Diplomats are predicting a hung parliament by a very narrow margin in the upcoming General Election, with the Tory party taking the most seats but not quite enough for a majority, according to respondents of the Embassy Election Survey 2019.
Asked to score the likelihood of a hung parliament, where 0 is ranked ‘highly unlikely’ and five is ‘highly likely’ the average score was 3, indicating that envoys believe a hung parliament is ‘quite likely’ and a majority government is ‘quite unlikely’.
Asked to predict which party will win the most seats, four out of five respondents (82%) believe the Conservative Party will be the biggest party, followed by Labour in second, then Lib Dems, Brexit Party and the Greens.
But with a margin of error of 10%, the diplomats’ forecast could easily go the other way. In conversations with diplomats on the circuit, a factor that could alter the outcome is the youth votes, as one diplomat remarked: “There are three million new voters on the register – mostly young voters – but will they actually turn up to vote?”
Most diplomats predict that tactical voting will change some seats but gains in some marginal constituencies are likely to be cancelled out by losses in others. The Brexit Party could take some seats off Labour in the leave-voting, anti-Tory Northeast and the Lib Dems could challenge the Tories in remain-voting London and their former heartlands of the Southwest.
Small parties and coalitions
Tracked over time, early survey results reported a Tory lead with Labour in second, and a fairly good showing among the smaller parties (Lib Dem and Brexit). However, as polling day has drawn nearer, the dial has moved away from the smaller parties, with Brexit losing to the Tories and Labour squeezing out the Lib Dems.
Diplomats have been surprised at how support for the Lib Dems, in particular, seems to have faded. Some cite their policy of revoking Article 50 as a tactical error. “It was a USP to distinguish themselves from Labour, but it doesn’t seem to have had much penetration in the remain-voting electorate,” one envoy told Embassy.
In the event of a hung Parliament, envoys are divided down the middle as to whether there will be a coalition government, scoring a likelihood of 2.5 – neither likely nor unlikely. Asked which combination of parties would be most likely to form a coalition, 57% believe the Conservative Party will form a coalition with one of the smaller parties – notably the Brexit Party, the DUP (but the Johnson Deal may prove problematic) and (surprisingly, given their pro-remain stance) the Lib Dems.
Broken down by region, in Scotland, 84% think SNP will romp home with the most seats, but what started as Labour in second, has turned into a tussle with the Scottish Conservatives. After a promising start, the Lib Dems have been squeezed by the SNP and now trail in fourth place according to diplomats.
In leave-voting Wales, diplomats predict some surprises. At the start of the campaign, Labour and Plaid Cymru were in the lead, with Labour just ahead. However in the last week of the campaign, envoys are predicting gains by Tories from both the Brexit and the Labour parties, while Labour may lose seats to Plaid, meaning in Wales the result, according to envoys, is too close to call.
Diplomats predict the DUP gain the most seats in pro-remain Northern Ireland, a sliver ahead of SDLP, who they predict are likely to make gains from votes that would normally go to Sinn Féin, who have stood aside for the SDLP in remain-voting constituencies. The SDLP may only gain three additional seats, but because their MPs take up their seats in Westminster, whereas abstentionist Sinn Féin MPs do not, this could make a difference in a close race where every seat counts.
Commenting on the campaign itself, diplomats have found it “polarised” with the issue of Brexit very dominant in the debates. “There has been too much focus on identity politics and not enough on policy,” another diplomat remarked.
In the first UK General Election held in December since 1923, one envoy joked about the election promises: “There seem to be lots of Santas giving away questionable gifts.” Asked what their wish from Santa would be for this Christmas election, the recurring response from diplomats has been: more clarity and stability in UK politics, please!