Is Labour heading for electoral meltdown?

New analysis by top US pollster suggests Labour could be reduced to just 214 seats.

The polls are superficially comforting for Labour at the moment. Several may put support for the party at its lowest level since the days of Michael Foot but surely the vagaries of the electoral system will prevent a 1983-style meltdown?

Our own Poll of Polls currently puts the Tories on 33.8 per cent, the Lib Dems on 28.6 per cent and Labour on 27.6 per cent. If repeated at the election on a uniform swing, these figures would leave Labour as the largest single party in a hung parliament, 59 seats short of a majority. Labour would be left with 267 seats, the Tories with 259 and the Lib Dems with 93.

But here's the catch. The concept of uniform swing, which assumes that the swing to or away from a party will be indentical in every constituency, is a notoriously poor guide to predicting election results. Differences in constituency size and variable turnout mean that we rarely see anything like a uniform swing in practice.

With this in mind, the American psephologist Nate Silver, who predicted the correct result between Barack Obama and John McCain in 49 of America's 50 states, has devised an alternative method -- and it's not good news for Labour.

Silver's approach works by works by assigning shares of one party's 2005 vote to another. As he explains at his blog FiveThirtyEight.com:

[W]hat happens if 10 percent of people who voted for Labour in 2005 defect to the Conservatives, 15 percent of Labour's voters defect to LibDems, and 10 percent of the Conservatives' voters defect to LibDems?

Applying this to a series of possible outcomes gives us a radically different picture to that offered by uniform swing calculations. For instance on a uniform swing, if the Tories win 34 per cent of the vote, the Lib Dems 29.1 per cent and Labour 26.9 per cent this is the result:

Conservatives 271 seats

Labour 253 seats

Lib Dems 93 seats

But if we use Silver's method we get a very different result:

Conservatives 304 seats

Labour 214 seats

Lib Dems 101 seats

Such a result would leave Labour with just five seats more than Foot in 1983. Silver adds some disclaimers to his method, it does not account for voters exiting or entering the electorate and cannot directly account for tactical voting.

But all the same, it's a salutary reminder that Labour's election prospects are far worse than they may appear.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
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For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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