Don’t Panic – Labour can still win the election

by Jackie_South on February 8, 2015

Don't PanicMy fellow blog conspirators – Charlie East-West, Ray North and George East – have all weighed in on the impending general election over the last fortnight, so I thought I should add my thoughts.

As the most Labour-inclined of the four of us, it will not come as a surprise to regular readers that I do not entirely buy into Charlie’s view on the parties, nor George’s pessimism on the electoral maths.

Who to vote for?

I’m not going to pretend that Miliband et al have not disappointed me in their political weakness and their feebleness in opposing austerity, but the painting of them as ‘Red Tories’ does not really hold water.

If they really were going to offer the same as the Conservatives, do you really think that tax-dodging businessmen would be having a go at them? Here are ten red lines between Labour and the current government:

  1. The Conservatives are proposing at least £30 billion more cuts than Labour. That’s the figure of budget surplus that Osborne wants to create, Labour are only proposing to eliminate the deficit. If you also take into account that Labour is also proposing to effectively take some government spend on investment out of the equation too, that is a huge difference in the level of public spending that depends on whether Miliband or Cameron gets the keys to Downing Street.
  2. Labour will spend more on the NHS. OK, I’m not entirely convinced that the Mansion Tax in its currently proposed form is the best way to raise the dosh, but it is crystal clear that they will raise revenue to find more money for the NHS than the Tories.
  3. Schools – OK, not convinced by Tristan Hunt either, but Labour will call a stop to the lunacy of the Conservative apparent desire to replace any local authority school with the ill-named “free” schools (where “free” in fact means an extremely expensive vanity project for some over-privileged twats who think they know everything there is to know about schools because they used to go to one).
  4. Hunt’s announcement today about reopening Sure Start centres, giving kids from economically deprived backgrounds a much-needed educational start, is something that the Tories will never do.
  5. Whilst Labour have aped the Tories too much on welfare, there are important differences here too. Labour will abolish the Bedroom Tax (at least for social housing).
  6. The Tories will reduce the benefits cap still further, from £26,000 to £23,000 for a family. If £23,000 sounds like a lot to you, remember that works out at £442 a week, to cover rent, heating, food, clothes, travel (including to job interviews), the council tax many now have to pay etc. In London, if you are a homeless family put into bed and breakfast, the weekly charge is often more than that on its own.
  7. Also on welfare, many of those queuing at the foodbank are there because the Job Centre has sanctioned them – removing the entirety of their benefits for a period of a fortnight (in reality, often a month) for a first offence to six months. Many do so because someone sanctioned no longer counts as being on benefits – bingo! Labour promises to change how sanctions operate so it is no longer chucking families into destitution because they were five minutes late for an interview, or because they went to their mother’s funeral.
  8. Local government: even though Labour may keep to the government’s proposed cuts over all, they will apply them more fairly. If you think that is a trifling matter, consider this: in April, the amount of government grant for Hackney (adding together council and GLA grants) will be cut by £92.64 per person, whilst at the same time those same grants in Epsom and Ewell will increase by £23.78 per person. Since 2010, inner London councils and northern cities have lost hundreds of pounds per head whilst every council in Surrey has had a net increase. Most of the grant for those inner London and northern urban councils is spent on social services – keeping the Tories in will inevitably lead to some of those councils having to make choices on whether intervene to protect children on financial grounds.
  9.  Affordable housing: the Tories cut the funding for new affordable housing by 75% in 2010 and want planning regulations that currently lead developers to provide it. Labour will put in place measures to give local councils more powers to build homes.
  10. Price control: Labour will freeze energy bills and introduce new rent controls. The Coalition parties think this should all be up to the market, despite the significant market failures in both areas.

If you vote in England (outside of Brighton Pavilion and Buckingham), that leaves a pretty clear choice for the election: of the parties that have any chance at all, you can vote Labour (the Greens have no chance outside of Caroline Lucas’ seat) or you can vote for the Conservatives on these issues (I’m including the Liberal Democrats with the Tories here as they have increasingly made clear that is who they would prefer to work with).

Do not make mistake of letting disappointment in Labour lead you think that they are the same as the two coalition parties. In 2000, many leftwing Americans said the same about the Democrats and the Republicans – how many now think that there was no different between a Bush victory and one for Al Gore?

Will Labour really lose?

On Friday, George rather prematurely posted that Labour had already lost the election. It depends of course what you mean by ‘lose’ – if you mean win with an outright majority, I would tend to agree it is now unlikely. That is very different to ‘losing’ though in my opinion, unless losing also includes David Cameron in 2010, Harold Wilson in February 1974 and Ramsey McDonald becoming the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924.

George’s view that Labour would not become the largest party at the next election depended on an interpretation of Lord Ashcroft’s polling that not even Lord Ashcroft was drawing: he points out that the seats he looks at are the ones where the largest swings are likely and that it is only a snapshot, not a prediction.

What is undoubtably true is that Labour will lose seats to the SNP, in numbers that would not have been thinkable only six months ago. This is a disaster for Labour, but a catastrophe where those losses are in the upper thirties seems unlikely.

