British general election: What went wrong?

 

Hung parliament

COURIER MAIL

 

Readers, I failed you.

In my last post, I predicted that the Conservatives would win a comfortable majority in the British general election, which turned out to be spectacularly wrong. It is true that many pollsters, pundits and political experts also got it wrong, but this provides me with scant comfort as Forecasting Intelligence (“FI”) is supposed to be superior to the conventional wisdom of the Pundocracy.

The writer John Greer, whose book I have reviewed before, wrote an article (which is no longer online), when Jeremy Corbyn (“Corbyn”) got elected Labour leader in 2015, predicting the Corbyn surge. He argued, presciently, that Corbyn’s Bennite brand of old-school socialism offered an alternative to a set of economic and political policies that had failed the majority of the population. The stagnating wages, the growing income inequality between rich and poor and the nearly decade of austerity by the ruling Conservative Party would inevitably lead to an electoral backlash.

A young person growing up in 21st century Great Britain in the twilight era of a declining industrial civilisation faces the prospect of crippling student debt, a ferocious competition for good quality jobs, sky high housing prices and  overwhelmed public services heaving from the burdens of an ageing society, mass migration and years of public sector austerity. I haven’t even mentioned the growing but partially hidden crises of climate change, resource depletion and the massive army of jihadi extremists walking our streets. The truth is that the Tories under Theresa May had nothing to offer younger voters and this was reflected in the ballot box.

Yet, I anticipated this aspect of the election in my blog, predicting that Labour would do well in the university towns (for example Cambridge, Oxford, Bath and Canterbury) and the metropolitan cities, for example London seats like Battersea where the Tories lost an 8,000 majority to Labour. Whilst I didn’t specifically write about Scotland in this general election, the huge anti-SNP tactical voting validated my prediction made last year that we would not see another “Indyref2” referendum anytime soon.

It was in the Midlands and the North of England, the Brexit Rust Belt constituencies, which failed to swing Conservative which destroyed the Tories chances of a comfortable majority. It was also the basis for my forecast of an enlarged Tory majority.

During my pre-election review, prior to writing my post, I struggled to find any writers among the Corbyn Left, who expected anything other then a disastrous defeat for Labour in the Brexit northern heartlands. It was the overwhelming consensus from Labour MP’s, activists and pollsters that Corbyn was toxic for many traditional Labour voters and as a consequence the Tories would sweep the board. This turned out to be massive political intelligence failure by both political parties. My mistake was to assume that Labour campaign headquarters had accurately read the mood of their own supporters.

However, there were clear signals throughout the campaign that something was going disastrously wrong for the Tories. The Yougov experimental poll predicting a hung parliament turned out to be spot on. The writer Rod Liddle in the Spectator wrote during the election campaign that many northern Labour and UKIP voters were turning to Labour rather then the Tories as expected. Similarly, the moment when the BBC Question Time audience laughed at Theresa May when Jeremy Paxman accused her of being a blowhard should have raised a bigger alarm bell with me then it did. When the electorate are laughing at you, it is a sure sign of danger, as Ed Miliband and David Cameron can both attest to.

What worked in the 2015 general election failed in this election. In May 2015, David Cameron won a shock majority despite all the polling evidence to the contrary. Although it was pre-FI, I successfully forecast the Tory majority, and placed money on it on the political betting markets, using the underlying polling data on perceptions of economic competence and leadership. David Cameron had a significant lead over the Labour leader Ed Miliband on who was more trusted to run the economy and be the best Prime Minister. In the end, despite what the surface polling indicated, the voters went for the party who was best judged to run the country best.

This time around it was different. Whilst Theresa May enjoyed significant leads on both issues going into Election Day, her likability and favourability ratings had collapsed compared to the surging Corbyn. Throw in the political uncertainty of Brexit and the clear desire for revenge among many Remain voters, and the normal rules of politics were thrown away. Across the Western world, electorates are increasingly prepared to vote for change candidates who are perceived to be outside the despised political class. Emmanuel Macron brilliantly positioned himself as an outsider of a corrupt and failed Parisian political establishment and swept to power on that same anti-establishment wave.

