New analysis points to scale of Labour’s challenge

The road to Downing Street will only be secured by winning back Conservative swing voters

Polling station


With Labour’s leadership contest now firmly underway, those vying for the top job would do well to sit down and read a sober analysis of the mountain that the party has to climb to get back into government in 2020.

Prepared by Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, ‘The mountain to climb: Labour’s 2020 challenge’ outlines the scale of the task facing the party.

Firstly, on the basis that the Conservatives proceed with plans to cut the number of seats in the Commons, based on the 2013 boundary review, Harrop concludes that Labour would need to pick up an additional 106 seats in order to gain a majority of one. (N.B for ease of comparison the report has ‘scaled-up these projections, to assume the new House of Commons retains 650 constituencies’.)

When looking at seats by order of majority, seat 106 would be taking back Gordon Brown’s former constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. Somewhat soberly, however, the analysis adds:

“This estimate could be over-optimistic for Labour, as the new boundary review which will commence this December could prove even less favourable than the last one (particularly because it will be expected to equalise the number of electors on the basis of the new electoral roll, following the introduction of individual registration). So 106 gains is the minimum that might be needed for victory, compared to the 68 that Labour needed for a majority this year.”

Secondly, Labour’s 35 per cent strategy during the General Election campaign is well and truly shredded. According to Harrop, to form a majority government of one Labour would need a universal swing of 9.5 percentage points as opposed to the 4.6 point swing that was required this year. This would mean Labour needing to secure around 40 per cent of the vote share. The report notes:

“In 2005 Labour won a 66 seat majority with 35 per cent of the vote, while now it may well need 40 per cent to have any majority at all. By contrast, after the boundary changes, the Conservatives will be able to retain their majority with around 36 per cent of the vote.”

But all of this is predicated on an improvement in fortunes across the UK as a whole. If Scottish Labour were to make no inroads into the SNP at all, with all 106 seats needed having to be picked up in England, Labour would need a swing of around 11.5 percentage points in key marginal seats.

Thirdly, the road to Downing Street will only be secured by winning back Conservative swing voters. As the report notes, the opportunities to pick up Lib Dem, Green and disgruntled UKIP voters are limited. As it explains, unlike in 2015, ‘there appear to be few opportunities to benefit from the misfortunes’.

Whilst the number crunching suggests that eliminating a Conservative majority to achieve a hung Parliament looks ‘relatively achievable…the task of winning a UK Labour majority will be very difficult’.

Based on this report, ‘very difficult’ looks to be at the more optimistic end of the language that could be used to describe Labour’s predicament.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

30 Responses to “New analysis points to scale of Labour’s challenge”

  1. Steve Huckle

    By offering no alternative to the slash and burn ideology of the Tories, Labour have brought this predicament on themselves. Worse is that senior acolytes of Labour seem to be suggesting that the party should move ever rightward. They are ignoring the fact that the SNP swept the board by doing the exact opposite to that.

  2. swat

    By definition, ‘Swing Voters are neither Tory nor Labour, but unattached and undecided. True, we, have to win their trust, and win them back, but at what cost,and answer their question: ‘What’s in it for us?’

  3. disqus_EJmqmmuw9G

    Why are swing voters being characterised as “Conservative swing voters” here; does the original study (which I’m unable to access) contain an analysis of individuals’ reasoning and or voting histories?

  4. stevep

    Lets not sweat too much about it, Labour have won large majorities before: In 1945, 1966, 1997, 2001 and 2005, and small ones too: In 1951,1964,and1974. What Labour needs to do is concentrate on presenting a vision of the UK for the future:
    One based on Social Democracy not hard-right Capitalism.
    One based on devolution and proper funding of the regions, not Westminster and the South.
    One based on social and environmental responsibilities.
    One based on real Democracy : In the street, towns, regions and the workplace.
    One based on Proper regulation of the Banks, the City and Industry.
    One based on creating proper full-time jobs and full employment rebuilding Britain.
    One based on proper progressive taxation to pay for it.
    Let`s draw inspiration from the great social reformers and visionaries of the 1940`s, 50`s and 1960`s and have a really radical look at what we want Britain to be in 50 years time.
    Let`s get the best media people out there to present that vision in terms everyone can understand.
    When voters see there is a political party that has the guts to stand up for what this country could and should be, they will vote for them.
    Finally, let`s not worry unduly about Scotland and the SNP. The election result might well be a one-off and support might well drift back to Labour over the coming years. In any case, there is still a combined left-wing consensus whatever happens.

  5. James Chilton

    Labour’s achievements in the past would not have been possible had the boundary changes which are now on the cards, existed.

    The ‘terms and conditions’ upon which a Labour victory depends have been rewritten by the splintering of British politics.

  6. Ian

    Fabians Say Go Right Shock.

