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. I think it was more realistically Labour voters going to UKIP with Lib Dem voters back-filling the hole by going to Labour.

  2. @ Mr Jones

    It is, of course, possible. I didn’t play out all the permutations. However, it was a Con-Lab marginal in 2010 and to a degree in 2005 (17.9% for LibDem).

    Why would they have suddenly, en masse, choose Labour?

    The more I look at constituencies North of Potters Bar, the more I find the same pattern (but not exclusively!)

    Who were these 2010 LibDems? Well, very different people, but it is perhaps the most interesting question for Labour.

  3. @ Albert’s nemesis

    It is possible, but not supported by previous election results.

  4. I suppose what I’m claiming is that there were four major parts of the large LibDem vote from 2005:

    Genuine LibDem voters
    Doubtful LibDem voters

    The ABT went to Labour, the ABL split between the Conservatives and UKIP.

    Depending on the constituency, the split happened very differently.

  5. @Chris Malthouse
    ‘Seats like where I live Rugby, have moved from being generally held by Labour to being a seat that the Tories should win in anything but a bad year for them’

    But is that not because Rugby is now combined with Kenilworth? I suspect that on its own Rugby would still be much more Labour-leaning.

  6. Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what the BPC’s findings are likely to say about the polling debacle and how long it might be before they report.

  7. As ever UKPR makes entertaining reading on a Friday night over a glass of wine. Remember House rules (although this was earlier in the day) don’t make it personal!

    Time will tell whether Chuka chucking in his hand was due to skeletons about to emerge out of the closet or he genuinely didn’t expect the media interest to affect him and his family in the way it has. Naive, yes, but I suspect the latter.

    As Laszlo has pointed out, who’s shifted to whom is difficult to determine but I think the outcome of 2020 will depend on a number of variables. In no particular order:

    Will the new Labour leader be more or less credible than the post Cameron Tory leader?

    Will Cameron’s strategy of “parking his tanks on Labour’s lawn” (northern powerhouse etc) and boundary changes translate into seats?

    Are the LDs back to where they were in the 70s or can a new leader / fresh name enable them to bounce back quickly.

    Will UKIP still be a force or will they have melted down (now or post referendum)?

    Will SNP still be the preferred choice for Scotland- or will they be seen as “establishment” by then?

    In other words, I haven’t a clue but I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the Tories will win next time.

    Another factor to me is the nature of the floating voter who makes a difference. In Blair / Major days it was the Lab/Con middle ground that was the territory. Now it is also the Lab/Nationalist line. I think the latter is the more important for Labour but (despite the SNP) they should not confuse this with the traditional left/right dimension and think that moving to the left will address it.

    Frankly, I don’t envy the job of the new Labour leader or that of the post Cameron Tory leader. There are too many factors outside of their control.

  8. Laszlo

    You’re effectively saying the leftie and muslim voters who switched to Lib from Lab over the Iraq war / middle east foreign policy switched to Ukip.

    Albert’s Nemesis


  9. St Ives, a LibDem stronghold

    LibDems were losing heavily already in 2010 – to Conservatives, although some went to UKIP.

    In 2015, they lose 9.6%, far less than the average, but oddly Cons, who win the seat lose votes too. Ukip, Labour and Greens all gain. So, probably about 3% goes to Green, 1.5% to Labour and the rest to UKIP.

  10. Mr Jones

    It’s a huge misunderstanding of the LibDem voters.

  11. “St Ives”


  12. Laszlo

    Yes it is.

    The Lib vote is/was different in different parts of the country.

    1) Celtic fringe (lib vs con)
    2) Inner city (lib vs lab)
    3) Prosperous urban (lib vs con)
    4) Proto-Ukip: northern anti-con and anti-lab (lib vs lab)

    all different.

    The inner city seat Lib seats largely came about around the time of the Iraq war.

  13. @ DAIBACH

    Good questions.

    Three more:

    How will Labour’s front bench look like?

    What will happen to the economy (calculating with the 8-year cycle – could come early, could come late)?

    Who can capture (some) of the LibDem votes? They are voting, so it’s important.

    Can anyone access the depth of the social order (Labour and Cons can’t), which can cause a huge upheaval.

