To return to office, Labour would have to target a win on the scale of the one they achieved in 1997. Photo:Getty
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Labour's path back to power is tougher than you think

A putative list of Labour's targets reveals the scale of the party's challenge. 

How badly did Labour lose? It was worse than you think. 

To secure a majority of one, Labour now needs a swing of 8.75 percent across the United Kingdom, analysis of the 2015 results by constituency as reveal. 

In, Cleethorpes, the seat that on a uniform swing would deliver a Labour majority of one, Labour trails by 7893 votes.  In the equivalent seat in 2010, Norwich North, Labour was just 3901 votes behind, and would have required a mere 4.6 per cent national swing to deliver the seat into the party’s hands. An equivalent swing now would see Labour win just 39 seats.

To be the largest party, Labour would have to take 51 seats directly from the Conservatives, up from 27 in 2010, with a uniform swing of 5.3 percent. Nuneaton, the staging post on this metric, has a Tory majority of 4,882, up from 2,069 in 2010.

Nor does Labour have an easier route back to power in Scotland. The smallest SNP majority that Labour must now overcome is 3718 votes, in Jim Murphy’s old seat of East Renfrewshire. Just 18 of the SNP’s seats have majorities of under 10,000 votes. A six-point swing from the SNP to Labour – equivalent to the one enjoyed by David Cameron against Gordon Brown – would deliver just two seats, flipping Edinburgh North & Leith as well as East Renfrewshire.

To win a majority in England and Wales alone, which the passage of English votes for English laws may now require, Labour now needs an 9.45 per cent swing from the Conservatives to win a majority of one. Harlow, which becomes the winning post under that scenario, has a Conservative majority of 8350 votes. Labour have not won the seat since 2005, when Tony Blair was elected for a third term.

In Labour’s lowest-hanging targets in 2010, the party now faces an uphill task in 2015. North Warwickshire, the party’s number one target, now has a Conservative majority of 2973, up from 54. Just one of Labour’s top ten targets, Thurrock, has a Tory majority of under a thousand. Even in Thurrock, the majority has increased from 92 to 536.  

To win a majority of ten, Labour would have to win Harlow, Shipley, Chingford & Woodford Green, Filton & Bradley Stoke, Basingstoke, Bexleyheath & Crayford, Kensington, Rugby, Leicestershire North West, Forest of Dean and Gillingham & Rainham. Of those ten, four – Chingford, Kensington, Filton & Bradley Stoke and Basingstoke – have never been won by Labour at any point in its history. All are Conservative-held.

Nor can Labour hope to win power solely by squeezing the Greens. Just 16 seats would return to Labour if the party were to win all the Green votes in those constituencies and to hold onto all its 2015 voters. In contrast, were Labour to gain the votes of Ukip supporters it would be enough to win almost two thirds of its mooted targets – although the reality is that squeezing the votes of either Ukip or the Greens to a sufficient level is probably a pipe dream.

That’s not to say that Labour’s path to power is impossible – a swing from the Conservatives of the magnitude the party achieved in 1997 would be enough to secure a majority of 71. But it does highlight just how difficult the party’s task is, and that 2015 was not the party's 1992 or even 1983. In terms of the scale of the task it was closer to 1931, when Labour took until 1945 to win an election again. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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