Every political groupie will tell you never to attach too much importance to a single opinion poll, while at the same time moving from ecstasy to agony and back again at a two-point swing.
It is hard to remember a time when the opinion polls have been more volatile and more confusing, so the advice to look not at individual snapshots but trends has never been more sound. So what are the trends?
Well, the Conservative exit through the EU trap door is well plotted. In the latest polls they are down to 10 per cent for the EU elections and these things have a certain momentum of their own. I expect them to end up in single figures on the night as I am struggling to think of any reason for someone to actually turn out to vote for them.
The best they can hope for is that their traditional supporters stay at home rather than flip directly to the Brexit Party. They will bounce back at the general election, but how far is anyone’s guess.
The second trend is that the Brexit Party looks set to top the poll with between 25 and 35 per cent. That sounds remarkable for a new party and means they are sweeping up pretty much the entire no deal Brexit vote. The trouble for them is that, despite all the hype, it may not be very much more than the 27 per cent UKIP secured in 2014 and there is a firm cap on their support.
I suspect they have already hoovered up pretty much all the Conservative and Labour leavers they can, so I can’t see where the further momentum could come from to climb much higher.
The assumption, in contrast, has been that the approximately 35 per cent Remain vote will be split across pro-EU parties, costing their campaign as many as a dozen seats and, more significantly, the headlines on the night.
The more nuanced commentators will focus on whether the overall Leave vote (Brexit plus Tories) can beat the total Remain vote (Lib Dems plus Greens plus Change, maybe plus Nats), and the secondary question how this converts to seats.
I suspect, in terms of votes, the result will be neck and neck, but the collapse of the Tory vote will enable the concentration of Leave support with the Brexit Party to harvest dozens of seats.
But all is not yet lost. As I wrote here a month ago, voters tend to find a way. Increasingly, we are seeing Remainers consolidate around the Lib Dems and, to a lesser extent, the Greens, taking their lead from the local elections. I suspect that trend to continue with Change UK being further squeezed.
I also suspect that their maybe another 3-5 per cent to come from Labour Remainers unable to stomach their leadership’s fence sitting. That could get very interesting indeed.
Together, the Lib Dems and Greens could prove a pretty effective vehicle for maximising their seat-winning potential, with each party able to go places the other can’t and the Greens picking up a seat in some of the larger regions, alongside the Lib Dems with their wider coverage.
Which takes me back to obsessing over one opinion poll.
Just for fun, add together the Lib Dem and Green votes in the latest YouGov Westminster voting intention poll. A Green-Yellow alliance would have a combined 23 against just 24 per cent for each of Labour and the Conservatives. Watch them pass the two old parties in the next week.
Then ask yourself how much higher a Yellow-Green alliance might go using the criteria for successful new/old parties in Nick Silver and Zoe Hodge’s new book for Radix?
They might have a charismatic leader in Caroline Lucas, an unambiguous platform on Europe and climate action, a proven online and digital infrastructure, a message about ‘doing politics differently’ and a strong ‘insurgency/outsider against the elites’ positioning.
In the aftermath of the local elections in York less than a fortnight ago, I was involved in the initial discussions between the victorious Lib Dems and the Greens there. On Tuesday this week, the two parties announced that they would be taking charge of the city in partnership for the next four years.
Perhaps, after the Euro-elections, it will be time for national talks.
That one poll – well – a Yellow-Green alliance might just be the winning formula…
Joe Zammit-Lucia says
The situation for Labour is worse than you outline here. An analysis by Peter Kellner (link below) shows that they are bleeding Remain voters to the Lib Dems and Greens AND Leave voters to the Brexit Party. Only 40% of Labour voters seem to be sticking with Labour.
Aileen Hingston says
If there was a Yellow Green alliance (voting pact), the outcome for the Remain side would be very good. But, with the strange system used in the UK European Parliament elections, you can’t predict the outcome from ‘LibDem vote + Green vote’.
