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Election 2015

Election 2015: who will win the UK general election?

Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Nigel Farage, party leaders

Polling day is drawing near - and with Ukip, the SNP and the Greens likely to take seats, anything could happen

LAST UPDATED AT 15:32 ON Fri 24 Apr 2015

With all the party manifestos published and the TV debates done and dusted, opinion polls suggest that the UK general election remains too close to call. 

The first televised debate failed to give any party a decisive boost, but the slugging match that followed over Trident and the tax arrangements of non-doms appeared to have put Labour on the front foot. Then came a surprise poll giving the Conservatives a six-point lead, and then the "Challengers Debate", which included the five main opposition leaders but neither David Cameron nor Nick Clegg. Most pundits suggested that either Ed Miliband or Nicola Sturgeon came out of that the strongest, but opinion was divided as to whether Cameron benefited or was damaged by his absence. 

When is the 2015 general election?

It will take place on Thursday 7 May, as decreed by the Fixed Term Parliament Act, introduced by the coalition early in this parliament. 

Who's going to win?

The most likely answer is that no-one will win, at least not with a majority. It looks like being the tightest general election for decades, and some polls are even suggesting that there could be a dead heat, with Labour and the Conservatives ending up with the same number of seats.

What do the polls say?
LAB CON LIB UKP GRN OTR
Populus 34 32 9 15 4 5
Ipsos Mori 35 33 7 10 8 6
Opinium 32 36 8 13 5 6
YouGov 35 33 7 13 5 7
ComRes 32 36 8 10 5 9
ICM 32 34 10 11 5 8
Survation 29 33 10 18 4 6
Panelbase 34 31 7 13 5 10
TNS 33 30 8 19 4 6
Ashcroft 33 33 9 13 6 6
BBC avg 33 34 9 13 5 6
And how would that translate into seats?

Electoral Calculus models polling across individual constituencies to come up with a prediction of how many seats each party will get. It predicts that Labour will be the biggest party by a slim margin, but will be 44 seats short of an overall majority.

LAB CON LIB UKP GRN SNP OTR
Vote 31.5 33.5 10.1 13.3 5.3 3.9 *
Seats 280 282 17 1 1 48 21*

* Plaid Cymru and Northern Irish parties.

How are the parties trying to win our vote?

Here's The Week's guides to the main parties' manifestos:

What happens if there's another hung parliament?

If no single party commands a majority, David Cameron will remain in office while negotiations take place between the parties. Convention suggests that the party with the largest number of seats will make the first attempt to form a stable government, either through formal coalition or a looser alliance of parties.

Is it curtains for the current coalition?

Probably, but not certainly. Most projections put the Conservatives well short of the 326 seats they would need to form a majority government, and the Lib Dems are unlikely to be left with enough MPs to make up the shortfall. Peter Kellner, the chairman of YouGov, had predicted that both the Tories and Lib Dems would do better than most polls are forecasting, and could end up with a narrow working majority between them. But recently, he says, "the facts have changed, so I have changed my mind." Kellner still predicts that voters will swing towards the Conservatives in the final days of the campaign, but not in sufficient numbers to keep Cameron in office. "My estimate puts the Tories just seven seats ahead of Labour," he writes. "This is well within the margin of error." Crucially, it would mean that even with the backing of the Lib Dems and DUP, the Conservatives would be outnumbered by Labour and the SNP.

Would the Lib Dems want to keep the existing coalition alive, even if they could?

The Lib Dem leadership has been careful to avoid ruling deals with either of the main parties in or out, and their manifesto was careful to leave room for negotiation with both the Conservatives and Labour. Many in the party would feel happier leaning leftwards towards Labour, and if Clegg loses his seat, which recent polling conducted by Lord Ashcroft suggests is possible, many analysts believe that his replacement as party leader would be much less enthusiastic about a second term in office as the Tories' junior partners.

What are the chances of Ukip gaining a lot of seats?

That depends on whether they can prevent their support leaking away before election day. Recent polls have showed them slipping from a high-water mark of 23 per cent to somewhere in the low teens - but even that would be a stunning increase from the 3 per cent share of the national vote they got at the 2010 general election.

However, Britain's first-past-the-post system does not favour minority parties, especially when their support is spread relatively evenly around the country. Indeed, Electoral Calculus suggests that Ukip will win just one seat if its share of the vote remains around 13 per cent. But if that national share rises, everything changes. An Electoral Calculus table suggests that with 20 per cent of the national vote, they could win eight seats; 24 per cent would produce 46 Ukip MPs and in the unlikely event that they hit 28 per cent they could become the second party – ahead of the Conservatives – with 140 seats.

