Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Can Labour Still Hold on to Parliament?

Summary: A new poll predicts a slimmer swing to the Tories in Britain than previously expected.

I know we blogged about foreign elections yesterday, but the news from the United Kingdom this morning is worth mentioning. Back in January we noted how many in Britain had come to accept a Conservative Party victory in this year’s elections for Parliament. Now it’s more difficult to say what will happen.

It was recently revealed that a key Tory lord who will be bankrolling the party’s campaign operations has maintained a “non-dom” tax status (which allows him to forego taxes on international earnings) despite pledging to end it a decade ago. That’s creating problems for his party’s leader, David Cameron.

A new poll of the marginal constituencies (or “swing districts” as they would be called here) finds the Conservatives might be underperforming if they want to form the next government (or “majority” as we would say).

From the London Times:

The poll shows that the switch of voters from Labour to the Tories is about 1.5 to 2 points higher in the battleground seats than nationally. That might be worth an extra 20 MPs to the Conservatives, smaller than many in the party would hope after the big spending on these targets. It might be enough only to take the Tories to the threshold of the 326 seats they need for a bare overall majority in the Commons.

Now, the poll excluded the Tories’ top 50 targeted seats - surveying the next 100 - as well as the seats they’re targeting that are currently held by Liberal Democrats. That might make a difference, but either way it’s all beginning to look a lot closer than expected.

From another Times article:

If the swing implied by the poll occurred uniformly across the 100 seats, the Tories would gain 47, on the top of the first 50, to give them 97 Labour-held seats. Taking account of changed constituency boundaries, this would mean 307 Conservative MPs, up from a notional 210 at the last election (after adjusting for boundary changes). This would put them nearly 60 ahead of Labour.

While this poll is just in Tory/Labour marginals, the Tories would expect to gain a number of additional seats from the Lib Dems and other parties. They would need to gain at least an additional 15 to 20 seats for an overall majority of one in the new House of Commons.

In fact, an increasing number of Brits appear to be expecting a hung Parliament after the elections.

Basically, a hung Parliament is when no single party controls a majority of seats in the House of Commons. In these circumstances, two or more parties have to form a coalition government.

If the Conservatives fall short of a majority, they won’t necessarily be in too bad of shape. They’ll still be close to a majority, and could easily join with minor center-right parties such as the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists from Northern Ireland. That would put them over the 326-seat threshold.

Labour, on the other hand, would be further behind. It would take more than the Scottish and Welsh national parties to help them form a coalition - they would need to consolidate with the Lib Dems in order to keep sitting on the government benches. Whether that would be possible or not is hard to say.

No matter what parties make up the government, it will be with a slim number of seats. It could certainly make for an interesting few years.

While the exact date of the elections is still unknown - the Labour government has still not called for them yet - they have to happen soon in order to stay within the constitutional rule of every-five-years. Most Brits are now guessing they will take place on May 6th.

Also, for a bit of fun, be sure to check out Sky News’s poll tracker. It can generate levels of support for each of the main three British parties as far back as 1983.

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