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 per cent across the United Kingdom, analysis of the 2015 results by constituency reveal. 

In, Cleethorpes, the seat that on a uniform swing would deliver a Labour majority of one, the party trails by 7,893 votes. In the equivalent seat in 2010, Norwich North, Labour was just 3,901 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 3,718 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 needs a 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 8,350 votes. Labour has 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 2,973, up from 54. Just one of Labour’s top ten targets, Thurrock, has a Tory majority of under a thousand. But even there, 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 Labour'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 and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.