    Enough of this disingenuous horseshit already. Labour have been losing votes since 2001. The more rightwards they moved, the more votes they lost. The answer to Labour’s predicament is so obvious, all this wailing and gnashing of teeth and faux soul-searching is pathetic.

    Besides, to win Tory voters you need Tory policies, if you have Tory policies you become another Tory party thus rendering Labour a flaccid irrelevance; we already have one Tory party and one other Tory imitator.

    You have to wonder why Blue Labour types are in politics in the first place if they’re willing to sell their ideals down the river just to gain power and do nothing socially useful with it, assuming the modern crop of careerist PPEs ave any ideals to speak of. If they’re going to behave like Conservatives in government – and they definitely will with Tory policies – then why not just leave the Conservatives to it and do something more constructive with their time, like using their Oxbridge connections to get overpaid jobs at the BBC or something else that requires minimal talent and even fewer scruples than politics?

    If all Labour want to do is govern, from the right or left, whichever is expedient, then these people need to step aside. Power for its own sake is nothing more than a self-serving career move. Grabbing power under the banner of the Labour Party only to behave like Tories is downright dishonest. People have certain expectations of Labour and acting like Conservatives shouldn’t be one of them.

    I don’t know why Blue/New Labour people joined the party in the first place, from what they say they are Conservative to their nasty little cores. They don’t stand for Labour values, no matter how much they might protest, and so they should cross the floor of the house and fight by-elections against actual Labour people who, unlike Umunna, Burnham and the rest, believe in what Labour stands for.

    See what happens then.

  7. Torybushhug

    The SNP have the plucky outsiders, anti London, grievence factor to tap into, not things available to Labour. Also the scots are a tiny population and socialist leaning. Even ordinary Svots talk in that curious on message sound bite middle managerial manner. The English are quite different and dislike puritans and auto-bot narratives.
    Labour personalities all sound like hectoring know it all puritans and family abstract to boot. Can’t see them doing well in England for many a year. The English are not so easily taken in by abstract middle managerial lefty diatribes.

  8. Torybushhug

    Labour won on a tiny 8.6m votes in 2005 compared to the Tories well over 11 m this time.

    Since 1974 no labour leader other than Blair has won power. I hope you lurch to the left and talk amongst yourselves for milenia as the left always ruins BritIain aside from the NHS which the Tories supported in 1945 anyway.

  9. Torybushhug

    Something that perplexes us righties is why you true lefties stick with Labour instead of starting or backing your own UKIP style ground up movement? Are you afraid or just rubbish at people’s movements?
    Get an army of white van men embracing your cultural enrichment argument, happy to compete with self employed Bulgarians that work for halve price for people just like you.

    BTW Labours decline since 2001 is down to people’s personal experience of mass welfare culture ( the DM caught up with real world public experience years later) and mass immigration. One day you will peak under the cover and find reality.

  10. Ian

    First point is down to blind faith and tribalism, probably. And re Labour’s decline; it has nothing to do with welfare culture because that doesn’t really exist, the the Tories have managed to convince many it does. Immigration will be one issue but that’s another misdirection. Labour under Blair and Brown never addressed the concerns of their cor supporters, they even seemed embarrassed by having provincial beer-drinkers among their supporters (remember how uncomfortable His Tonyness was drinking a pint in photo ops?). Wages stagnated and declined under Labour just as they have under the current shower, social mobility declined, identity politics was a replacement for left wing politics; identity politics isn’y an entirely bad thing but Labour’s version was deeply middle class, more about getting more women and ethnic minorities in the boardroom than dealing with broader inequality. All Labour wanted to do was redistribute the inequality in a more representative fashion…

    I’ve gone off on one again. Oops.

  11. Peter Martin

    The Tories won less than 25% of the votes cast in May. Labour about 20%. So that leaves 55% of the electorate, including those who didn’t vote at all. who didn’t vote for either.

    So how about a strategy, in 2020 of NOT appealing to the Tory 25%? Instead we consolidate our 20% by proposing traditional Labour polices and we aim to win over at least one in five of that 55%. We don’t give anyone an excuse for not voting on the basis that “we’re all the same”.

    If we do that we’re home and dry.

  12. AlanGiles

    The best advice for any leader is to be yourself. Stop mouthing platitudes. If you want to be London Mayor stop trying to sound like the Queen, and don’t dress up in women’s clothing and lipstick if you are of the male sex.

    Trying to be a pale copy of the Tories is pointless – if the public want the Tories they vote for the real thing, not a cheap copy. As happened last month.

  13. AlanGiles

    Not every benefit claimaint is on “Benefits Street” or displaying their dirty washing on the scabrous Jeremy Kyle show. There ARE scroungers and they need to be dealt with, but then again there were “expenses scroungers” (“expenses” sounds nicer doesn’t it?) – people like James Purnell. David Laws, Hazel Blears and Iain Duncan-Smith were the epitome of those – and the most vocal critics of “scroungers”

  14. AlanGiles

    Ian, I think the truth is Blair was a Conservative, but also a very good actor and a con-man. I don’t think any of his acolytes would do well now, because once a confidence trickster is exposed people resist those he was around, and are wary of late converts to his cause.

