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. 

The analysis – which brings together the vote shares, turnout figures and majorities for the seats that would be easiest for Labour to take, highlights the challenge to Labour if it is to return to office in 2020.  Such analysis would form the beginnings of any target seat list for 2020.

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 British politics.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.