When the dominant political and economic ideology, neo-liberalism, fails the majority of the electorate, people will vote for a leader who offers an alternative assuming that they are sufficiently charismatic and plausible. This is the lesson for the Tories, who failed to own the “change” message, and suffered accordingly.

Corbyn was successful because he was charismatic, offered a set of policies that appealed to many voters, particularly younger voters, and promised a New Jerusalem to a population increasingly tired of a failing business as usual status quo. The Labour party played a superb game on Brexit, appealing to middle class Remain voters who want a soft Brexit whilst signalling to their traditional base in the north that they would restrict immigration through a hard Brexit. At some point Corbyn will have to choose between a soft or hard Brexit and will end up disappointing one side or another of his new electoral coalition. Whether it is Great Grimsby or Kensington and Chelsea remains to be seen.

The writer John Greer has a chilling warning to those who dismissed Corbyn’s chances in a general election, “…the British politicians and pundits who are busy decrying Corbyn’s election just now might want to temper their rage and consider the alternatives: if Corbyn fails, Nigel Farage and the UKIP party are waiting in the wings to harness the public’s frustration with the abject failure of business as usual, and if Farage falls in his turn, what replaces him could be much, much worse.”

After Trump, Brexit and the Corbyn surge, who would now dare dismiss such a warning?

There is no doubt, to paraphrase the old Chinese curse, that we live in interesting times…

British general election: What went wrong?

British general election: Final forecasting prediction

2010 General Election Polling Day

UKIPDAILY

 

The British electorate will be voting tomorrow in the snap general election called by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May. The polls have been variable, with Yougov predicting a hung parliament and other pollsters predicting a landslide victory for the Tories.

The Tories have not had a great campaign with the dementia tax u turn damaging Theresa May’s (May) mantra of “strong and stable” leadership. The average of the polls show the Tories took a modest hit in their support, dropping from 47% to 43% since the launch of their manifesto.

The biggest story of the campaign is the better then expected performance by Jeremy Corbyn (Corbyn), which I warned was a possibility, when previewing the snap general election in April. Corbyn’s energetic and impassioned performance on the campaign trail has galvanised the Labour core vote and enthused non-voters, including many younger voters.

Corbyn’s soft socialist manifesto, including higher taxes for the wealthy, increased corporation tax for business and nationalisation of the railways, has proved popular with sections of the electorate. Labour under Corbyn has consolidated the left of the British electorate at the expense of the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Subsequently Labour’s ratings in the polls have surged into the mid-thirties during the course of the campaign.

However, as I warned in a post last year, concerns about whether Corbyn is “soft” on national security, immigration and representing Britain in the difficult Brexit negotiations have proved toxic on the doorsteps. This has proved particularly damaging in Labour’s heartlands in the Midlands and the north.

Having reviewed the forecasts on the likely outcome of the British general election, two schools of thought have emerged. The first school bases itself on the current average polling, with the Tories on a 7% lead, leading to the most likely outcome of a 60-70 seat majority for the Tories. Nadeem Walayat, who has successfully forecast the Leave, Trump and 2015 Tory victory, has forecast a Tory majority of 66. Lord Ashcroft has predicted a Tory majority of 64 based on his own polling models.

The other school of thought is that the Tories will do better then expected on the night, as has happened in every British general election (barring 1983) for nearly fifty years. When reviewing the underlying polling data May enjoys double digit leads on who will best manage the economy, run the country and negotiate the best outcome in the Brexit negotiations. In the Mail on Sunday poll, which showed a Tory lead of only 1%, 53% of the electorate trusted Theresa May to defend Britain versus only 25% for Jeremy Corbyn.

Whilst it is not impossible that the normal rules of politics are overturned this time, it is still unlikely that the British electorate will vote for Labour in sufficient numbers considering their huge concerns about Jeremy Corbyn. It is for this reason that Michael Moszynski, who successfully predicted the 2015 Tory victory and the Leave result, has forecast that the Tories will win a majority of 104. It is also worth considering that Nadeem Walayat has stated that his second most likely scenario is a Tory majority of above 100 seats.

