In the interests of the EU should the EU council grant an extension to the UK?

Brexit looks to be currently at stalemate in the UK. As at the morning of Monday 21 October 2019, I have tried to lay out the perspective of the EU Council if it aims to follow, in spirit, Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union. That is, aiming at leaving aside any political biases that the EU or myself may have on the issue.

After the Government pulled a meaningful vote on the revised political declaration on Saturday they will try again for a meaningful vote today. Following the inability to get the deal passed, on Saturday evening Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent the letter requesting an extention of the Article 50, as required by the the Benn Act. It was a photocopy and unsigned. This can be found on the government website page Letters from the UK to the EU Council: 19 October 2019. Boris Johnson also sent a signed letter to Donald Tusk to be found on the government website page Prime Minister’s letter to President Donald Tusk: 19 October 2019.

The Formal Letter is as follows

Dear Mr President,

The UK Parliament has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Its provisions now require Her Majesty’s Government to seek an extension of the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, currently due to expire at 11.00pm GMT on 31 October 2019, until 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020.

I am writing therefore to inform the European Council that the United Kingdom is seeking a further extension to the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty. The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end at 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020. If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the Government proposes that the period should be terminated early.

Yours sincerely,

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

This letter provides no reason for extending the Article 50(3) period. The Prime Minister’s letter provides context for at least withholding the decision on the extension. With a deal between the EU and the UK not actually put to a vote by the UK parliament, there is clearly no reason for granting of an extension. Indeed, granting an extension before that deal is decided would likely ensure that the deal is voted down. Refusal to grant an extension would see the EU effectively ejecting a member state with no deal, something that neither the EU, nor a majority in the UK parliament desire.

The EU council are bound by Article 50. I covered legal analysis of Article 50 by the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland last month. Like the judicial ruling I quoted Article 50 in full. The legal analysis was

Certain aspects of Article 50 did not fall to be construed in either Miller or Wightman. Bearing in mind that the exercise is one of construing a measure of EU law, I consider that those aspects of Article 50 not addressed in either Miller or Wightman yield the following construction:

(i) First, there is no concept, meaning or definition of “negotiate” supporting the view that the clause beginning “… the Union shall negotiate … ” denotes a duty and exercise unilateral in nature. It takes two to tango. The concept of negotiation must surely be, depending on its context, something bilateral or multilateral in nature. This discrete element of Article 50(2) would be emptied of meaning and rendered nugatory if it is not to be construed thus.
(ii) There is no legal context known to this court which dictates that negotiations must culminate in a legally binding agreement between the negotiating parties. There is nothing in the text of Article 50 which displaces this proposition. Nor is there any identifiable basis or rationale for implying any different or contrary
construction.
(iii) Article 50(2) clearly establishes an imperative, namely a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement, without purporting to mandate that this occur.
(iv) Article 50(3) expressly contemplates the possibility that the negotiations required by Article 50(2) will not culminate in a withdrawal agreement.
(v) The plain aim of the two year period specified in Article 50(3) is the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU.
(vi) The provision made in Article 50(3) for consensual extension of the basic two year period is plainly designed to further the overarching imperative of a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement.

Note that this analysis was upon matters raised by those wanting the judicial review, so may not be comprehensive for the current purposes.

Point (i) clearly states that two parties must negotiate. In the current circumstances who negotiates with the EU Council? The Benn Act coerces the Prime Minister to act against his clearly stated will. So you have parliament saying one thing and the recognised Prime Minister saying another. By “recognised” I mean by, parliament, the Queen as Head of State, and the EU Council,  in its negotiations with the UK last week. Parliament has had opportunities to constitutionally remove the Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. They twice failed to vote for a general election at the start of September. Also the leader of the opposition has had numerous opportunities to table a vote of no confidence and then try to form a coalition government. In my view, Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) may have some relevance.

Clearly the Prime Minister is not concluding a Treaty under the letter he was coerced into sending, just requesting an extension or a negotiating perios . However, it would be highly embarrassing for the EU Council to assent to an extension in the full knowledge that it against the will of the person who they have recognised as the UK’s representative.

Point (ii) states that reaching a withdrawal agreement might not be possible, whilst point (iii) states that it is a clear imperative. It is this context that the EU Council ought to withhold any decision on extension until it is clear that the agreed deal will not pass. Doing so would undermine their own efforts to reach a deal.

Point (iv) refers to Article 50(3) as having an imperative, namely a negotiated withdrawal agreement. Point (vi) makes clear this is the overarching imperative of any extension. If it is clear that any deal will not pass then there is no justification for extending the Article 50 period beyond the 31 October Point (v) is the plain aim of two year period for leaving – and by implication any extensions – is for the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU . Clearly the current situation is causing considerable instabilities and uncertainties is both the UK and the EU as a whole. Perhaps another incentive not to extend is the term office of Presidents Juncker and Tusk end on 31 October. Personally they will not want to leave the issue of Brexit still unresolved.

If parliament rejects the current deal, why should the EU Council extend? The possible position of the EU is to express clear exasperation with the UK, and make clear an extension will be contingent on the UK being in a position to make clear decisions by a stipulated date. That would imply the UK holding a general election at the earliest opportunity that will result in a clear position on Brexit. That is to leave, with or without a deal, or to revoke Article 50. It would mean that the EU has to agree with Nigel Farage, and it could see the resignation of Boris Johnson who whose main aim is to see Britain leave at the end of the month “do or die”. Whether he resigns or not, the Conservatives would likely drop in the opinion polls, which might see another hung parliament. The Labour Party would need to campaign on a clear position, as if they win on current policies, they would not comply. The alternative of a second referendum with only two options of “leave with the current deal” and “revoke Article 50” would not carry legitimacy unless there was some clause to allow for people who want neither option. For instance it could be that the result would only recognised if it by a clear majority of the ballot papers counted.

If parliament remains in its current state, it is clearly in the interests of the EU not to extend, to ensure that there is minimum continued disruption to the EU from Brexit. It is also clear that in preventing any possible disruption from a no-deal Brexit it will have the fullest cooperation from the current UK Executive.

Kevin Marshall

An EU Withdrawal Parliament can agree on?

