Ed Miliband delivers his general election launch speech at The Lowry Theatre in Salford. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's electoral advantage isn't mainly due to the boundaries

Tactical voting, fewer wasted votes and lower turnout explain why the party can win more seats with the same number of votes. 

Based on past electoral trends, the Tories need to be around three points ahead of Labour before they win the largest number of seats. In 2005, Labour won a comfortable majority of 66 seats with a lead of just three, but in 2010, the Conservatives failed to win one at all with a lead of seven. What explains this discrepancy? The most commonly cited explanation is the current constituency boundaries. Since Labour constituencies are on average smaller than Conservative ones (something that the Tories' proposed changes would have eliminated by equalising constituencies at around 76,000 voters), the former gains by requiring fewer votes to win seats. With the Lib Dems having blocked the planned reforms in 2013 (in revenge for Conservative backbenchers preventing House of Lords reform), the Tories are left to lament that the next election has been "rigged" in Labour's favour. 

But while the current boundaries partially explain Labour's advantage, they do not, in fact, account for most of it. The seeming bias towards the party stems from long-standing trends that no Conservative government could automatically correct. 

First, turnout in Labour seats is on average lower than in Tory ones. The working class communities that have long supported the party are less likely to vote than more affluent Tory-aligned groups. Even were constituency sizes more equal, differential turnout would continue. 

Second, Labour has historically received fewer "wasted" votes than the Conservatives. Under first-past-the-post (a system supported, of course, by the Tories), votes for candidates who fail to win, or who have already won 50 per cent of the vote, are electorally worthless since they have no effect on the number of seats a party wins. Academic Danny Dorling has calculated that 1.7 million of the 10.6 million votes won by the Conservatives in 2010 were "surplus" (the highest level since 1918), increasing the party's majority in Tory seats beyond the point needed to secure MPs. 

Finally, in recent elections Labour has benefited from a significant level of anti-Tory tactial voting. Lib Dem supporters in Labour-Conservative marginals (where the Lib Dems are in third place and "cannot win here") have voted Labour in order to keep the Tories out. Following the same logic, Labour supporters in Lib Dem-Conservative marginals have voted for the Liberal Democrats. The result is that the Tories find it harder than Labour to win seats with a vote share of around 35-40 per cent due to the centre-left pooling its support. By contrast, Labour is capable of winning seats with this share due to the lower level of tactical voting against it. To change that, the Conservatives need to detoxify their brand, a far harder task than redrawing the boundaries. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.