Implications of the Forecast Local Council Elections Results in England, Wales and Scotland for GE 2017

Summary

I bring together Local Election forecasts for England, Wales and Scotland made over the past few weeks, before the General Election announcement a week ago. In the three countries I forecast that the Labour Party would lose 700 seats, and the Conservatives to gain over 500 seats. The most dramatic changes I forecast are in Scotland, where the Conservatives should end up with more seats than Labour, firmly cementing their place as the second party of Scotland. The SNP I forecast to have a net gain of 100 seats, despite likely losing seats to the Conservatives.
The impact of the snap General Election is likely to reinforce the dramatic exchange of seats that I forecast, with the additional impacts of (a) confirming the collapse in UKIP support; (b) highlighting the re-emergence of the Liberal Democrats as the major alternative to the Conservatives in much of England; and (c) providing a signal that the peak SNP dominance in Scotland has passed.

 

In the last few weeks I have made some results forecasts for the forthcoming local elections in England (here and here), Wales and Scotland occurring on May 4th. I was forecasting some big changes in numbers of seats. Since then a snap General Election has been called for June 8th. This may affect the forecasts, although given I have used mostly GE opinion polls, maybe not quite so much as local election forecasts based more upon recent local election by-election results. Rather than try to reforecast based upon widely fluctuating opinion polls (such as in last Sunday’s papers ), I will try to evaluate the impact of my forecasts being correct in the context of the narrative for the parties for the last few weeks of the General Election campaign.

In England, only a small proportion of councils are up for re-election. The 35 councils are a mixture of shire counties and unitary authorities. They are predominantly in areas with Conservative members of parliament, although there is also the Labour stronghold of Durham, along with Lancashire and Derbyshire where Labour managed to regain council majorities in 2013. In terms of councils involved, this is a very low number. There were 124 English councils with elections in 2016 and 279 in 2015. Entirely absent are any council elections in the major English cities.

In Wales and Scotland all council seats are up for re-election. Although with similar numbers of council seats in the two countries as the English councils, these are far more significant politically.

Figure 1 summarizes my forecasts of seat changes for each country both against the last elections in 2012 and 2013 and the previous round of elections in 2007 and 2008.

I believe that a major influence on the UK local election results is the state of national opinion. This is in general direction of opinion and not the percentage share of the vote. For instance, in 2007 and 2008 the Labour Government was trailing the Conservatives by quite a long way in the opinion polls – possibly as much as 15 points. By 2012 and 2013 the situation was reversed, with Labour in opposition being around 8 points ahead of the Conservatives. Proportionately, Liberal Democrats as the junior partner in a coalition government, suffered greater reversals than the Conservatives.  This is strongly seen in the English council results, with the exception of the UKIP factor. The 2013 council elections demonstrated a game-changing http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22382098 rise of UKIP outside of elections to the European Parliament.  In Wales, the National Opinion influence is less marked, but it is still there. Scotland is the least influenced by National Opinion trends, as there are strong factors unique Scottish factors, such as the replacement of the Labour Party with the SNP as the major left of centre party.

Before looking at the likely consequences for the General Election, I have shown the approximate forecast council seat numbers in figure 2.

Political Implications of the English Council Results

With hindsight my UKIP seat estimate is probably too high. But even if they retain 40 to 50 seats it will still be a major reversal on 2012. It will be very hard to convince voters in England – especially in the pro-Leave areas of the country – that they are a credible alternative political party, whether on Brexit or populist issues such as immigration.

The Liberal Democrats fell into third place behind Labour in 2013. I will be very surprised if that they do not regain second place. Expect to see a lot made of being in most of Britain the only credible alternative to Conservative pro-Brexit juggernaut.

The Labour Party will excuse the results as being in Tory areas, claiming that there is a different picture in the rest of England, particularly in London. They will try change the conversation to winning the mayoral elections in Manchester and Merseyside.

 

Political Implications of the Welsh Council Results

Plaid Cymru might only make small gains, and it will be in a limited number of areas. They will use this to persuade voters of being an anti-Brexit and pro-Welsh voice. By softening the Welsh language aspects, they might seek to extend their reach beyond the West Coast.