The surge in Labour support is overwhelmingly based in the metropolitan big cities and the university towns which already have mainly Labour MP’s. As Stephen Bush writes in the New Statesman, “…the Labour people who are sounding cheery – there are some – tend to be campaigning in big cities or university towns.” Outside these bubbles of Corbynmania, the picture looks grim for Labour, and the Conservatives are quietly confident of picking up droves of marginal seats in the West and East Midlands, in the north-east and Yorkshire, and in some of the outer London constituencies.

Overall, I continue to stand by my forecasting prediction, made on 20th April, that the Conservatives will win this general election by an enlarged majority (85% probabilistic chance).

In regard to the size of the Conservative majority, my forecast is that the Tories will win a majority of 104 seats.*

In regard to those forecasts of a smaller Tory majority (e.g. 60 to 70) I would consider these to be the second most likely scenario after a Tory majority of 3 digits.

We will find out whether I am right in the early hours of Friday morning.

* Please note that my forecasting prediction made on 20th April is not predicated on successfully predicting the size of the Conservative majority, only that the Tories will increase their majority.

British general election: Final forecasting prediction

Keep calm and carry on

Manchester

TELEGRAPH

On Monday 22 May 2017 my worst fears came true.

Salman Abedi, a 22 years old jihadi, was waiting in the foray of the Manchester Arena as young girls came out of a pop concert. Abedi blew himself up with a home made bomb, killing 22 and maiming dozens more, some for the rest of their life.

Last year, when discussing the growing threat posed by Islamist terrorism, I warned that jihadi terrorists would start deliberately targeting children. Tragically this warning has now come true.

The response from the public was overwhelmingly that we will not let this affect our lives and it is an understandable response. It is encapsulated in the slogan “Keep calm and carry on”. Yet, the time for platitudes, messages of solidarity and one minute silences, worthy as they are, cannot be the only response to this deadly threat.

It is time that our media and political elites start being honest with the general public about the scale of the threat, the nature of the ideology that drives young men to slaughter innocent men, women and children and the steps we could take to contain the threat.

As James Forsyth writes in his weekly column, the reality is that our security services are increasingly overwhelmed by the scale of the threat posed by radicalised terrorists. The security agencies have confirmed that there are 23,000 extremists on their radar but only 3,000 can be actually monitored at any time. Indeed, “…the reason the number of persons of interest to the security services has remained at 3,000 for so long is that the security services are operating an informal one in, one out policy. So no one can be added to this list unless someone else is taken off.”

Think about that for the moment. There could be hundreds, if not thousands, of dangerous extremists who should be monitored by the security agencies but who aren’t, as the resources simply aren’t available. The intelligence officers tasked with preventing terrorist attacks are playing God; taking a calculated risk that one potential terrorist is a greater threat then another radicalised extremist.

The truth is that our government has lost control of this problem.

I watched the BBC coverage in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing and not once was the issue of the radical Islamist ideology that drives these attackers discussed by the media talking heads. It is impossible to understand and defeat this insidious enemy if we are not prepared to call it for what it is, which is Islamic terrorism.

These jihadi terrorists are taught a selective and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam which worships the slaughter of infidels, the creation of a sharia based Islamic state which will conquer the non-Muslim world. They justify their actions by quoting the actions and words of the Prophet Mohammed.

This is a sensitive subject for obvious reasons, but my own reading suggests that there are two parallel interpretations within the Koran, a peaceful and aggressive interpretation, and both have theological roots going back to the beginning of Islam. As David Goldman, writing on this subject in Asian Times notes, “…there are two readings of the Qur’an and the Sunna (Islamic traditions connected to Muhammad): one that opts for the verses that encourage tolerance toward other believers, and one that prefers the verses that encourage conflict. Both readings are legitimate.”  

Thankfully, the vast majority of Muslims subscribe to the tolerant and peaceful interpretation of Islam, which is a blessing. Yet, in the absence of an Islamic Pope to make a final judgement and conduct a reform of the holy texts, the fundamentalist strand of Islamist thought will continue to exist within the Muslim world. The challenge for Britain and other countries is to contain and preferably destroy this extremist version from their societies.

