What now that Theresa May has won a confidence vote in her party leadership?

By Stephen Fisher.

Yesterday Theresa May won a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative party, and she also promised to step down before the scheduled 2022 general election. Following the logic of my arguments here and here, both events increase the chances that she will eventually facilitate another referendum on Brexit. She now has more freedom for political manoeuvre and less of a future political career to lose from a U-turn.

In essence the core of my previous argument is that Theresa May should want to persuade the people to back her deal if parliament won’t because she believes it is the best thing for Britain. If not that, then she would at least prefer a referendum to a no-deal Brexit that she believes, “would cause significant economic damage to parts of our country who can least afford to bear the burden.”

There is, I believe, a latent parliamentary majority for another referendum. Theresa May now has the power to facilitate its emergence without fear of a challenge to her leadership of the Conservative Party. She will want to avoid a party split or hardline Brexiteers voting no-confidence in their own government. That can be done if she earnestly tries to achieve reassurances from the EU on the backstop, tries to get approval for her deal in parliament, and then tries to get her deal approved by the people in a referendum. There is also the possibility of this ingenious mechanism suggested by Jolyon Maugham. (There may be others too, I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer.) My main point is that if the prime minister acts in good faith and calls a referendum as a last resort, it will be harder for her enemies to justify bringing her government down in response.

Is Theresa May completely safe?

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What now that Theresa May has deferred the meaningful vote?

By Stephen Fisher, 11thDecember 2018.

Three weeks ago I wrote this piece about Theresa May’s predicament if she lost the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal. That was supposed to take place today but it has now been deferred while the prime minister seeks further assurances from the EU on the Irish backstop. This piece assesses the current political situation, evaluates the some of the arguments I previously made and ultimately claims that, while there is a lot of uncertainty and various outcomes are possible, there is still a good case for expecting Theresa May to facilitate another referendum as the single most likely outcome, even though she has ruled one out and might not continue in post for much longer.

Most of this was written before tonight’s rumours that the required 48 letters for a Conservative leadership confidence vote have been sent. There is a discussion of the politics of the leadership, but most of my analysis is about what May could do while she is still in office, perhaps even if there is an ongoing leadership election. If she loses the confidence vote that would substantially increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit.

In brief, my argument has the same flavour as the previous one. Theresa May believes that enacting the Withdrawal Agreement is best course of action for the country. I suspect she also believes it would be the best thing for her party too. There is currently no Commons majority for it. That might well change change as a result of increasing fear of a no-deal Brexit, but it is more likely that it will not. If it does not, then I think she would rather facilitate another referendum than proceed with a no-deal Brexit. Either the prime minister would introduce a referendum bill, or she would use her power over the parliamentary agenda to enable others to do so. Given the opportunity and some leadership I think there would be a cross-party majority for another referendum (provided Remain was on the ballot).

Continue reading What now that Theresa May has deferred the meaningful vote?

In which Theresa May calls a referendum despite expecting to lose her job

By Stephen Fisher.

The collective intelligence of political journalists suggests that the House of Commons is likely to vote against the prime minister’s Brexit deal when it comes to a “meaningful vote” in December. Supposing this happens, what next?

The UK would, by legal default, be heading towards a no-deal Brexit. Although the government would have till mid-January to say how it intended to proceed, Mrs May would most likely want to move quickly, given the risk of a no-confidence vote from both inside and outside her party.

Waiting to see if a market crash sways MPs is unlikely to be an option. If the outcome of the parliamentary vote is as clear as many commentators suggest it will be, then the markets will have already priced it in. That is not to say that the markets will assume failure of the meaningful vote automatically means a no-deal Brexit, just that the markets are unlikely to move much if the outcome is as is widely anticipated.

Simply announcing that she will seek further concessions from Brussels would be unpersuasive. What makes her deal unpopular with the DUP and many of her backbenchers are structural features that were already much discussed. The EU are unlikely to be willing to make sufficient concessions, especially not on the current timescale. Substantial further negotiations would probably require an extension to the Article 50 process, which the EU have said would only be granted if there was a “fundamental change” in the political situation in the UK. (A referendum would be such a change.) What’s more, MPs are unlikely to think that the Theresa May would be the best person to achieve a better deal given they are unhappy with her previous efforts.

