Stephen Bush over at the New Statesman has written an interesting article about the mountain that faces Labour at the next election. I’ve now had chance to sit down and play with the election results and the picture is as bleak for Labour as Stephen paints – for various reasons, the electoral system has now tilted against Labour in the same way it was tilted against the Conservatives at the last few elections.

Looking at how the vote was distributed at the general election the Conservatives should, on a uniform swing, be able to secure a majority on a lead of about 6%. Labour would need a lead of almost thirteen points. On an equal amount of votes – 34.5% a piece – the Conservatives would have almost fifty seats more than Labour, Labour would need to have a lead of about four points over the Conservatives just to get the most seats in a hung Parliament. The way the cards have fallen, the system is now even more skewed against Labour than it was against the Conservatives.

How did this happen? It’s probably a mixture of three factors. One is the decline of the Liberal Democrats and tactical voting – one of the reasons the electoral system had worked against the Tories in recent decades was that Labour and Lib Dem voters had been prepared to vote tactically against the Tories, and the Lib Dems have held lots of seats in areas that would otherwise be Tory. Those factors have vanished. At the same time the new dominance of the SNP in an area that was a Labour heartland has tilted the system against Labour. Labour had a lead over the Conservatives of 9% in Scotland, but Labour and Conservative got the same number of Scottish seats because the SNP took them all.

Finally there is how the swing was distributed at this election. Overall there was virtually no swing at all between Labour and Conservative across Great Britain, but underneath this there were variances. In the Conservative held target seats that Labour needed to gain there was a swing towards the Conservatives (presumably because most of these seats were being contested by first time Conservative incumbents). In the seats that Labour already held there was a swing towards Labour – in short, Labour won votes in places where they were of no use to them, piling up useless votes in seats they already held.


And, of course, these are on current boundaries. Any boundary review is likely to follow the usual pattern of reducing the number in seats in northern cities where there is a relative decline in population and increasing the number of seats in the south where the population is growing… further shifting things in the Conservatives favour.

736 Responses to “The mountain facing Labour”

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  1. @oldnat,

    I was merely making the point that hunting is big in Scotland, I know this as my future wife used to be married to a Scotsman. I never said they wanted fox hunting in itself, it’s just their hunting isn’t seen as needlessly cruel, but blasting a grouse or pheasant with a shotgun presumably is fine.

    There are lots of rather hypocritical things that I find about the new social democrat lefty scotland. Not least as well, an economy absolutely dependant on the burning of huge levels of fossil fuels ad infinitum. I always thought the left didn’t like Carbon…hmmm


  2. Allan Chrisitie,

    I hardly think about 1% of the population of Northern England represents momentum.


    P.S. Anyone want to take a bet on Murphy being Lord Jim by September?

  3. NEILJ

    JM speech after he lost his seat was very gracious. Labour lost a lot of longstanding MP’s in Scotland and I only wish more had been said by some of the winning candidates by recognizing the time that they had spent in public office.

    Much bitterness has been built up between the SNP and Scottish Labour over the years and JM was very vocal towards the SNP but despite that I think Scottish and UK politics will be duller without him.

    Anyway every political party has its ups and downs. The Slender man will be back I’m sure.

  4. TOH

    Oscar Wilde’s words, not mine.

  5. Peter Cairns
    Will you be standing again in the council elections or will it be Lord Peter? :)

  6. I would like to say I didn’t know a lot about Jim Murphy until two years ago, but that over the last couple of years I have been impressed by him. He had a very difficult leadership period and a lot of abuse which reflected poorly on those it came from.

    I would like to wish him all the best for the future.

  7. I would like to pay tribute to TOH. He was the one person on this forum who called the election correctly. That he was widely dismissed for this shows how blinded the others on this forum were by the polls.

    Well done TOH.

  8. Prof Howard

    I understand that Jim Murphy will be available on a free transfer in a month’s time, should any of his many admirers outwith Scotland want to sign him up for their local team.

    His strongest position is on the right wing.

  9. What a good thing for out democracy that Labour supporters having nothing better to discuss than fox hunting. Perhaps the chaotic condition of their party will come right as if by magic.
    Some of the old left sacred cows will need to go, perhaps understanding the country and country pursuits, will be a good place to start.

  10. Roly

    Are you suggesting that the hunting of sacred cows with packs of dogs should be reintroduced as well?

  11. @Roland,

    And for anybody who has read Blair’s autobiography, which I have, you will know he considers the fox hunting law, or rather the enormous parliament time spent (wasted) on it, one of the biggest regrets of his period in office.

  12. That doesn’t mean I support it, I don’t, it’s just there are far better things to use your parliamentary time with, as Blair realised. And the law itself didn’t really change much.,.

  13. ROLY

    They are understandably concerned about foxes, because all of theirs were shot recently.