Tarique Ghaffur, a Muslim former police chief, has publically called for the creation of special internment centres for the most dangerous jihadi extremists. These internment camps would work closely with Muslim religious authorities in removing these dangerous individuals from society and de-radicalising them with the assistance of moderate clerics. Colonel Richard Kemp, writing in the Telegraph, has also called for the internment of the most dangerous extremists, the deportation of foreign extremists residing in the United Kingdom (“UK”) and travel bans on jihadi’s who have gone abroad to fight for the so-called Islamic State (“ISIS”).

The above steps, if taken prior to the Manchester bombing, would have prevented Salmon Abedi from returning to the UK and carrying out his deadly attack. If the government does not take these steps then further terror attacks are almost certainly inevitable and more people will die over the coming years.

Having read extensively on the intelligence and security threat posed, I consider that the UK, in the absence of the internment of the most dangerous jihadi extremists, will face further deadly attacks in the coming years. Just as France experienced a series of jihadi terror attacks, culminating in the horrific Paris attacks which killed over a hundred French citizens in November 2015, Britain is on the same path.

At some point in the coming years, Britain will experience a terrorist attack on a similar scale to the Paris atrocity, and the government will be forced to implement a state of emergency. Internment, deportation and strict immigration controls will be put in place because the general public will demand a muscular response to this growing threat.

The tragic question is how many more innocent people have to die before such action is finally taken by our government?

Keep calm and carry on

French presidential elections: Final forecast

It’s nearly over.

The exit results will be published within the hour for the French presidential elections. All the opinion polls have shown that Emmanuel Macron (“Macron”) has consolidated his comfortable lead over Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen”) and the betting markets are overwhelmingly predicting a Macron victory.

The presidential debate held on Wednesday was the last big opportunity for Le Pen to build momentum going into the final days of the campaign. What she needed to do was reassure undecided voters that she could be trusted to take over the country, would not plunge the country into economic chaos and civil unrest and would restore order to a nation troubled by a series of jihadi terror attacks.

Whilst her aggressively populist pitch may have worked well with elements of her core base, it didn’t reach out to Fillon voters, who were most likely to switch to Le Pen. I noted in a previous post that the “silver voters” were the key kingmakers of this election and that Le Pen was struggling to get over 40% in the polls due to hostility to the National Front/Le Pen brand and opposition to her anti-Euro/Frexit economic agenda.

Some pundits have argued that Le Pen never had a chance of winning as the so-called Republican Front would mobilise to prevent her from winning. Yet, polling showed that Le Pen would have defeated President Hollande if he had got into the second round. Clearly, if the mainstream candidate was unpopular enough, Le Pen could win a presidential election.

For Le Pen to win tonight, she will need to capture the “silver voters” and persuade sufficient numbers on the Left not to vote for Macron. If I had been her campaign manager, I would have ditched the unpopular anti-Euro policy early on and aggressively courted conservative voters by building alliances with mainstream Conservative Right politicians to assuage concerns about a Le Pen presidency.

The other issue which a lacklustre Le Pen campaign has struggled with is its core messaging. The core patriots versus globalist narrative that Le Pen has pushed for month’s turns out to have confused their core working class vote. Messaging matters in elections.

The Leave campaign stumbled upon the brilliant “take back control” message which was simple, effective and resonated with the British population. Le Pen’s campaign team appear not to have done the basics, focus polling their messages and seeing what would work best with their core and potential voters. The change in their message in the last weeks of the campaign to “protection” was probably a case of too little too late.

At the beginning of the year I predicted, with a 60% probabilistic rating, that Le Pen would get into the second round and go on to win the election. Whilst I clearly got the first part of my forecast right, it appears likely that the second half of my prediction will be proven wrong tonight. Whilst the majority of the underlying polling data indicated that Le Pen’s “France first” could resonate with the majority of the population, a superb campaign and exceptional debating performances by Le Pen, was also a prerequisite for pulling of a victory. At the end of the day, the campaign and the leader matter as much as the underlying mood of the country, as the Leave campaign can testify.

