Lewis Baston’s election 2015 forecast: Labour 36%, Conservatives 34%, Lib Dems 16%

Lewis Baston, a research associate at Democratic Audit who is perhaps the nearest the UK comes to a Nate Silver, has published a pamphlet called Swing Seats: The key battlegrounds of the 2015 election (not available online yet). It’s a forensic analysis of the constituencies that will decide the next election, and digs much deeper than the national polls on which so much political commentary relies.

I was on a panel – together with ConservativeHome’s Paul Goodman and the Fabian Society’s Marcus Roberts – to discuss its findings yesterday. Below are 10 points I jotted down from the report which have a particular bearing on the Lib Dems.

And Lewis was bold enough to make a forecast even 18 months out (scroll down to point 9). The good news for me (and others) is that my vow to run naked down Whitehall if the Lib Dems end up on 24 seats or lower looks like it’ll be unrealised.

1. Importance of Eastleigh noted: showed how Lib Dems can defend marginal seats. This, he says, steadied the nerves of some, though many remain pessimistic about the party’s fortunes in 2015.

2. The South West of England will be a key Lib Dem / Tory battleground – both sides hope to take seats from the other and Ukip is a wildcard.

3. Highlights party’s ‘Dragon’s Den’ process for allocating resources to seats so that activists who are “eager and energetic” are rewarded, not just doling out cash simply on basis of which seats are most winnable on paper. This is based on the experience of Redcar and Ashfield, a surprise gain and a near-miss in 2010, thanks to local parties working their socks off.

4. Incumbency will help the Lib Dems, say party strategists. “Their political opponents largely accept this.”

5. Willingness of party activists to campaign ‘away from home’ in winnable seats and that the new party IT system, Connect, is helping with this.

6. Though the party may have difficulty holding seats where the current MP is retiring, this may be offset by gains from the Tories where they are standing down.

7. As a result, he concludes that current Lib Dem share of vote (c.10%) very unlikely to mean massive reduction in in number of Lib Dem MPs.

8. He predicts a lib Dem vote share in 2015 of 16%.

9. Labour would edge the Tories by 36% to 34%, with relatively few seats changing hands. This would likely mean a second hung parliament, with Labour the largest single party. He reckons Ukip will end up on 8% (which is bad news for Dan Hodges).

10. His conclusion: “The next election will resemble the last election more closely than most people believe” – Heath’s Law (Anthony not Edward).

Lewis’s ready-reckoner sounds about right to me (though my bet would be on the Lib Dems attracting 14-15%, but I’ll be delighted to be proved wrong). We know national poll ratings are not the be all and end all for Lib Dems: after all, our vote dropped from 1992 to 1997, yet our number of MPs more than doubled. That happened thanks to ruthless targeting of winnable seats and unprecedented tactical voting – and though I think tactical voting will diminish, I think it will prove pretty stubborn in the Lib Dem / Conservative battlegrounds.

One interesting anecdote. I spoke afterwards to a businessman. He’s voted Conservative all his life, but has decided to vote Lib Dem in the 2014 European elections as the best way of making clear his pro-Europeanism.

Never extrapolate from a data point of one person, of course. The party will have an uphill struggle in next year’s elections with the risk we could even finish in fifth place behind the Greens. However, Nick Clegg has made clear the party will fight an unashamedly pro-European campaign. That should motivate party activists. It will also probably play better among our key audience – the ‘Lib Dem market’ of 25% of voters who would consider voting for us and who pragmatically believe the UK is ‘better off in’ – than keeping schtum in case the voters notice we’re pro-European. Even among anti-Europeans we may earn some respect for sticking to our principles. And that won’t hurt us in 2015.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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21 Comments

  • “our vote dropped from 1992 to 1997, yet our number of MPs more than doubled. That happened thanks to ruthless targeting of winnable seats and unprecedented tactical voting ”

    It mostly happened because the Lib Dem vote dropped by only 1 percentage point, while the Tory vote dropped by 11!

  • This may all come to pass. Did you see Lord Ashcroft’s Scottish Polling though? Suggests the Lib Dems will win 3 seats, compared to the current 11. This would be a disaster for the Scottish party, and would put them on par with the Tories. This will inevitably result in the party losing interest in Scotland and exacerbate the problems already caused by the Tories not caring either.