    Milling around muttering is all that is left.

  14. @Bristolian Howard

    Would it not be a useful tactical development for PR enthusiasts in England, to have a EVEL chamber, based on FPTP? It could bring the PR issue more to the fore than it is at present.

    A federal system, with each nation have a PR based chamber would be mighty grand from my point of view.

  15. @Roland

    “perhaps understanding the country and country pursuits, will be a good place to start.”

    The understanding of the country, urban and rural, is that they oppose country pursuits.

  16. Prof Howard,

    Don’t think ToH was widely dismissed and I acknowledged his perspicacity a week ago but in case his missed it I am happy to repeat that he is the Man.

    Some long standing posters including myself thought a cons victory by 3% or so at the GE likely for a long time and therefore his view of 6-7% whilst not my view was certainly possible and I said so on occasions.

    What blind-sided me and I suspect others was that the polls continues to show a neck and neck race or slight Cons lead right up to polling day.
    (The Tories ostensibly poor start to the short campaign and EM performing better than some expected encouraged this narrative)

    ToH stuck to his judgement about the underlying polls being significant and it seems LP private polling asking questions on certain issues before the VI question suggests his ‘adjustment’ to the headline VI averages was right all along.

  17. I wouldn’t put it past Murphy to do a Farage, ‘I’ll resign in a month’ seems to be just buying him time. He could possibly stand in the upcoming leadership election.

    He was patently the wrong leader it is hard to see how anyone could have been worse, unless they managed to lose Edinburgh South as well.

    He blames the unions and party’s left wing for his failure. I am hoping that LiS will now tear itself apart, no LiS will make a future referendum far easier for the Yes campaign to win.

  18. Couper2802

    The Guardian is reporting that JM says he will not be standing for Holyrood.

    He also appears to be burning lots of bridges in statements being attributed to him.

    It sounds like he has had enough.

  19. Jim Jam

    I will defer to your better judgement as to whether TOH was widely dismissed here. I thought he had been but perhaps I didn’t see as much evidence as you did.

    It is remarkable how bad the polls were.

  20. Where is this ground breaking candidate announcement for Lab leadership??

  21. Prof Howard

    “It is remarkable how bad the polls were.”

    Something of an extreme statement?

    It’s also true that It is remarkable how good the polls in Scotland were.

    It might be that pollsters can’t find a way to be accurate when lots of people within a political system can’t see much difference between two parties vying for government – and don’t much care either.

  22. The 10 “best” LD performances as measured by 2015 Vote Share as a % of 2010 vote share are as follows:

    93.8% East Dunbartonshire
    92.1% Edinburgh West
    90.8% Gordon
    89.2% Cambridge
    88.3% Argyll and Bute
    87.5% Bradford East
    85.8% Westmorland and Lonsdale
    84.8% Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
    82.7% Burnley
    80.7% Eastbourne

    Interesting that so many of the top 10 are in Scotland, and that only one of the seats they held made the top 10 by vote retention.

  23. @ExileInYorks

    I wonder if he is considering the well worn Scots Tory path to a safe seat in England he seems to have a lot of support in the UK Labour party.

  24. Exile in Yorks

    I’m not sure that the Scottish seats fit very well in that list, when you look at the drop in the Con vote –

    93.8% East Dunbartonshire (Con dropped 6.9%)
    92.1% Edinburgh West (Con dropped 10.9%)
    90.8% Gordon (Con dropped 7%)
    88.3% Argyll and Bute (Con dropped 9.1%)
    84.8% Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Con dropped 6.2%)

    Unsuccessfully gaining Tory tactical votes obviously kept the vote share up, but is unlikely to be prospect of keeping them.

  25. @Couper2802

    Well this statement isn’t inconsistent with what you suggest:

    Murphy said he would no longer seek election to the Scottish parliament as previously planned, adding: “It’s time for me to do something else.”

    However, if he was actively thinking of it, I don’t think he would have said this:

    “The leader of the Scottish Labour party doesn’t serve at the grace of Len McCluskey, and the next leader of the UK Labour Party should not be picked by Len McCluskey.”

  26. @Rich
    “Where is this ground breaking candidate announcement for Lab leadership??”

    Like much else we were led to believe recently, it never happened.

    @ Couper
    “He blames the unions and party’s left wing for his failure.”

    He’s the most deluded politician in the Union to think that taking left would actually have lost Labour votes in Scotland. Like many Blairites he finds it very difficult to believe anyone can possibly win an election thinking differently. It must have been someone else’s fault because….it must! Terrible candidate (as most of us noted at the time of his election), lousy politician.

  27. Co-op passed a motion by 48,579 for, to 39,479 against, to approve “political expenditures” of up to £1m which support the movement’s objectives.

