Brexit minus three weeks (maybe)

A preview of key Brexit votes in the House of Commons from March 12-14, on a second referendum, Theresa May’s deal, a no-deal, and a Brexit extension. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On March 12, Theresa May will attempt to get her deal approved by the Commons for the first time since the crushing 432 to 202 defeat on January 15.  An amendment, now officially supported by Labour, would allow May’s deal to pass, conditional on a second referendum occurring with Remain and May’s deal as the options.  Although a second referendum is passionately supported by many MPs who want to Remain, the amendment is likely to lose by a substantial margin.  As commentator Stephen Bush wrote in the I, there are too many Labour MPs who will oppose a second referendum even with official Labour support.  Some Conservative MPs who favour a soft Brexit also oppose a second referendum.

The vote on May’s deal is likely to fail by a substantial margin, though not as badly as the first defeat.  The Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) had demanded changes to limit the contentious Northern Ireland “backstop” to secure their support.  However, negotiations between the European Union and UK appear to have broken down.  With no amendment to the backstop, May is likely to lose most of the 118 Conservative MPs who voted against the original deal, and the ten DUP MPs.  Only three Labour MPs backed May’s deal in January; more are expected to support the deal this time, but not enough to affect the result.

If May’s deal fails, the Commons will vote on whether Britain should leave without a deal on March 13.  Even if the Conservatives whip in favour of no-deal, this is very likely to be defeated.  If the Conservatives allow a free vote for their MPs, it will be interesting to see how many vote in favour of a no-deal Brexit.

If May’s deal and no-deal both fail, a vote on extending Brexit beyond the March 29 exit date will be held on March 14.  Given the concern among moderate Conservative MPs that forced May to offer this extension vote last week, this vote is likely to pass, even if the Conservatives whip against.

But even if the Commons approves a Brexit delay, it must also be approved unanimously by the 27 EU nations – and last week France and Spain said they would only approve an extension with conditions.  May would only ask for a short extension.  If it were granted, June 30 would be the new deadline for the Commons to pass a deal, as European elections will be held in late May.  Without UK participation in those elections, Britain will probably not be able to continue as an EU member after the new EU parliament begins its term on July 1.  A delay to Brexit is likely to result in another cliff edge in late June.

If a no-deal Brexit is to be avoided, one of two things must happen by March 29 or late June.  Either a large number of Conservative MPs must vote for either Jeremy Corbyn’s favoured customs union or a second referendum, or a large number of Labour MPs must vote for May’s deal.  Labour cannot hope to get its customs union through without Conservative support due to opposition from passionate second referendum advocates.  Large support from one party for the other party’s proposal would likely be damaging for that party.  A no-deal Brexit is likely to damage the Conservatives.  Labour is likely to win politically if there is a no-deal Brexit or a customs union with Conservative support, but lose if May’s deal gets through on Labour support.

Brexit minus one month (or not)

With just over four weeks until the official Brexit date on March 29, Theresa May promises an extension vote on March 14. Plus Labour’s tanking polls.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On February 18, seven Labour MPs defected to form The Independent Group (TIG). In the next two days, another Labour MP and three Conservative MPs also defected. What unites the TIG MPs is their demand for a second Brexit referendum. In an attempt to prevent more defections, Jeremy Corbyn on February 25 announced that Labour would support a second referendum if Labour’s favoured “customs union” Brexit failed to pass the House of Commons.

In the past, major Conservative rebellions have come from the hard right European Research Group (ERG), who want a hard Brexit. As a result, Theresa May has tried to appease the ERG. But on February 26, faced with a rebellion from more moderate Conservatives who were going to vote for Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper’s amendment to delay Brexit, May promised a Commons vote to extend Brexit on March 14. This vote would be preceded by a vote on May’s revised deal (if any) on March 12, and a vote on whether the UK should exit without a deal on March 13. The first two votes are likely to fail. It is not yet clear how the Conservatives will whip their MPs on these votes.

In House of Commons votes on February 27, a Labour amendment that effectively proposed a customs union was defeated by 323 votes to 240, with abstentions from pro-second referendum parties and MPs. A Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) amendment to rule out a “no deal” Brexit at any time was defeated by 324 votes to 288. Cooper’s amendment to hold May to her promise was voted through with government support, but 20 ERG members voted against.

Even if parliament passes a delay on March 14, it still has to be approved unanimously by the 27 EU nations. Both France and Spain, which has its election on April 28, appear opposed to an extension without signs that a deal can be approved by the Commons.

