Not all of the British Election 2017 polls show that the Conservatives are in danger. However, a few do, and that begs a simple question.
What is it going to take for the Conservatives to head to the opposition benches? Our contention is that it’s unlikely, even as a few surveys show their national lead at a point or two.
It is not impossible, but things have to go respectably well for Labour. Perhaps more respectably than most opinion polls see them doing.
British Election 2017: The Number’s Not Really 326
With a 650-seat House of Commons, most would understand that it takes 326 seats to form a majority government. That is technically correct, but realistically incorrect. The speaker is a non-voting member, except in case of a tie, bringing the voting membership down to 649. Further, Sinn Fein out of Northern Ireland does not sit in Parliament. Since they never show up to get sworn in, that’s potentially four (or more) MPs deducted. If Sinn Fein holds steady at four tomorrow, that’s 645 voting MPs.
Therefore, 323 seats is effectively a majority in the British House of Commons. If it’s a close result, those three seats could be critical.
British Election 2017: What’s It Going To Take For Labour?
Most people can agree that outside of a shocking result, Labour will not clear 300 seats, let alone grab a majority. Whether the polling lead is one point or 12, all firms agree that the Tories will get the most seats. The most pessimistic estimates are in the 305-310 range. This, ironically, would put the Conservatives back where they were before the 2015 election. Earlier today, we put 311 as our worst-case scenario for the Tories.
The Conservatives’ worst-case scenario would be Labour’s best-case scenario. For that, we give Labour 262, an increase of 30 from the last election. 262 would also be better than where they were after losing in 2010. This is a rosy result considering where they’ve been in this campaign.
On those numbers, the Conservatives are 12 short of the practical majority line of 323. Labour needs to make up 61 seats.
British Election 2017: Adding Coalition Partners
The elephant in the room is the Scottish National Party. Let’s be generous to Nicola Sturgeon’s party and say they hold 54 seats. If Labour enters into a confidence and supply agreement with them, they’re up to 316. The SNP isn’t likely to do a formal coalition deal, and there will be hell to pay with unionists if Labour openly works with a separatist party. Even so, this backing would put Jeremy Corbyn seven short of what is realistically needed, and 10 short of the official mark.
How the Lib Dems do in this election becomes interesting. If they win seven seats, Corbyn can scrounge together 323 votes for legislation. The more, the better, but one wonders if the Lib Dems would likewise be shy about another coalition after what happened last time.
Toss in a few favorable votes from left-leaning Plaid Cymru, the lone Green MP, and the SDLP in Northern Ireland, and it’s possible. Labour could theoretically piece together 331 votes for progressive legislation. That’s five more than they officially need, and eight more than the absolute minimum required.
The thing is, it’s unlikely any of them would be formal coalition partners, at least at this stage.
British Election 2017: How Low Can Labour Go?
It took a theoretical association among six parties just to get Labour to about 331 votes. All would exact a price from Labour for their support. With numbers that tenuous, it wouldn’t take much of a wobble for such a government to fall. After all, in said situation, there would be 49 more Tories in the House of Commons.
Many variables are present, such as how many seats the Lib Dems and SNP will win. For the sake of argument, we will assume in an optimistic scenario that the two parties will total 64 seats. With all those other left-leaning votes, Labour’s confidence and supply amalgam controls 334 votes. Losing 12 takes them below the 323 number, and with no other votes to find, this would doom them.
If Labour wins 250 seats or fewer, there is virtually no chance of them forming a government. 251 and up they have a chance, 260 and up a better chance, and 270 and up it’s more than possible. Labour has to gain a minimum of 19 seats to even think about doing deals. If the Conservatives finish ahead by just a few percentage points nationally, that is not going to happen.
While the coalition arithmetic is an interesting subject to consider, a lot of things have to go Labour’s way. This makes it unlikely Labour will form government unless they do far better than expected.
British Election 2017: The Update
By now, you know how this election went. For more on future British polls, see the British election predictions page and calendar.