Why the Lib Dems could still prevent a Tory victory

New poll finds the Conservatives won’t win any of the key 20 Lib Dem-Tory marginals.

Buried in the small print of the new Telegraph poll on marginals is this revealing finding:

The poll found that the Tories would pick up 74 of the 100 seats from Labour. However, they would not pick up any of the seats held by Liberal Democrats.

To secure a majority in the Commons, the Conservatives need to win no fewer than 117 seats. So if, as this poll suggests, they fail to win any of the 20 key Lib Dem-Tory marginals, they will struggle to prevent a hung parliament.

Thus, the Telegraph's claim that the Conservatives are "are on course for a convincing election victory" is not supported by the facts.

It's not surprising that the Tories are struggling in these seats. First, many Lib Dems MPs have large local followings and a deserved reputation as dogged campaigners. Second, in a significant number of these seats the Tories are not in second place, but third, putting them out of the party's reach.

That Nick Clegg's party could still prevent a Conservative majority explains why the Tories are spinning the line that a vote for the Lib Dems is a "vote for Labour".

Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron would love to go in hard against Clegg in tonight's live TV debate. But they'll both need his support in the event of a hung parliament, so they're more likely to concentrate their fire on each other.

Join us for the first leaders' TV debate tonight.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.