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 British politics.

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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