My next set of posts will concentrate on how the Tories should be thinking about the next election (still using current boundaries and systems for now), but before leaving Labour behind for now, I have a conundrum that Labour will need to wrestle with.
Some left-of-centre Lib Dem voters at the last election are without doubt unhappy at the turn of events. It appears that many of these are now supporting Labour. But should Labour regard this as an unalloyed positive? Should it be encouraging more to desert the Lib Dems for it? Counterintuitively, this is not a no-brainer.
The easiest group of Lib Dem voters by far for Labour to peel off must surely be those Lib Dem voters who voted for them tactically to try to keep the Conservatives out. I refer to these as Braggites, in honour of Billy Bragg who very actively encouraged just such voting behaviour. In contrast with both Conservatives tactical voters and Lib Dem tactical voters, these have been out in huge numbers. Indeed, at the last election the residual Labour vote in Lib Dem/Conservative marginals was squeezed to the limit (and beyond what I thought before the election was possible). Take a look at this table:
It sets out the Lib Dem seats which are on the Conservatives' top 100 targets, together with the Labour vote and percentage share. You will note that in most constituencies (and every English constituency in the top 100 Conservative targets where Labour were not in fact second), Labour is below 10% of the vote share and sometimes a long way below 10%. When the Conservatives or the Lib Dems are third, 15-20% is a more normal level of vote share. We can, I think, ascribe this to Braggite voting.
Now the Braggites are the group that have most to be cheesed off about. The Lib Dems have not behaved as they expected (whether they were right to expect something else is a different matter, but not relevant for present purposes). Many of them will probably vote untactically next time. But how many?
The impact of this is important: for the Tories. Without getting another vote, they could pick up 13 more seats if Labour's natural level of support is 15% and the Braggites return home. And a further 7 if Labour's natural level of support turns out to be 20%. And a further 5 seats if Labour's natural level of support turns out to be 25% and all the Braggites return home (including four seats not even within the Tories' top 100 targets). So the Conservatives could have an overall majority of 12 without picking up another vote.
Labour seems to have spent the last three months doing its utmost to regain Braggites. And obviously it does want to gain voters. But how does it gain voters in the areas that it wants to gain them without giving the Tories a leg-up? It's not an easy dilemma to resolve.