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”

1 9 10 11 12 13 15
  1. If Burnham is the next Labour leader then they can kiss goodbye to 2020 – he simply will not appeal to the voters in the South that Labour needs to win over in order to become the largest party.

    He’s also got a lot of baggage re “Privatisation” of the NHS and is also another who will struggle with economic credibility after having been too close to the Brown government.


    The Guardian model appears to be partly endowment-based (Scott Trust), with some diversification (training courses etc), but most significantly reaching to a global Anglophone audience to increase turnover and advertising income.

    The Telegraph seems little more than low quality vanity publishing for the Barclay Brothers now.

  3. @ Ed G

    It may. But you forget the number of people who voted in 2010 and 2015, and unfortunately won’t be with us in 2020, and those who didn’t have voting rights for the last two elections.

    I keep on going through various regions in England and seeing that the question is LibDem and UKIP voters.

    Anyway, Burnham is not left at all, and as long as there’s a coherent message, a quite broad ranging lot can be accommodated on the front bench.

  4. @ Hawthorn

    Indeed they have different editions for different parts of the world (did they copy BBC?). They also have extremely clever ads.

    Print cost has come down significantly, but distribution cost remains high. I would be surprised if the newspaper revenue (not profit) was higher than 35-40% of the cover price.

  5. Chris Leslie will be a way better shadow Chancellor than Ed Balls (who whilst a good economist is a crap politician).

    Osborne of course is better after 5 years in the job than he was and less likely to re-produce an Omni-shambles or even a mini-shambles.

  6. Laszlo – I don’t think it particualrly matters whether voters in 2020 were of voting age in 2010 or even 2015, this was probably the 1st election since 1987 that Thatcher wasn’t used to bash the Tories despite her having not been in power since 1990, mud sticks and its difficult for any politician to shake off their path.

    As for the implied theory that there is a huge wave of Tory voters about to drop off the electoral conveyor belt that’s simply not the case, whilst younger people are more likely to vote for left leaning parties these same people are more likely to vote Tory as they get older.

    Whilst many posters here don’t see Burnham as being a left wing candidate – voters in the South will and he’ll certainly be painted that way by the right-wing media.


    Oh, the print versions will undoubtedly lose money. The future is clearly online for all newspapers. I am surprised it has not happened already, actually.

  8. Re monstering its a more subtle process these days -tories decide on the attack line give it to the four papers they run and run , that influences 24/7 sky news who have lots of time to fill and that in turn influences bbc and itv.

    Works a treat -ironically the only way out of this for labour is to release the broadcasters from their obligation to be neutral -sky would become a tory version of fox ,bbc could become a cnn and itv nbc or cbs .

    That said the tories may yet do that for murdoch .

    It never was a fair fight hence labour had campbell,whelan,mcbride and baldwin.

    But sucking up didnt sort it either as murdoch goes with the winner eg blair and now snp.

    Labour needs a rich socialist prepared to buy papers .Mirror rumoured to want to buy desmonds express and star.Guardian and FTs finances said to be precarious-in fact graun is financed by autotrader.Plenty of change before 2020 expected.

  9. ED G

    If the global economy goes belly-up, so does Middle England.

    They might not be quite so Conservative if their house price drops by 30%.

  10. 07052015

    I am pretty sure that the Guardian sold Autotrader and definitely sold the Manchester Evening News.

    As I understand it, they are sat on a massive pile of cash to keep them going until they work out a new business model (which I describe above).

    I agree that Labour need a Malcolm Tucker (or better still a Jamie) to terrorise the creeps.

  11. Hawthorn – that’s all well and good but Labour’s strategy for 2020 cannot be relying on a global financial crisis.

    What you’re seeing is any excuse to post asinine rubbish
    Could not agree more,.Head in Sand comes to mind

    I can only presume you’re both “one-nation” tories. For everyone else, Con “won” only in England, where they garnered the support of 27% [1] of the electorate. In Northern Ireland they garnered the support of only 0.7%, with the DUP narrow winners on 14.9%. In Scotland they achieved 10.6%, with the SNP winning with 35.5%. Whilst in Wales they got 17.9% with Lab winning with 24.2%.