We will shortly see whether Le Pen has done better then the surface polling suggests, and has narrowed or even won the election. The lower turnout might strengthen her final result, but I maintain that the most likely outcome will be a victory by Macron.

French presidential elections: Final forecast

French presidential elections: And then there were two!

1st round result

Source: CNBC

“A week is a long time in politics”

Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson

It’s less then two weeks before the presidential election and the polls show that the centrist candidate has a commanding lead over the populist challenger. The consensus of the political experts is overwhelming. The race is over.

No, I am not referring to the current French presidential elections but the US presidential elections held last year. As an example, this Telegraph article dated 27 October, headlined with the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton enjoying a massive 14 point lead and went on to describe the virtually inevitable political fallout of her victory on Election Day.

Of course, just because the experts have been wrong before doesn’t mean they are wrong this time.

Indeed, the 1st round of the French elections was striking for the lack of surprises. No hidden Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen“) vote. No unexpected surge of support for the conservative Francois Fillon (“Fillon“). The Emmanuel Macron (“Macron“) vote remained firm despite the risk of undecided voters floating away to other candidates.

Le Pen has had a lacklustre campaign and her polling has dropped from a peak of 27% to 22% in the final count as voters moved away to the hard left Eurosceptic challenger Melenchon. Yet, the relatively poor performance of the populist hard right is in no way indicative of a broader rejection of anti-establishment populism by the French electorate.

As Ambrose Evans Pritchard notes in the Telegraph, 48pc of the French population “…voted for movements – from the hard-Left to the hard-Right – that fundamentally reject the EU as currently structured, with the sovereignty candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan winning 1.7m votes on a pure anti-EU ticket”. In other words, approximately half the French population rejected the pro-European establishment personified by the politics of Macron.

french-map-xlarge_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqqVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8

Source: Telegraph

From a historical perspective, Le Pen performed very well, and her entry into the second round is an historical success for the nationalist hard right. As the above map shows, Le Pen came first across broad swathes of France, with certain regions of the north-eastern Rust Belt polling above 30%. This is a massive step forward from the elections held in 2012, let alone the electoral drubbing her father received in 2002.

Taking this into consideration the fact remains that the overwhelming consensus is that Macron will comfortably defeat Le Pen on 7 May 2017.  This is backed up by the polling evidence which suggests that Le Pen will struggle to get more then 40% of the vote.

It is interesting to note that according to Opinionway, the issue of security and terrorism is a top priority for approximately 40% of the electorate. The same proportion of the electorate plan to vote for the National Front in the second round. The bad news for Le Pen is that whilst there is likely to be a correlation between the issue of security and voting support for the populist hard right, the issue of terrorism is not the top concern for the majority of the French electorate.

As noted in a previous post, the over 65 voters who preferred the Republican candidate Fillon will be the main kingmakers in this election. These “silver voters” are socially conservative, support membership of the Euro and the European Union and wish to see a muscular approach to the threat posed by jihadi terrorism and the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism. The silver vote remained loyal to Fillon despite the corruption scandals and are now potentially in play for both candidates.

Le Pen and her inner circle have clearly been making steps to address the two biggest challenges to converting these voters, the first being the lingering toxicity of the National Front brand and the second the fear provoked by her economic plans to leave the eurozone. For pensioners relying on their savings, exiting the euro would likely lead to a significant depreciation of the value of their assets, potentially crippling the finances of a retired voter.

The decision to temporarily step down as leader of the National Front and to appoint the mainstream conservative Nicolas Dupont-Aignan as her proposed Prime Minister are further steps in distancing herself from the National Front. They are principally designed to reassure conservative voters who are open to voting for Le Pen in the second round.

It is potentially more significant that media reports are suggesting that a potential Le Pen/Dupont-Aignan government would not proceed with plans to call a referendum on leaving the Euro and the European Union. If true the main obstacle for the Catholic Right electoral block to switch to Le Pen has been removed. It has been calculated that Le Pen lost 4% of the electorate in the 2012 presidential elections due to its anti-euro stance.