The Liberal Democrats will look at actual council successes to drive home their Pro-Remain message, particularly in the capital, where they will be looking to regain Cardiff Central.

For the Conservatives, coming in third place behind Plaid Cymru, despite large gains, may give confidence to other parties. If they come second (and/or regain control of the two councils lost in 2012) then this will be a landmark achievement. A YouGov opinion poll for Cardiff University and ITV on 24/04/17 of voting intentions for the Welsh local elections gave Labour 28%, Conservatives 26% and Plaid Cymru 19%, against my assumptions of 29%, 16% and 17%. The main inaccuracy of the poll I believe is that it calculates Independents plus minor parties at 12%, half the level of 2012. I assume a 1% gain. Given such varied support across the councils, along with first asking General Election opinions, it is easy to understand how this discrepancy might arise. However, it will be the actual results that will decide who has the greater accuracy.

 

Political Implications of the Scottish Council Results

It is in Scotland that the results will reverberate most strongly if my forecasts are correct. There are a couple of points to remember about the peculiar Scottish context.

First is that Scotland is embarking on the third set of council elections using the single transferable vote system (STV), with council areas divided into supersized wards of three or four seats. It means that if a party selects too many candidates in a ward, they may end up with less Councillors elected as candidates of the same party compete against each other for votes. They parties therefore try optimization of candidates based on forecasts. As I found, the Labour Party, instead of optimization based on a dramatic forecast fall in their vote, chose to largely match candidates with existing Councillors. They are therefore likely to lose proportionately more seats as a consequence of this quite rational decision.

Second, is the growth in the SNP means that the change in the vote from council election to council election does not strongly reflect the swings in the UK-wide opinion polls over the same period. For instance, although the Labour share of the vote in 2012 was higher than in 2007, the rise was much smaller than the SNP rise in vote share. However, I still forecast SNP vote share to increase, resulting in a net gain in Councillors. But these net gains will include very large gains in Labour councils, such as Glasgow, alongside loses elsewhere, especially to the Conservatives. There will be a strong message for those who oppose independence that the SNP juggernaut might have peaked and could signal the turning of the tide on the Independence issue.

Lib Dems may not have a significant showing, as in many areas where they are strong in the Westminster elections, are where there is a strong representation of Independents. Indeed, the councils of Orkney and Shetland, where the Lib Dems have their only Scottish MP, are all Independents. Whether they will win over some votes as the party of double-Remainers, remains to be seen. An extensive Scottish Yougov poll  published in January, but based on sampling in late 2016, showed that the double-Remainers were 28% of voters. That includes 21% who voted in one or none of the two referendums.

From my forecast the Conservatives will easily replace Labour as the second political party represented on Scotland’s councils. Due to Labour having too many candidates, they could pick up seats in unexpected areas. Conversely, if the Conservative surge continues, then Ruth Davidson may end up apologizing for having too few candidates, as vote share in some wards might easily elect the available candidates.

 

Implications for the UK General Election

A loss of 700 seats across three countries would be a huge message that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was heading for an even worse result than in 1983. The benchmark in England and Wales would be the woeful results of 2007 and 2008, which were 530 seats lower than the last set of elections, compared to my forecast of 455 seats lost.

The Conservatives will want to downplay strong gains in England and Wales in case complacency reduces turnout on June 8th. But they will want to emphasize their confirmed position as the opposition in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats will announce that they are back, and concentrate on gains made in particular areas where they are clearly the main opposition to the Conservatives Hard Brexit. They will emphasize any gains they might make in the council areas where they had Westminster MPs until 2015.

UKIP may lose more than the rounded 100 seats I forecast. It will show that, unlike in 2015, they are no longer the protest vote of the disaffected. Given that their main cause has been achieved, and supporting the Conservatives is the surest way to ensure Brexit is enacted in full, this may signal the end of the UKIP as a national force on June 8th.

The biggest losers could end up being the SNP, despite their likely winning control of a number of councils and destroying the Scottish Labour Party. Their demonisation of the Conservative and Unionist Party as the subjugators of the Scots will not hold as much sway when the spread of their Councillors is much broader than in living memory and the Conservative voter is more likely to be your own neighbour.