    UK wide Con were the least detested party overall, garnering 24.4% of the electorate. IIRC, that’s lower than Lab in 2005.

    AC may have exaggerated the localisation of Cons within England, but it’s hardly rubbish to say that the one home nation which supported them was England.

    [1] All percentages based on et seq.

    NB: Would anyone have any idea when the BES result details will be updated?

  13. ED G

    “Whilst many posters here don’t see Burnham as being a left wing candidate…..he’ll certainly be painted that way by the right-wing media.”

    Of course he will, as will whichever leader Labour picks. It’s what the right-wing media do.

  14. @Jim Jam

    As I see it Chris Leslie’s just an interim, isn’t he? I can’t say he particularly impressed me as Shadow Chief Secretary but I guess if he performs well over the next few months he could keep the job.

  15. ED G
    ‘whilst younger people are more likely to vote for left leaning parties these same people are more likely to vote Tory as they get older.’

    There was a whole discussion about this many moons ago on UKPR. There is no definitive proof at all that this is the case.

  16. @Trofimov

    “@Phil Haines
    How much do you think that list of shadow cabinet members Labour List readers ordered according to the MP’s effectiveness would equate to a list of shadow cabinet ministers that readers recognised?”

    I agree with you – a lot wouldn’t, including me in the case of Liz Kendall, so to some degree it is a case of “which have you heard of”. In itself though, that is a test – if you haven’t heard of a shadow minister, they haven’t been holding ministers to account.

    That said, it is I think instructive that despite holding portfolios which are both considered strong areas for Labour (NHS and Education respectively), Burnham came top of the lot and Hunt towards the bottom. I think that’s right – I thought Burnham was an effective shadow health secretary, while Hunt didn’t make the most of his brief. You can’t put Hunt’s lowish ranking down to him being poorly known.

  17. Jack S,

    Unlike Osborne Chris Leslie has never ran away from being interviewed by Andrew Neil on Daily Politics and has been on there perhaps once a months at least.

    It is his performance on this show against imo the best interviewer in British Politics in particular which has impressed me.

  18. Am I the only person who finds the fairly constant mentioning of electoral share in terms of the eligible population rather pointless.

    Unless there for a specific reason or augment, which it rarely is, it just serves as an indicator of a biased point of view.

  19. @Phil Haines @Trofimov

    Also worth considering that the goal posts have moved. When they thought Andy Burnham had been a great Shadow Health Secretary they still thought the best way to win was to pretend the Tories were planning to privatise/bankrupt/ruin the NHS. People only started talking about needing to reach out when they lost.

    Having said that he was quite effective at driving the agenda – constantly calling Jeremy Hunt to the House for urgent questions and so forth and probably contributing to the Tories improving their health policy.

  20. Chris Lane

    I have a feeling that you could be right about the Labour leadership with your Burnham/Kendall suggestion. Male/female, north/south, Leftist/Rightist. It makes sense.

    I was hopeful that Liz Kendall might be a breath of fresh air, but her Newsnight interview disappointed. Evan D asked her if she would lift the top rate of tax to 50%, even if it didn’t raise any revenue. She ducked it rather than give the obvious answer, which is ‘No’. Or next best, which is ‘Yes’ and explain why. Instead she waffled and prevaricated.

    Chronic fear of offending the average Labour activist is not the way for an outsider to win. One surely has to be bold, and show some bottle.

    I know nothing of Keir Starmer and Mary Creagh, but an outsider could come through, as Cameron did, just by making one good rousing speech and speaking a few home truths.

    It looks like Burnham, as he is clearly decent, and does connect with the electorate. That might be enough. The rest are sounding like they have just left the University Debating Club: have they not met any ordinary people in the twenty years since?