Continue reading “Brexit minus one month (or not)”

Deal or no deal

It has been observed that discussion of Brexit, a matter kind-of-but-not-exactly within the ambit of this site, is taking up a disruptive amount of space on the main threads. Even if this isn’t truly the case at present, it seems to be that it will be soon enough at the rate things are going. So with that in mind, here is a thread dedicated to discussion of the mother country’s ongoing political crisis.

UK local elections deliver flat result

In the first major electoral test in the UK since Labour stormed back to cost the Conservatives their majority in June 2017, the major parties were tied. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, whose work you may be familiar with from The Conversation. Adrian who will be dropping by from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally.

At the June 2017 UK general election, a dramatic late poll surge to Labour cost the Conservatives their Commons majority. Local government elections held on Thursday were the first major UK election since then. Every May, UK local government elections are held, but particular council wards are usually contested every four years. Thus, the wards up for election last Thursday were last contested in 2014.

This year, all 150 councils that held elections were in England; there were no local elections in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. About 40% of councillors up for election were in London. London’s boroughs held elections for all their seats, while most other councils held elections for one-third of their seats.

The most important result from the local elections is the national projected vote share. This is an estimate of vote share the various parties would have won if local elections were held all over the UK, as in a general election. In 2014, when these seats were last contested, Labour had a projected vote share of 31%, the Conservatives 29%, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) 17% and the Liberal Democrats 13%.

At the May 2017 local elections, the Conservatives thumped Labour 38% to 27% with 18% for the Liberal Democrats. These elections were held before Labour’s surge began. At the June 2017 general election, the Conservatives beat Labour by just 42.4% to 40.0% in popular votes.

This year, the BBC’s projected national vote share gives the Conservatives and Labour 35% each, with 16% for the Liberal Democrats. This represents a 1% two party swing to the Conservatives since 2014, but a 1% swing to Labour from the 2017 general election. Opposition parties have usually performed better in local elections than general elections, so this result is disappointing for Labour.

National polls currently have the Conservatives a few points ahead of Labour, so the local elections are consistent with that polling. The Liberal Democrats, who historically do better at local than general elections, have less than 10% in national polls, but won 16% in the local elections.

Labour won 2,310 councillors (up 59 since 2014), the Conservatives 1,330 (down 31), the Liberal Democrats 536 (up 75) and the Greens 39 (up eight). The biggest loser was UKIP, which won just three councillors (down 123). Most wards contested this year were in Labour-favouring areas.

British election live

Live commentary of the British election count.

Conclusion. I kind of lost interest in live blogging after the previous post, but nearly 24 hours on from the closure of polling, only one seat remains to be declared, and the result if Conservatives 318 (-12), Labour 261 (+29), Scottish Nationalists 35 (-21), Liberal Democrats 12 (+4), Plaid Cymru 4 (+1), Green 1 (-) and, of the Northern Ireland contingent, Democratic Unionist 10 (+2), Sinn Fein 7 (+3) and independent 1 (-). The seat that remains to be called is the normally blue-ribbon constituency of Kensington in London, which is on to its third recount after going down to the wire as a result of the metropolitan backlash against the Conservatives. The first two counts reportedly had Labour winning by 36 and 39 votes. As Sinn Fein members don’t take their seats, the magic number is 322, and the Conservatives will be relying on the Democratic Unionist Party to reach it. Three parties represented in the previous parliament have emerged empty-handed: Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic & Labour Party and Ulster Unionist Party, who won three and two seats in 2015, and UKIP, who won one.

Excluding Kensington, the vote shares are Conservative 42.4% (+5.5%), Labour 40.0% (+9.5%) and Liberal Democrats 7.4% (-0.5%). Line honours among the pollsters clearly go to Survation, whose final poll had it at Conservatives 41.3%, Labour 40.4% and Liberal Democrats 7.8%, which was the narrowest Conservative lead out of the nine pollsters on the British Polling Council. YouGov seemed to have it right earlier, but squibbed it with a late methodology change that herded to the Conservatives, their feelings presumably hurt by this sort of thing. The overall bias of the BPC pollsters to the Conservatives most likely reflected a reluctance to believe the age profile of the voting population would be much different from 2015, whereas Survation were more inclined to take respondents at their word as to whether they would vote. Outside the BPC tent, SurveyMonkey did better than all but one of those within in recording a 42-38 lead to the Conservatives; and Qriously’s 4% error, in this case in favour of Labour, was bettered only by Survation and Kantar.

UPDATE: Mike Smithson of Political Betting points out that the polling figures exclude Northern Ireland, whereas the numbers quoted above do not, and hence dampen the results for all concerned. The proper base from which the pollsters should be judged is Conservative 43.5%, Labour 41.0%, Liberal Democrats 7.6%.