Kevin Marshall

Local Elections Forecast May 2017

At Political Betting Harry Hayfield has produced a forecast for the County Council elections in May 2017, just six weeks away. I have long followed this blog, though I neither bet nor follow the politics of the blog propriotor Mike Smithson (Lib-Dem & Pro-Remain on Brexit). However, it is the very differences that provide an alternative perspective. Harry Hayfield’s basic assumptions County Council elections in England are:-

In the local by-elections, areas that voted REMAIN saw the following change:
Con -9%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +12%, UKIP -12%, Greens 0%, Ind -10%, Others +23%
Where as areas that voted to LEAVE saw the following change:
Con +4%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +7%, UKIP -9%, Greens +1%, Ind +4%, Others -3%

With any forecast there is a lot of work involved in converting these into seats. Any baseline, when compared to the actual results will help develop an understanding of both of National opinion in turbulent times and also how it impacts at the local politics. What I would note is that the Counties are mainly Conservative territory; has a large Independent / Other representation (though this has been declining for decades); and is predominantly Remain voting, but not extremely more than the UK average.

But that said Harry Hayfield’s forecasts seem to be at odds with the opinion polls. Taking the UK Polling Reports opinion poll figures for (a) 28/04/13 to 10/05/13 and (b) 05/02/17 to 19/02/17 (the latest available) the change in voting intention is about

Con +11%, Lab -13%, Lib Dem +0%, UKIP -2%, Greens +2%.

Since then the Conservatives and Lib Dems at improved slightly at the expense of UKIP and Labour. The latest YouGov figures, for 25-27 March,  are

Con 43%, Lab 25%, Lib Dem 11%, UKIP 10%

And the change on 2013 are about

Con +13%, Lab -14%, Lib Dem +1%, UKIP -4%

The actual share of the vote – skewed by being counties – was

Conservative 34.3%, Labour 21.1%, UKIP 19.9%, Lib Dem 13.8% and Green 3.5%

therefore – Other 7.4%

In terms of the County Councils, perhaps 85% were for Leave in the EU Referendum, on the basis that maybe three-quarters of Parliamentary Constituencies in in England and Wales voted for Leave, and most of the Remain vote was in the Metropolitan areas. So why should the Conservatives only improve by 4% in most of the Council areas on 2013 when they are 13% up in the opinion polls nationally?

Harry Hayfield’s assumptions diverge from the opinion polls from being based upon recent by-elections nationally. That is upon a maybe half a dozen by-elections a week, These one-off events usually have low turnouts, and are highly impacted by protest votes.  The biggest reason for protest votes at the present time is the Brexit issue. It will have an impact on the local elections, with the Remain protest vote being stronger than the Leave support vote. But this will be much less than in by-elections due to (a) higher turnout due to area-wide elections (b) higher turnout on average as the counties tend to have higher turnout than the Metropolitan areas (c) the protest vote is concentrated in the cities, especially London. The latter is evidenced by the two recent very large petitions to change the referendum rules after the EU referendum and to cancel the State Visit of President Trump.

That said, using by-election results is a as good as any considering the political landscape has changed dramatically in the past four years. By using clear assumptions on forecasts it is possible to understand where they go wrong. But that understanding will be only on the empirical differences between forecast and actual. What I will now do is to give a forecast based on reasons (maybe my unfounded opinions) with some notes on the parties. This might muddy the waters a bit, but here goes.

For UKIP 2013 elections were a “game-changer“, to use Nigel Farage’s term. UKIP then got nearly double the share in the County vote as in the National opinion polls. A party campaigning on a single national issue made huge gains on votes at local government level. The 20% of vote share was a precursor to the 26.6% in the European Parliament elections achieved in 2014.  This impact is now gone, and the grassroots support needed to field and promote thousands of candidates may have diminished due to internal strife. Local by-elections may not fully reflect this impact, as they can concentrate their much reduced resources. UKIP’s share may go below the National Opinion polls. On these grounds I will go for a -13% change on 2013, giving UKIP 7% of the vote.

