For political activists, the day before an election is a curious time. There may be some last eve-of-poll leaflets to deliver but that should be it. The “Good Morning” leaflets should be ready to go but not yet. It’s a time for relaxation and rest before the exigencies of Polling Day take over.
Last Saturday night, the polls suggested the Conservatives were on their way to a majority but the polls of the last 48 hours have been much less certain. Yes, the Conservatives lead and the YouGov poll last night suggested the Lib Dem vote was falling away but not to the Tories but rather to Labour which seemed to have hit rock bottom and to be fighting back.
The final clutch of polls tonight might tell a different story once again but it’s perhaps more a tale of 650 stories rather than one story so to speak. We may well see a surprising diversity of outcome tomorrow night with neighbouring seats performing differently from each other. The regional poll information on politicshome.com showed a fascinating story of Lib Dem strength in the East Midlands and the South West with Labour perhaps coming back in their northern heartlands.
So, what will happen tomorrow ?
Well, there are three battles or sets of battles out there which will determine the result of the election so it’s best to consider each one separately:
Labour vs Conservative: The key battleground in terms of seats at least numerically. A number of seats narrowly won by Labour in 2005 will fall this time and there is evidence the Conservatives are doing well in those seats where Labour are 6-10% ahead. That said, a recovering Labour vote at the expense of the Liberal Democrats might change this. Seats like Halesowen & Rowley Regis and Nuneaton could be worth watching.
I wouldn’t be surprised if safer seats than this fell – one of particular interest is Morley & Outwood, the seat of Education Secretary, Ed Balls, where the Tories need a 10.5% swing to win. If seats at this level fall en bloc, David Cameron may well be on the way to an overall majority. If they stay Labour, it’s Hung Parliament territory.
It seems improbable Labour will gain any seats from the Conservatives this time.
Conservative vs Liberal Democrat: This is the “other” battle of the election. Before the debates, it was generally thought the Conservatives would pick off a large number of LD seats and sites like politicalbetting.com were full of the “taxi for the Lib Dems” but the debates changed all that. I’ve worked in seats such as Carshalton & Wallington and Orpington and while some of the more eccentric claims of possible gains from the Conservatives may no longer be realistic, it does look as though the Liberal Democrats will hold most of their seats and maybe pick up the odd one or two.
Seats to watch here include Carshalton & Wallington – if the Conservatives take this and nearby Sutton, they will be on course for a good result but Lib Dem holds will make the Conservative job of building a majority that much harder. If the Liberal Democrats take seats like Meon Valley and Harborough it will be a good night for them and a difficult night for the Tories.
Labour vs Liberal Democrat: In many ways, the forgotten battle of this election. On paper, the Liberal Democrats have a lot to do to overcome some large Labour majorities in all but a fair areas. Encouraging poll numbers in London suggest progress for the Liberal Democrats in the capital. Indeed, I’d go as far as to mention Lewisham West & Penge as one to watch for a possible Lib Dem gain. Elsewhere, early indications suggested a strong Lib Dem performance in Newcastle – that may have been blunted in recent days but there could still be some good results.
Scotland and Wales: Some of the earlier and more outlandish claims for the SNP and Conservatives respectively look to have been blunted and indeed the Conservatives in Scotland may do worse than in 2005. The seats in Edinburgh look particularly interesting with Labour under threat from the Liberal Democrats while in Wales, the Conservatives look set to make some headway in places like Bridgend but look also for results from Swansea and Newport for a Liberal Democrat challenge.
London Boroughs: It’s also local election day in London and it will be fascinating to see if the Liberal Democrat upswing will be reflected in Council election results in places like Kingston, Sutton and Richmond. Will Labour perversely begin its fight back by improving on its 2006 results in the capital ? The current scores in terms of Councillors are Conservative 783, Labour 673 and Liberal Democrat 324.
I expect the Liberal Democrat figure to be nearer 400 by Friday evening. I’m looking for advances in Lambeth, Lewisham, Haringey and Waltham Forest and I think it’s not impossible for the Liberal Democrats to take overall control of three of those Boroughs.
Anyway. I’m on the graveyard shift at a polling station tomorrow morning so good luck to all for tomorrow and I’m sure to be back here chewing over the results on Friday.