Once again, the exit poll overseen Professor John Curtice more than earned its keep, coming in at 41% apiece for the Conservatives and Labour, and projecting 314 seats for the Conservatives, 266 for Labour, 34 for the Scottish Nationalists and 14 for the Liberal Democrats. Immediate reaction to the exit poll in 2010, 2015 and 2017 was that it surely must be underestimating, respectively, the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives, but each time it came up smiling.

4.36am. After all the hype, Amber Rudd hangs on in Hastings & Rye.

4.23am. Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport now a declared Labour gain from the Conservatives, overturning a 1.1% margin.

4.20am. Alex Salmond loses his seat of Gordon to the Conservatives, in another blow to the SNP.

3.57am. Northern Ireland’s Labour-aligned party has now lost all of its three seats.

3.50am. Lineball result in Amber Rudd’s seat of Hastings leads to recount.

3.37am. Kingston on the fringe of London adds to scattered Liberal Democrats gains around the place from the Conservatives.

3.31am. Someone on BBC says projections point to 3% Conservative lead on the vote, suggesting Survation probably the best performing pollster.

3.29am. Eastbourne another Liberal Democrats gain from the Conservatives.

3.17am. BBC analyst says Labour boilover now expected in Kent seat of Canterbury, with a surge of young voters apparently set to overturn 18.3% Conservative margin. Labour has also gained the Midlands seat of Peterborough (4.1% margin) in a squeaker. In other close result news, the SNP have seen off the Conservatives by 21 votes in Perth & North Perthshire, against the prediction of the exit poll.

3.02am. Labour’s surprise win in the Suffolk seat of Ipswich, mooted earlier in the night, is now confirmed. But in Northern Ireland, the Labour-aligned Social Democratic and Labour Party has lost two of its three seats — one to Sinn Fein, one to the Unionists.

2.59am. Now eight confirmed losses for the SNP: four to the Conservatives, three to Labour, one to the Liberal Democrats. The BBC is projecting them to drop from 56 seats out of 59 to 32.

2.57am. Bristol North West a non-London Labour gain from the Conservatives.

2.54am. Knife-edge Conservative seat of Gower in Wales goes to Labour, not unpredictably. London seat of Twickenham goes from Conservative to the Liberal Democrats, presumably the beneficiary of heavy duty tactical voting.

2.46am. Labour gains Sheffield Hallam from former Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg, rated a 33% chance by the exit poll.

2.42am. SNP casualty list lengthens with Liberal Democrat gain of Dunbartonshire East, which was anticipated by the exit poll.

2.38am. Better news for the Conservatives from Southport in north-western England, which they have gained from the Libeal Democrats, which the exit poll rated only a 10% possibility.

2.27am. Midlothian now goes from SNP to Labour, against the prediction of the exit poll.

2.25am. Conservatives win Ochil & Perthshire South, of which exit poll said this: “the Conservatives have a 31% chance of victory, Labour has a 23% chance of victory, the SNP has a 46% chance of victory”. So SNP fairly consistently under-performing the exit poll.

2.19am. Conservatives gain Moray from SNP, as anticipated by exit poll.

2.16am. Conservative ministers confident no more of the exit poll being wrong.

2.11am. Another double-digit swing in London turns the marginal Labour seat of Ealing into a safe one.

2.06am. Stockton South, rated as lineball by the exit poll, goes to Labour.

2.02am. Labour win confirmed in Battersea with 10% swing.

1.58am. Conservatives gain Scottish seat of Angus from SNP — picked by exit poll, but talked up as a shock by the BBC presenter.

1.45am. Another double digit swing to Labour in London, this time in the Conservative seat of Putney. Keep in mind that swings are calculated differently in British parlance, such that a 10% swing overturns a 20% margin. So these results are consistent with Labour being competitive or better in Battersea (15.6%) or even Kensington (21.1%), both the subject of excited Labour chatter.

1.41am. Labour gains Welsh margin Vale of Clwyd with swing of 3.5%.

1.35am. Exit poll looking better now — talk even that Labour will outperform it.

1.30am. Young SNP firebrand Mhairi Black retains Paisley & Renfrewshire South.

1.25am. First result from London is Labour-held Tooting, where Labour gets a swing of 10.6%.

1.20am. The Rutherglen gain by Labour from the SNP was not predicted by the exit poll, which had Edinburgh North & Leith as their only gain in Scotland. BBC pundit says Labour expects to win Sheffield Hallam from former Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg — this was too close to call in the exit poll. Other two mooted Labour gains she mentions were anticipated by poll.