More than 24 hours overdue there is a political resolution to Brexit that will form the basis of a withdrawal agreement. It is enthusiastically endorsed by both Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker. Further, the EU appears to be ruling out any extension of the withdrawal period beyond 31st October. Therefore, the Benn Surrender Act, forcing to the Prime Minister to request an extension in the event of parliament failing to pass the agreement, will be meaningless. It takes two tango, and the EU looks to be tired of the dancing.

From a quick read of the document I have extracted some points, and made notes of my opinions. The copy was obtained from Guido Fawkes. I have uploaded the document here. I would commend people to read it themselves before passing judgement. My overall view is that

  • Like the Church of England, the declaration has a very British feel, being short on detail and a lot of fudge.
  • There are some points that are troubling, such as on fisheries.
  • It ratchets into UK law common elements of EU and British politics. Whilst many parts are laudable (e.g. co-operation on security issues and maintenance of human rights) others are reflect current pervasive ideological fads. A liberal democracy should be able to separate the two elements, but in this age of mass and baseless opinions it is the latter that is more important than the former. Traditionally in Britain, it has been common principles that have upheld liberal democratic principles
  • It includes good principles of “a level playing field” and understanding other points of view. Such principles are clearly out of fashion in the current politics of the remainers and the hard left.
  • There is no trace of being bound by EU Law beyond 2020, nor of having to support EU projects financially for an indefinite period.
  • As I state at the foot of the article, the substance might be irrelevent to whether this declaration is accepted by pariament.

On with the extracts.

II. GOODS – A. Objectives and principles includes

20. These arrangements will take account of the fact that following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union, the Parties will form separate markets and distinct legal orders. Moving goods across borders can pose risks to the integrity and proper functioning of these markets, which are managed through customs procedures and checks.

This must include some sort of border checks either between Ireland and Northern Ireland, or between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Although the backstop has been removed, we have classic diplomatic fudge to replace it. It is a no-go for the DUP.

21. However, with a view to facilitating the movement of goods across borders, the Parties envisage comprehensive arrangements that will create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition, as set out in Section XIV of this Part.

B. Tariffs

22. The economic partnership should through a Free Trade Agreement ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors with appropriate and modern accompanying rules of origin, and with ambitious customs arrangements that are in line with the Parties’ objectives and principles above.

It is proposed that there will a common free trade area. This is effectively a customs union in all but name. By implication, external tariffs and regulations will have to be the same, retaining discriminatory trading with the outside world, such as in beef and sugar. Note that it is not “free trade” in true sense of the term, but trading abiding by the same detailed regulations across the trading area. This will likely preclude Britain achieving trade agreements with other countries that are not compliant with those of the EU.

25. Such facilitative arrangements and technologies will also be considered in alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

There is no current solution to the Northern Ireland border question. A hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will not be ruled out in the future if talks break down.

III. SERVICES AND INVESTMENT

A. Objectives and principles

27. The Parties should conclude ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services and investment in services and non-services sectors, respecting each Party’s right to regulate. The Parties should aim to deliver a level of liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and building on recent Union Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

This is effectively the aim of the customs union. Why is Jeremy Corbyn, as a hard-left socialist, so determined to stay in a customs union that supports liberalization of the bastions of capitalism? That is banks and stock markets. This withdrawal agreement will tie the hands of a future Labour Government just as much as being a full member of the EU.

VI. CAPITAL MOVEMENTS AND PAYMENTS

41. The Parties should include provisions to enable free movement of capital and payments related to transactions liberalised under the economic partnership, subject to relevant exceptions.

In the same vein, a future Corbynista Government will be prevented from stopping capital flight.

48. Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the Parties should establish mobility arrangements, as set out below.

The ending of free movement was always going to apply to any withdrawal agreement.

XII. FISHING OPPORTUNITIES

71.

72.

73. Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.

74. The Parties will use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify their new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020 in order for it to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.

The agreement fails to guarantee that the UK will take back control of its own waters. The EU is unlikely to allow the UK to have a policy of “British waters for British vessels”.

XIII. GLOBAL COOPERATION

75. The Parties recognise the importance of global cooperation to address issues of shared economic, environmental and social interest. As such, while preserving their decision-making autonomy, the Parties should cooperate in international fora, such as the G7 and the G20, where it is in their mutual interest, including in the areas of:

a) climate change;

b) sustainable development;

c) cross-border pollution;

d) public health and consumer protection;

e) financial stability; and

f) the fight against trade protectionism.

76. The future relationship should reaffirm the Parties’ commitments to international agreements to tackle climate change, including those which implement the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change, such as the Paris Agreement.

If the British people ever saw sense and wanted to come out of the useless and costly Paris Agreement, the climate consensus could prevent this happening through the courts.

XIV. LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR OPEN AND FAIR COMPETITION

77. Given the Union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field. The precise nature of commitments should be commensurate with the scope and depth of the future relationship and the economic connectedness of the Parties. These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages.

This concept is peculiarly British, especially associated with Eton. Adhering to this perspective of a single set of rules for everyone is the likely reason that most of the major sports in the world, including football, tennis, golf, cricket and rugby are of British origin. However, it is contradiction with current discrimination on the basis acceptance of core beliefs. One is in Post Normal Science (especially on climate change) where lack of acceptance of a politicized mantra such as “climate change is happening, is serious, human caused and solvable” puts one beyond the pale of rational argument. Another is in politics, where failure to accept consensus intellectual beliefs (such as membership of the EU, or the need to abolish capitalism) is sufficient to charge that person with being deluded, or an outright liar. For this reason alone, those on the left, or the more rabid remainers, would be hypocritical to support a deal.

II. GOVERNANCE

B. Management, administration and supervision

126. The Parties should establish a Joint Committee responsible for managing and supervising the implementation and operation of the future relationship, facilitating the resolution of disputes as set out below, and making recommendations concerning its evolution.

127. The Joint Committee should comprise the Parties’ representatives at an appropriate level, establish its own rules of procedures, reach decisions by mutual consent, and meet as often as required to fulfil its tasks. As necessary, it could establish specialised sub-committees to assist it in the performance of its tasks.

This part I quite like. It is the two parties coming together as equals to work through and resolve differences.

C. Interpretation

128. In full respect of the autonomy of the Parties’ legal orders, the Union and the United Kingdom will seek to ensure the consistent interpretation and application of the future relationship.

