to our unaffordable public spending. We had the deficit of a basket-case economy. But we just kept on spending, kept on trying to live off that ‘hair of the dog’ each morning.

Though it wasn’t totally popular to some, modest steps were taken by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition from 2010 to introduce austerity. It’s a dirty word these days, but all it really means is “living within your means”. Income has to be equal to, or lower than expenditure. That’s not evil free market dogma, or cruel Tory “ideological” cuts. It’s called maths. If you get £5 a week pocket money, and spend £6 a week on stuff, you’ll have to borrow £1. If you do that every week for ten weeks, you’ll owe £10. One day, that has to be paid back. See: maths?

Now I’m not a big fan of the coalition for a variety of reasons. The debt that’s been piled on over the past five years is inexcusable, and they’re no way near classically liberal enough for my tastes. But, the Tories wanted to eliminate the deficit in five years. They were in coalition, so couldn’t be as radical as they’d like to be. Let’s say, they could only be half as radical. So by 2015, they’ve cut the deficit in half.

It’s a fairly clear demonstration that, generally speaking, they were right. The (now unemployed after losing his seat) Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls went on every TV and radio show in the country describing the austerity (living in your means, i.e. maths) measures as being “to far and too fast” for the first two years of coalition. Turns out, if do want to criticise the coalition’s austerity measures, it’d be better to say they didn’t go far enough and weren’t implemented quickly enough.

The coalition decided to lean in the direction of maths/austerity. Labour leader Ed Milliband – who resigned this afternoon – said for every public sector job cut, a private sector job would also go, creating greater levels of unemployment.

The coalition cut half a million public sector jobs. Two million private sector jobs (more than in the 13 years of Labour) emerged. Most of them better paying, contracted jobs.

So one group called it right, one group called it wrong. It was actually so simple we missed it. And in the back of many people’s minds, they understood. Even if it took them until they had the HB pencil in their hands in the ballot booth to really see it.

But don’t listen to me. I’m W. H. Wrongy McWrongstein, of Wrongsville, Carolina, remember?

UK 2015 General Election: Predicting the Unpredictable

Ballot boxAs I write these words, we’re just days away from the UK General election, which has been billed as the most unpredictable for a generation or more.

That might be true, but is it totally unpredictable?

While the exact outcome is going to be pretty difficult, we can certainly get a sense of what is more or less likely to occur.

I’ll be broadcasting on-air overnight that night for Global: Europe’s largest commercial radio group. I have teams across the south region region waiting for the ballot papers to be counted, and the results to come in. It’ll be a long night for all of us in the broadcast media, but an exciting one, not least because the exact outcome is so uncertain.

But the opinion polls – which have remained pretty consistent throughout – do give us at least some sense of what we might see come the early hours of Friday 8th May.

Firstly, a quick disclaimer about the figures. Polls, let’s not forget, predicted a trouncing for John Major’s government back in 1992, almost right up to election day, only for him to re-enter Downing Street with an increased majority.

But the polls are the best we’ve got, and with the figures in them being so fixed for so long, there’s a good chance that they are painting at least a reasonable picture of the outcome.

If you extrapolate the percentage-based polls into actual seats won for each party (a risky business), we can see a lead of ten or so seats for the Conservatives over Labour, around half of the Liberal Democrats losing their seats, a less than impressive result for UKIP, and domination in Scotland by the SNP.

What kind of a parliament does that create, and how do we create a government out of it? I feeling that our system is quite outdated. In my book from a couple of years ago, “TREASON: And Other Good Ideas“, I suggested a system where the people directly elect the head of the executive branch. That way, if you ever get a fragmented parliament (the legislative branch), you at least know that the Prime Minister is in his or her position with a reasonable degree of legitimacy.

However, we live in a different world to the one I suggested then, so for now, we have to deal with the system as it stands. And as it stands, things might get ugly.

Simply put, neither the Conservatives or Labour will win enough seats for an outright majority. That’s something we can be at least fairly certain of.

For the Tories, it looks very unlikely there will be enough Lib Dems to form a coalition with, and even factoring UKIP and the DUP from Northern Island, there may not be enough for a “grand coalition.”

It’s looking equally as grim – if not more so – for the Labour Party. They could form a coalition with the SNP, as they’d have enough seats between them to form a government.

But this would be almost impossible after Labour’s leader Ed Miliband ruled out a coalition. If he went back on his word now, he’d possibly push Labour out of No. 10 for a decade or more. Plus, most people in the UK would see this as an illegitimate government (even if it wasn’t technically), as only people in Scotland could vote for the SNP, who could hold Labour to ransom for anything they wanted.

There’s a slim chance that Labour could form a coalition with other left-leaning parties other than the SNP (like Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Green Party if they do better), but again, there’s a good chance Labour will have fewer MPs than the Tories, and so any government not formed mostly of Conservatives could be seen as not “right” by many people: “How can a party have the most MPs but not be in government?” The answer, is “well, it’s our quirky system”, but that won’t be satisfactory to many.

So I’ll put my neck on the line and do something fairly daft: I’ll predict the outcome for the least predictable UK general election in a long time:

I think that we’ll end up with a minority Conservative government. It’ll be a short-lived entity, which will build bridges and alliances in some areas, but fail to pass many of its bills as they wind their way through the parliamentary system, but possibly just about getting Labour to sign off on its Queens Speech, for the sake of stability if nothing else. Then, as soon as this October, or maybe into next year, we may go to the polls again. It might end up being a poisoned chalice for the Tories who end up stuck between a rock and a hard place, while becoming so unpopular that they lose the subsiquent election convincingly.

I’ll report on events as they happen on the Heart and Capital networks, and LBC. It’ll be interesting to see just how wrong I am.

We’ll find out soon.