At their most basic, polls do two things: they take a sample of data from potential voters and then they apply some assumptions about how that raw data will translate into votes. The latter needs some exploration: in 1992 for example, pollsters famously understated Conservative support. They then changed their assumptions to account for these ‘shy Tories’.

That is old news, but the changes in the political landscape make it harder for pollsters to accurately predict newer issues. That is why pollsters have differing trends on votes for the Lib Dems and UKIP – for example, YouGov have not had the Lib Dems polling above single digits in any of their ninety-plus polls since August, whilst ICM always gives them double-digit percentages. That is because YouGov does not make any assumptions about ‘don’t knows’ whilst ICM assumes that any previous Liberal Democrat voter that is now a ‘don’t know’ will return to the Lib Dem home. The truth is probably somewhere in between: some will return, whilst in my experience some of these are “I’ve not made up my mind, but I definitely won’t be voting Lib Dem again”.

The relevance here is that we cannot yet quantify how many ‘shy Labour’ voters there are in Scotland post-referendum. We do know, of course, that the polls under-stated the ‘no’ vote lead in the independence referendum: in the final month, polls varied between Yes and No leads of 7%, and only 4 of those 20 polls had a No lead of over 5%. In the end, the No vote was 10.6% ahead.

The Ashcroft polls are actually very good for the size of their sample – a thousand voters in each constituency. But looking at the raw numbers, there are on average 22% of the sampled voters who do not state support for anyone. 27% in West Dumbartonshire did not name a party that they would vote for.

Those numbers are not unusual for a poll, and of course many may be non-voters. But once you start adding in the don’t knows that stated that they previously voted Labour, the number of seats the SN would win reduces. Add in a margin for uncertainly, and more shift back.

These polls are still terrible for Labour: Dundee West looks a right off, Cumbernauld, Glasgow North and Glasgow South also look like good chances for the SNP, and I would guess that they are likely to also take either Glasgow Central or Motherwell. All of these should be rock-solid Labour seats. Labour looks as if it is getting punished in its most deprived seats as the SNP hold out more hope on the massive welfare cuts decimating these areas than Labour does. Just as Greek voters who could not bear more austerity voted Syriza, these voters supported independence and now the SNP as the best hope against an existential threat.

But this looks more like Labour loosing a dozen seats rather than the high thirties, particularly when you note that these were the most pro-independence Labour constituencies in a country that voted against independence.

Here’s the Scottish results in 2010:

Scottish MPs 2010

Here is my best guess on how the general election pans out. I have Labour losing 11 seats (Aberdeen North and South; Cumbernauld; Dundee West; Falkirk; Glasgow Central, North and South; Glenrothes; Ochil and South Perthshire; Stirling), all to the SNP. Some of these will undoubtably be wrong, but I have put I have split the closer contests equally between the two parties (for example,Glenrothes and Aberdeen South are close calls in the SNP’s favour).

I have the Liberal Democrats as losing nine of their current eleven (retaining only Orkney & Shetland and Ross, Skye & Lochaber), with the SNP gaining eight of them and the Tories the other (Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk). That takes the Conservatives to two Scottish MPs, but I think that there are two other seats that the Conservatives could conceivably win that I have not included here: Dumfries and Galloway (if too many former Labour voters switch to the SNP) and West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (showing here as an SNP gain from the Liberal Democrats given the strong SNP showing here in the Scottish elections).

The resulting map looks like this: Labour wiped out everywhere north of Kirkcaldy, but holding most of its seats south of the Forth and Clyde.

Scottish 2015 GE prediction 080215

Those results would still make it entirely plausible that Labour would be the largest party in Westminster, capable of forming a government with the support of other left parties: SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and Caroline Lucas.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth February 9, 2015 at 8:51 am

He’s a symptom of a wider process – refeudalization. (Guest post available on request…)

And when even the Guardian thinks that the credibility of Parties should be judged by the amount of support they attract from millionaires, then the election is a done deal for the Tories.


Jackie_South February 9, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Mike – we’d be happy for you to submit a post on refeudalisation!


Mike Killingworth February 9, 2015 at 8:18 pm

OK, it’s done (about 1000 words). Where shall I send it?


George_East February 9, 2015 at 10:06 pm
George_East February 9, 2015 at 10:36 am

I as absolutely using ‘losing’ to mean not having an overall majority, as I hope the post made clear (which after all ended on a relatively positive note on potential minority gov/coalition numbers’). I used ‘losing’ in that sense as we (rightly in my view) have consistently said that the Tories lost in 2010.
You say it is plausible that Labour will be the largest party and I don’t disagree with that. What you don’t say is whether you think it is probable. My view as of now is that it is not.


Jackie_South February 9, 2015 at 1:44 pm

UK Polling report currently shows seats that would be won on a uniform swing as:

Lab 312
Con 241
LD 22
Other 57
N Ireland 18

That ‘other’ figure will include the Speaker (1), Greens (1?), Plaid Cymru (3-4), UKIP (5-10), leaving SNP numbers in the forties (41-47). So, this already appears to factor in a worst case scenario for Labour in Scotland.