There may be a lack of suitable candidates from the UK for the Joint Committee, as this type of interpretation requires that one makes the effort to understand opposing perspectives. Certainly, many of the remainer MPs will be disqualified from applying when they lose their current jobs in the upcoming general election.

D. Dispute settlement includes:-

131. The Parties indicate that should a dispute raise a question of interpretation of provisions or concepts of Union law, which may also be indicated by either Party, the arbitration panel should refer the question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) as the sole arbiter of Union law, for a binding ruling as regards the interpretation of Union law. Conversely, there should be no reference to the CJEU where a dispute does not raise such a question.

A good point insofar as UK law is not bound by the CJEU. It is right and proper that matters of interpretation of Union law should be referred to this body.

139. This programme will be designed to deliver the Parties’ shared intention to conclude agreements giving effect to the future relationship by the end of 2020 as set out in paragraph 135. The European Commission is ready to propose applying on a provisional basis relevant aspects of the future relationship, in line with the applicable legal frameworks and existing practice.

There is no open-ended process, where the UK will be at the mercy at the EU legislation, as in the previous withdrawal agreement.

What will happen on Parliament’s Super-Saturday?

However, my comments are largely irrelevant, and so is the detail. Parliament will try any means to stop Brexit. On the other hand, Boris Johnson’s determination, clear vision and optimism have resulted in a declaration that is quite different to the withdrawal agreement rejected three times by parliament. Further, the arch remainers are in a bind now that EU leaders have said they do not want a further extension of the Article 50 period. If the question is truly “deal or no-deal” will they compromise or just abstain? Or will there be some other ruse to stop Brexit? In the Brexit battle Boris, no doubt on advice from political strategist Dominic Cummings, has out-manoeuvred his opponents. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn (Lab), Jo Swinson (Lib-dem), and Ian Blackford (SNP) have all said their parties will vote against this revised deal, they have done so by failing to understood the political trap in which they have fallen. If parliament decides to revoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty they will have to order the Prime Minister to pass this onto the EU. This will clearly be in breach of Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties (1969), as Boris Johnson will only do so under coercion. As such it will make the revocation without legal effect under international law. Further, it is too late to remove the Prime Minister by legitimate means, whilst changing the role of the Prime Minister in the British Constitution at this late stage could be challenged under international law, may not be recognized by the EU and might be received badly by the British public. If the remainers abstain the deal will go through, whilst voting it down will see no-deal Brexit happen by default. Any other ruse may have already been anticipated by Cummings, such as requiring the deal to be approved by a second referendum.

Kevin Marshall

Is the Benn Surrender Act incompatible with Article 50?

Earlier this month the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland published a judicial review from three applicants v the Prime Minister and others. Although not widely reported, it was commented on by Guido Fawkes, and the judgement itself is linked to by the website. It was a case of Remainers trying to derail Brexit by ever legal ruse they could think of. The Judge threw out all arguments, and saddled the applicants with all the costs.

One area covered in the judicial review is on Article 50, which I believe could be the basis of a legal challenge to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, colloquially called the Benn Surrender Act. Quotes from the review are cited as by paragraph and page. E.g. (3):4 is paragraph 3, page 4.

Article 50

The review quotes Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union in full. 

Article 50 of this international treaty (the “TEU”) provides:

“(1) Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the
Union in accordance with its own constitutional
requirement.

(2) A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify
the European Council of its intention. In the light of the 12 guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future
relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent
of the European Parliament. 

(3) The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph (2), unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period. 

(4) For the purposes of paragraphs (2) and (3), the Member
of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it ….

(5) If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure 
referred to in Article 49.”

Article 49 makes provision for any European State applying to become a member of the EU. This contemplates a formal agreement between the Applicant State and the Member States.

Article 50 TEU Analysed

(55):46-47 

Certain aspects of Article 50 did not fall to be construed in either Miller or Wightman. Bearing in mind that the exercise is one of construing a measure of EU law, I consider that those aspects of Article 50 not addressed in either Miller or Wightman yield the following construction:

(i) First, there is no concept, meaning or definition of “negotiate” supporting the view that the clause beginning “… the Union shall negotiate … ” denotes a duty and exercise unilateral in nature. It takes two to tango. The concept of negotiation must surely be, depending on its context, something bilateral or multilateral in nature. This discrete element of Article 50(2) would be emptied of meaning and rendered nugatory if it is not to be construed thus.
(ii) There is no legal context known to this court which dictates that negotiations must culminate in a legally binding agreement between the negotiating parties. There is nothing in the text of Article 50 which displaces this proposition. Nor is there any identifiable basis or rationale for implying any different or contrary
construction.
(iii) Article 50(2) clearly establishes an imperative, namely a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement, without purporting to mandate that this occur.
(iv) Article 50(3) expressly contemplates the possibility that the negotiations required by Article 50(2) will not culminate in a withdrawal agreement.
(v) The plain aim of the two year period specified in Article 50(3) is the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU.
(vi) The provision made in Article 50(3) for consensual extension of the basic two year period is plainly designed to further the overarching imperative of a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement.

The Descisions in Wightman and Miller are covered respectively by (20-21): 15-16 and (22):16.

The first point dispells any claims that it only Britain that should negotiate, with the EU acting as immovable.

The second and third points dispel any notion that an agreement must be concluded as a condition of leaving the EU. The fourth point is that Article 50(3) possibility that a member state will exit without a deal.

The fifth and sixth points are relevent to the Benn Surrender Act. The two year noticification period is clearly for “the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU“. By implication any extension of the period is to achieve that aim. If a conclusion of a withdrawal agreement is not possible, as the parties are too divided, then a further extention is not justified. It would go against the spirit if Article 50 to use an extention as a means of punishing a member state for wanting to leave when such an extension is furthering a period of uncertainty and disrupting the normal business of the EU.

Further, the Surrender Act potentially impels the Prime Minister to submit a request to the EU to extend Article 50 until 31st January 2020.  Yet the same Parliament has on two occasions has failed to trigger a General Election to remove Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose declared central policy aim is to leave the EU on 31st October “do or die“. In so doing Parliament implicitly recognizes the authority of Prime Minister Johnson as the Head of State in the negotiation of international treaties. Parliament is therefore conflicted.

