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.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Could Jeremy Corbyn still be excluded from the leadership race? The High Court will rule today

Labour donor Michael Foster has applied for a judgement. 

If you thought Labour's National Executive Committee's decision to let Jeremy Corbyn automatically run again for leader was the end of it, think again. 

Today, the High Court will decide whether the NEC made the right judgement - or if Corbyn should have been forced to seek nominations from 51 MPs, which would effectively block him from the ballot.

The legal challenge is brought by Michael Foster, a Labour donor and former parliamentary candidate. Corbyn is listed as one of the defendants.

Before the NEC decision, both Corbyn's team and the rebel MPs sought legal advice.

Foster has maintained he is simply seeking the views of experts. 

Nevertheless, he has clashed with Corbyn before. He heckled the Labour leader, whose party has been racked with anti-Semitism scandals, at a Labour Friends of Israel event in September 2015, where he demanded: "Say the word Israel."

But should the judge decide in favour of Foster, would the Labour leadership challenge really be over?

Dr Peter Catterall, a reader in history at Westminster University and a specialist in opposition studies, doesn't think so. He said: "The Labour party is a private institution, so unless they are actually breaking the law, it seems to me it is about how you interpret the rules of the party."

Corbyn's bid to be personally mentioned on the ballot paper was a smart move, he said, and the High Court's decision is unlikely to heal wounds.

 "You have to ask yourself, what is the point of doing this? What does success look like?" he said. "Will it simply reinforce the idea that Mr Corbyn is being made a martyr by people who are out to get him?"