Monday, 1 June 2009

What's Going to Happen on Thursday ?

The polls are all over the place, the expenses scandal rumbles on and politicians have never been held in such public contempt, a plethora of candidates in the mix and three days until polling in the European and County Council elections.

Everyone has their predictions but what can we read from the runes and what would the results mean ?

The Conservatives are polling around 40% nationally but no one knows how much of that vote will turn out on Thursday. The Tories have been the major beneficiaries of the collapse in Labour support but the extent to which the Conservative vote is a positive vote FOR the party or simply an anti-Labour vote remains to be seen and may not be until after a couple of years of the Cameron administration. For now, the Conservative coalition seems solid but anything less than 40% in the local elections and 30% in the European elections will look less than convincing.

Labour are polling at levels I thought I would never see - around 21-22%. These are figures which, if repeated at a General Election, would reduce the Party to a rump of 150 or less. Local strength in the north might hold up the national numbers though it is quite possible the last four Labour-run County Councils will slip to NOC. The European elections look far less promising for Labour as it ships support to UKIP and the BNP. Third place is quite likely, fourth conceivable and even fifth cannot be ruled out. If Labour poll above 25% in the national contests and 15% in the European elections they will feel satisfied. Figures below 20% and 12% respectively could well trigger a crisis within the Party itself.

The poll numbers for the Liberal Democrats are all over the place. 15% with Populus was awful, 25% with ICM remarkable but the YouGov 18% looks more reasonable. In addition, the Liberal Democrats face problems in their south-western heartlands and I think Cornwall in particular will be very bad. On the other hand, seats may be gained from Labour in the north so it may well look a mixed bag for the Party. The Liberal Democrats will hope to outpoll Labour in the County Council contests and a vote around 27% is a reasonable expectation. In the European contests, ICM suggested 20% - that looks high to me but a solid 17% would be an excellent result and would put the Party either second or a close third which would be a good outcome.

This is the "big one" for UKIP and they have a hard act to follow after their 16% last time. Early indications of a collapse in their vote seem premature but the re=emergence of a strong Conservative Party has undoubtedly blunted the party's unique selling point (USP) while the issue of Europe itself has virtually disappeared off the radar. 15% would represent a solid result for the party while anything less than 10% would be a disaster.

The BNP is one of the two "wild cards" in this contest. While the Party has isolated pockets of strength, it lacks wider overall organisation. PR-based elections like this offers the party a chance to maximise its support into seats. Last time the BNP failed to win a European seat anywhere but this time it might pick up a seat in the North-West. The performance of BNP members once elected doesn't inspire huge confidence but any successfully-elected BNP MEP would be a setback. I do think one MEP will fo to the BNP.

I think the surprise package on Thursday could be the Greens who have benefitted from the national support of Joanna Lumley and from NOT being part of the current Westminster setup. A 10% vote for the Greens isn't inconceivable and nor is it improbable they will win a European seat or two.

A final thought on turnout - there seems a deal of contempt toward politics at present and it could well result in very low turnouts especially where the European elections are the only contest. County Council elections have been held on the same day as the General Election in the last three cycles so they have enjoyed high turnouts. A much lower turnout (30-35%) seems likely with European election turnouts at 25-30%.

The County Council results will declare on Friday but it will be next Sunday before the shape of the next European Parliament becomes clear.

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