I currently have sore ankles…
(well actually I don’t, I’m pretending in the interests of creating an irritatingly smug conceit)
…on account of giving myself a sound kicking…
(again, not literally)
…because I nearly made my first ever commercial bet, but then backed off at the last minute.
You see, it had seemed obvious to me for a very, very long time that President Obama was absolutely certain to win the election. But when he was judged to have ‘lost’ the first debate there were suddenly lots of reality challenged people on betting exchanges who were prepared to stake money at very attractive odds that Romney would win. And since, on a betting exchange, you bet against other, actual people I was really very tempted. There’s that old saying that a sure bet is like taking candy from a baby, but in this case it would have been a question of taking candy from a Republican, which is a much more appealing prospect. After all, if someone doesn’t take their money away from them they only go and spend it all on ammunition, or ‘God Hates Fags’ placards, or something.
Anyway, I decided not to place a bet, and as a consequence found myself mildly irritated last week when the election was called for Obama. Don’t get me wrong, I was still pleased – by which I mean I was glad Romney lost, rather than glad Obama won* – but the edge was rather taken off by the knowledge that I could have been celebrating both more money for me, and less money for some Republican somewhere. But I was also irritated that I had missed another opportunity to demonstrate that predicting the results of elections is a lot less hard than professional pundits suggest, and that fairly often when they will expend thousands of words and hours of broadcast time saying that the result is “up in the air”, or “it’s too close to call”, it’s actually very obvious to anyone who stops and thinks what the result will be.
Now, I realise that’s a bold claim, and one that it will seem I have little evidence for. I may know that, inside the privacy of my own head, I’ve called every general election since 1997 right, but because I never made those predictions public there’s no way for anyone else to know it. So that’s why I’m going to pin my colours to the mast in respect of some significant electoral events over the next few years, and announce what I predict the results will be, and why. That way, when it turns out I’m just some blathering idiot who’s convinced himself he can detect patterns in random data, you can all point and laugh at me.
Summer 2014 European election in the UK – Labour win.
Rationale: from 1989 onwards, the party in opposition at Westminster has always won in European elections. This isn’t just true when a party has been perceived as doing well domestically – it has held true even when the party concerned has been disliked in general elections, as with Labour winning the Euro elections in 89 but losing the General in 1992, or the Conservatives winning the Euros in 1999 and 2004 but losing the Generals in 2001 and 2005.
What might make me wrong: UKIP will very likely finish in 2nd place (since a lot of Conservative right-wingers vote UKIP in Euro elections). If Labour do a very bad job getting their supporters out – so other parties take seats that ‘ought’ to go Labour – then it’s maybe just about possible that UKIP might sneak into first. But I doubt it.
Autumn 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum – Unionists win.
Rationale: In the light of such clear and unambiguous opinion poll data, even the SNP don’t think they can win an outright vote for independence. (This is mainly because, even though Scots voters show a clear appetite for political decisions affecting Scotland to be taken in Scotland, they react badly to the “i” word itself.) Ever since they decided to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the devolution referendum 15 years ago, the SNP have been pursuing a de facto gradualist strategy, whatever they say in public. The key thing to watch here isn’t whether the vote goes against independence – it will – but whether enough Scots vote for independence to give the SNP a strong bargaining position when they seek, in accordance with their gradualist strategy, more powers for the devolved parliament.
What might make me wrong: The SNP want to hold the referendum in autumn 2014 not because, as you might have heard, they want to exploit the feel-good factor resulting from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, or because they think the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn will help to stir up national sentiment. (Anyone who thinks a 400 year-old military victory over the English is in any way relevant to 21st Century politics is guaranteed to be in the independence camp whenever the vote is held.) They want to hold the referendum in late 2014 because, by then, Labour will have to have firmed up their policies ahead of the 2015 general election. As a UK-wide party – and thanks to an electoral system that means only floating voters in marginal constituencies actually decide the result – Labour will naturally have to formulate that position to coincide with the wishes and aspirations of centrist, English voters. If that involves them moving far enough to the right to seriously alienate core Labour supporters in Scotland (traditional ‘old Labour’ would be the natural party of government in an independent Scotland), then the vote might just carry. But it would take Labour-voting Unionists not just staying at home, but turning out in large numbers and actively voting for independence, and it’s not likely.