1.13am. 4.5% swing to Labour in their safe Welsh seat of Llanelli; Labour narrowly gains Rutherglen & Hamilton West from SNP, the first declared result to change hands.

1.11am. Labour now expecting to make gains in Wales, after disappointing Conservatives failure in Wrexham.

12.59am. I belatedly observe a 1.4% Conservative swing in the north-west England seat of Workington. Someone earlier said the picture got better for the Conservatives with every foot you travelled north.

12.53am. Status quo result in Labour-held north-eastern seat of Durham, where the Conservatives might have vaguely hoped they could still gain based on early results from the region, although 7.7% margin made it a big ask. Still, the sort of seat the Conservatives were expecting to win going into the election.

12.38am. 2.2% swing to Labour in Broxbourne and 0.2% swing in Nuneaton, two middle England seats. But mounting talk of a big result for Labour in London, including a win in Battersea, margin 15.6%.

12.32am. “Entirely possible we will still get an overall majority”, is the less-than-bullish assessment of Conservative heavyweight Liam Fox.

12.28am. 2.6% swing to Labour in Kettering, a Conservative seat in the Midlands.

12.25am. BBC pundit says Labour said to be confident of the Suffolk seat of Ipswich, margin of 7.7%, and four gains in Scotland.

12.21am. Newcastle North swings 0.5% to Labour, which is better than their regional form.

12.16am. Specifically, HuffPost UK politics editor Paul Waugh says Labour is expected to win Kensington, which the Conservatives won 52.2% to 31.1% in 2015.

12.08am. Washginton and Sunderland West swings 2.2% to Conservatives, in line with regional trend. However, there’s excited talk on Twitter about Labour’s prospects in blue-ribbon constituencies in London.

11.59pm. Bad result for Labour from Newcastle Central, good one from North Swindon. Long night ahead.

11.47pm. Third seat is Sunderland South: 2.2% swing to Conservatives. BBC analyst indicates Labour worried exit poll wrong because Conservatives outperforming it on postal votes.

11.33pm. BBC reporter says Labour remain excited about Hastings and Rye, held by Home Secretary Amber Rudd on a margin of 9.4%, which wasn’t picked as a Labour gain by the exit poll. It was a middlingly good seat for UKIP in 2015, and a bit above average for age.

11.23pm. Exit poll broken down by age: 63-27 to Labour among 18-34; 43-43 among 35-54; 59-23 to Conservative among 55+.

11.20pm. Conservative sources expressing confidence the exit poll is wrong. But as Antony Green points out, the picture in the two constituencies that are in is complicated by the steep decline there of UKIP.

11.08pm. A second pro-Brexit Labour-held constituency, Houghton and Sunderland South, has the Conservatives outperforming the exit poll, with a 2% swing in their favour.

11.03pm. First result, from Newcastle upon Tyne Central, records 2% swing to Labour, which is less than the exit poll anticipated.

10.21pm. Britain Elects on Twitter: “Amber Rudd in trouble in Hastings & Rye (2015 Con +9), so says the BBC.”

10.19pm. Markets respond.

10.11pm. Labour MP John McDonnell “sounds rather doubtful that the exit poll is right”, at least in the view of Lord Ashcroft.

10.08pm. Antony Green points out the feted exit poll from 215 in fact under-predicted the Conservatives by 15 seats.

10.04pm. Another British election, another stimulating exit poll result. Conservatives to lose majority with 314 seats (326 required for majority) to 266 for Labour, 34 for Scottish Nationalists and 14 for the Liberal Democrats.

9.56pm. The Sun’s political editor on Twitter: “Scotland now looking really good for Tories, I’m told 10-12 gains from the SNP possible”.

9.55pm GMT. The final reading of the BludgerTrack UK poll aggregate: Conservative 43.0, Labour 36.8, Liberal Democrats 7.6, UKIP 4.2. Coming soon: the moment of high drama that is the announcement of the exit poll.

BludgerTrack UK: CON 43.0, LAB 38.0, LD 7.4, UKIP 4.1

Analysis of British election polling, and lots of of it.

With four days left to go, my trend measure of British opinion polls finds the gap continuing to narrow, with the Conservatives down 0.9% since last week to 43.0%, Labour up 2.6% to 38.0%, the Liberal Democrats down 0.5% to 7.4%, and Ukip up 0.1% to 4.1%. The Conservative lead of 5.0% is 1.5% less than the 2015 result, a swing that would give Labour a net gain of 10 seats from the Conservatives in England and Wales if uniform.