But most paradoxically, whilst Britain remains a member of the EU it is still bound by the Treaty of the European Union. The Surrender Act in compelling the Prime Minister to potentially request an extension of the withdrawal period for purposes other than negotiating a withdrawal agreement, and in causing continued disruption to the EU as a whole, and Britain as a member state in particular, are clearly going against the intent of Article 50(3) of the European Union. Parliament should be honest and revoke Article 50. However, although a majority could be achieved in both houses of parliament, there is no democratic mandate to do this. In other words the House of Commons in wanting to frustrate Brexit and to remain in the EU is potentially in breach of the clear intent of TEU Article 50(3), creating a clear constitutional mess in an EU member state, all to suppress the EU Referendum result for which the House of Commons has no democratic mandate.

Kevin Marshall

Confirmation that Labour cannot win a General Election

My previous post looked at the implications of the May European Election Results for a future General Election. At Capx Matt Singh takes a similar approach in Does first past the post still favour Labour and the Tories? https://capx.co/does-first-past-the-post-still-favour-labour-and-the-tories/
The conclusions are slightly different to my own but it is worth comparing and contrasting Singh’s analysis and my own.

Matt Singh just looks at the May results, whereas I also look at the 2014 European Election results and the following General Elections in 2015 and 2017. This is my Figure 1

Fig 1 : Vote share of major parties in four recent UK elections

Matt Singh concentrates on the current polling data showing the four parties on roughly equal voter share. I agree with his statement

(O)n current vote shares, no party would be anywhere near an overall majority. If we put all four main parties on 21 per cent, the assumptions detailed above would put Labour on around 180 seats, the Brexit Party on around 160 seats, the Lib Dems on roughly 130, the Conservatives down to about 100 and the SNP in the 50s.

That is on equal vote shares the Labour Party would gain the most seats, with the Conservatives the least. Further, I agree that for the two major parties …..

…. dropping too far into the teens could see Labour or Tories being decimated, with seat numbers dropping into the double digits. Labour would have a degree of protection, because its enormous majorities in its safest seats would save it in many cases. But the Tories really would be staring into the abyss.

I also looked at the council area results by four or five regions of Great Britain. That is Northern England, Midlands/Wales, Southern England, London, and Scotland. The latter two I lumped together as they had stood as out as sharing opinions on Brexit different from the other regions.

Matt Singh used data from Professor Chris Hanretty, who has estimated the European election results by constituency from the results by council. The two key tables, (under the banner of Number Cruncher Politics) are as follows

Fig 2 : From the Capx.co article
Fig 3 : From the Capx.co article

These two charts show why the Tories are more vulnerable to a complete meltdown than Labour, as the latter have much stronger support in the ninth and tenth deciles. Singh does not draw the corollary conclusion. That is, based in even swings, to form a majority Government the Tories need to achieve a lower national vote share than Labour to achieve an overall Parliamentary majority. This is important. Hanretty’s charts are with 2019 UK vote shares of 9.1% for Conservative and 14.1% for Labour. To win a General election majority it is important to be ahead of the major opposition in the 5th and 6th deciles. In these areas, Labour were behind the Conservatives in the EU elections despite the 5 point lead overall. In addition, I attempted to go beyond the numbers to look at the impact of positions on Brexit. Both the Conservatives and Labour were punished in the Euro Elections for their vague positions on Brexit. The Conservatives for failing to exit the EU due to the failure to obtain anywhere near majority on the Withdrawl Agreement. Labour for being nominally pro-Brexit, but putting on onerous conditions that would see Britain end up remaining in the EU. Both parties lost out to those Parties with much more strident positions on Brexit. The Conservatives lost out mostly to the Brexit Party. Labour lost out to the Pro-Remain Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, along with the Plaid Cymru in Wales and the SNP in Scotland. The Conservatives lost out to Remain parties less than Labour lost out to the Brexit Party. In the last week, Boris Johnson – likely the next Prime Minister – has come out with a strong pro-Leave position that would grab votes from the Brexit Party in a General Election. Conversely, the Labour Party leadership is divided over whether to make Labour a Pro-Remain Party. If it did, Labour might gain some votes from a number of Remain parties but would lose votes to the Brexit Party, or the Conservatives. The Tories are thus in a much better position to achieve the 30% vote share / 10 point lead to win an election than Labour.

Kevin Marshall

Forecast for the UK EU elections 2019

I know that it is only a few hours before we know the results of the elections to the European Parliament, but I have devised a forecast based on the last published YouGov poll, commissioned by the Times and published the day before polling and based on fieldwork on 19th – 21st May 2019. This gave the following results

Basing a forecast on one poll is risky. In favour is the large sample size of 3864, YouGov’s reputation and the D’Hondt system which approximates to proportional representation. Against is the rapidly-changing political opinion; unknown relative turnout of different opinion groups; and the need to split YouGov’s five regions into eleven regions.  This I did by (a) Using an ITV / Cardiff University / Yougov poll published on Monday 20th May for Wales (b) apportioning the Brexit Party and LD vote within a YouGov Region by the relative Leave percentage in the EU Referendum.  

My forecast is below. 

 

Discussion

My forecast might give too many seats to the Brexit Party. The Europe Elects projection, based on the last 5 opinion polls, only predicts 30 seats for the Brexit Party, and 6 seats for the Conservatives. For the Conservatives, this might be very optimistic. In my forecast, the sole seat in the South-East is the last of ten seats to be allocated. 

 

My forecast might overstate the Brexit Party for another reason. In his weekly email Iain Dale states

Everyone expects the Brexit Party to wipe the floor, but some of the turnout figures show that turnout in Remain areas seems to be higher than that in Brexit areas. It seems the LibDems could come second, with the Tories and Change UK getting no seats at all. 

Turnout might be an issue. It depends on the relative anger over the Brexit issue. However, it also appears that the Remain vote will be split between the Lib-Dems, Green Party and Change UK. Further the Conservative Party will be the biggest losers, but the Labour Party can at best hope to be a distant second to the Brexit Party.

Kevin Marshall

Revoke Article 50 Petition being dominated by London Labour

There is currently an on-line petition

Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU

The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is ‘the will of the people’. We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now, for remaining in the EU. A People’s Vote may not happen – so vote now.

