Lab 2012: Miliband’s marginals challenge – who he needs to win and where

New research from Progress examines the 2015 electoral victory strategies available to Ed Miliband, looking at the voters he needs to win and where.


As the Labour Party Conference commences in Manchester today, new research from Progress examines the 2015 electoral victory strategies available to Ed Miliband, looking at the voters he needs to win and where.

Lewis Baston’s “Marginal difference: Who Labour needs to win and where” (pdf), uses the trends from recent elections to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘steady as she goes’; ‘missing voters’; ‘centre-ground’; and ‘progressive majority’ approaches, asking:

• Where should the party be focusing its energies in trying to expand support from the low share of the vote that it gained in 2010?

• Where did the voters who left Labour’s coalition between 1997 and 2010 go? and

• What is the best way of getting them back?

Looking at the key question of which voters will do Labour most good in terms of winning the seats the party needs for an overall working majority, the paper examines the 100 most marginal LD/Lab and Con/Lab seats, victory in which would give Ed Miliband a 66-seat majority (on current 650 boundaries) – the same majority Tony Blair secured in 2005.

Baston notes:

Compared to the national changes in voting behaviour, it is apparent that the main difference is that the Labour vote dropped rather more in the marginal seats.

The benefits in the Conservative-Labour marginal seats were scattered between the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and abstention. In the Liberal Democrat-Labour marginals the Liberal Democrats gained more votes from Labour and also managed to take votes from the Tories and slightly reduce the losses to abstention.

The Conservatives gained a bit more in the Conservative-Labour marginals than nationally, but not hugely so – the bigger difference was in the Labour change.

These numbers suggest a complex pattern of loss for Labour in the Conservative-Labour marginal seats, although probably a fairly straightforward switch in the seats where Labour needs to win against the Liberal Democrats.

This is best illustrated by two charts in the paper, looking at the change in the share of the electorate by party in the 88 top Tory-Labour marginals:

… and looking at the change in the share of the electorate by party in the 12 top LD-Labour marginals:

Overall, the paper concludes:

‘Steady as she goes’ and depending on former Liberal Democrats can only get Labour so far, but then Labour does not need to get very far at all to be in power in 2015 – even if in coalition or without a working majority. Winning back Tory switchers seems to be the recipe for a fair-sized working majority (provided it is not done in a way that is repellent to former Liberal Democrats and 2010 Labour voters).

Mobilising the ‘missing millions’ (provided one does not also mobilise a lot of Tories) is the only route to another landslide. Much also depends on the response of the Conservatives to their own strategic dilemma, and the balance in their own calculations between preventing losses to UKIP and attempting to gain more of the centre-ground from the Liberal Democrats and Labour. It is quite possible that both parties are in an environment where there is no reliable pathway to an overall majority and that rational strategies pursued by each will tend to end in stalemate.

The easy answer may appear to be to adopt aspects of all of them, but the problem is that each of the strategies has implications for policy which are not consistent with each other. It may be possible to work them into a synthesis but the party has not reached that point yet. It still seems to be combining the different approaches on an ad hoc basis.

Plenty to work on – and, as the paper says, the policy implications of each strategy cannot be overlooked; a more consistent message of what Labour and Ed Miliband are for, and who they are for, offers the best route to victory.

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4 Responses to “Lab 2012: Miliband’s marginals challenge – who he needs to win and where”

  1. Forlornehope

    This kind of analysis reduces politics to the level of selling washing up liquid. What is needed is for Labour to decide what it stands for and to go out and convince the voters that it is right to support it. A good starting point would be that Labour should be proposing to spend more on benefits and services than the coalition and accepting that this has to be paid for by higher taxes. It’s surprising how often honesty turns out to be the best policy.

  2. uglyfatbloke

    Well said Forlonehope. What is more worrying is the wishful thinking element of selecting certain areas to consider, but not others. In addition to Glib Dumb to Tory or Labour marginals, did anyone factor in the Greens and UKIP or likely losses to the SNP? After this week’s speech by Johann Lamont that’s probably going to be a bigger number than even the most pessimistic number-crunchers have been thinking. – and the gnats are probably going to take most of the Scottish Glib-Dumb seats since he Glib-Dumbs are apparently currently polling at about 2 or 3 % in Scotland. The same polling (ICM/Guardian) suggests that the gnats are actually doing better in the North of England than the Glib-Dumbs…which is quite amusing.

  3. treborc1

    Well benefits for what, labour brought in the welfare reforms labour kept JSA so low, now of course both government would have us all living or begging, well they would if it was not against the law.

    Labour needs to decide is it a Tory Type government or is it Labour, right now I’ve no idea.

  4. Newsbot9

    I’ll be one of many on the left campaigning against him because of his choices, of course. He’s created his own issues.

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