PM 4 PR? One policy guaranteed to put Ed in No 10. Photo: Getty
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Proportional representation: the pledge that would guarantee a Labour landslide in May

With one tiny hitch...

Recently, just about everyone has an opinion about how Labour can fix its middling poll ratings and win the upcoming election outright. Combine all the advice and you get a nice simple message: it needs to be simultaneously more left and rightwing, while ensuring it remains centrist. Easy.

But I have an even easier proposition, and something that – and I don't say this lightly – is virtually guaranteed to give Labour a landslide win in 2015. What's more, it'll draw in voters from the Lib Dems, Ukip, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens alike. It'll even pull in a handful of Tories, and not just those who slipped and put their X in the wrong box. But it does have one tiny drawback.

OK. Here's the manifesto. Don't worry, it won't take long to read. In fact, it's 485 pages shorter than Ukip's 486-page long 2010 opus, with room for overbearing stock photography, generous spacing, and a size 72 font:

Within 90 days of forming a government, we will vote on changing the Westminster electoral voting system to Proportional Representation, and then call a snap election.

That's it.

“PR? That's your big idea?” I hear you cry.

Yes, but think about it: a single-issue party with a chance of getting voted in, and then the guarantee of an instant second election? Ukip, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Respect... all of them would have to stand down and put their weight behind this once-in-a-lifetime chance to get rid of the hated First Past the Post, the system that limits their chances of making real progress.

Anyone can put electoral reform in their manifesto, tucked away somewhere at the back where only the most bored politico would spot it (Labour has done it in two of the last four elections), but to make it your entire manifesto: people would know you're serious. I can see the campaign now: "Vote Labour now, so you don't have to in 90 days", with a grinning Ed Miliband holding the pledge card.

The Conservatives would panic, and the press would go bananas, but if you get everyone bar Tory voters behind the Labour party, then current polling would suggest a turnout of around 67 per cent to Labour and 33 per cent to the Conservatives. Ironically, First Past the Post's archaic mechanisms would deliver a healthy, decisive majority at this point, just as David Cameron promised it would when he campaigned against AV.

Indeed, my entirely unscientific attempt at replicating this on May2015.com's result calculator gives Labour 567 seats to the Tories' 58. A handful of seats are held by "others", mostly in Northern Ireland. Presumably the DUP managed to get onto the extremely sparse leaders' debates in this fantasy world.

This would lead to the unusual spectacle of the still fresh government voting to bring itself down, what with the Fixed Term Parliament Act meaning the Prime Minister can't unilaterally call an election. The Tories wouldn't know how to vote.

The chances of this happening? Close to zero. The Labour party is extremely well aware of how well First Past the Post serves the party, and how PR would be giving this away forever. The chance to govern based on 35 per cent of the vote would slip away, with only the delicious prospect of the Tories doing even worse to soothe Labour heads. There's a fair case to be made that that's what’s slowly happening anyway, but that's for another piece.

So, if you're reading, Ed: here's an incredible chance to go down in history as a genuinely reforming, albeit short-lived, Prime Minister with a share of the vote Blair could only dream of. You could even put nationalising the railways in size 6 font at the bottom of that one page manifesto, and try to slip that in too, if you fancy.

Alan Martin (@alan_p_martin) is a freelance politics, science and technology writer

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How worried are Labour MPs about losing their seats?

Despite their party's abysmal poll ratings, MPs find cause for optimism on the campaign trail. 

Labour enters the general election with subterranean expectations. A "good result", MPs say, would be to retain 180-200 of their 229 MPs. Some fear a worse result than 1935, when the party won just 154 seats. Rather than falling, the Conservatives' poll lead has risen as the prospect of electing a government concentrates minds (last night's YouGov survey, showing the Tories a mere 16 points ahead, was an exception).

Though Conservative strategists insist they could lose the election, in an attempt to incentivise turnout, their decision to target Labour MPs with majorities as high as 8,000 shows the scale of their ambitions (a Commons majority of circa 150 seats). But as well as despair, there is hope to be found in the opposition's ranks.

Though MPs lament that Jeremy Corbyn is an unavoidable drag on their support, they cite four reasons for optimism. The first is their local reputation, which allows them to differentiate themselves from the national party (some quip that the only leaflets on which Corbyn will feature are Tory ones). The second is that since few voters believe the Labour leader can become Prime Minister, there is less risk attached to voting for the party (a point some MPs make explicit) "The problem with Ed Miliband and the SNP in 2015 was that it was a plausible scenario," a shadow minister told me. "It was quite legitimate for voters to ask us the question we didn't want to answer: 'what would you do in a hung parliament?' If voters have a complaint it's usually about Jeremy but it's not the case that he looks like he can become prime minister."

The third reason is the spectre of an omnipotent Tory government. MPs appeal to voters not to give Theresa May a "free hand" and to ensure there is some semblance of an opposition remains. Finally, MPs believe there is an enduring tribal loyalty to Labour, which will assert itself as polling day approaches. Some liken such voters to sports fans, who support their team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they like the manager. Outgoing MP Michael Dugher (who I interviewed this week) was told by an elderly woman: "Don't worry, love, I will still vote Labour. I vote for you even when you're rubbish."

Ben Bradshaw, the long-serving MP for Exter, who has a majority of 7,183, told me: "We're not anything for granted of course. On the current national polling, the Tories would take Exeter. But having covered five polling districts, although the leadership is undoubtedly a big issue on the doorstep, most people say they'll still vote for me as their local MP and we're not detecting any significant shift away from 2015. Which is slightly puzzling given the chasm in the opinion polls." Bradshaw also promotes himself as "the only non-Tory MP in the south-west outside Bristol": a leaflet shows a blue-splattered map with a lone red dot. The Labour MP warns voters not to be left in a "one-party state". 

As in 2010, Labour may yet retain more seats than its vote share suggests (aided by unchanged boundaries). But the fate of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 - when the party was reduced from 56 MPs to eight - shows that local reputations are worth less than many suppose. Theresa May has succeeded in framing herself as a figure above party interests, who needs a "strong hand" in the Brexit negotiations. At the very moment when a vigorous opposition is needed most, Labour has rarely been weaker. And when the public turn resolutely against a party, even the best men and women are not spared.  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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