  14. Four …

  15. The Pro Keir Starmer movement is spreading quickly I see. Have any polling companies included him in leadership polls?

  16. @BM11

    He’s still only 18/1 sixth favourite on Oddschecker. The funny thing is the odds on Dan Jarvis have shortened to 33/1 even though he’s already pulled out of the race!

  17. Keir Starmer as leader would be weird, given he’s been in Parliament for all of a week.

    Although if he did become leader and Natalie Bennett contested Holborn and St. Pancras again in 2020, it might be the first instance of party leaders directly challenging one another.

  18. He’d be good at the Wednesday lunchtime pantomime as a barrister.

  19. @BM11

    The Pro Keir Starmer movement is spreading quickly I see. Have any polling companies included him in leadership polls?

    I’m not sure the Pollsters have come out from under the duvets they retired to last Friday ;-)

  20. @CMJ

    Which is why I focussed on the bookies

    I can only presume you didn’t bother reading the conversation properly.

    It certainly became pretty unpleasant from your side, but I did struggle through it, without noticing any data to support your conclusion.

    I was calling out AC on the false claim that the Tories were a party of the SW and SE.

    Mildly exaggerated would be more accurate than your false. We won’t be able to analyse the English regional split of the Con vote until we can access the full BES data or its equivalent. In the meantime, all it is reasonable to do is to regard AC’s its all a bit of fun but it’s quite clear England is a divided nation as “not proven”.


    The FT has traditionally been quite left in its political stance-though didn’t support Labour last time.

    Burnham made it quite clear that he had changed his stance on private providers.

  23. I think it says something that I’ve had to Wikipedia Kier Starmer to
    understand what all the fuss is about. That said it would take a “curved ball” from Labour to break the deadlock surrounding all the uncertainties I mentioned earlier. I’m not necessarily saying this is it from my own political preferences but from my dispassionate observer point of view, I’m thinking “go on – let’s see what happens!”

  24. @barba
    “I did struggle through it, without noticing any data to support your conclusion.”

    My conclusion that the Tories aren’t just a party of the SW and SE?

    Here’s some data for you to struggle through. The results of the 2015 UK general election:

    You might want to focus on the blue hexagons

  25. Starmer is certainly a curveball, although my Fantasy Football leadership team remains Paul Blomfield and Louise Haigh for the parochial Sheffield factor.

  26. PS to my previous posts on this thread.

    BES have now released v1 of their 2015 data.


    Apologies if someone has already posted above.

  27. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) announces candidacy for the Deputy Leadership.

  28. Michael Crick suggested that the leader could be elected until 2018 (until Cameron is replaced). Starmer would be quickly up to speed on the legal stuff that will be a major political factor in the next few years. If it didn’t work out, there would be chance of a rethink.

    I can see the logic of him leading.

  29. For a movement so confident what has Labour come to?

  30. Had you considered digging up Ernest Bevin ?

  31. I have a feeling this this thread could have been entitled ‘A mountain to climb for the pollsters’.

    As well as that, all the suggestions of how Labour wins back its lost voters seemed to mirror the befuddlement about the GE outcome and a likely direction for the parties, including the Cons. For that reason it could have been entitled ‘A mountain to climb for UKPR commentators’.

    Here’s some data for you to struggle through. The results of the 2015 UK general election

    The images you link to have no voting or electorate detail and is not easy to aggregate.

    The BES data I have just linked to above does include electorate, vote and nation [region for England], which will enable calculation of regional support by party.

    PS. If you really can’t cope with copy and paste, which I know can be difficult on Android and Apple devices, do please refer to me as BZ to avoid confusion with other beardies.

  33. @Jack Sheldon
    “….they still thought the best way to win was to pretend the Tories were planning to privatise/bankrupt/ruin the NHS”

    They must have been pretending that it hadn’t already happened.

    We’ll see now if that £8 billion promise out of the blue was made using pretend money.

  34. Colin is right about the FT, although it depends on the particular section. Editorial control seems to be going there as well.

  35. Just come back from A & E….a week into the nasty Tories and it’s still there. Didn’t have to pay a penny!

  36. Just read Liz Kendall’s interview with the Guardian.

    Her grasp of economics is downright barking. No tax rises, a surplus and world class education. Presumably all done with magic pixie dust.