One way to beat the first-past-the-post system is to follow the Lib Dems' example and target specific marginal seats where the two main parties are susceptible to a swing. Ukip are wise to this and say on their website that they will target "a significantly larger number of constituencies, including many in what have previously been regarded as safe Conservative and Labour heartlands".

They don't put a number on their hit list but an analysis of polls and demographic data by The Guardian early in the campaign suggested that five seats could fall to Ukip fairly easily and another 25 are vulnerable. Most of the vulnerable ones are currently Tory but some are key marginals that Labour are hoping to gain. Nevertheless, Ukip's support has slipped since that analysis was carried out, and it appears to be on a gradual downward trend.

Could Ukip affect who wins the 2015 general election?

If Ukip can win a total of 30 or more seats it could give them a say in who governs the country. That looks unlikely on current polling, but what will really count on 7 May is not how many seats Ukip wins, but how many votes they take from the Conservatives and Labour in marginal seats. Among switchers to Ukip, says Peter Kellner of YouGov, ex-Tory voters outnumber ex-Labour ones by a margin of three to one. In short, David Cameron could be denied his return to Downing Street by these Tory switchers.

Ukip insist they are a threat to Labour too, and trumpet the fact that they came within 617 votes of taking the recent Heywood and Middleton by-election. Polling by Lord Ashcroft has also found that "rising support for Ukip has eroded the swing to Labour" in Tory-Labour marginals.

But while Ukip's line on EU immigration and the Westminster "disconnect" is clearly popular with some traditional Labour supporters, opinion polling points to Farage’s troops being a far greater danger to the Tories than to Labour in terms of seats.

Can the Tories win an overall majority?

That seems unlikely. Amid all the uncertainties surrounding this election, there is one safe bet – that no party will gain a majority, for which they would need 326 seats. They didn't manage it last time and that was before the rise of Ukip. Recent opinion polls suggest that the Tories will win somewhere in the region of 280 seats.

What about a Tory coalition with Ukip? 

Many right-wing eurosceptic Tories would love to go into coalition with Ukip, but David Cameron has ruled this out. Nigel Farage is also thought to be against the idea: the Ukip leader has made it clear that he sees Cameron as a metropolitan modernist who is personally responsible for driving away traditional Tory voters (into the arms of Ukip) and insulting them as they go.

There is a widely held theory that Farage wants to see the Tories lose office and a weak Miliband government rule for one term while the Right fractures and regroups under a new leadership. 

However, there is one possible scenario that could see the Tories and Ukip govern together as of next year: if the Tories can come out of the election as the largest party, might Cameron step aside for a new leader – possibly Theresa May, possibly Boris Johnson, who has been making Ukip-friendly noises in recent months – who would do a deal with Farage to govern in coalition? At this point, it still seems like a long shot. 

Can Labour form the next government?

Despite Ed Miliband’s poor personal rating, Labour seemed – until recently – to have a reasonable chance of winning power and ruling on their own. Over the past few months, however, the Labour poll average has slipped from 37 per cent to about 33 or 34 per cent, even as Miliband's personal rating has increased.

Even so, Labour might have hoped to squeak a majority if it wasn't for Scotland. Polls pointing to a SNP landslide and the destruction of Labour's long-time dominance north of the border, although more recent figures indicate that while the SNP is still on course to double its vote on 7 May, its lead over Labour appears to have diminished from a stunning 20 points to a more sober ten points

Unless Labour can roll back the SNP surge between now and the election (and if anything the reverse seems to be happening), Miliband's best hope seems to be to come out of the general election leading the biggest party and in a position to form a coalition – or enter into a pact – with a minority party that would allow him to govern. 

The latest Electoral Calculus projection – which takes into account the SNP surge – shows Labour achieving 280 seats, just behind the Tories on 280. The SNP would have 48 and the Lib Dems 17. This assumes that Ukip has only one seat, but if Ukip's gains came mainly as a result of Tory losses, Labour may end up the largest party. 

Could Miliband do a deal with the Liberal Democrats?

We're now down to basic arithmetic and who can stand working with whom.

