An inevitability has become a reality, and the date of the next UK General Election is in the books. Church halls and primary school gymnasiums the length and breadth of the country will be pressed into service as polling stations, leading to the inevitable melding of two popular social media hashtags. This 12th of December, get ready for #dogsdressedassantaatpollingstations, because you know it’s coming your way. And in a country that is as divided politically as most people can remember, it might be the one thing that does raise a smile a fortnight before Christmas.
In a sense, Boris Johnson and his Conservatives have already had their first win – securing the polling date of the 12th against the preference of Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP leaderships who would have preferred the 9th. Be prepared for this to be a talking point of the campaign – with most universities in the UK breaking for holidays on the 13th, many students will be left either confused as to where to vote, or disenfranchised entirely. This is expected to favour the imcumbent Conservatives.
So, with just over six weeks to go, let’s dip once again into the world of political betting, and see what the bookmakers have for us.
Labour need the spirit of 2017
There is no denying that – if you pay attention to opinion polling – this is not a great time to be the Labour party. Recent polls have had their vote tally resting somewhere around the 25% mark – down 15% on 2017’s election, and lethal to their hopes of government. Of course, if you’re a seasoned politics watcher you’ll remember that the polling at this stage in 2017 said similar things – with the additional concern that the Tories were scoring in the high forties, against the average of 40% they’ve been pulling in over the last month.
Of course, judging the election to come on the basis of the polling from the last one is an imperfect science. Labour may well perform as badly as the polls say – or worse. However, with Parliament set to be dissolved from next week, and election-period reporting rules to be implemented, it would be a surprise if Labour’s polling position didn’t move up somewhat, based on a manifesto that is sure to promise austerity-busting spending increases. With Betfair, you can get 10/3 on the party polling between 30-35%. That’s lower than in 2017, but with the addition of the Brexit party to the mix, there are more parties to share the votes this time around.
Speaking of the Brexit party…
Back in May, with Brexit having been delayed for the first time, the UK went to the polls for the European Parliament elections. Topping the poll in that plebiscite was Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, with more than 30% of the vote. The message that came out of this election was that this was an electoral beast that would cut through the Labour and Tory votes alike – but since then, changes at the head of the latter party seem to have spiked Farage’s guns somewhat, and recent polling sets it somewhere between 10-12% of the vote; a number which was expected to leap if Johnson had to ask the EU for another extension on Brexit, but appears to be unmoved now that he has.
For all the headlines and hot takes generated by the performance of the party back in May, the truth is that it is monumentally difficult for a new party to make an impact at a General Election – even one with a leader as recognisable as Farage and with so much free, uncritical publicity. The message from the Conservatives is that by voting for the Brexit party, voters will risk splitting the vote in favour of leaving the EU. It’s a message that isn’t meeting much pushback, including from Farage himself, who is usually fairly strident about such things. In short, don’t expect the Brexit party to be a significant influence on this election. Betway are offering 4/6 on them not winning a single seat in December – and that looks like a smart bet.
So what will the new government look like?
Predicting an election result six weeks before the voting happens is always something of a poisoned chalice. There is plenty of time for surprises between now and then, and the nature of political campaigning is that each party will have its ups and its downs. What we can have, at this stage, is some confidence in a few clear trends. Firstly, the overall majority that the Tories are seeking may well elude them – they won a surprising 13 seats in Scotland two years ago, and are expected to lose most if not all of those this time. They’ll need to make up any seats they lose – probably in England, where they will face competition from Labour and the Lib Dems in “softer” marginal seats.
Additionally, it would be a shock if Labour’s vote rose by anywhere near the same amount in 2019 as it did in 2017. Leader Jeremy Corbyn outperformed even the most optimistic polls then thanks to a freshness that went over well with the public. That’s something he simply doesn’t have now – as much as his campaigning zeal may win back some voters who have flirted with more Remain-y parties. The smartest bet you can make in this general election is that it will not change as much as it is expected to. The chances of there being no overall majority at the end of it – 11/10 with William Hill – are substantial. After that? It’s anyone’s guess, but we wouldn’t be surprised by another election in 2020.
Bets of the Day
No Overall Majority (11/10, William Hill); Labour vote share 30-35% (10/3, Betfair); Fewer than 0.5 seats for Brexit party (4/6, Betway)