Sunday, 15 August 2010

Compromising with the electorate: how Labour should plan for 2015

In my post yesterday, I noted that while Labour do not face that difficult a job in becoming the largest party, they have an altogether more substantial challenge if they want to get an overall majority. Even on current boundaries, they need a swing that is bigger than all bar four of the 16 post-War elections, and things are likely to get worse if the coalition’s electoral reforms go through even in part. Labour will need a positive strategy to combat that.

For now, I intend to continue analysing Labour’s position in terms of the 2010 electoral system. We can always update it later and I doubt that the points for consideration will change fundamentally. If anything, they will be strengthened.

I don’t intend suggesting policies, but I do intend to identify the general thrust of who Labour should be trying to win over. So, to be constructive, here are a few key points:

It’s not really about the Lib Dems

There are 19 Lib Dem seats on the top 150 Labour target seats. In four of them, Labour is in third place or lower. In five of them, Labour need a swing of 8% or more. Labour would be doing well to take 11 of these seats from the Lib Dems, even if the Lib Dems' vote shares collapse badly at the next election, and that’s without allowing for the incumbency that many of these MPs will have built up. Labour need 67 seats, so obliterating the Lib Dems won’t be a complete answer.

Could hammering the Lib Dems particularly help Labour in Labour/Conservative marginals? It seems doubtful. In those cases, voters have chosen the Lib Dems for one or more of the following reasons: they’re ideological Lib Dems (whatever that might mean); they like the candidate; they wish to cast a protest vote; they have a particular hobby horse; they wish to express opposition to the establishment. Only the first and last of these groups would seem fertile ground for Labour, and the Conservatives may be able to reach out to previous Lib Dem voters as effectively as Labour can.

It is about the Conservatives

Labour have 125 Conservative seats on their top 150 target list. Labour need to get a message that appeals in these constituencies. This will be a lot easier if Labour can win over Conservative voters in these constituencies.

Geography is destiny

Labour need to break out of their homelands. Only 83 out of the 150 top Labour targets are adjacent to a Labour seat (I have drawn up a list of these if you’re interested). The 67th seat on this list is Bermondsey & Old Southwark and would require a swing of 9.55% to take it. That level of swing has been achieved at a general election only once since the second world war, in 1997. So Labour need to work hard to break out of its current territories and win back some of those smallish town and semi-rural constituencies that it lost so badly this time if it wants to win an overall majority at the next general election.

Labour should also look carefully at its target list by geographical region. It has maxed out in the north east – there are only three targets in that area and two of them look likely gains if there is any kind of revival in Labour’s fortunes. There are 9 targets in Scotland, but only one of these is Tory. Scotland is not going to be central to Labour’s election effort.

By way of contrast, there are 16 targets in the northwest that would be taken on a 6% swing. Labour’s next leader should make sure that the shadow minister for the Duchy of Lancaster pays close attention to that county’s politics.

The west midlands has 20 Labour target seats, but is particularly noteworthy because 8 of these need a swing to Labour of between 5 and 8% (and four more that need bigger swings still). Labour need a concerted push here. The east midlands has 17 target seats, but 10 of these fall on a swing under 5%. These look easier targets.

Perhaps the hardest work needs to be done in the east and the south east – with 16 and 18 target seats respectively, but only 6 Labour MPs between the two regions, Labour need to show that they can once again speak to a substantial cross-section of these regions’ constituents.
London also has 18 targets for Labour. Cutting across these three regions, there are roughly 30 target seats that are either in London suburbia or the wider London economic orbit. Labour cannot afford to let these seats become secure in the Tories’ grip. So Labour need to think carefully about how they can put together a message that appeals to the residents of the wider London economy. It’s going to be a tough job.



Anonymous said...


Thanks for these thoughtful two articles, antifrank.

I'm not sure whether the Labour attacks on the Lib Dems will continue for very long anyway. IMHO it's more an expression of hurt at losing power. That much-posted article by Sion Simon in 2007 was presumably articulating feelings quite widely shared among his fellows. Once there's a new leader, the focus should move to the future and outraged feelings of entitlement will settle back into normal feelings of outrage at political differences.

Obviously Labour wants to increase its supporters as much as possible and is currently proud of its membership gains from the Lib Dems. But if Labour does end up as largest party rather than gain an overall majority, a weakened Lib Dem left could, paradoxically, work against Labour's chances.

Richard Nabavi said...

A superb pair of articles, antifrank.