    Also, she says Labour should back an EU referendum. Er, what Labour thinks about it doesn’t really matter now.

  37. Lightweight and spineless.

    Next please!

  38. @Colin, Laszlo

    My comment was not about on the FT’s stance, other than that quote. To pretend that Lab is against reform of public services is nonsense. It has reservations about privatisation, but that’s not the same thing at all.

  39. @ BristolianHoward

    If you translate it to New Age Counselling: everybody has a mountain to climb, but listen to the inner voice/whatever, and you will do it!

  40. @ Howthorn

    You are a bit harsh. It was a positive Improvement since her last performance.

    “But while the panel appreciates your endeavours, and commitment, we think that you could find more job satisfaction on the backbenches. There! Would you like to borrow my binoculars?”

  41. @barbazenzero

    I give up. Why do you need more detail? Why is more data necessary?

    It’s a map. You can see by looking at the map where they won seats. A single glance at this map of results shows that they won many seats that aren’t in the south west or the south east. Surely this is all a statement of the obvious.

    I get the feeling I’m being trolled

  42. Laszlo

    The really stupid thing is that I doubt it would even help Labour in the polls.

    It would just that our core support would abandon us as well as middle England.

  43. …it would just lose us our core support…

  44. On Liz Kendall

    And there she goes again on the benefit cap –

    ‘Kendall said that she supported a welfare cap on the total amount of benefits received, arguing that “voters in my constituency do not feel people who are not working should get more than those in work”. ‘

    Just repeating the lines of the Tories and right wing press and no mention of why household benefits rise so high. So, the Newsnight interview was not a mistake! Thanks for turning up Liz, but your are not for me, thanks!

  45. Hi all. I haven’t been around much since the election because I’ve basically lost interest in the polls after the shambles they made this time round.
    However, I’ve looked in and there is still (mostly) intelligent and (reasonably) non-partisan discussion of politics, so here goes:

    Andy Burnham is the favourite for the Labour leadership. If he wins, will his Catholicism be a problem? I know in the modern world, it shouldn’t be, yadda yadda, but there are a couple of reasons why it might matter.
    1) If he becomes PM he will have to advise the Queen on who to appoint as Archbishop of Canterbury (and possibly other bishops? Not sure)
    2) Tony Blair felt it was necessary to delay his conversion until after he had stepped down as PM. Whatever your opinion of Blair he was a very clever and successful politician and would have had a good reason for delaying.

  46. As a policy position, it is not even credible.

    You’d have to be lobotomised to believe that ANY democratic government could ever run a surplus on a consistent basis.

    If she believes it she is either mad or just not the sharpest tool in the cupboard.

  47. In the Machiavellian world of politics whose to say that Chukka Ummuna wasn’t given intimations by persons unknown that if he failed to withdraw, certain information would be given to the press.

    In what after all is a very dirty business not all of the dirt is dredged by press investigations.

    I remember another leadership contest not too long ago where brown paper envelopes were rumoured to have been exchanged at quiet tables of discrete restaurants, and ‘unfortunate’ information became public knowledge.

    The presentation to us the public might be likened a little to the swan, all serene and gliding effortlessly along, but out of sight the feet are thrashing around like mad !

  48. @ Pete B

    I would follow Kennedy’s line. Conducting surveys with questions such as

    “do you think there would be a tunnel built between The Vatican and Downing Street?”

    If it suggests that there is a problem, take it on. Have debates with puritans, and various other types of Protestants. There are far more commonalities between beliefs in Christianity, and most importantly, there is a common vocabulary.

  49. Laszlo
    It’s not really a question of what are the opinions of the public or even puritan members of the public.

    There is potentially a constitutional difficulty if a Roman Catholic has to advise the Head of the Church of England on who should be her senior Archbishop. I suppose if the Queen says it doesn’t matter, or states that she might not take his advice it would be ok.

  50. @ Hawthorn

    This is what they want from Greece …

    But yes, since the WW2, it is probably necessary to run a deficit budget, not only at any one point, but overall. Yet, the policy between 2002-2007 was wrong, because it wasn’t back up with any proper evaluation on the consequences of investment expenditure on current expenditure. Still it was necessary to make those investment. Could they have come out and tell the people honestly what they were doing? Not after Iraq …

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