The prime minister has said that a no-deal Brexit would be “a bad outcome for the UK”, and also that she believes, with her “head and heart” and “every fibre of her body”, that the deal is, “in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom.” If this is really how she feels she should want to ask the people to back her deal in a referendum to force parliament’s hand. May has previously ruled out a referendum, but she also ruled out a general election in 2017 and called one anyway.

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Forecasts for the US Midterm Elections 2018

By Stephen Fisher.

The most striking thing about the forecasts for today’s midterm elections in the United States is that they have been much less talked of in the media than in previous campaigns. This is partly because in 2016 most of the forecasters put very high probabilities (90%+) on Hilary Clinton winning the presidency. (See here for a post-mortem.)

This post reviews the main statistical model based forecasts for the US House and Senate, with some discussion of the methodology and comparison with other forecasts. Overall, and as usual, there is not much variation between the forecasters in their central forecasts. They all point to the Democrats taking control of the house and the Republican retaining control of the Senate. The striking exception is a Gallup poll suggesting 50% think the Republicans will retain control of the House and only 44% think the Democrats will win it.

Despite the forecasts differing from the expectations of the American people, the forecasts appear to have been widely accepted in the media. So much so that some journalists suggest it will be a vindication of Donald Trump if Republicans maintain control of the House. However, if that happens it will most likely be despite a clear lead for the Democrats in the popular vote. In which case, it would be the electoral system, not Trump, that thwarts the Democrats. Meanwhile, if there are net Republican gains in the Senate it will be primarily because the Democrats are defending a big haul from 2012.

House forecasts

As James Campbell has noted, in all but three midterm elections since 1900 the President’s party has lost seats. Since 1950 the average loss has been 24 seats. The Democrats need to make net gains of 23 or more to take control.

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How big a lead does Labour need in the local elections to be on course to win the next general election?

By Stephen Fisher.

People often wonder what local election results bode for the next general election. Here is a quick look at the relationship between the BBC Projected National Share of the vote (PNS) in the local elections and the outcome of subsequent general elections. In particular, I focus on the lead for the main opposition party over the principal governing party. The graphs below show the lead at the subsequent general election plotted against the lead in the PNS.

Continue reading How big a lead does Labour need in the local elections to be on course to win the next general election?

Calculating the local elections Projected National Share (PNS) in 2018

By John Curtice and Stephen Fisher.

Part of the ritual of election-night coverage at the BBC is the calculation of the so-called Projected National Share (PNS). This is an estimate of the share of the vote that the principal parties would have won in a GB-wide general election if voters across the country as a whole had behaved in the same way as those who actually voted in the local elections. It provides a single, seemingly straightforward measure of party performance that can tell us not only how well or badly a party has done as compared with four years ago, but also as compared with any previous local elections for which a PNS is available – even though the places in which local elections are held varies considerably from one year to the next.

One of the key patterns in last year’s general election results was a tendency for those who voted Remain to swing more to Labour than those who voted Leave, while the Conservatives lost ground amongst Remain voters while advancing amongst their Leave counterparts. If a similar pattern is maintained at these local elections – and it was in last year’s county council elections – then the Labour vote will increase more (or fall less) were the Remain vote was higher in 2016, while the converse will be true of the Conservatives.

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Forecasting Local Election Seat Gains/Losses 2018

by Stephen Fisher

My forecasting model for seat gains/losses at local elections has previously been a simple model based on change in party support in the polls. While the historical data show that changes in the percentage of the council seats that a party wins is reasonably strongly correlated with changes in that party’s poll share, that basis for forecasting this year would not work.

The Conservatives are up by 8 points and Labour up by 6 points in the polls since just before the 2014 local elections, when most the seats up for election this week were last fought. As in last year’s general election, support for both main parties has increased largely because of a big drop in UKIP support. Forecasting the parties separately based on changes in their respective poll shares would produce misleading predictions of big gains for both main parties. In first-past-the-post elections it is typically relative not absolute performance that matters for seat outcomes. Last year, despite winning more votes the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority because the Labour vote share went up by more than did that for the Conservatives.

For this reason, my forecasting models this year are based on changes in the gaps between polls shares.  For the Conservatives, who have traditionally faced many contests with the Liberal Democrats, their leads over both Labour and the Liberal Democrats matter. For Labour, the model is primarily based on the Labour lead over the Conservatives. Meanwhile, for the Liberal Democrats, their changing opinion poll performance relative to the Conservatives, but not Labour, has historically been correlated with headline local election seat changes.

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Election analysis and forecasting