The Liberal-Democrats, are usually the main opposition to the Conservatives in the Counties and also usually perform much better than in General Elections. In 2013 they were in Coalition with the Conservatives, which severely damaged their standing as a local opposition. The 13.8% of the vote was 3-4% ahead of the opinion polls. This margin might not be much more than in previous 20 years, but in those years the Lib-Dems were doing much better nationally. Any bounce I believe will be mostly due to being the respectable face of hard-line opposition to Brexit. This could be bet positive, but put some folks off voting for them on local issues. I would guess at an increase of 5% giving the Lib-Dems 19% of the vote.

The Labour Party cannot fall nearly as far in the English Counties, where support is much lower than the national average. At the end of April and beginning of May 2013 they were polling 38-39% nationally, but achieved 21.1% of the vote. Will they still fall? In 2013 they managed to overtake the Lib-Dems with 538 to 352 seats, as against 247 to 476 in 2009, so the 21.1% was actually an improvement. Nationally Labour are doing worse (or at least no better) than in 2009. What is more, they have lost a lot of their working class base, which would have formed some of the core support in the Counties. I would estimate a 5% fall.

The Independents were once a major contingent in local politics, but only achieved 7.4% of the vote in 2013. How will this go? I would hope for an increase as people vote again for local representatives based on local issues. With the decline of UKIP, and maybe the Lib-Dems tarnished in the eyes of some for going very anti-Brexit, I think they may gain ground to around 10%. The Greens maybe the same.

By difference, the Conservatives will have a 11% increase in the vote share to 45% of the vote share. This is fairly similar to the change in national opinion polls over the last four years (from 30 to 41%). Indeed, it might be a low estimate, as in 2013 the Coalition Government was suffering from normal mid-term blues. At present, the Government is in the unusual position of being significantly more popular than when elected.

So, in conclusion, Harry Hayfield’s estimate was as follows

In the local by-elections, areas that voted REMAIN saw the following change:
Con -9%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +12%, UKIP -12%, Greens 0%, Ind -10%, Others +23%
Where as areas that voted to LEAVE saw the following change:
Con +4%, Lab -4%, Lib Dem +7%, UKIP -9%, Greens +1%, Ind +4%, Others -3%

The LEAVE areas are at least 5 times more than the REMAIN areas. My estimate, for all English areas with a complete council elections in 2013 & 2017 is as follows.

Con +10%, Lab -5%, Lib Dem +5%, UKIP -12%, Ind/others +2%.

It is the actual results that will matter, and possible lessons to be learnt during a time of massive change in British politics.

Kevin Marshall

Ed Davey needs to understand the policy problem before denouncing climate change critics

EurActiv website interviewed Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. They reported Davey as saying:-

“My recommendation to most politicians who want to talk about the climate is to listen to the scientists and listen to the evidence,” he said. “Of course you can question it, but when there is overwhelming evidence you should tend to shut it.”

Rather denounce critics Ed Davey needs to grasp the policy problem. Britain is the only country in the world committed to an aggressive carbon reduction policy. The sum of actual carbon reduction policies in place globally will do practically nothing to offset the growth in emissions from emerging economies. If, as Ed Davey believes, the science is correct about the catastrophic consequences resulting from all these emissions, then he is faced with a terrible truth. Britain will incur hundreds of billions of pounds of cost over the next few decades, yet leave future generations to bear 99% of the climate change problem when compared to having done nothing at all. Ed Davey is fronting policy that is net harmful to this country by any measure.

If Britain wants to truly lead the way on getting a global agreement on carbon emissions, it should show that it is possible to successfully transfer to a low carbon economy for costs of 1% of GDP (as Stern claimed), and with zero impact on long-term economic growth. Britain’s current policies are something any country would avoid like the plague, even if they had the same views on the “science” as Ed Davey. From the evidence to date in Britain and other countries, there are no policies of net benefit, even if the political issues can be sorted out. The fact that no other country has followed the UK’s lead in passing the Climate Change Act 2008 would suggest that see the harm that the policy is causing.

These comments were reported by The Daily Mail on 6th March and Bishop Hill on 8th March. I looked into this issue in the recent post “Why Climate Change Mitigation Policies Will Always Fail“.

First time comments are moderated. Please use this as a point of contact, requesting that the comment not be published.

