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Alastair Meeks compares his predictions for 2015 with what actually happened

December 30th, 2015

2015 – the past is a country of which I knew little

Every year I sit down at Christmas and try to work out what will happen in the following twelve months.  I do this not because I have any great confidence in my predictive power – as you’re about to see, that would be an illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect – but because it is useful to have a record of what I thought might be going to happen and to see where I have gone wrong in the past to see if I can learn any lessons.  This year I have much to chew on.

This time last year I made the following predictions here.

  1. The next election will produce a hung Parliament

I was really confident about this prediction this time last year and I was really wrong.  I take absolutely no comfort from the fact that almost everyone else thought the same, including the main party leaders.  Despite the fact that I have long professed to be very sceptical about opinion polls, it turns out that I placed far more uncritical reliance on them than they merited, even though I intellectually understood their flaws.

Most of my other mistakes flowed from this unconscious reliance on the polls.  I have given more thought to this mistake than any other political point this year.  But I still have no clear view as to how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. 

  1. It will be neck and neck between the SNP and the Lib Dems as to which is the third party

Well this wasn’t right either.  The SNP got 56 seats and the Lib Dems got 8.  It was in fact neck and neck between the Lib Dems and the DUP as to which was fourth.

I did at least spot the SNP were going to break through, though a year ago even I was understating it (and at the time I was an SNP bull).  What I didn’t spot was that the Lib Dems were going to be obliterated.

  1. UKIP will get a good poll rating and few seats to show for it

I got something right then.

  1. The Greens will take precisely one seat: Brighton Pavilion

 Make that two things.

  1. The debates will take place, basically in the format put forward originally by David Cameron

The debates did take place, but in a much-changed format.  I’ll give myself half marks for that.

  1. The election campaign won’t change very much, but a lot of people will try to persuade you otherwise

I’m actually quite happy with this prediction too.  The polls didn’t really alter throughout the campaign.  And both main parties came to the same conclusion in their post-election post mortems – in the words of Cowley and Kavanagh in the British General Election of 2015: “Although the reports differed on details, they largely came to the same broad conclusion: Labour lost not because of things it did in the six weeks of the election campaign or because of events in the year or so before, but because it failed on fundamentals about the economy, spending and immigration.”

Although I misunderstood what was going on, I did at least understand that the election result was in reality determined well in advance.  The election campaign produced much heat (and a surreal excursion into pledge by menhir), but not much movement.

  1. The next government will be a Labour minority government

See point 1.  Enough said.  Cough.

  1. All change at the top (mostly)

This was a better prediction than it looked. Few general elections actually lead to a heavy turnover of party leaders.  What stood out before the last election was the weakness of all of the party leaders’ control over their own parties.  The exception was Nigel Farage, who puts to the sword anyone with the temerity to question his methods.  (Those methods resulted in UKIP getting just one MP who, like the Pirates of the Caribbean, regards UKIP’s code more as guidelines than actual rules.  It remains to be seen whether Nigel Farage’s tight grip is to UKIP’s ultimate advantage.)

This election despatched two party leaders immediately and a third (Nigel Farage) resigned and then unresigned, to much mockery from outside his party.  David Cameron’s surprise victory put him beyond challenge for the rest of 2015.  His internal enemies are for now vanquished.

Reflections

Making predictions is chastening.  It does, however, force you to confront your mistakes.  Last year I made a giant mistake (which in truth I had been pursuing as an idée fixe almost since the 2010 election).  I guess if I have a single lesson that I have drawn so far, it is not to get too attached to a single interpretation.  An idea can be good, well-reasoned, have backing evidence and still be wrong.  I shall be trying to keep my mind more open to alternatives in future.

Alastair Meeks