  • paul barker 31st Oct '13 - 2:28pm

    Does this analysis take account of the steady fall in Labours “lead” since the start of the year ? Does it look at the polling which asked whether “Labour ” voters wanted to see Milliband as PM, beleived Milliband ever would be PM, trusted Labour with the Economy or wanted a Majority Labour Government ? On all those questions “Labour” voters seem much less sure with Yes votes between 20 & 30%.
    I agree with Baston s predictions for The Tories & UKIP but I expect both Labour & Libdems to get in the mid 20s, assuming no big Political earthquakes.

  • @ Paul Barker
    “I expect both Labour & Libdems to get in the mid 20s:

    You do surprise me, I thought it would be Labour on about 15% and Clegg marching gloriously onwards to 40%. Don’t tell me you are getting more pessimistic as the GE draws closer!

  • Just an observation, on that percentage vote there wouldn’t be a hung parliament. Labour would have an overall majority of 6

  • Philip Rolle 31st Oct '13 - 11:41pm

    The predicted shares look about right to me.

    But, if they fall short of an overall majority, I don’t think Labour will enter a coalition with the Lib Dems.

  • David Evans 1st Nov '13 - 10:29am

    I must admit, Paul B has suddenly become massively more pessimistic. Firstly, he predicts a collapse in the Labour vote, at a time of austerity in its heartlands and under a Conservative government (methinks not somehow); a recovery in our vote to the levels of 2010, after 5 years in an unpopular government where we have sacrificed massively in the National (i.e. Conservative Party’s) interest (methinks not again); and effectively a big boost in seats for the Conservatives, due to Labour’s collapsing vote (oh please no).

    However, one good piece of news – the Lib Dems will be more popular than their leader – if only because, for the first time in ages, Paul hasn’t trotted out his misconception that an approval rating of 15% for Nick (unfortunately accompanied by a disapproval rating of over 60%) is better than a 10% voting intention for the Lib Dems. Is reality at last seeping into his consciousness?

  • Michael Cole 1st Nov '13 - 12:10pm

    Lewis Baston must have terrific foresight. 18 months is a long time in politics !

    It is not surprising that , we (and Nick) are low in the polls at present, given the unpopularity of the economic measures necessary to clear up the mess that Labour left. Despite everything I remain hopeful that we can prove the pundits wrong, as we have done many times in the past.

    Our campaigns, both now and in the weeks before the GE, should communicate the depth of our policies and contrast it with the shallowness and short-termism of Labour and the unfairness and conservatism of the Conservatives.

    Against the bias of the press, we should do all in our power to help the electorate understand how corrupt our political system is and the overdue need for reform. Far from being ‘the greatest democracy in the world’ our political system is outmoded, protects the self-interest of the establishment and is a major obstacle to progress.

    We should not be pessimistic. It’s all to play for.

  • 5. Willingness of party activists to campaign ‘away from home’ in winnable seats and that the new party IT system, Connect, is helping with this.

    This is the key difference that other pollsters are failing to realise. If we fight each ‘winnable’ seat as a by election, with really targeted campaigning using Connect and employing activists from local (but unwinnable) constituencies we can retain far more seats than our share of the national vote would suggest.

  • ” If we fight each ‘winnable’ seat as a by election, with really targeted campaigning using Connect and employing activists from local (but unwinnable) constituencies we can retain far more seats than our share of the national vote would suggest.”

    That would be a valid argument if the party hadn’t targeted seats and concentrated resources in them in the past, but of course that’s always been the strategy.

    Remember, Eastleigh really was a by-election – and people went there from the whole country, not just neighbouring constituencies – and the Lib Dem share of the vote fell by 14%, pretty much what the opinion polls and a uniform swing would suggest, strangely enough.

  • “But the whole point of Lewis’s paper is that uniform swing isn’t what will decide the next election – it’s what happens in the battleground seats.”