As of noon today it has reached 4.18 million signatures, up from 3 million yesterday morning and just a million two days ago. Guido Fawkes noted that there are a number of foreign signatures, some likely to be fake. A massive EU Second Referendum petition in July 2016 had large numbers of fake signatures created by bots, including large numbers from the Vatican and Antarctica, with at least 77,000 being removed. This might be happening with the current petition. This could be by bots, or by individuals making multiple signatures through using multiple email addresses. I have downloaded the data at around 8am this morning, when there were 3.78 listed signatures, of which 3.64 million were against the 650 UK constituencies.

Analysis By Constituency

I ran the 8am signatures by constituency against data from the General Election 2017, including for the sitting MP, the Political Party in 2017, the electorate and the valid votes cast. I have also used estimated Leave Vote figures by constituency from Politics Professor Chris Hanretty. Although they are estimates, I do believe it is very unlikely that they are more than a few percentage out. An estimated extreme Remain constituency would have been unlikely to have voted Leave. The Constituencies with the top 20 signatures are as follows.

Note that most of consituencies are Labour-held and in London. The constituencies of three key members of the Shadow Cabinet are included. Islington South and Finsbury (Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP) is number 21 on the list.

Chuka Umunna MP has left the Labour Party. But alongside Caroline Lucas MP and Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, is a non-Labour MP with an extreme pro-Remain stance. All constituencies voted very strongly to Remain in the EU.

I suspect that there is some multiple voting going on. In every single constituency the signatures on an online petition are over a quarter of the number of valid votes in the 2017 General Election. Cities of London & Westminster Constituency exceeds 40%. This is the prime target if you want to send a scam message to the occupants of the Palace of Westminster.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the bottom 20 constituencies for signatures.

None of the constituencies are in London or South of England. Note that 15 of the constituencies have Labour MPs and are located in the traditional Labour heartlands of the North of England, the Midlands and Wales. Na h-Eileanan an Iar is an exception in that it voted remain. But it is also by far the smallest constituency, so is an anomaly. On average there was a 67% Leave vote.

The dominance of the top 20 metropolitan constituencies had 358,560 signatures at 8am, or 10% of the UK total, compared to 355,526 of the bottom 156 constituencies. Yet in terms of a voice these top 3% of constituencies get represented in the media far more than the bottom 24%. That is a major reason a majority voted to Leave the EU. In many areas people were sick of being controlled by outsiders who have different perspectives, and will not listen to them. The EU Referendum was a big up-yours to the London-based Metropolitans.

Finally, here is a little pivot table of the bottom 156 constituencies by Region and by Party of the MP.

The constituencies represented are just 24% of the total, but around half those in the forgotten regions of Wales, North East, West Midlands and Yorkshire & Humber.

Kevin Marshall

Leave EU Facebook Overspending and the Brexit Result

Last week an Independent article claimed

Brexit: Leave ‘very likely’ won EU referendum due to illegal overspending, says Oxford professor’s evidence to High Court

The article began

It is “very likely” that the UK voted for Brexit because of illegal overspending by the Vote Leave campaign, according to an Oxford professor’s evidence to the High Court.

Professor Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, at the university, said: “My professional opinion is that it is very likely that the excessive spending by Vote Leave altered the result of the referendum.
“A swing of just 634,751 people would have been enough to secure victory for Remain.
“Given the scale of the online advertising achieved with the excess spending, combined with conservative estimates on voter modelling, I estimate that Vote Leave converted the voting intentions of over 800,000 voters in the final days of the campaign as a result of the overspend.”

Is the estimate conservative? Anthony Masters, a Statistical Ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society, questions the statistics in the Spectator. The 800,000 was based upon 80 million Facebook users, 10% of whom clicked in on the advert. Of those clicking, 10% changed their minds.

Masters gave some amplification on in a follow-up blog post Did Vote Leave’s overspending cause their victory?
The reasons for doubting the “conservative” figures are multiple, including
– There were not 80 million voters on Facebook. Of the 46 million voters, at most only 25.6 million had Facebook accounts.
– Click through rate for ads is far less than 10%. In UK in 2016 it was estimated at 0.5%.
– Advertising is not the source of campaigning. It is not even viewed as the primary source, merely bolstering other parts of a campaign through awareness and presence.
– 10% of those reading the advert changing their minds is unlikely. Evidence is far less.
Anthony Masters concludes the Spectator piece by using Professor Howard’s own published criteria.

Prof Howard’s 2005 book, New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen, also argues that we should apply a different calculation to that submitted to the High Court. His book says to apply a one per cent click-through rate, where 10 per cent “believe” what they read; and of that 10 per cent act. This ‘belief’ stage appears to have been omitted in the High Court submission’s final calculation. Using these rates, this calculation turns 25.6 million people into 2,560 changed votes – hardly enough to have swung the referendum for Leave, given that their margin of victory was over a million votes. If we share a belief in accuracy, this erroneous claim should have limited reach.

There is further evidence that runs contrary to Prof Howard’s claims.

1. The Polls
To evaluate the statistical evidence for a conjecture – particularly for a contentious and opinionated issue like Brexit – I believe one needs to look at the wider context. If a Facebook campaign swung the Referendum campaign in the final few days from Remain to Leave, then there should be evidence of a swing in the polls. In the blog article Masters raised three graphs based on the polls that contradict this swing. It would appear that through the four weeks of the official campaign the Remain / Leave split was fairly consistent on a poll of polls basis. From analysis by pollster YouGov, the Leave share peaked on 13th June – ten days before the referendum. The third graphic, from a statistical analysis from the LSE, provides the clearest evidence.

The peak was just three days before the murder of MP Jo Cox by Tommy Mair. Jo Cox was a Remain campaigner, whilst it was reported that the attacker shouted slogans like “Britain First”. The shift in the polls could have been influenced by the glowing tributes to the murdered MP, alongside the speculation of the vile motives a clear Vote Leave supporter. That Jo Cox’s murder should have had no influence, especially when campaigning was suspended as a result of the murder, does not seem credible.

On Twitter, Anthony Masters also pointed to a question in Lord Ashcroft’s poll carried out on the day of the referendum – How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why to a graphic that looked at when people had decided which way to vote. At most 16% of leave voters made up their minds in the last few days, slightly less than the 18% who voted remain.

