7 days to go: #GE2015 Electoral Maths

Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. Northumbria University graduate. Opinionated, my aim is to fuel debate. My favourite questions in life are Why? How? And What? My Favourite answers tend to start with It depends or Yes & No.

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So with just a week to go until the polls open and the country decides on their representatives, let’s have a look at what we know so far.

In short: not a lot. The polls have hardly shifted throughout this campaign with the poll of polls showing only a 1% difference between the Conservatives and Labour at 34% and 33% respectively, with UKIP coming in third at around 13%.

The Liberal Democrats have dropped to fourth place with around 9%, followed closely by the Greens on 5%. The category ‘Others’ is polling at 6%, and this includes the likes of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP and Sinn Fein.

Election 4

However the UK system is a parliamentary one and national polls aren’t a good indicator of the actual outcome in this election. Unlike a presidential system (excluding America), whereby a candidate must get 50% of the popular vote in order to be declared the winner, the UK’s Prime Minister is chosen based on the number of seats their party has.

The party leader that can control a majority of seats (that being 325 or more) will then go to the Queen as head of state to ask her permission to form the next government. (However, as the Speaker of the House and their deputies are elected from those in the House too, the majority party only actually gets 321 seats.)

We have seen a surge in popularity for the SNP in Scotland with many pundits predicting a near clean sweep of all the Scottish seats at Westminster. The Guardian reported that the SNP could take all the Scottish seats next week.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are on track to win key seats in Scotland, unseating Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, Lib Dem Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy, former Lib Dem Leader Charles Kennedy, and the seat of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

To put this in perspective: the Lib Dems won 57 seats at the last election and became the balance of power, and have been the junior coalition partner to David Cameron and the Conservatives.

The SNP currently has six seats in Parliament and currently comes under the polling banner of ‘Other’. This is why the polls are difficult to follow this time around. If the Lib Dems took 23% of the popular vote and won 57 seats, the SNP’s prediction of around 56 seats won isn’t representative of the 6% ‘Others’ polling figure.

Statistician Nate Silver – who shot to prominence when he correctly predicted the previous two US election results – has further added his thoughts on the outcome of the 2015 election.

He predicts the Tories will still be the biggest party in Westminster but with no majority, taking just 283 seats. That’s a loss of 23 seats from 2010, however they would be 13 seats ahead of Labour on 270. 325 seats are needed to take control of the House. So once again it comes down to the smaller parties forming a coalition with either of the big parties.

In the event of a hung Parliament, it’s the Prime Minister who gets first shot at forming a government. If the current coalition were to continue for another term, David Cameron could add the predicted 24 Lib Dem seats to his 283, taking them to 307.

If Silver is correct this would be a rough night for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, however he would still find himself with an integral part to play in forming the future government – providing he wins back his seat of Sheffield Hallam, where today polls had him 1% behind his Labour rival.

It is worth noting if Nick Clegg were to lose half his Parliamentary seats for the Lib Dems, he may find it hard to continue as leader. 307 is still short of the number needed to have an overall majority.

If the DUP were to join this coalition, with their predicted seats being eight according to Silver, Cameron is still short of a majority by 10 with just 315 seats.

What about UKIP I hear you say? Well, Silver has them only getting one seat, with a predicted maximum of three. In reality this would probably mean that they wouldn’t be invited to join the government, however it could be assumed they would support the three-party coalition on a vote-by-vote basis. That would give Cameron 316 seats in his rainbow coalition.

Interestingly, Nigel Farage is polling 2% behind his Tory rival in the seat of South Thanet. It’s going to be a close one.

What about the other side of the Isle? According to these predictions, Ed Miliband will lose out for his party, gaining 12 seats since 2010 and not being able to topple the Conservatives as the largest party in Westminster.

Assuming Sturgeon keeps her promise of not supporting a Tory government, Labour could add the 48 seats that Silver predicts for the SNP. This would take the opposition to 318 seats to Cameron’s three-party coalition of 316.

If the Lib Dems could be persuaded to join Labour and the SNP (which probably wouldn’t be as hard a sell as it was in 2010 to join the Tories) then Miliband could control 342 seats. 17 MPs more than is required for a majority compared to Cameron and the DUP on 291 (292 if you add the 1 UKIP MP)

Well there we have it, I hear you say. Nate Silver has predicted a Labour-SNP-Lib Dem coalition. However Miliband has repeatedly said he would not form a formal coalition with the SNP. If he were to keep that pledge and go ahead with the Lib Dems alone, we would have to reduce the government down to 294 seats – just three more than a combined opposition of the Conservatives and DUP (remember we still have the addition of UKIP to consider).

Miliband would have to hope that the SNP would not block any of his legislation or budgets over the coming parliament, for if the SNP were to side with the opposition on a key vote, Miliband would be beaten 340 votes (Con/DUP/UKIP/SNP) to 294. This could cause chaos and topple the government.

This is only one of many predictions. So what to watch out for? In this long marathon, neither Miliband nor Cameron can afford to trip up in the last week. Any gaffe or scandal could cost them the election.

What the polls seem to indicate is that this general election is being fought at a local level, seat by seat. We aren’t going to polling day with one party 10 points ahead of the other. This election result is on a knife-edge.

I urge you all in the next week to get involved and make a choice in the election in your area. It would be wrong for me to tell you who to vote for, but what I implore you all to do is vote. No vote is a wasted vote. Vote for what you believe in. If you don’t vote at all, then that is a wasted vote that could make a difference.

On 8 May, it is entirely possible that people will wake up without a clear answer as to who will run the country – so every vote counts. I’ll say it again: vote Thursday 7 May, and have your voice heard!

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