May 2015 UK General Election – Labour largest party, probably with an overall majority
Rationale: Since the second world war, there has only been one occasion when an incumbent government has managed to increase their share of the vote: Labour turned a 37.2% share in February 1974 into a 39.2% share in October 74.** If even Margaret Thatcher in 1983, coming off the back of her military victory in the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands, couldn’t add to her share of the vote (though she did add lots of seats, thanks mainly to the newly-formed SDP splitting the opposition vote) it seems highly unlikely a less charismatic leader, in worse economic circumstances, and without the benefit of a successful colonial adventure will do better. So much for the Conservatives not performing better, but why will Labour do well enough to become the largest party? Here it’s partly a question of looking at the polling trend: Labour have been ahead of the Conservatives for 18 out of the last 24 months, and the coalition’s post-election ‘honeymoon’ lasted less than three months. The other reason I think Labour’s share of the vote will improve is because we currently have a coalition government. In the normal circumstances of a single party administration some of the anti-government vote can be expected to go to the Liberal Democrats, but with that party in coalition with the Conservatives in many English constituencies the only option for voters who oppose the government from the left will be to vote Labour.***
What might make me wrong: So far as I can see, only a fairly improbable combination of circumstances.
- If the Lib Dems reverse themselves and agree to vote through the constituency changes that will benefit the Conservatives; and
- If the economy recovers and makes up the ground lost since 2010; and
- If the return to growth leads to higher wages; and
- If the return to growth doesn’t trigger higher mortgage rates that leave homeowners feeling worse off even though they’re earning more; and
- If the government suddenly become competent both at delivery and presentation; and
- If Tory backbenchers stop undermining the prime minister at every available opportunity; and
- If the phone-hacking trials pass off without implicating the Conservatives in sleaze:
if all of those things apply then the Conservatives might have some chance of hanging on as the largest party in a hung parliament. But so far as I can see, the best the Conservatives can realistically hope for is that Labour fail to secure a majority, or only get a small one, and as a result are so weak in government that they’re ripe for defeat in 2020.
So there you have it, my predictions for some significant political events happening over the next few years. I’ll refer back to this post as the events I’ve made predictions about come to pass, and then we’ll find out whether I’m a complete idiot, or if I’m a complete idiot who somehow managed to predict a couple of things right.
* – If you’re wondering why I’m not glad at Obama’s victory, just glad that his opponent didn’t win, well, I find the whole unmanned drones thing pretty hard to forgive or forget. And I was never one of those who mistook the president for a shining, golden messiah. Quite possibly as good a president as one can hope for, given how thoroughly the political system has been captured by corporate interests, but not by any stretch of the imagination a political saviour.
** – The 1974 results were in any case an anomaly caused by the electoral system – Labour may have won the largest number of seats in February, but they actually came second in the popular vote.
*** – It’s been suggested in some circles – mainly circles of Tories clutching desperately at straws – that the arrival of the National Health Action Party will function as the SDP did in the early 80s, and draw off enough Labour support to hand victory to the Conservatives in 2015. I think this is a pipe dream because: (a) even in their wildest aspirations, NHA are only hoping to run in 50 of 650 constituencies, which isn’t enough to have a significant national impact; and (b) the NHA are only planning to run candidates in the constituencies of MPs who voted for the Health Reform Act – since many of those MPs have entirely safe seats, as even the leader of NHA concedes, the likelihood of NHA’s share of the vote actually affecting the outcome of more than a couple of seats is tiny. If NHA have an impact at all, it will be in encouraging Labour to adopt a more sceptical attitude to the involvement of the private sector in the NHS.