    What concerns me for Labour (I now vote Green so their worries are not mine) is they paid an enormous sum of money to David Axelrod, who gave his no doubt sage advice from America by email mostly, Jon Cruddas was despatched for three years of purdah to write his review (which was either unpublished or not publicised), now Cruddas is launching a review of why his review failed, and, not to be outdone, Haughty Hattie has launched a second review by has-been Maggie Beckett.
    What they need to do is accept they lost and try to do better next time. They are wasting the early months of opposition (often a crucial time) in these school debating-society-like tactics. I can’t imagine Harold Wilson getting George Brown or Patrick Gordon-Walker to waste their time reviewing a review.

  15. AlanGiles

    I think a large section of the PLP are a bit like the Tories who between 1990 and 2001 felt if only Mrs T came back all their troubles would end. So many Progressites still living in 1997 when “Things can only get bett-ar”, and all they need is Kendall to be Blair in bloomers and all their troubles are over. Sadly the answers of 1997 – the rancid nonsense of “triangulation” and the dissembling nnsense of “the Third Way” will not make the cut in 2020 – things can only get worse.

  16. Steve Huckle

    You exemplify a selfish, uncaring attitude, which is couched in imaginary fear. “Scroungers and immigrants are to blame for all our ills” is a common theme amongst those benefiting from the “I’m alright Jack” ideology of the right. When in fact, it is the untethered greed of those profiteering from the free market that are largely to blame. That’s the very same free market that has seen half the worlds fauna and flora disappear in the 40 years since it has been pursued with gusto. It is to Labour’s shame that they have forgotten their roots and offered no alternative to such greed.

  17. Bosun Higgs

    Harriet Harman
    Is no Derek Jarman.
    Isn’t her favourite hue.

  18. Ian

    Blair was very much a Tory, problem is he packed the parliamentary party with Tory mini-mes. This is why they are where they are, utterly clueless as to what Labour is really about.

    Chickens. Roost.

  19. Ian

    That does seem to be the case, though in ’97 any old cretin could have got elected against the Tories, Blair gets too much credit as some kind of messiah figure when in reality his stars were in alignment in 1997, so to speak.

  20. Harold

    Labour need to off an alternative which offers hope and prosperity to the voters. By 2020 the cuts will be deep enough and effect many more people and assuming the current “recovery” has run out that the Tories will be found out. It will not be credible to offer being Tory “light” at that point as no one will want or believe it anymore. The new Labour Leader will need to set the agenda not follow someone else. This time Labour could have had some more popular policies, for example I thought cutting VAT would have gained support and would have driven the debate away from the sterile we will cut less than the Tories.

  21. AlanGiles

    I loved Jon Cruddas description yesterday about the future of the Labour party (presumably under Kendall) as “a Blairite tribute act”

  22. gunnerbear

    Combined Left wing consensus? Not where I live; UKIP + Cons voters out numbered the Labour voters. If the Blues and Purples had got their act together they would have binned a Red Mob MP (and the town has been Red Mob for decades).

  23. WhiteVanMan

    It was 9.6m in 2005 but in. A lower out, it 8.6m in 2010

  24. WhiteVanMan

    Remind me why labour appointed Blair as leader, oh yes,they lost 4 elections on the trot and wanted power, maybe Kendall is the only one who could deliver It, II recall Burnham was. A Blairite 10 years ago

  25. WhiteVanMan

    ,if he was A Tory,it shows the electorate ,only want Tory PMs then

  26. WhiteVanMan

    Wasn’t Burnham called A Blairite, and Cruddas was A Blairite, if it wins elections maybe it’s not so bad
    How are the greens doing.

  27. AlanGiles

    Clearly you are “White Van BOY”, because had you been an adult 18 years ago you would know that the Conservatives were so badly regarded – even by the Sun and Daily Mail, any Labour leader would have won, and in 2001 and 2005 the Conservatives were so divided (and 2 years of Duncan-Smith did them no favours) they couldn’t win.

    I don’t think Blair needs kids massaging his already inflated ego

  28. WhiteVanMan

    It wasn’t so much the leader that won it, in 1997 , but the policies of labour had stood on the manifesto they had in 1987′ they’d have lost, I accept that the stories needed a mountain to climb to win in 2001 ,but they needed to have a 6% swing in 1979 to win and achieved that, yes the Sun did back Labour in 1997 partly because they like to be in the winning side and 5 weeks before the election labour was20% ahead, recall all the Bambi, Stalin, labour are in to permissiveness, in the Mail, doesn’t explain how Labour won in 2001 despite the Mail backing the Tories then.

  29. lavarae

    They didn’t.

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