The same poll looked at the demographics.


This clearly shows the split by age group. The younger a voter the more likely they were to vote Remain. It is not a minor relationship. 73% of 18-24s voted for Remain, whilst 40% of the 65% voted. Similarly, the younger a person the greater the time spent on social media such as Facebook.

2. Voting by area
Another, aspect is to look at the geographical analysis. Using Chris Hanretty’s estimates of the EU referendum results by constituency, I concluded that the most pro-Remain areas were the centre of major cities and in the University Cities of Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol. This is where the most vocal people reside.

The most pro-Leave areas were in the minor towns such are Stoke and Boston. Greater Manchester provided a good snapshot of the National picture. Of the 22 constituencies is estimated that just 3 has a majority remain vote. The central to the City of Manchester. The constituencies on the periphery voted to Leave, the strongest being on the east of Manchester and a few miles from the city centre. Manchester Central contains many of the modern flats and converted warehouses of Manchester. Manchester Withington has a preponderance of media types working at Media City for the BBC and ITV, along with education sector professionals.

These are the people who are not just geographically marginalised, but often feel politically marginalised as well.

Concluding comments

Overall, Professor Howard’s claims of late Facebook posts swinging the Referendum result are not credible at all. They are about as crackpot (and contradict) as the claims of Russian influence on the Brexit result.
To really understand the issues one needs to look at the data from different perspectives and the wider context. But the more dogmatic Remainers appear to be using their power and influence – backed by scanty assertions -to thrust their dogmas onto everyone else. This is undermining academic credibility, and the democratic process. By using the courts to pursue their dogmas, it also threatens to pull the legal system into the fray, potentially undermining the respect for the rule of law for those on the periphery.

Kevin Marshall

Did Brexit Influence the General Election 2017 Result?

In the year following the EU Referendum, I wrote a number of posts utilizing Chris Hanretty’s estimates of the vote split by constituency for England and Wales. Hanretty estimates that 421 of the 573 constituencies in England and Wales voted to leave. These estimates were necessary as the vote was counted by different – and mostly larger – areas than the parliamentary constituencies.

Politically, my major conclusion was that it was the Labour Party who could potentially suffer more from Brexit. There are two major reasons for this situation.

First, is that the Labour constituencies had a far greater spread of views than the Conservative constituencies. This is in both the divergence between regions and the disproportionate numbers of constituencies that are were either extreme Remain or extreme Leave in the referendum. Figure 1 is for the result for constituencies with Conservative MPs in 2016, and Figure 2 for constituencies with Labour MPs.

Figure 1: Constituencies in England and Wales with Conservative MPs in 2016, by estimated Leave or Remain Band. 

Figure 2: Constituencies in England and Wales with Labour Party MPs in 2016, by estimated Leave or Remain Band. 

In particular, London, where much of the current Labour Leadership are based, has views on the EU diametrically opposed views to the regions where most of the traditional Labour vote resides. Further analysis, from July 2016, is here.

Second, is the profile of the Leave supports. Based on an extensive poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft on EU Referendum day, Leave support was especially strong on those retired on a State Pension, council and housing association tenants, those whose formal education did not progress beyond secondary school, and the C2DEs. That is, groups that traditionally disproportionately vote Labour. Further details, from May 2017, are here.

Yet, the results of the snap General Election in June 2017 suggest that it was the Conservatives that suffered from Brexit. Despite their share of the popular vote increasing by over 5%, to the highest share in 25 years, they had a net loss of 13 seats and lost their majority. Labour increased their share of the vote by 10%, but only had a net gain of 30 seats.

Do the positions on Brexit appear to have had an influence? The Conservatives were seeking a stronger mandate for the Brexit negotiations, whilst Labour strongly avoided taken a firm position one way or the other. Chris Hanretty has revised his estimates, with the number of Leave-majority constituencies in England and Wales reduced from 421 to 401. The general picture is unchanged from the previous analysis. I have taken these revised figures, put them into the eight bands used previously and compared to the full election results available from the House of Commons Library.

The main seat results are in Figure 3.

Main points from Figure 3 (for England and Wales) are

  • Conservatives had a net loss of 25 seats, 14 of which likely voted Remain in the EU Referendum and 11 likely voted Leave. Remain seats reduced by 18% and Leave seats by 4%.
  • All 6 gains from Labour were in strongly Remain constituencies. This includes Copeland, which was gained in a by-election in early 2017 and retained in the General Election.
  • Labour had a net gain of 24 seats, 13 of which likely voted Remain in the EU Referendum and 11 likely voted Leave. Remain seats increased by 16% and Leave seats by 7%.

Figure 4 is the average percentage change in the constituency vote from 2015 to 2017 for the Conservative Party.

Main point from Figure 4 for the Conservative Party is

  • The estimated Referendum vote is a strong predictor of change in Conservative Party vote share from 2015 to 2017 General Election.

Figure 5 is the average percentage change in the constituency vote from 2015 to 2017 for the Labour Party.

Main points from Figure 5 for the Labour Party are

  • Overall average constituency vote share increased by 10% on the 2015 General Election.
  • In the 6 seats lost to the Conservatives, Labour’s share of the vote increased.
  • In every area, Labour increased its share of the constituency vote with one exception. In the 6 seats that the Liberal Democrats gained from the Conservatives, the Labour share of the vote was on average unchanged. This suggests some tactical voting.
  • In Conservative “hold” seats Labour’s increase in vote share did not have a “Remain” bias.
  • In Labour “hold” seats Labour’s increase in vote share had a strong “Remain” bias.

In summary, it would appear that the Conservatives in implementing Brexit have mostly suffered at the ballot in Remain areas. Labour, in being the Party of Opposition and avoiding taking a clear position on Brexit, benefited from the Remain support without being deserted by the Leave vote. I will leave it for another day – and for others – to draw out further conclusions.

Kevin Marshall

Update 23rd May

Whilst writing the above, I was unaware of a report produced by political pundit Prof John Curtice last December Has Brexit Reshaped British Politics?

Key findings

In the 2017 election the Conservatives gained support amongst Leave voters but fell back amongst Remain supporters. Labour, in contrast, advanced more strongly amongst Remain than amongst Leave voters.