There is a good clear explanation on the BBC website. The only conceivable way to maximise the Yellow Green vote would be that the parties would divide the regions between them, with say only Green nominees in the SE and only LibDems in the SW. Hugely unpopular with activists, even if there had been time.
If, despite the proper caution about opinion polls, people start believing that Party X are going to do well this time and switch towards it, in sufficient numbers, Party X will indeed do well. If every one votes blind, they are much less likely to – especially if they are on the whole pretty similar to Party Y.
Ben Rich says
Just to be clear I am trying to look beyond the EU elections here. Thanks for the feedback
Gordon Lishman says
And similarly in our new NOC position here in Burnley the 2 Greens and 8 LibDems are working together increasingly closely. And, I suspect, in many other areas.
There are two underlying problems:
1. The fact that Greens are held together more by a shared general view on environmental issues than by a coherent national set of ideas which translate to other areas; and
2. The likelihood that the LibDems will continue to behave as a conventional and traditional party, losing opportunities to build any momentum for a new, broader movement for political change which is open, angry and progressive.
Stephen Gwynne says
Everything seems to hinge on May’s departure following the inevitable rejection of her deal. A pro UK autonomy Prime Minister who seeks a EU FTA will I’m sure influence back Tory Leavers which means the Brexit Party will need to come up with a miraculous set of policies to retain them.
An interesting article today highlighted the potential of the Labour Party if Momentum and other like minded activist groups were able to get a policy foothold in Labour and usurp to some extent the predatory tendencies of Future Britain who for all intents and purposes are helping Labour’s collapse.
This energising spirit replete with a Green New Deal and a 4 day working week might be enough of a positive post-EU national vision to see moderate remainers come back from the LibDems and quite possibly the Greens.
Brexit has no doubt helped to revitalise British politics which has given people both the opportunity and the passion to bring forward policies that are fit for the 21st century. As these renewal policies emerge so will the sentiments and aspirations of voters. Therefore I have absolutely nothing to offer in terms of predictions other than Parties who cling on to the policies of neoliberalism and the EU status quo will inevitably fade away into obscurity.
I say this because despite hopeful yearnings of the individual liberty and individual freedom that the EU ostensibly offers, neoliberal supranationalism just isn’t the vehicle by which to create distinctive and inclusive national renewal.
Policies of the future will need much greater equity and a much greater emphasis on sufficiency and these socially demanding aspirations can only really be delivered through cohesive and integrated communities. Only the national framework currently provides that.
Peter Underwood says
Excellent article Ben, thank you and well argued. I see that you are trying to look forward to the GE and that’s fine except that the turnout for the EU election is likely to be around 35% and it is not easy to predict a GE from this because of the the Brexit bias. My view is that in a GE people will tend to stick to their guns and mainly stay with the party of former choice.
IMHO it is going to be very difficult for the Brexit party to turn around the political scene in one GE and they don’t have a manifesto yet. I have no idea what Nigel & Co will dream up on economic, fiscal and social politicies? And can you imagine Nigel Farage as PM? It will be an interesting next GE nevertheless, bringing life to politics for a change, and a measure of the degree of the anger of the electorate.
Laurence Cox says
Even looking beyond the the Euro-elections, Labour have played their hand badly. Once the local election results were out it was inevitable that this would give momentum (as opposed to Momentum) to both the Lib Dems and the Greens. By waiting for so long to confirm the failure of talks with the Tories:
Labour have lost their postal voters in the Euro-elections and may have lost many of their polling station voters. Doing deals with the Tories is the third-rail of Bristish politics as the Lib Dems found out in 2010. Even if there is not another General Election this year to give a mandate to the next Tory leader, there will be more big elections in 2020, notably the London Mayor and Assembly. Here, just a few months ago Sadiq Khan was seen as a shoo-in, but now his chances of winning are falling and he could be facing a Lib Dem or Green mayoral candidate in the second round. If these two parties agree to recommend voters give the other party their second votes in the SV election, then we could see the first Lib Dem or Green Mayor of London. In my opinion, this would be disastrous for Labour going forward as London is seen as very much a Labour city.