Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham at Labour's manifesto launch. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How hard will it be for Labour to win the next election?

Boundary changes, Scotland and a new Tory leader mean the task is formidable. But five years is an eternity in politics. 

As they adjust to the strange new world of a Conservative majority, Labour MPs' minds have quickly turned to how they win next time. The belief of many that the last election was lost in the opening months of the 2010 parliament - when the party elected Ed Miliband and failed to rebut the Tories' account of the crash - means the coming leadership contest is regarded as particularly crucial. A fierce debate is underway over whether a short, six-week election should be held or whether, as in 2010, the party needs an extended debate about its future. Which option is favoured partly depends on the preferred candidate. MPs believe that a short contest would favour Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, the most experienced contenders, over relative newcomers Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Dan Jarvis and Tristram Hunt (all elected in 2010 or, in Jarvis's case, in 2011). A longer contest would give the "clean skins" more time to establish themselves. 

Labour's NEC will meet on Wednesday to agree a timetable for the leadership and deputy leadership contests. Under the party's rules, MPs need to be nominated by 15 per cent of the PLP (up from 12.5% in 2010) meaning there will be a maximum of six candidates (each needing to win over 35 of Labour's 232 MPs). 

For whoever wins, the challenge is a formidable one. Labour needs 94 gains to achieve a majority, a feat that only the Liberals in 1906 and Labour in 1945 have achieved from a starting point so weak. To add to this arithmetical Everest, the Tories will use their new-found majority to pass the boundary changes previously vetoed by the Lib Dems, increasing their standing by around 20 seats. At the next election, whether in 2020 or earlier, Labour will also have to contend with a new Conservative leader, most likely Boris Johnson or Theresa May, who may revive the party's support just at the moment it is flagging (as John Major did in 1990). The final great obstacle to a Labour victory is Scotland, where most believe it will take a generation, rather than merely a single term, to end the SNP's hegemony. 

But MPs are consoling themselves with the knowledge that if a week is a long time in politics, five years is an eternity. Just months after their triumph in 1992, the Tories' economic reputation was destroyed overnight by Black Wednesday. The scale of cuts planned over the new five years, the risk of a housing or banking crash and possible EU withdrawal all mean that a similarly epochal event cannot be ruled out. And if, as in 1994, Labour elects a leader with wide-ranging appeal, there is no reason it cannot win a majority. The lesson of this election, in which Cameron defied prediction by increasing the Tories' vote share, is to never dismiss what is thought impossible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year - or almost £300m per week - as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash  higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.