    Of course, but it’s worth remembering that uniform swing has been no more than 5 seats out in predicting the number of Lib Dem seats in the last three general elections (though admittedly the Lib Dems did a lot better than it would have suggested in 1997):
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/uniform-national-swing-2010-19644.html

  • Lewis Baston 2nd Nov '13 - 9:05am

    I’m grateful to Stephen for the positive write-up; the panel discussion was a pleasure. I’ll just pick up a couple of points:

    Stephen’s quite right that I’m not assuming uniform swing – just as well for my guess at the number of Lib Dem MPs! Part of the point of my paper was that local factors and incumbency matter a lot, and that the marginal seats come in several types which may well respond to policies and political events differently. Most of the factors modifying UNS will tend to drag the result back towards the 2010 status quo – incumbency, particularly first time incumbency, makes it harder for Labour to win loads of seats from the Tories and also vice versa, and saves a lot of Lib Dem seats. I estimate, roughly, that ‘hung parliament territory’ stretches from a Lab lead of 4-5 to a Con lead of 10-11, and it seems likely that the result ends up in that territory.

    Michael Cole – Not necessarily terrific foresight, but just the reckless candour to offer such a guess in public.

    Gareth Wilson – most pundits, myself included, freely acknowledge that incumbency and targeted campaigning will net the Lib Dems a better result in seats than uniform swing would suggest, as it did in somewhat similar circumstances in 1979.

  • Michael Cole 2nd Nov '13 - 12:39pm

    @ Lewis Baston

    “Michael Cole – Not necessarily terrific foresight, but just the reckless candour to offer such a guess in public. ”

    I respect your candour but the only point I am making is that your forecast should indeed be taken as a guess and nothing more.

    The Lib Dems have much to be proud of and should not be deluded into fighting a defensive campaign.

  • David Evans 2nd Nov '13 - 1:39pm

    @ Gareth “If we fight each ‘winnable’ seat as a by election,”

    The thought that we can fight 50+ by-elections simultaneously is a pipe dream. We can manage one successfully, by drawing in resources from the rest of the country, but two has been beyond us in the past.

    Incumbency has to be our mainstay.

  • David Blake 2nd Nov '13 - 6:06pm

    Not sure if anyone has noticed, but the full report seems to be available at:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/179906096/SWING-SEATS-Battlefields-of-GE2015-Westbourne-pdf

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Nov '13 - 3:16pm

    Here in November 2013, we are as far from polling day 2015 as December 1981 was to June 1983.
    Worth looking at polling figures for those 18 months. Note the turn in Tory fortunes preceded Falklands.
    It’s the economy stupid.
    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/images/1983graph.jpg

  • Tom Richards 4th Nov '13 - 3:41pm

    will be intrigued to see the paper – always inherently a bit sceptical about forecasts this far out but general points about incumbency effects etc dragging towards 2010 result is an interesting one!

  • What is the state of the Lib Dem’s coffers? My understanding is that the loss of the funds available to opposition parties combined with the collapse in the number of members has severely reduced the funds available to the Lib Dems to fight the next election? To what extent will this limit the party’s ability to campaign effectively? Has this been taken into account?

  • I think a lot will be decided in the campaign itself. The other two parties will try to make “voting for Nick Clegg” a major issue of the campaign and how he defends himself will play a large role in determining the outcome. Judging by the unbelievable level of misunderstanding even within our own party about what was even possible to negotiate and achieve given the outcome of the 2010 general election, let alone among the electorate at large, this may turn out to be a successful strategy, as it was during the AV referendum.

    The Tories will do this to distract from their own awful lack of any acceptable agenda for the future (more tax cuts for the rich and shredded workplace rights, anyone?) as well as their divisions on issues like Europe and green policies. The Labour party will do this to distract from their own lack of substance and answers on key issues as well as their own awful leadership.

    I am a Clegg supporter, but in the coming general election campaign, he is going to be faced with an even greater barrage of personal abuse and misinformation than he did following the first leadership debate in 2010. We Lib Dems should be as aggressive as possible in stating our case, rebutting the nonsense and lies put out by the other parties and demonstrating the significant good we have been able to achieve, despite all the obstacles, in our five years in power.

    I agree that we may well make it back up to 16-17% and save most of our seats, but I think this will not save us from ending up with a Labour majority, such is the discontent of the electorate with the state of living standards above all. The fact that that is not due to government policy and the Labour can’t do anything about it won’t matter a jot.

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