That is pretty much my own findings by a different method. Both methods can produce different insights. My own approach can give regional analysis.

Why Labour is alienating most of its traditional core support on Brexit

Since the EU referendum, the Labour Party has been split asunder. Most Labour constituencies voted to leave the EU. But the current leadership, and many of the supporting activists, are from very pro-Remain areas, particularly London. The draft Labour Manifesto, that was widely “leaked”, shows how this split in its support has been circumvented. First, the key issue of the the country at present is downplayed. The section Negotiating Brexit is only the ninth item in the manifesto. Second, is to stop some laws being passed from EU control to UK control. Third, is to give Parliament the final say at the end of the process, including the possibility of remaining in the EU, or applying for re-admission. In so doing, Labour is alienating the majority of its traditional core support. 

The Impact of EU Referendum on Labour Constituencies

On the day of the EU Referendum, Lord Ashcroftsurveyed 12,369 people after they had voted to help explain the result – who voted for which outcome, and what lay behind their decision.

In terms of voting, the groups with the biggest proportions voting to Leave were

  • 60% of those aged 65+
  • two-thirds of those retired on a state pension
  • two-thirds of council and housing association tenants
  • more than half of those retired on a private pension
  • a large majority of those whose formal education ended at secondary school
  • 64% of C2DEs

That it is the poorer and more marginalized in society – where traditionally the Labour Party draws its major vote – that disproportionately voted to leave the EU.

Lord Ashcroft then asked for people to rank in order a number of factors in people’s decision. His graphic is reproduced below.

For both Conservative and Labour voters, the principle reason for voting for Leave was

The principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK

An analysis of the Leave vote by political party shows that of around two-thirds of those voted Labour in 2015 a year later voted to Remain in the EU. Yet around two-thirds of those who traditionally formed the bedrock of the Labour vote voted for Leave. This is not a contradiction in the figures, but the fact that the Labour Party is no longer reaching most of the core group that it has traditionally represented. Geographically this is illustrated in by my breakdown from last July  of Chris Hanretty’s estimates of the EU referendum results by constituency. With respect to Labour-held seats the proportions by region were as follows.

In London, Labour constituencies included some of the most pro-Remain areas of England. Yet Labour seats elsewhere included a disproportionate number of some of the most pro-Leave constituencies in the country. In terms of proportions, 40% (231 of 574) constituencies in England and Wales were Labour after the 2015 General election. Yet over half of the constituencies with a greater than 60% Remain vote (34 of 54) were Labour. Also over half of the constituencies with a greater than 60% Leave vote in England and Wales (89 of 168) were Labour. But, for the Labour party the extreme “Leave” seats are over 2.5 times the extreme “Remain” seats. To tip the balance even further, for Labour to progress on their poor showing in the last election, they must win target seats. Of those seats where Labour came second by less than 12% of the vote, there are 17 seats that were over 60% “Leave” and just 4 seats over 60% “Remain”.

Since the EU Referendum, opinion has changed. The most recent poll by YouGov on Brexit, published at the end of March, found that overall the public think Brexit should go ahead by 69% to 21%. This includes people who voted Remain, but think that the expressed will of the British people should be enacted.

So, if the Labour Party is really wanting to maximize votes, it would provide a manifesto that provided

  • an emphasis on Brexit.
  • an emphasis on its core voters.
  • an emphasis on returning decision-making powers back to the UK.
  • a geographical targeting of the Midlands, the North and Wales, where its power base lies.
  • trying to represent the opinion of the vast majority.
  • discrimination towards the people the Labour Party was formed to serve (the working class and the marginalized) over the middle class intellectuals.

The Draft Labour Manifesto on Brexit

The draft manifesto was widely circulated. The best available format is at Guido Fawkes.

The title of the manifesto slogan – “For the many not the few” – seems to be a good start. If Labour is looking towards the vast majority, it will surely not favour the opinions of the minority over the much larger majority? This is not the case. Despite being the major issue facing Britain today, and the major reason the General Election was called, the section Negotiating Brexit is only ninth. The authors give greater priority to Industrial Strategy, A National Investment Bank and Sustainable Energy. So rather than concentrate on the pressing issues of the day, we are taken back to the disastrous ideas of the 1970s, along with a country unilaterally trying to save the planet from fictitious threat of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

The content is worse.

They manifesto proposes changing the approach to Brexit, despite the tight timetable. Further, in talk of protecting certain laws, the manifesto is of activist protesters wanting to stop changes in the post-Brexit process. The Great Repeal Bill is inaccurately named as it is just quickly converting EU law into British law within a tight timetable. It is afterwards that laws deemed harmful to Britain by the democratically-elected Government will be scrapped or radically altered. Maybe crackpot Marxist conspiracy theorists, or those who view reality through the distorted prism of received collective opinion, think otherwise. But then in a truly independent United Kingdom, there is the opportunity to win power and reenact laws and policies that have been scrapped. That is no different from many areas today, as is seen by the draft manifesto sections on Nationalisation and Industrial Strategy. But the draft manifesto is implying that certain contentious areas of law that the Labour leadership value highly should remain beyond the remit of UK lawmakers.

However, the most important is final sentence in the section.

A Labour approach to Brexit also means legislating to guarantee that Parliament has a truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.

This means that it is Parliament who have the final say on that deal. But what if the majority of MPs decide to reject the deal negotiated at the end of the budget process? Well that will mean either leaving the EU without a deal; or trying to stay in the EU; or reapplying for membership. This latter option will not in the real world actually happen, but neither the manifesto, nor Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a recent interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuessenberg, have categorically excluded this scenario.

Indeed, given Labour would slow down the process, there would be insufficient tine for meaningful negotiations to take place. The “deal” will be little altered from the negotiating stance the EU starts out with. This will be unacceptable to Parliament, and the WTO terms are clearly unacceptable to Jeremy Corbyn. Therefore, there would be a hurried reversal of the process, with the UK having to grovel to be re-admitted on worse terms than before.

 

Why not state Britain is leaving the EU?