Kevin Marshall

Tackling Fuel Poverty OR Tackling Climate Change

John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington makes a valiant, but failed, attempt to reconcile tackling fuel poverty with combating climate change. The reason’s why such an attempt will always fail are as follows:-

  1. Reducing carbon emissions by 80% will mean moving into zero-carbon fuels. Nuclear power is the cheapest alternative, but still more expensive than fossil fuels, especially when decommissioning at the end in taken into account. Other alternatives – wind and solar – are not only astronomically more expensive per unit produced, but also increase the unit cost of back-up fossil fuel power stations.
  2. Then we have the carbon trading schemes. These act as a cost to pollute. They will only become effective if they are made much scarcer and therefore much more expensive.
  3. For the poor, we could then give them huge grants to insulate their homes and get more fuel-efficient heating systems. However, although some gains can be relatively cheap (loft insulation and thermostatic controls on radiators), the costs mount steeply to gain large reductions. Replacing boilers and radiators, putting in new doors and windows, or cavity wall insulation, are all highly expensive. The payback period is many years, or in some cases not at all (with interest costs taken into account).
  4. The elderly are disincentivised to reduce consumption by the winter fuel allowance. Yet rising fuel costs will lead to calls to increase this subsidy as well.
  5. Whilst in the UK we pay through the nose for non-fossil fuels, oil prices will continue to rise as demand from developing countries continues to increase.

 

Fuel poverty will only reduce substantially if fuel costs come down. That will only happen if someone comes up with a cheaper, clean alternative to fossil fuels. That will not happen for a generation or more. Subsidising alternative energy sources that will always be much more expensive than oil is currently may divert attention away from that search. It is the poor who will suffer from most.

Nick Clegg’s confusion on total and absolute heating costs

Nick Clegg has made a mistake on the leader’s debate.

He said that an old couple in a small house are paying more for their heating than somebody in a bit mansion. This is simply not true. A large home costs far more to heat than a small one. What is true is that

a) You pay a fixed charge per property. Some companies spread this over the first few units. Therefore the average overall cost per unit is less.

b) Some of the poor who have a poor or no payment history have to use pre-payment meters. This does not include the settled poor, who have faithfully paid their bills all their lives.

c) The rates paid are hugely different between those who shop around and those who do not. If you know of people who are unable to effectively shop around, then do, as I have, and help them switch. For instance uswitch.com is a good starting point.

Nick Clegg’s mistake is to confuse marginal and actual costs.

But remember – when all the political leader tout their green credentials, they are actually saying that they will increase the costing of heating. Wind power, or nuclear, or tidal, or solar panels are all far more costly than coal and oil.

Lib-Dem Manifesto – an appeal to the Labour Left

After Nick Clegg produced the best performance in last night’s ITV debate, it is time to examine their manifesto. Others has so far failed. John Redwood attacks the £5bn hole in the Lib-Dem figures, but misses the more important bits. Brian Barder on LabourList has clearly not read the Manifesto and Tom Harris thinking that the policies are irrelevant. However, the manifesto is significant for anyone (like me) sad enough to read the thing. In detail it is a direct appeal to the Liberal Left. It is far more re-distributive than Labour, whilst also scrapping some of Labour’s more authoritarian policies like the ID cards.

For instance

–         In the army, reducing the top brass to fund increased pay for the lower ranks.

–         Tax increases for the rich (CGT, pension tax relief, mansion tax)

–         Anti tax avoidance measures.

–         Hitting big business with higher corporation tax.

–         Devaluing the Nations investment in the Banks by a banking levy; by breaking them up; through state sponsored competition in the form of a PostBank; and a UK Infrastructure Bank (high interest safe returns for “green investment”).

–         Cancelling a replacement fo the Trident nulear missile system. They say they will look for cheaper alternatives, but this is unlikely to happen soon with even bigger cuts in other areas necessary to pay it.

Added to this the fact that Labour have created a structural deficit that will undermine public spending for a generation, and you have a strategy to overtake Labour as the party of the left. Perhaps it is Nick Clegg’s strategy to emphasise this in the third debate when Gordon Brown thinks he will avoid Clegg’s criticism.