Talk about the ‘best of three’! Tomorrow’s general election is the fourth national poll on Brexit. The Remainers have got their ‘second referendum’ albeit in the form of another general election, but much good will it do them. They undertook in 2017 to respect the result of the 2016 referendum but it turns out that they only did so because they thought no alternative was possible. As soon as the Conservatives lost their majority in 2017 plans were laid to overturn a legal, and competently-run, referendum with a clear result. Tomorrow is their last chance and it looks like they will lose.
Little has changed since 2016 in the balance of national opinion on Brexit. If a second referendum were held today, polls say that the vote would again be close to 50:50. However a substantial majority do not want a second referendum. The British sense of fair play has been a significant factor here, as the Liberal Democrats have found on the doorsteps when trying to sell their undemocratic policy of cancelling the 2016 referendum result.
The key factor in tomorrow’s election is that the Remain vote is split between Labour and LibDems to a greater extent than the Leave vote is split between Conservatives and the Brexit Party. The big danger to the Conservatives has always been the potential for a Liberal Democrat collapse with LibDem voters holding their noses and voting in a Corbyn candidate to sink Brexit. Their aim has been to achieve a hung parliament followed by either cancelling Brexit altogether or a second referendum based on rigged questions and a rigged electorate.
The latest opinion polls suggest that perhaps a third of potential LibDem voters have already switched to Labour. The Libdems started the campaign six weeks ago with 17% support in the polls. This has fallen to 12%. At the same time Labour support has risen from 25% six weeks ago to 34% today. Half of Labour’s rise appears to have come from LibDem defectors with the rest probably from returning Brexit party voters, many in Tory-held seats where the BP is not now standing.
The hope of Leavers must be that the LibDem’s 12% is an irreducible core and that further last-minute tactical voting is small. Many people have little faith in the polls, but if we take the latest poll of polls results, the Tories have 42% of the national votes, Labour 33% and the Liberal Democrats on 12%. This gives the Tories a nine-point lead of Labour. This lead has narrowed a little in the last days of the campaign from the 11-12% gap of earlier weeks but it is still enough to win an outright majority.
If we assume these poll results are a reasonable guide (a big ‘if’ for many people), and we further assume a uniform swing across constituencies in England and Wales, then the result is a Conservative majority over all parties of 55. This is shown in the third column of the table below. The impact of further tactical voting, above and beyond what is already baked into the polls, is shown in the fourth column of the table. Here we assume that a further quarter of LibDem and Green supporters switch to Labour to prevent Tory victories. There are eleven constituencies where this would succeed, and this would reduce the Conservative victory to 33.
Perhaps the most authoritative of the polls is YouGov’s so-called MRP poll. This uses a large sample, plus information on the local characteristics of voters to predict the results at constituency level. The YouGov results for Great Britain (i.e. omitting Northern Ireland) are shown in the right-hand side columns of the table above. The YouGov predictions are quite close to our tactical voting scenario in column four.
In particular, both YouGov and our predictions put the Liberal Democrats at only 15 seats, up three from 2017. These are not though quite the same 15 seats. YouGov’s more penetrating analysis suggests that some hitherto safe Tory seats might be lost to the Libdems. This includes South Cambridgeshire which in 2017 has a huge 16,000 majority over Labour and a 5,000 majority over all other parties.
The Tory candidate for South Cambs in the 2017 election was the pro-remain Heidi Allen who later revealed herself to be a Liberal Democrat before standing down as a candidate most recently from the LibDems. As a university centre Cambridge city is a remain stronghold with few Tory voters. The surrounding villages of South Cambridgeshire have traditionally been much more Conservative, but this is changing, and the change has been accelerated by Brexit. The commuter villages of South Cambridgeshire are becoming more like the city, and as a result, former Tory strongholds like South Cambs. might fall to the LibDems.
There seem to be a limited number of cases like South Cambridgeshire, but other Tory seats including Richmond and Southport could fall to a level of additional tactical voting only a little greater than assumed in our tactical voting scenario.
Once again Remainers are doing their damnedest to overturn Brexit but the judgement based on the analysis here is much the same as that of YouGov. It is that the Remainers will fall short and Boris Johnson will return with a workable majority. With a Labour speaker and Sinn Fein continuing to absent themselves from parliament the Conservatives effective majority could be around 60. This, though, is to assume that the polls are accurate, at least when averaged across all polls. It would be cruel if they had let us down again.