The presidential debate due on 3rd May will be critical to Le Pen’s chances. If she performs well, reassures conservative voters fearful of her economic agenda and provokes Macron into a series of blunders, you may see a surge of support for the hard right candidate in the polls.

Many voters complain that they don’t know what Macron stands for and if, under pressure, he comes out with statements that shock both the Left and Right, it will drive further voters to either abstain or turn to Le Pen. Macron has stated publicly his support for Angela Merkel’s controversial decision to open the borders to over a million Muslim migrants in 2015. The centrist candidate has also argued that France will be unable to stop the further mass migration of refugees into Europe. A population where a majority (60%) would back a total ban on migration from majority Muslim countries would likely be appalled by such comments in a nationally televised debate.

The Republican Front is fracturing, with the hard left populist Melenchon refusing to endorse Macron and the conservative politician Nicolas Dupont-Aignan joining forces with Le Pen. It is true that the established parties have endorsed Macron but it remains an open question whether the Left will come out in force for an ex-Rothschild banker and supporter of globalisation.

There is a narrow path to victory for Le Pen which will rely on mass abstention from the Left, the conversion of the Catholic Right and a strong turnout by her core blue-collar vote on 7 May. A prerequisite of such a scenario will be a breakthrough in the 40% polling ceiling in the coming week. Without that surge in support, as the successful forecaster Nadeem Walayat notes, it is highly unlikely that Le Pen can win the election.

Should Le Pen see a surge in support in the coming week and hit the mid-40’s, the hard right leader will be within the margin of error of victory, as noted by the French political scientist Serge Galam.

Galam has argued in a mathematical paper that should Le Pen voters turn out in greater numbers then the Macron vote, Le Pen can win even though she trails in the opinion polls. As an example, “if Le Pen is projected to lose by 45 to 55 percent in the runoff, she could win if turnout for her is 85 percent versus 70 percent for her rival, for an overall turnout of 77 percent.”

Overall, my current forecast, as at the current state of play, is that Macron will defeat Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election.

I will be providing a final forecasting update on the likely winner of the presidential election in a week’s time.

British general election – probabilistic forecast update

I recently reviewed the British general election which you can read here.

My probabilistic forecast is that the Conservative Party has an 85% chance of winning with an enlarged majority in the House of Commons.

French presidential elections: And then there were two!

FI Special: the British general election and a 1st round French presidential election forecast

 

General-election-2017-Theresa-May-why-June-8-903869

Last year I warned of the possibility that Prime Minister Theresa May would go for a snap general election in either the spring or autumn of 2017 prior to the beginning of the serious Brexit negotiations. As it happens, the logic of calling an early general election has clearly become overwhelming for the Conservative leader, with the general election to be held on Thursday 8 June.

On the face of it, the outcome appears to be a forgone conclusion. The opinion polls all show that the Conservative Party has a strong and consistent lead over the Labour Party, with a Yougov poll showing the Tories with a massive lead of 48%, versus a second place Labour party, at 24%. As long standing readers of this blog know, surface polling should be read in conjunction with deeper underlying polling of the electorate to get an accurate sense of the public mood. What does the underlying polling data tell us?

According to the Yougov polling data, the Tories have a commanding lead on the critical issue of economic competence, with a 24% lead on this issue. When it comes to leadership, 54% of the electorate think that Theresa May makes the best Prime Minister compared to only 15% for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party. On the two most critical issues for the average voter, perceptions of economic competence and leadership calibre, the Conservatives are massively ahead in the polls.

The underlying polling data provides little to no comfort to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and would indicate that the Conservative lead in the polls is durable and not a mirage. However, there are a number of factors that could contain any potentially huge increase in the Conservative majority. The first is low turnout by soft Tory voters who may feel that there is little point of turning up at the ballot box since Labour has no realistic chance of winning the election. This would be amplified if they voted Remain during the Brexit referendum as Theresa May has embraced the Brexit cause since coming to power.

The Liberal Democrats are likely to see a revival in their fortunes since their electoral drubbing in the 2015 general election. The Liberals have become the go to option for those voters angry about the Brexit result and who wish to attempt to reverse the decision to exit the European Union. The Liberals are likely to regain seats from the Tories in London as well as the south-west. Tactical voting by Remain voters, some of them soft Tory’s, could impact seats in the affluent south of the country.