    There is too much about the nuances of policy, and appealing to the centre, whilst not alienating the core vote.
    Isn’t it more about being a decent person, answering questions directly and openly, and espousing simple messages in understandable language?

    Labour can certainly win, have no doubt, but they will need to improve the way in which they are perceived. And I’m not talking about more PR and focus groups.

  21. @barba

    “I can only presume you’re both “one-nation” tories. For everyone else, Con “won” only in England”

    I can only presume you didn’t bother reading the conversation properly. I was calling out AC on the false claim that the Tories were a party of the SW and SE.

    I never said anything about the Conservatives “winning” in all four nations so give it a rest

  22. Off-topic: Have there been any polls on Scottish independence post-referendum? It strikes me as an obviously interesting question whether the SNP surge has coincided with an independence surge or whether this is primarily about getting a more favourable deal within the UK.

    My guess is that independence has not become more popular as the SNP probably does internal polling and if support went consistently over 50% they would be shouting this from the rooftops. But I haven’t seen any public polls testing my suspicion.

  23. Ed G

    It worked for Cameron. All he had to do was look credible.

  24. Keir Starmer. Hmm. Never a fan of people in high public office then moving in to politics for one party. Also, whilst he did some good things, I am a huge critic of the way we started to move to anonymity for victims and naming and shaming the accused before a trial had even begun. Simply not fair in a civilised society. See recent high profile cases where people were aquitted despite a long period of social media vilification. Thinking the two chaps from coronation street as a start. In summary, don’t want Starmer in a top job at Labour.

  25. Rich

    Are you too young to remember Colin Stagg?

  26. Hawthorn – I’m not disputing that it wouldn’t help or even make things virtually a slam dunk – however Labour needs to develop a strategy that assumes there won’t be a crash in the next 5 years.

    Catoswyn – isn’t ti fairly well shown that for the last 50 years + ? older generations have been more likely to vote Tory?

  27. @ Ed G

    My point wasn’t the loss of Conservative voters due to mortality rates. It was merely the changing composition of the electorate. The ground and the sky of the world will be the same in 2020, but people will walk very differently in it compared to 2010.

    The Labour Party had better account for the world economic cycle. They got it wrong last time.

  28. @omnishambles and interested: Thanks!

    @Laszlo: Conservatives have been dying off for at least the last 5,000 years. The problem is we keep making more old people. Currently the Lord in his wisdom is making new pensioners faster than he is making new teenagers, at least in this country, so it’s not really clear whether targeting a vanishing demographic that can hardly be bothered to vote anyway is a winning strategy.

  29. @ Mico

    It is true :-). In this respect intelligent design proposition has some evidence.

    But Conservatives of today are different from the conservatives of let’s say in 2005, and it’s happened ing incrementally.

  30. Mico

    In my neck of the woods, a surprising number of young voters told me they voted Conservative, which was a surprise. Firstly, because they voted that way, and secondly, because they were prepared to openly say so.

  31. Millie

    They don’t make shy Tories like they used to. :-)

  32. @laszlo

    Related to your comment, you might be interested in this article about the Conservatives (and Labour) slowly becoming more liberal over time. The author argues that the Lib Dems are becoming irrelevant partly because of this creeping liberalism.

  33. EiY

    I referred to ‘shy Tories’ in my pub the other night, and they thought I said ‘sh*te Tories’.

    Which is perfectly acceptable in my local.

  34. MILLIE.
    Hello to you, just back from our beach run, two hours, and getting over the GE 2015 result, and want to say I liked you post of a couple of days ago with the 27 Points.

    Burnham may well be able to admit the overspend and the need to avoid confiscatory tax policy.

  35. My 27 points went down well, except the last one, which was to recommend honesty amongst our politicians. This was clearly regarded as rather far-fetched and undeliverable.

