Guest slot: Rod Crosby on the Tory “Tough Nuts”
When punters and pundits try to forecast the next election they usually turn to basic swingometers of the Baxter or Wells variety. There is nothing wrong with that, provided we accept these simple tools are really only capable of forecasting the broad â€œshapeâ€ of the result, and not exact seat totals. Nor are they capable of making reliable predictions for individual seats. More sophisticated analysis of Nationalist and LibDem performance, and regional effects, etc. is also beyond them.
However, whenever a new poll is announced, people scurry to their oracles, to divine the latest projection for the next House of Commons. They often take little notice of the actual seats that are forecast to change hands. Perhaps there are betting opportunities here for the more discerning punter? Such opportunities may exist both in the overall projection and at individual seat level.
Of course, when the electoral dam breaks, as we saw in 1997, nothing can stand in the way of the flood. But, itâ€™s just possible weâ€™re not heading for a similar result next time, not least because the electorate is perhaps now more worldly-wise, disengaged and sceptical.
There are bound to be seats that the Tories will find harder to gain than the raw figures suggest. Of course, there may also be seats that are easier to gain, but it is the first group that I wish to address in this article.
The Conservatives last won an overall majority at the 1992 election. An interesting group of seats is those which they last won before that date, or in which they start in third place, or which are currently held by the Nationalists, and yet which the swingometers predict as Tory gainsâ€¦
Seats which have not had a Tory MP for a very long time may pose special difficulties, with little local government presence, or a moribund local association. Seats where the Tories start in third place do not seem good prospects either, considering they have only ever made two such gains since 1945 – both in unusual circumstance – and given the votersâ€™ increased willingness to vote tactically. Lastly, seats which the SNP currently hold do not look promising territory at the next election for obvious reasons.
Iâ€™ve constructed a table for various outcomes as predicted by the swingometers, showing which of these types of seat are included as Tory gains. By necessity, Iâ€™ve had to estimate the LibDemâ€™s performance, and I assign them a modest 18.5% of the national vote.
Noted are the current majority; when the Tories last won [some of these dates are bound to be notional due to intervening sets of boundary changes]; the Tories position in 2005; and whether the incumbent MP will contest the next election. Also shown is a rough metric of how the Tories performed in the seat (or closest predecessor) in 2005 [+ is slightly above average, etc, 0 is average], and a running total of how many of these â€œinterestingâ€ seats are forecast as gains for a particular overall result. Possible hurdles facing the Tories are highlighted in black.
So we see, for example, when the swingometers forecast the Tories as the largest single party there are 12 assumed gains which are open to doubt.
Four LibDem seats with new incumbents (two where the Tories start third) could prove harder to turn Blue than UNS suggests. Likewise the two SNP seats forecast as Tory â€œgains.â€ On the other hand, Swindon North and Carmarthen West had very good Tory results in 2005, and who would bet against them falling as predicted?
It is also worth noting that in at least eight of these marginal seats the BNP will put up a very strong fight. Two others are complicated by the Greens and Respect. Will they hinder or help the Toriesâ€™ chances in these seats?
And so on and so forth down the list. Interestingly, once we get into Tory overall majority territory, the number of â€œdoubtfulâ€ seats actually exceeds the number of seats the Tories require for their forecast â€œmajorityâ€! But perhaps I shouldnâ€™t overstate that. After all, these seats canâ€™t all defy political gravity, and there will be unexpected compensatory gains made by the Tories elsewhere – which will be the subject of a future article.
But I am sure many of the seats in the table will provide surprises on election night. Who thinks Copeland, with a fresh Labour MP and a very poor Tory result last time, will actually go Blue for the first time since 1931, whatever UNS says? Or to get a majority of 40 the Tories will gain no fewer than six seats from third place? I wouldnâ€™t bet on itâ€¦