The Conservatives hope to gain dozens of Labour marginal seats where majorities voted to leave the European Union. Considering the dire state of the Labour party this is likely and will compensate for the potential loss of seats to the pro-European Liberals. The anti-EU UKIP party is crumbling in the polls as its supporters defect to the pro-Brexit Tories. The combination of the return of UKIP voters and Leave voting soft Labour voters should be sufficient to turn a considerable number of Labour seats blue on 8 June.

Whilst the possibility of a Labour government is not impossible, it seems highly unlikely as a political outcome, taken the above factors into consideration. My forecast is a Conservative victory with an enlarged majority but it is too early to predict how big the majority may be.

Should Jeremy Corbyn perform better then expected during the campaign, the current talk of a landslide victory of over a 100 seats will look increasingly out of touch should the polls start to narrow. A major gaffe by the Labour leader could lead to a further collapse in Labour support (down to 20%) and push the Tories close to or above 50%, leading to the possibility of a 1997 style defenestration of the Labour party.

I will provide an updated forecast of the British general election result as the campaign develops.

1st round French presidential election forecast

The 1st round of the French presidential election race is nearing this Sunday 23rd April and the polls indicate that all four main candidates have a reasonable chance of getting into the second round.

I recently wrote that the reader should prepare for the unexpected and I consider this still to be the case. At the beginning of the year I warned that there was a possibility that Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen”) may not get to the second round, which was one of the reasons why I only gave a 60% probability chance of Le Pen winning the French presidency.  This is one of a number of possible scenarios, including Melenchon getting into the final two or Fillon performing better then expected which could happen this weekend.

I wasn’t planning to forecast the likely winners of the 1st round due to the extraordinary volatility of the French electorate and the difficulty of picking out the winners of a crowded four horse race. This remains the case.

However, my reading of the French electorate does indicate to me that on a balance of probabilities the most likely outcome of the 1st round will be Le Pen winning with Fillon coming second. Please note that this is a very tentative forecasting prediction and all four main candidates, Le Pen, Fillon, Macron and Melenchon have a plausible chance of getting into the second round.

The reason why I think that Le Pen and Fillon may have the edge is that France profonde, conservative, patriotic and the backbone of French society, will turn out in force for both Le Pen and Fillon. Both candidates have committed supporters and for different reasons feel deeply alienated and angry about the direction the country is going.

The Bloomberg article on the provincial town of Donzy may prove to be a canary in a coal mine.

Of course, I may be wrong and if I am honest, this has been the toughest forecast to make to date since launching the FI blog. We will find out on Sunday if my forecast turns out to be correct.

Whatever happens, I recommend preparing for the unexpected.

FI Special: the British general election and a 1st round French presidential election forecast

Expect the unexpected

The truth is that nobody knows what the results will be in the 1st round of the French presidential elections due next Sunday 23rd April 2017. The single most salient fact in this extraordinarily volatile election is that approximately 40% of the French electorate are undecided. Significant swings could happen on the day of the election which should be taken into consideration when reviewing the polling data.

I would therefore recommend that readers should treat with skepticism the predictions of anybody, including myself, on what the outcome will be.

Given the huge numbers of undecided voters and the political upheavals within the Republican and Socialist party primaries, I would not be surprised if further unexpected electoral shocks will be dealt by an angry and anti-establishment minded French electorate.

I will therefore outline a number of potential electoral shock scenarios which could happen in the 1st round, based on my reading of the presidential race to date.

Francois Fillon (“Fillon”)

The French conservative candidate has survived a series of bruising corruption scandals and is currently around 18% in the polls, behind both Macron and Le Pen. As Ambrose Evans Pritchard argues in the Telegraph, Fillon is an experienced, solid and presidential candidate who may yet see a revival of his political fortunes as the French public turn to a safe pair of hands. Fillon is from the political mainstream, is tough on security and is clearly the most statesmen-like of the candidates in the contest.

