General Election 2019: Tactical voting could deliver hung parliament

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in debate
Johnson and Corbyn in Friday's leaders' debate

The Conservatives are still odds-on to win a majority at general election 2019 but the Labour vote could be underestimated and a hung parliament is not out of the question, says Max Liu...

"The polls have underestimated support for Labour before and I can’t shake the sense that there’s still everything to play for – at least to the extent that Johnson can be stopped. At the last election, a third of Labour voters only decided to get behind the party in the final week of the campaign."

With four days to go until polling day, Boris Johnson is 1/31.33 on the Betfair Exchange to win a Conservative majority. The Tories have an average lead of around 10 points in most of the weekend's polls: ComRes put them a massive 18 points ahead, while at the opposite end of the scale Savanta show Labour reducing the deficit to six - just within the range which would give us a hung parliament 16/54.2.

The polls were wrong at the last two elections. This time, there's a growing sense, at least on the left, that the mainstream media is overlooking the impact of Labour's ground game. Thousands of people, who aren't Labour party members, have come out to canvas for them in swing constituencies in the past fortnight. Why is this worth noting? Because the main failure in polling at the 2017 general election was that they underestimated the Labour vote.

Labour must unite Remain and recapture Leavers

Make no mistake, there is a mountain to climb for Labour, as the Conservatives appear to have around 70% of the Leave vote, following the Brexit Party's decision not to stand candidates in constituencies where there's a sitting Tory MP. Labour trail because they have only around 50% of the Remain vote. Plenty of Remainers have fallen into line behind Labour since the start of the campaign, at the expense of the Lib Dems, and more need to follow in the next few days. Otherwise, the divided Remain vote will let in the Tories in key constituencies.

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But tactical voting could yet swing the outcome from a Conservative majority to a hung parliament and a minority Labour government 10.5. So many constituencies which voted Remain but elected a Tory MP two years ago - Putney in the south, where Labour are 10/111.89 and the Conservatives 20/211.94, and Southport in the north, for example - hang in the balance.

What about Labour's wedge of Leave constituencies which the Tories are targeting? The polls suggest people there will lend their votes to the Tories to get Brexit. But the wounds of Tory neglect run deep in many of these places in the midlands and north, predating austerity by decades. History could yet kick in, along with fears about the privatisation of the NHS, and minds could yet change between here and the voting booth.

It is tin-eared, too, of the Tories to claim that Labour would go into a coalition with the SNP and trigger the breakup of the UK. This argument was used effectively in 2015 but recent history has made a mockery of David Cameron's claim that Britain faced a choice between his government and Ed Miliband's coalition of chaos. It shouldn't damage the SNP's chances, though, and the latest YouGov polling indicates the SNP will gain around 10 MPs and cross the 44.5 seats line at 10/111.88.

Hung parliament is the value bet

It is not impossible that Jeremy Corbyn will be Britain's next prime minister, even though you can get 16/54.2 on that outcome, and it is also not impossible that he will have quit as Labour leader by this time next week 11/53.2, with John McDonnell taking over on an interim basis. This is the nature of party leadership, as Neil Kinnock and Miliband know well.

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Perhaps I'm giving Labour more chance than they realistically have, but the polls have underestimated the level of support for the party under Corbyn's leadership before and I can't shake the sense that there's still everything to play for - at least to the extent that Johnson can be stopped. At the last election, a third of Labour voters only decided to get behind the party in the final week of the campaign.

Follow the election live blog for up to date news between now and Thursday but, for me, a hung parliament at 16/54.2 is the bet. It's up for grabs - and up to you - now.

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