11 December 2019
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Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Who will be the British PM on New Year’s Day 2020?

Malcolm Mackerras
6 November 2019

Today is the last day of sitting for the British Parliament. It will be dissolved at midnight today, London time. For that reason, the time has come for me to make my prediction of the result of the general election on Thursday 12 December, for which we, in Australia, will be learning details of the results on the morning of Friday 13 December.

After much hesitation and uncertainty, I have decided to predict that the verdict will be “we have seen this movie before”. By that I mean the result will be something of a re-run of the last election held on Thursday 8 June 2017 and in no way like the election held on Thursday 6 May 2010 or like that of the general election held on Thursday 7 May 2015.

The 2010 election produced a coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats led by David Cameron, while 2015 gave Cameron an absolute majority of 330 seats against 320 for the combination of all the rest. The one thing this election has in common with those three recent ones is that all four will be recorded as having been contested on the same electoral boundaries with 650 first-past-the-post voting constituencies, 533 in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland.

For the record, I correctly predicted the results of 2010 and 2015. In 2017, I correctly predicted that Theresa May would still be Prime Minister post-election but I badly over-estimated the number of Conservative members of the House of Commons.

So, who will be Prime Minister on New Year’s Day 2020? Very hesitantly I say Jeremy Corbyn in a minority government wherein the Labour government has fewer seats that the Conservative Opposition but is in government purely because enough people in England and Wales realise what a bad idea Brexit is.

These are the sort of numbers I have in mind: 270 Conservatives, 220 Labour, 80 Liberal Democrats, 50 Scottish National Party, 10 Northern Ireland Democratic Unionists and 20 Others, total 650. In 2017 the numbers were 317 Conservatives, 262 Labour, 12 Liberal Democrats, 35 Scottish National Party, 10 Democratic Unionist Party and 14 Others, total 650.

In other words, I am suggesting that Labour will lose a significant number of seats but still move from the Opposition benches to the Treasury benches. The reason for that would be the Conservatives losing many seats, mainly to the Liberal Democrats but also to the Scottish National Party. I expect the Conservative Party to retain three seats in Scotland two of which (Banff and Buchan and Berwick-Upon-Tweed) voted solidly to leave the European Union.

I predict that all three traditional party leaders will retain their seats, Boris Johnson in London’s Uxbridge, Corbyn in London’s Islington North, and Jo Swinson (Liberal Democrat) in Dunbartonshire East (the posh suburbs of Glasgow).

My essential reasoning for these predictions is that I do not think Brexit will be as big a factor as most commentators are assuming it will be. There will be a considerable amount of voting for one’s local member, a factor reducing the number of Labour losses. The other thing is I think Corbyn will come across as a nice man, as he did in 2017 and there are a number of issues favouring Labour.

There will also be a significant number of pacts between parties. These are designed to avoid the splitting of the vote, such a frequent phenomenon under first-past-the-post voting. These are likely to take a significant number of seats off the Conservatives and give them to parties wishing to have a second referendum.

If my predictions are all wrong, this will be the first election in which I have wrongly predicted who would be the British Prime Minister after the election results are all in. I am, however, accustomed to that. The Australian federal election in May was the first in which I wrongly predicted who would be the Australian Prime Minister post-election.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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