It is plausible that centre-right voters who are flirting with voting for Macron will return to the Republican fold, ensuring that Fillon does better then expected on election night.

Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen”)

Le Pen has consistently polled around 25% of the vote and has the most committed support base of all the candidates. Most pundits, including myself, consider it likely that she will end up going into the second round.

One possibility is that Le Pen will under perform on the night as traditional National Front voters, who dislike her anti-Euro/EU views, defect to Fillon. Fillon’s pro-business, socially conservative and pro-Euro stances could resonate with elements of the National Front electoral base. The Dutch populist politician Gert Wilders found that the centre-right Mark Rutte’s hard-line policies on security leached voters away from his own party. Fillon’s own strong positioning on the rising threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism could have a similar role in the French elections.

The other shock scenario is that Le Pen will out-perform expectations, hitting close to or above 30% in the 1st round. The bellwether town of Donzy in Burgundy has a record of accurately reflecting the national vote and informal polling suggests that Le Pen will do considerably better then the national polling suggests in the 1st round.  It is clear in the Bloomberg article that not everybody is comfortable with admitting that they plan to vote for Le Pen, which suggests a potential shy Le Pen vote, in force. One has to wonder if some of the “undecided” voters don’t want to admit to a pollster that they plan to vote for the National Front.

There is some evidence to suggest that this is a real trend. Polling during the US elections which asked voters who they thought their neighbours and friends would vote for was more accurate then the official polling data, suggesting that there was a “shy Trump” force at work which manifested itself on election night, as I predicted before the election. A similar poll recently conducted in France “…asked voters who they believed their friends and neighbours are supporting, and voters revealed Le Pen was their choice.”

A strong performance by Le Pen does not mean she will necessarily win in the sound round. Indeed, the article on Donzy suggests that a Le Pen versus Fillon contest will lead to a narrow Fillon victory. However, a strong performance by Le Pen would electrify the country, the financial markets and provide the National Front with massive momentum going into the second round.

Emmanuel Macron (“Macron”)

The independent centrist Macron is the golden boy of the Parisian elite, the media and the financial markets. It is clear who the bulk of the French establishment would like to see winning on 7th May. However, the French are in a rebellious mood and are deeply unhappy about the economy, security and the state of the country. It is questionable whether Macron, an inexperienced politician, can persuade the French population that he is ready to be head of state.

Polling suggests that around 40% of the Macron vote is undecided whether to vote for him, by the far the softest support of all the leading candidates. There is a real risk that Macron has peaked too soon and will see a fall in his numbers on election night to around 18%, knocking him out of the race.

The alternative is that Macron will do better then expected, with voters signalling a readiness to rally around a centrist, pro-European and reformist candidate after flirting with the radical fringes on the Left and Right.

Jean-Luc Melenchon (“Melenchon”)

The hard-left Melenchon has been a surprise hit during the two presidential debates held and has seen his poll ratings jump to around 18%, just ahead of Fillon. It is clear that the hard-line socialist has the momentum going into the 1st round.

Melenchon is a Euro-sceptic, hostile to globalisation and a “soak the rich” candidate of the Left. The mere possibility that he could get into the second round is causing alarm bells to ring in trading rooms and boardrooms in Paris, London and New York.

I consider the possibility that Melenchon could get into the final two a real possibility assuming he is able to further consolidate the Left vote. The Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon is seeing his poll rating slump as socialist voters get on-board the Melenchon train. The truth is that voting for Hamon is a wasted vote, if you are a socialist, whilst Melenchon now has a realistic chance of getting into the second round.

Should Macron and Fillon both get approximately 20% of the vote, Melenchon could sneak into second place assuming he can get a further fraction of the Socialist party vote in the coming 10 days. A Le Pen versus Melenchon contest would be the ultimate nightmare for the French and European political establishments and would trigger violent upheavals in the financial markets. Whilst I do not consider it likely, it is not improbable, taking into consideration the trends within the polling data.

Conclusion:

We will soon find out who will be the winners of the 1st round and I will publish a Forecasting Intelligence (FI) blog post on the outcome, the implications and whom I think is most likely to win the second round.

Expect the unexpected