  36. This is from an FT piece entitled “UK’s main opposition party must do more than choose a new leader”

    “Labour needs to distance itself from its former leader in other ways. The party has to abandon its visceral aversion to the reform of public services, recognising that shortcomings and inefficiencies exist in state hospitals, schools and transport services. It must refute the impression that it has been captured by Britain’s public sector trade unions. This does not mean abandoning a radical prospectus when it comes to tackling Britain’s contemporary problems. A classic example is the supply of housing, where market solutions have failed to provide an answer.”

    Of all the candidates, Burnham will find it most difficult to do this after his own NHS GE campaign .

  37. @ Colin

    This time we won’t know the proportion of the affiliated vote if I read the rules correctly.

  38. LASZLO

    Don’t affiliates have to register with the Party?

    I thought they did & so there should be a record of Members & Registered Affiliates.

  39. @ Colin

    They will have to, but also one person one vote, hence one cannot identify if the source of the vote. Obviously there will be a lot of hustling, etc, so one would know where the unions will want their vote to go, but it will be different from 2010 – the formal charge that the unions imposed EM on the LP.

  40. LASZLO

    Yes-less obvious . I can see that.

    But I would be surprised if Len in particular is reticent about declaring his Union’s preference.

  41. @JimJam

    Is it not more likely that Chuka Umunna will get the Shadow Chancellor’s job?

  42. Someone in another place suggested that Mr Umunna may seek Labour’s nomination for London Mayor. However, Sadiq Khan has already entered that race and I really can’t see there being a Chuka/Khan contest.

  43. @ Colin

    Oh, yes. He will make it clear (and the others too). but it will be difficult to know if his words worked or not. Just like in the elections: are those extra Cons votes from LibDem, UKIP, Labour, or DK?

  44. RAF and JIM JAM.
    Andy as leader, Liz as Home, Chuka at Shadow Chancellor, Caroline Flint at Health, Creagh at Education, Hunt as Foreign, Leslie at Trade/Industry. Yvette at somewhere?
    We will know after the school holidays!

  45. @ Chris Lane

    Wow! As long as they manage to stay on the message (doesn’t look likely), it’s a team that could hold up.

    I wouldn’t mind a few more names, but it’s the business of the new leader. You are clearly suggesting a coalition of different streams of the Labour Party. As long as there are no unexpected changes or high uncertainty, it could work.

  46. Let’s look at he oft cited case of Bolton West.
    2015 (2010)

    Conservative 40.6 (38.3)
    Labour 39 (38.5)
    UKIP 15.3 (4)
    Liberal Democrat 4% (17.2)

    Ok. So the formula is where does the LibDem vote goes (turnout was roughly the same in the two years).

    LibDem loosing 13.2%. Labour gaining 0.5%. So it leaves 12.7%. Conservatives go up by 2.3%, so it leaves 10.4%.

    Growth of UKIP is 11.3%.

    So, the question is not the figures, but the nature of the LibDem vote in 2010 (obviously it’s possible that those stayed home and some others came out to vote for UKIP).

  47. @Colin
    That FT quote doesn’t characterise the LP as I know it, rather a kind of sloppy caricature, unless of course you equate ‘reform’ with ‘privatisation’.
    The LP may have been ‘viscerally averse’ to such reforms in the 1970s and even 1980s, but not since. Nor has it been captured by public sector TUs.
    Of course, the FT very likely has the impression that this is so, and parts of the press certainly work hard to ensure that impression is shared by the electorate

  48. “LibDem loosing 13.2%. Labour gaining 0.5%. So it leaves 12.7%. Conservatives go up by 2.3%, so it leaves 10.4%”

    Or Lab gain all 13.2% and lose 12.7% of their 2010 vote leaving a net gain of 0.5%.

    There are many possibilities.

    In seats where a lot of the Lib vote started as a protest over Iraq I’d suggest those particular ex Lib voters didn’t go to Ukip.

    In other places some of the ex Lib vote probably did.

1 9 10 11 12 13 15