Tuesday 23 January 2018

Not for the first time, an election the pollsters will be voting to forget

Mr Cameron has, it seems, Nick Clegg to thank for the prospect of another five years in power
Mr Cameron has, it seems, Nick Clegg to thank for the prospect of another five years in power

John Curtice

There was a precedent. The last time the polls suggested an election was close - in 1992 - the Conservatives emerged with an eight-point lead and an overall majority. This time, the Conservatives are seven points ahead and David Cameron has just managed to win a majority.

Thus 2015 looks set to join 1992 as an election the pollsters would prefer to forget. Indeed following on from that precedent, the British Polling Council and the Market Research Society moved speedily yesterday to announce the formation of an independent enquiry into the pollsters' methods.

Still, unexpected as it was, it was very firmly an English and Welsh victory, not a British one. In Scotland, the Conservative vote fell to a new all-time low of just 15pc. In England and Wales, in contrast, the party's vote increased by one point, making it the first time since 1955 that a government has succeeded in increasing its vote after a full term in office.

As the party had itself anticipated, the Conservatives' path to a majority was paved by the electoral difficulties of the Liberal Democrats. Three quarters of the seats the Tories gained were garnered at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, whereas the party actually suffered a small net loss of seats to Labour.

Mr Cameron has, it seems, Nick Clegg to thank for the prospect of another five years in power.

The Liberal Democrats had long comforted themselves with the thought that their supposedly popular local MPs would be able to stem the ebbing electoral tide in their own constituencies.

Yet in practice, the Liberal Democrat vote fell by 15 points in those seats that one of their current MPs was trying to defend, almost identical to the decline the party suffered across the country as a whole.

As a result, the party registered its worst result since 1970.

The Labour Party's vote fell by no less than 18 points in Scotland - and it could do no more than hang on to one seat by its fingernails. It had looked as though it was on a hiding to nothing ever since last September's referendum, when around two in five of its supporters disregarded the party's advice and voted Yes.

And Labour's failure in England and Wales took the gilt off the gingerbread of the result for the SNP.

The nationalist party exceeded its wildest expectations so far as its own tally of seats was concerned, and won almost half the votes in Scotland. Nevertheless, it still found itself denied the role of kingmaker it had hoped would enable it to make a Labour government whistle a more progressive tune.

Still, the SNP will now be the third largest party in the House of Commons, while Ukip achieved the even more remarkable feat of displacing the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party in votes.

The election will leave this hanging over a government that, once the celebrations are over, will have to face the difficulties of trying to govern with a small majority - much as John Major had to do after his unexpected success in 1992.

Irish Independent

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