Is Corbyn for Christmas Just Another Stove Pipe-Dream?

Photograph Source Chatham House.

Incorporating polling over the last week up through Monday night, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and smaller center-left parties have taken over the lead in twenty-five additional United Kingdom constituency seats in the most recent update to CounterPunch‘s #10at10 election modelling. In order to allow Corbyn a real chance to become Prime Minister, Labour and the Scottish National Party (SNP) will have to repeat that success again through next Monday to give them a chance to close the deal in the final days before next Thursday’s election

The good news is that Conservative Leader Boris Johnson’s seat totals and satisfaction ratings are in free fall, and he appears completely without clue as to how to pull the rip cord. The vaunted YouGov MRP model released figures last week showing that Conservatives had lost 16 seats, in their modelling, to Labour in the previous four days, putting them on 359 seats. At least 322 are needed for an overall majority in a 650-seat parliament with a non-partisan Speaker and at least six Sinn Féin Members of Parliament refusing to be seated. The day prior, our numbers had put Johnson Cons on 357 seats and were also within two of YouGov’s projections for Labour at 209, SNP at 41, and a little bit higher on Liberal Democrats, seeing 20 seats for them where YouGov projected 14.

Incorporating polling released through Monday just before midnight, CounterPunch projects that Conservatives have fallen to 337 seats and Liberal Democrats to just 15 seats, while Labour has risen to 231 seats with the SNP up two to 43 while the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru climbs one to lead in 4 seats. The Green Party remains at 1 seat for their leader Caroline Lucas.

In 2017, YouGov’s MRP (Crunch) Model and CounterPunch correctly predicted a tight race where other polling firm’s (and YouGov’s own regular polling) topline figures and other seat forecasters badly missed, projecting a very large Conservative majority. We correctly projected the gap between the Conservative and Labour parties within a half a percentage point and were right for 94% of seats as forecast. YouGov’s MRP correctly called a hung parliament (where we saw a slim overall majority for Theresa May) and called 93% of seats correctly. I’ve created stub links where we will update the model by 5pm GMT (noon Eastern) on Monday and have a final update after all polls are released by midnight GMT on Wednesday.

There is, however, more difficult news in our model, which assumes that the centre right Liberal Democrats should be taken at their word that they would rather coalesce with Johnson’s Conservatives than even allowing a starter conversation on a coalition with Corbyn as Prime Minister. At a bare minimum, then, Labour will need to capture at least 265 seats, and more likely even 270 or 275 seats toward a Red, Yellow, and Green (Labour, SNP, Plaid, and Green) coalition that could reasonably reach 321 seats all told. Labour would have to exceed our current middle confidence range’s high figure of 256 seats. The middle confidence range figure is calculated where a party either wins or loses all toss-up (less than a 3.5% projected lead) and tilt seats (3.5-6.0% lead) in which they are competitive. The high confidence range figures assume a party wins (or loses) all of the seats pegged that way as well as the seats that lean toward them (6.1-10.0% lead).

The realistically nightmarish situation that I have been discussing since late August is the one highlighted in this chart with black boxes for Conservatives, Labour, and SNP. Neither Conservatives, even in coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), or Labour, in coalition with the SNP, could form a working majority in parliament. Jo Swinson led Liberal Democrats would hold the balance of power, demanding a second referendum from Conservatives or a replacement for Corbyn as Labour leader (and then Prime Minister) to do business. With neither major party or leader willing to bargain on such terms, an almost irresolvable stalemate would ensue. (While Corbyn might, in the best case here, bargain his way into Number 10 Downing Street, it almost certainly would not happen until mid-to-late January ahead of the next deadline on January 31, 2020 for European Union withdrawal.)

The most obvious way to avoid this predicament is for Boris Johnson to command at least a working majority by winning 312 to 313 seats and securing again the support of the DUP (which is solidly against his current EU Brexit Withdrawal Agreement). Even while our model continues to see Conservative support in decline, this remains the most likely outcome.

The great hope for Labour is that, not only is a) Conservative support in rapid decline as in 2017 but that also b) the same polling mistakes are being made in 2019 (they are, though in somewhat less serious fashion) and that c) new voter registration signal massive turnout and high support from people under 45-years-old could see them hitting closer to their high-water mark in our modelling.

According to this eventuality, Labour would hit 265 seats by capturing all those seats that last week’s YouGov MRP model and our current model have pegged at a 10% lead or less for Conservatives (see the “Rank” columns in the marginals charting in the graphic that follows this paragraph). At 265 seats, however, the SNP would have to hit top-most range of 51 seats. With Plaid and Green still combining for 5 seats, Sinn Féin would then need to capture eight seats, allowing a working Red, Yellow, Green majority of exactly 1 at 321 seats. Beyond the fact that SNP are not currently polling quite that high, the chance that one or more Labour MPs who hate Corbyn worse than Brexit could bolt such a coalition would be rather high. Labour would be more secure if it could manage also to win several of the dozen or so seats that either YouGov’s MRP or our modelling (but not both) have at a 10% or lesser Conservative lead over Labour.

Some have objected to my characterization in previous model updates to Liberal Democrats as a right wing or centre right party. Not only, however, did Liberals coalesce with David Cameron’s Tories from 2010-2015, but they also repeatedly voted for Tory austerity polices. After the 2017 election, then Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron acknowledged that his Catholic faith means he thinks of gay sex as inherently sinful. And in 2019, Liberal Democratic leadership has openly discussed the possibility of propping up Boris Johnson as Prime Minister after the election while repeatedly and flatly ruling out any participation in a situation where they would allow Corbyn to become Prime Minister, even in a caretaker situation to stop a hard Brexit.

Leftists holding out hope for Corbyn for Christmas would do well to keep these factors in mind. It is not entirely a (stove) pipe-dream, but up to now, it remains the least likely of three realistic scenarios. Boris Johnson remaining Prime Minister, with an overall majority or in league again with either DUP or Liberal Democrats, or an impossibly hung parliament, where Johnson would require both DUP and Liberal Democratic support, remain more likely.

Doug Johnson Hatlem writes on polling, elections data, and politics. For questions, comments, or to inquire about syndicating this weekly column for the 2020 cycle in your outlet, he can be contacted on Twitter @djjohnso (DMs open) or at (subject line #10at10 Election Column).