Then there’s Scotland, where a separately conducted poll trend calculation produces results of Scottish National Party 42.7% (down 7.3% on the 2015 election), Conservative 27.2% (up 12.3%), Labour 19.3% (down 5.0%) and Liberal Democrats 5.8% (down 1.7%). However, the error bars here are rather wide — most of the data points are small sample breakdowns from national polls, with the most recent Scotland-specific poll, from Ipsos-MORI a week ago, having Labour and the Conservatives level on 25%. For what it’s worth though, crudely applying these swings to the 2015 vote shares results in the SNP dropping eight of their 56 seats, with seven going to the Conservatives and one to the Liberal Democrats.

All told, that suggests a result of 327 seats for the Conservatives, down from 330 at the 2015 election, and 242 for Labour, up from 232, out of a total of 650 — assuming no change to the Liberal Democrats’ seven seats in England and Wales, and making no effort to account for the 18 seats in Northern Ireland.

As I discusssed at length in Crikey on Friday, the more interesting story to emerge from the polling is the disparity between voting intention of younger and older respondents, such that pollsters’ findings are heavily dependent on the relative weightings they apply to them. This is demonstrated in the chart below, which records Labour’s gain among respondents aged 18-34 has been twice as great at among those aged 55 and over, from a base that was already remarkably wide to start off with.

Age loomed large in the polling industry’s failure at the 2015 election, with Anthony Wells of YouGov and UK Polling Report observing that the single biggest issue was that pollsters surveyed “too many younger people who were too engaged and too interested in politics”. Broadly speaking, one of the approaches to dealing with this issue has been to construct turnout models based more on the age and class structure of the voting population at the 2015 election, as recorded by post-election surveys — and it is these pollsters who have recorded the strongest results for the Conservatives.

ComRes, ICM and Kantar have followed this pattern throughout the campaign, while Panelbase has done so since a methodology change that has applied to the latest two out of their six campaign polls. The effect in each case has been to downweight younger respondents, and hence support for Labour. If Labour’s hope of a turnout surge among younger voters is borne out, these polls will no doubt be found wanting.

Indeed, various other methodological adjustments by these pollsters appear to be producing a turnout population that is somewhat older than that in 2015 (see table below). In the case of ICM, which is weighting by self-identified political interest levels, one recent poll was calculated by Wells as producing a Conservative lead eight points greater than would have been the case using the pollsters’ 2015 models.

Survation, which famously produced an accurate result on the eve of the 2015 election but shied away from publishing it, has not made any radical changes to its methodology, which continues to rely heavily on self-identification for turnout. Its age structure has varied considerably from poll to poll, but overall it has projected stronger turnout among the young than in 2015, and has accordingly produced strong results for Labour.

ORB appears to be splitting the difference between self-identification and turnout by age and education as recorded in 2015, and has produced the strongest results of all for Labour — albeit that this is heavily influenced by one outlier result in late April, when it recorded a Conservative lead of a mere 11%, as opposed to the trend measure of 19.6% at that time.

YouGov has received considerable attention for its strong results for Labour late in the campaign, but it has only been since mid-May that any such lean has been evident. This pollster has sought to redress the failings of 2015 by weighting by self-identified political interest level and education qualification, again with the aim of matching their results to post-election surveys. Its age model makes it hard to compare with other pollsters, since it uniquely breaks the middle groupings into 25-49 and 50-64 cohorts. However, its modelled turnout population looks more like the population at large than turnout in 2015.

Another big-name pollster, Ipsos MORI, has persisted with weighting by self-identified likelihood of voting, and accordingly has a young turnout model as compared with the 2015 election. However, this has not translated into particularly strong results for Labour, albeit that it has only published three results in the course of the campaign. The pollster has sought to address the industry-wide problem with over-representing the heavily engaged by weighting by education and newspaper readership, and using a range of indicators to exclude potential non-voters.

Opinium has been an odd man out in that its age breakdowns resemble those of ComRes, ICM and Kantar, but it has not produced correspondingly strong results for the Conservatives. Whereas the latter pollsters have purposefully weighted to a specific age model, Opinium appears to have achieved a similar effect through weighting to reported vote in 2015.

For further illumination on these matters, the following table shows how much weight each pollster has given to its various age cohorts, using averages of their polling over the campaign period. The final column is an averaged measure of how much the pollsters’ recorded Conservative leads have differed from the trend measure.

And finally, self-explanatory trend charts with the Conservatives shown as blue, Labour as red, Ukip as purple, the Liberal Democrats as gold, and the Scottish Nationalist Party as teal.