    Not surprised. Such a terribly constructed voting form that it took me ages to work out how to vote against!

    Still not sure, that it all has to go to Lab/Co-op though.

  28. @ Old Nat

    It’s not easy playing “what happens next” with so many factors in play. As you point out some unionist tactical voting is almost certainly part of the picture, but this might increase if ABS gains momentum.

    Without the benefit of incumbency, the LDs would be expected to be weaker next time, but some of their best known MPs might be tempted to give it another shot offsetting this, and the tarnish of coalition will not be quite so fresh. It’s just too early too tell.

  29. LiS leaders since 1999 – Dewar, McLeish, McConnell, Alexander, Gray, Lamont & Murphy – now looking for number eight.

    Only Dewar had a dignified exit – though I felt sorry for Henry McLeish. The Westminster expenses scam he was involved in was one that all Fife Lab MPs were shared in, including Gordon Brown, and it didn’t involve any breach of Scottish Parliament rules.

    Given the limited pool they can now draw on, I can see real problems for an inexperienced politician being the next to be thrown to the wolves after the 2016 debacle, before having had a chance to one their political skills.

  30. Exile in Yorks

    True, but I also think that “incumbency” may not play the same way in the devolved nations compared with England, where they only have the one person representing them in all central government matters.

    Scottish incumbency is probably strongest where the same party holds both the Westminster and Holyrood seats.

    Both Labour and LDs had much fewer of these in 2015 than in 2010.

    In 2016, the only place where that is true for any party, other than the SNP, is Orkney and Shetland. For 2020 that may not even be true for both Northern Isles council areas.

    I still expect the Scottish Tories to increase their share of the right wing Unionist vote..

    In 2015, the Tory vote was stable (+- 3%) n 44 seats. In a number of those, however, I’d anticipate their being the main recipient of ABS votes – especially in areas with a high proportion of those who were born in other parts of the UK. (Berwickshire etc being the obvious one. Those of who felt that Michael Moore would have a significant enough personal vote to hang on, were proved totally mistaken!)

    In the 13 seats where their vote share went down, 8 were LD held seats and 5 were Lab seats, where voting for the sitting MP might have held out the prospect of stopping the SNP. Only in Edinburgh South (in somewhat special circumstances) did the tactical voting work.

    Discounting Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the Tory vote went up by over 5% in Moray and Dunfermline largely through tactical voting by previous Lab and LD voters, I’d suggest.

    So, I agree that the preferred locus for the ABS vote will be critical, but I still see Ruth Davidson as being better able to garner that, than Rennie or whoever the new LiS person is.

  31. Prof Howard

    Actually I must have been one of the first to congratulate TOH, as soon as it was clear the Conservatives had won an overall majority.
    I admire people who are gracious in defeat and try to practice what I preach.

    New thread

  32. ProfHoward, JimJam, and Valerie.

    Thanks for you kind comments re the election results. I agree the OP’s were very misleading at the end and they clearly affected the judgement of the Academic forecasters as well as the parties, despite what they say.

    I think the advantage I had was I always ignored the headline polling figures and my own forecast was not dependent on complicated mathematical analysis. What i tried to do was imagine I was an ordinary uncommitted voter and asked myself what would be the main factors making me vote one way or the other.

  33. Valerie

    I did appreciate the quote was from Oscar Wilde but although he was a very witty writer and i enjoy some of his plays, on this issue i disagree with him, as i do with you. Having said that, yours is probably a majority view, sadly IMO.

  34. @OLDNAT

    There’s no need to invent areas like ‘Middleland’, as the old kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Norttumbria work well. If you use Northumbria’s greatest extent, then you can even explain the Tory strength in Southern Scotland. Perhaps the French have something in their hate of “les Anglo-Saxons”, as there appears to be some correlation with the old Saxon kingdoms.

  35. I’d be very surprised to see Jim Murphy back in frontline politics anytime soon, his contacts at Henry Jackson and elsewhere should ensure a substantial private income through various ‘right of centre’ think tanks, private directorships and the rest.
    Some people in Scottish Labour think they will miss him, I don’t think they will.
    And I agree with Oldnat, McLeish was definitely the best Labour First Minister, though that was largely a result of internal New Labour politics.

  36. I’ve just got here so I don’t know if anyone has made this point yet so apologies if I’m repeating.

    The problem with talking about inter-party ‘swing’ is that it gives the impression of movements directly between parties when in fact its based on changes in vote share. Son in many marginal seats in England it appears that voters have moved from Labour to Tory. But what in fact has happened is that in the vast majority of cases the Labour share has declined because of movements to UKIP which have outweighed any gains from LD voters at 2010. If Labour can solve its UKIP problems (or UKIP implodes) before the next General Election, and these voters return to Labour then the situation changes radically and these monster swings become a much more likely occurrence

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