The reason for Labours’ evasions is that the leadership of the Party, the activists that support it and the unions that finance the Labour Party all want to remain in the EU. The strongest support for Remain in England and Wales is concentrated in London. This is also where the disproportionate number of hard left activists reside and where the key four leaders – Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbot and Emily Thornberry – were MPs in the last Parliament. By leaving open the possibility of remaining in the EU, despite the vast majority now accepting the opposite, Labour are trying to have it both ways. They can both appear to be opposing Brexit to their core supporters and appear to be enacting Brexit to their traditional base. But in so doing abandoning most of their traditional core supporters in Wales, the Midlands and the North, the people will either not vote, or (if the latest opinion polls are anything to go by) vote Conservative.

Kevin Marshall

Is the Rawlings and Thrasher English Elections Forecast a bit timid?

At the weekend I posted my forecast for the English council elections to take place on May 4th, using a comparison with opinion polls both now and 2013, along with the forecast made by Harry Hayfield at Political Betting.

On Sunday, The Times published a forecast from Colin Rawlings and Michael Thrasher, both Professors of Politics at the University of Plymouth.

Again they use local by-election results a a basis for their forecast, and come up with similar results to Hayfield for the Lib-Dems (+9%) and UKIP (-12%). The biggest difference is with Labour, predicting no change, as against -4% for Hayfield. More relevant is the forecast for seats, where they predict Conservative +50, Labour -50, Lib Dem +100, UKIP -100

Despite these chaps having considerable experience of election data, having written a number of post-election reports for the Electoral Commission, I believe that their forecasts might be somewhat out. This I have split into share of the vote and seat predictions.

Rawlings & Thrasher share of the vote prediction

I have summarized some data in figure 1.

Rawlings & Thrasher base their forecast on the Notional National Change, so I have shown the difference between those figures and the General Election Opinion Polls. There are reasons why the local council elections are different from the opinion polls, aside from the fact that opinion polls may not fully reflect actual decisions.

In 2013 UKIP benefitted in the local elections as people used their vote as a protest against the Coalition Government and/or in support of an EU Referendum.  That no longer exists as Brexit is underway; whilst UKIP is in disarray and has fund-raising issues. In this I would agree with Rawlings and Thrasher in a huge drop in support for UKIP, swinging from outperforming the opinion polls, to underperforming.

With the Liberal Democrats, I would agree that they should not only outperform the opinion polls, but do so by a greater margin than in 2013, when being in Coalition Government damaged their brand as being the alternative to the Conservatives in the non-socialist areas. This year they may also benefit as being the Party of those most opposed to Brexit. But the actual share of the vote was 20%. For the notional share of the National Vote to rise nine points would indicate a larger rise to over 30% of the actual vote. It would effectively make the arch-Remainers effectively the biggest beneficiaries of the fall in support for UKIP. That is possible, but would imply very large underlying switches in effective party support. Also, this large net increase in Lib-Dem vote share would be despite no net movement in the general election opinion polls in the last five years. Even if local by-elections results indicate such a swing, when voting for full councils I do not believe that this will replicate this result.

The forecast for Labour to have no change from 2013 is perhaps the most out of line with reality. Just four years ago Labour seemed likely to be in a position to be win the 2015 election. Now they are 13 points lower in the opinion polls. Most of the councils concerned are in the Conservative heartlands, with Labour traditionally trailing in third place. They thus have less far to fall than nationally, but barring a miracle in the next four weeks, they will lose vote share.

By difference, this leaves the Conservatives making much larger gains that 5% of the Notional National Vote.

Rawlings and Thrasher seat change predictions

This I think is the most timid part of the seat changes to repeat they are

Conservative +50, Labour -50, Lib Dem +100, UKIP -100

Prof John Curtice on the Sunday Politics thought, based upon a 12 point swing in the opinion polls, Labour could suffer a much bigger loss of seats than the 50 forecast by Rallings and Thrasher. (hattip Guido Fawkes)

But to get an idea of the likely level of seat changes, it is worth looking at the changes in the similar (but not quite identical in terms of seats and councils) council elections in 2009 and 2013. These, from Wikipedia (here and here) are shown in Figure 2.

Please note that the numbers do not quite stack up due to (a) one more council in 2013 (b) boundary changes (c) by-elections. But broad comparisons can still be made.

UKIP gained 139 seats in 2013. The swing from 2009 to 2013 was probably greater than the counter swing they will likely suffer next month, so the loss of 100 seats is a reasonable estimate.  Similarly the Lib Dem estimate of 100 seats gain seems about right, despite the likely net change in fortunes maybe be less at a National level not likely nearly countering the loss in popularity between 2009 and 2013.

When it comes to Labour, they are nationally in a worse position than in 2009. So their loss of seats could be greater than then suffered in 2009. A reduction of 300 seats, or nearly 60% of the defended seats, seems a reasonable forecast, with a 200 seat loss or less being a relatively good night for Labour with their current unpopularity.

The Conservatives should easily be the biggest gainers. Most of the councils are in Conservative Heartlands. Others, like Lancashire and Derbyshire, are where they have managed majorities in the recent past. Yet in 2013 the Conservative share of the vote was below that achieved in the UK as a whole in the General Election just two years later. Two years after the General Election, the party is in a considerably stronger position, so should gain considerably. A gain of 300 seats is my forecast.

Final points

An aspect to consider in local elections is the impact of turnout. In their report on the 2013 English and Anglesey Council Elections, Rawlings and Thrasher noted that turnout was 31%, compared with over 39% in 2009.

In the similar 2009 report they note that this turnout was higher than in the previous three years.

Could the relatively high turnout be due to the confidence of Conservative voters? In 2009 the Conservative vote was 44.5%, 10% higher than in 2013. Labour had a 12.7% share (over 8% lower) and Lib-Dems were at 24.9% (5% higher). Then the Conservatives were a year away from going back into Government. In 2013, they looked like reverting to opposition. In 2017, there is a new sense of optimism among Conservative supporters, not seen since the end of the Falklands War – or at least with their Brexit supporters. These are concentrated in the middle-aged and older people, among whom turnout is usually higher than in the population at large. On the other hand, the Labour-supporting Remainers might stay at home, being doubly-demoralised. The change in seats could be even bigger than in either 2009 or 2013.

These are of course my forecasts compared with those of others who have more experience in these matters. What is crucial is how analyzing the difference between forecasts and actual results can deepen our collective understanding of what is happening in an interesting period in British history.

Kevin Marshall