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Labour’s new leader ‘must be as popular as Blair’ to win next election

Labour’s new leader ‘must be as popular as Blair’ to win next election

🕔01.Jul 2015

The Labour party requires a lead over the Conservatives of more than 15 per cent to win a comfortable majority at the 2020 General Election, according to new research.

The impact of planned boundary changes plus the strength of minority parties and a continuing Liberal Democrat slump means that whoever becomes the new Labour leader in September will have to prove as popular as Tony Blair was in 1997 to win decisively.

The size of the mountain Labour must climb may be seen by many as lending credence to the claim that whoever replaces Ed Miliband may turn out to be no more than a caretaker leader fighting just the 2020 election before being replaced.

Research published by the Democratic Audit website examines voting trends at the 2015 election.

The two-party bias built into the electoral system, or ‘skew’, moved from a pro-Labour bias of 54 seats to a pro-Conservative bias of 48 seats, meaning that if the two parties had won the same number of votes, the Conservatives would have won 48 more seats than Labour.

The pro-Conservative bias of 48 seats was the largest in the past eight elections, and the first time since 1987 that it had been in the Conservative Party’s favour.  The largest contributor to this shift was third party victories, which swung from a Labour lead of 21 seats to a Conservative lead of 39 seats.

The research, by academic Tim Smith from Nottingham University, shows that the way parliamentary constituency boundaries are drawn at the moment, far from hampering the Conservatives as is often claimed, harms Labour and rewards the Tories.

Conservatives votes are much more efficiently distributed. When the parties’ vote shares are equalized, Conservative wins waste far fewer surplus votes than Labour, with the latter now tending to pile up larger but ultimately unnecessary majorities in safe seats.

The reason for this big increase in Conservative efficiency was caused by their very strong performance in the right places, i.e. marginal seats, and this was helped by the large number of first term incumbents standing for re-election for the first time.  Labour did best in its safest English seats.

The turnout in Labour areas remains substantially lower than in Conservative areas and there appears to be no sign that this is likely to change much.

A review of parliamentary constituency boundaries, shelved by the former coalition government, is likely to be resurrected by David Cameron and this will make it even difficult for Labour to win in 2020, effectively increasing the Tory majority in this parliament from 12 to 36 seats. The researchers conclude:

Labour’s path back to a majority is going to be extremely difficult and on a uniform swing even before boundary changes the party would need to be 12.5 percentage-points ahead of the Conservatives to win a majority.

Boundary changes would likely make this even worse and might mean Labour would need the kind of lead they achieved in 1997 in order to win a majority of one.

Worse still for Labour, there are now a further 38 Conservative first term incumbents in seats gained from other parties, who, if they stand for re-election in 2020 are likely to gain their sophomore surge, making it harder for Labour, or indeed the Liberal Democrats, to win the seats back and deprive the Conservative government of its majority.

Separate research by the Electoral Calculus website comparing voting patterns at the 2015 General Election with opinion poll predictions identifies the following differences between what was predicted and what actually happened:

  • The Conservatives gained one per cent support, rather than losing three per cent, with fewer voters defecting to UKIP than was expected
  • There was a net two per cent swing of voters from Labour to Conservatives
  • The Lib Dem flow to UKIP was smaller than expected
  • The Lib Dem to Conservative flow was higher than expected
  • The Labour flow to SNP was higher than expected.

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