The Death Clock

Alastair Meeks
5 min readMar 2, 2024

You can go online and find out, supposedly, when you’re going to die. The website has a cheery name: the Death Clock. Apparently I’m going to peg it on 31 July 2056. Make a note of it in your diaries.

However, I’m not one of those people who believes that the future is certain. For a start, we have no idea what events might be round the corner. There remains a span of possible outcomes. That span is wide.

However, it’s not helpful to say that a lot of different things can happen. Some events are more likely than others. The Death Clock is a silly idea when used naively on an individual basis. But it represents the peak of a very low bell curve. Even when looking a long way out at a bell curve with a very low peak, we can make some useful observations. That, in essence, is the whole idea behind the work of the actuarial profession.

So, what can we say about the coming general election? The longstop date is less than 11 months away. The bell curve is narrowing and scrunching up.

Let’s adopt and adapt some actuarial principles. When actuaries issue valuations, they do so on the basis of assumptions. They will recommend specific assumptions but those assumptions need to be within a band that they believe are appropriate.

Putting this into normal terms, they make predictions based on their own views, but they readily acknowledge that there is a much wider band of outcomes that would be unsurprising. They’re not saying that surprising outcomes can’t happen, but they wouldn’t be able to recommend that you use assumptions that would be surprising.

What is the range of unsurprising outcomes now? Let’s plant some flags in the sand.

Average polling right now is fairly stable. You can construct your average in a few different ways. Sky News have it as follows:

Lab 43.7%

Con 24.0%

Reform 10.5%

Lib Dems 9.7%

Green 6.0%

SNP 3.1%

Election Maps have it as follows:

Lab: 44.2%

Con: 24.0%

Reform: 10.4%

Lib Dems: 9.5%

Green: 6.1%

SNP: 3.2%

These would produce broadly similar Parliaments. Ignoring tactical voting, the Sky News average would, according to Electoral Calculus, produce a result of:

Lab: 473

Con: 93

Lib Dem: 42

Green: 2

SNP: 18

PC: 4

NI: 18

The Election Maps numbers would produce:

Lab: 477

Con: 90

Lib Dem: 41

Green: 2

SNP: 18

PC: 4

NI: 18

So both produce a majority for Labour of roughly 300.

Now you might think this is ridiculous. However, I strongly suggest to you that you could not regard such an outcome now as surprising. We are in late term in this Parliament, the polling is currently exceptionally stable, and to the extent that it is moving it is moving away from the Conservatives.

To be clear, you don’t have to regard this as the single most likely outcome. You don’t have to regard this as the top of the bell curve. But I strongly suggest that you do have to regard this outcome as not that distant from the top of the bell curve. It’s what the polls are telling us now and an election is not that far away. It has to be within the realm of unsurprising possibilities.

Moreover, I do not think we can appropriately at present set this as the reasonable worst case scenario for the Conservatives. Public sentiment may yet move further away from them. They may have a bad election campaign. It’s not as if Rishi Sunak looks as if he’s going to be a great campaigner.

Knocking two points off the Conservatives’ Election Maps average and adding it to Labour produces:

Lab: 521

Con: 41

Lib Dem: 47

Green: 2

SNP: 18

PC: 3

NI: 18

I do not regard this as being a wildly unlikely development from where we are right now. Others may feel able to step out further.

What of the other end of the scale? The Conservatives will hope to retrieve former voters who are currently undecided. A good proxy for this is given by the Opinium series of polls, which builds that assumption into their model.

The most recent Opinium poll, which looks fairly consistent with other recent polls of theirs, produced the following results:

Lab: 42%

Con: 27%

Reform: 10%

Lib Dems: 10%

Green: 7%

SNP: 3%

Plugged into Electoral Calculus, this produces:

Lab: 427

Con: 146

Lib Dems: 35

Green: 2

SNP: 18

PC: 4

NI: 18

That’s still a Labour majority of more than 200.

Is that the outer limit of reasonable optimism for the Conservatives? I don’t think so, no. I’ve previously explained my past suspicion of the Reform tally in polling. That suspicion that the polling overstates them has not been allayed. In both the Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections, the Reform candidates did adequately but in neither case did they particularly catch light. Both these constituencies were disproportionately Leave-voting. In the recent Rochdale by-election, their candidate (who was a former MP for the constituency) faced no serious opposition from Labour or the Conservatives. Rochdale also voted heavily for Leave. However, Reform actually went backwards on Reform general election result in 2019.

Conservatives might reasonably hope that Reform is overstated by, say, 3% in the polls. If we adjust the Opinium poll to reduce Reform’s tally by 3% and increase the Conservative tally by 3% and then plug that into Electoral Calculus, we get:

Lab: 395

Con: 182

Lib Dems: 31

Green: 2

SNP: 18

PC: 4

NI: 18

That’s a Labour majority of 140.

Now, I say it again because I’m sure it will be forgotten, I don’t rule out the possibility of outcomes beyond the ranges I’ve suggested above. I don’t yet rule out a hung Parliament, though it is now looking quite improbable. But the further we go from current polling, the more surprising such outcomes will be.

I suggest that — for now at least — we should be expecting a Labour seat tally of between say 380 and 540, translating into a Labour majority of between 110 and 430. Anything outside that range should be seen as unexpected given where we currently are.

At the upper bound of what we can reasonably currently expect, we are looking at something close to a one party Parliament the like of which has not been seen before in Britain. I do not think that government, MPs, the media or the public have begun to absorb this. It’s about time that they did.

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