Assuming the Lib Dems were prepared to enter an agreement with Labour – perhaps with the more Labour-friendly Vince Cable replacing Nick Clegg as party leader and deputy prime minister – the Lib Dems would need to do a lot better than their projected 17 seats to make up the numbers. 

If Labour do better against the SNP than expected and come out with 300 seats, the Lib Dems would also need to have hung onto 26 of their current 56 to allow the two parties together to hit the 326 mark. Some analysts believe the Lib Dems can achieve that, but it would be a stretch for both parties.

What about a Labour-SNP deal?

On current projections, an arrangement between Labour and the SNP is the only combination that produces a Commons majority - adding together Labour's 280 or so seats and about 50 from the SNP. Hence the intriguing prospect, outlined by The Mole, of Alex Salmond becoming deputy prime minister of the UK, an entity he wants to break up. 

Both Salmond and his successor as leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, have said that they would be prepared to work with Labour in government (and vowed not to support a Conservative-led government). In the Challengers Debate, Sturgeon repeatedly said that she would support a Labour government, as long as it was sufficiently different from the Tories, but Miliband rejected the idea out of hand. There were two many differences between Labour and the SNP he said, and he could not go into coalition with a party that wanted to break up the UK. Still, many believe that some kind of a deal could be struck. Deutsche Bank has suggested that a Labour-SNP deal will be the most likely outcome in this year's general election.

What about a Labour deal with all the left-leaning parties except the SNP?

If Ed Miliband is serious about snubbing the SNP, he may try to put together a government that involves the Lib Dems and a range of small parties. The Greens (likely to have one seat) and Plaid Cymru (three seats) have both said that they would be prepared to vote with Labour on a case-by-case basis, and in Northern Ireland the SDLP (three seats) would be natural allies. The DUP (nine seats), which would usually lean more to the right, has also kept open the option of doing a deal with Labour. Elections Etc says that only if this grouping failed to provide a majority would Labour "look to the SNP to sustain them in government". If the Lib Dems could get 20 seats and the smaller parties achieve their expected 16, Labour would need 290 seats (or 287 if Sinn Fein win five seats and leave them vacant). On present projections Labour would fall short, but only just.

What about minority government – could it happen and how does it work?

In 2010 David Cameron opted to negotiate a full-blown coalition with the Lib Dems rather than a less formal "confidence and supply" (C&S) arrangement. As The Guardian explained at the time, under a C&S deal the smaller party – or parties – agrees to support the larger party on its Budget and in any vote of no confidence, should one be tabled. Otherwise, every government policy would have to be assessed to check that it would be supported by the smaller party or parties. 

Both Cameron and Miliband could consider this option if they find themselves leading the largest party but are unable pass the 326-seat mark. Cameron could suggest a C&S deal to the Lib Dems in place of a second formal coalition or to Ukip if they win enough seats. (The personal animosity between Cameron and Farage might make coalition impossible – see above – but need not rule out a C&S deal.) Miliband could make a similar approach to the Lib Dems or the SNP.

The last time we saw this scenario was when the February 1974 general election produced a hung parliament. The defeated Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath got the first chance to form a government but his negotiations with the Liberals failed. Labour leader Harold Wilson decided to rule as a minority government. 

Wilson's plan was to gain a quick poll boost by introducing popular policies and then seek an overall majority at a second general election, which he duly called in October, winning a small majority. 

There's just one problem. The Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 would deny either Cameron or Miliband the right to call the second election. Five full years of minority government could prove intolerable for the parties concerned, not to mention the electorate.

So, what's the most likely outcome?

As things stand, a hung parliament is by far the likeliest outcome, and either of the two main parties could end up with the most seats. The Tories would need to enjoy a massive surge in support between now and the election to win a majority, but a relatively small swing would make them the largest party. The polls suggest that this has not yet happened, but many analysts still believe it will - and some are seeing a glimmer of hope for Cameron in the latest data.

Might the UK face a second general election in 2015?

Maybe, but the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 makes that less likely. Previously, the government of the day could pick the date of a general election. A party might therefore hope to govern as a minority for a year or two, pass some popular laws and then go to the polls for a new mandate. But fixed, five-year terms mean that a prime minister can't simply call an election, and nor does losing a vote of confidence immediately trigger one. Instead, Parliament's website explains, an early election can only be held "if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days", or "if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House". So if, for example, a minority Conservative government failed to pass its Queen's Speech and then lost a confidence vote, Labour would have two weeks in which to put together a coalition or pact, and could form a new government without going to the polls again.

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