New analysis points to scale of Labour’s challenge

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


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

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