Of course, a uniform swing won’t happen: I would expect more Tories (due to first term incumbency) and Lib Dems (due to longer-term incumbency) than this. But even then, it does suggest that Labour would have around 300 seats and be the largest party.


George_East February 9, 2015 at 2:24 pm

I think 300 seats is very optimistic.

My focus is now on the election forecasting sites rather than UKPollingreport’s automatic application of UNS.

As of now these show:
ElectionsEtc (Stephen Fisher – Oxford University): Con 282, Lab 279, SNP 41, LD 23
ElectionForecast (UEA/LSE/Durham): Con 285, Lab 282, SNP 34, LD 26
ElectoralCalculus (Martin Baxter -ex Cambridge): Lab 298, Con 265, SNP 50, LD 16.


Green Christian February 9, 2015 at 5:38 pm

You say that the Greens have no chance outside of Caroline Lucas’ seat, but that’s not true. Norwich South is a straight Labour-Green fight. Whilst it is unlikely that we will beat Labour this time, it’s not impossible. Also, all the indications are that Bristol West will be a three-way fight between Labour, the Greens, and the Lib Dems. I would agree that a Green victory outside those three seats would be a massive surprise, though.


George_East February 9, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Outside chance in Cambridge I’d guess too – if Julian Huppert’s support completely collapses. Pretty unlikely but certainly a chance if the Greens poll close to 10% nationally .


alx w February 11, 2015 at 10:09 pm

What would make this election v interesting would be if the SNP made the full morph into a social democratic UK party. If they presented their manifesto in all english and welsh seats as well (scottish independence excepted, not that that might deter many) it would be interesting to see how many non voters and Labour voters they would capture….


pepperminttea February 21, 2015 at 11:38 pm

I believe this election that Labour will regret ‘winning’ for a long time. They almost certainly won’t get a majority or be anywhere particularly close so will rely on some supply and confidence arrangement with the SNP to hold power. A weak minority Labour government with a gun being held to its head by an aggressively nationalist party (representing only one small region of the country) will be a disaster of unthinkable proportions. The SNP will use this opportunity to screw disproportionate amount of money out of said weak Labour government and this will be a complete an anathema to the voting publics in England and Wales quite rightly. The right wing press will have a field day too and Labour’s support will likely implode to the Greens/Ukip/Tories and even the Lib Dems who will have recovered a bit from their coming May electoral trauma not least because of the unpopularity of said government. This of course is exactly what the SNP wants: to turn the rest of the UK against Scotland and hence drive up nationalist resentment in Scotland. Seen as Labour have an exceptionally weak leader they can look forward too serious party infighting and back stabbing as Labour MP’s begin to panic about the state of the party/their seats. Both the Blairites and McCluskey/the left are likely to create serious problems for Labour by stirring up trouble when things don’t go exactly their way. It is likely economic headwinds lie on the horizon which Labour, given their massive deficit on economic credibility, will automatically be blamed for anything that goes wrong and pay a heavy electoral price. The media will rip the government to shreds just you wait. I wouldn’t be surprised if said government falls before 2020. This Labour government will be a car crash from beginning to end and do the Labour brand serious harm perhaps irreparable in the short to medium term. Get ready, sh*t is going to hit the fan…


Chris February 26, 2015 at 9:40 pm

The issue for me is not who wins, but what happens after the election. At the moment, two things look likely.
(a) there will no party with an overall majority.
(b) there will be no single block that can form a majority with the largest party.

If this is so, one of three things will happen.
(i) Labour is the biggest party, but Cameron does not resign. He need not. It would be argued that he should resign, as he has been “defeated”, but if he is not facing a party with a majority, he will be able to answer that he is still PM (as indeed he would be) and as plausible as anyone else. He would meet Parliament, as Edward Heath did in Feb 1994. Unlike Heath, however, he may not be immediately voted down. Labour would have to persuade the rest to allow it form a government by voting out Cameron, or that might happen spontaneously, but why would that be so?
(ii) Labour is the biggest party; Cameron resigns; Miliband goes for supply and confidence and the others keep him in power. I will return to that, but think 1924.
(iii) Cameron is the leader of the largest party. This is not dissimilar to (i); he has still had a moral “defeat” at the polls, and it is very likely the “coalition” has actually been defeated, if indeed Cons plus Libs falls short of a majority. However, think 2010. Had Gordon Brown manged to have won 1 more MP than Cameron, he would still have been seen as “defeated”.

Now my argument is that (i) and (iii) will end up with Ed Miliband as PM.

In both cases, the right of the Tory Party will want a pure Conservative government. It is hard to see how Cameron getting this through a hung Parliament. He might get a majority for a referendum. However, he is unlikely to be able to do enough to please the Right of the Party. The Right might take the view that that a referendum such a game changer that will deliver a majority at the polls. However, it is more likely to see a change at the top as necessary, both to get real Tory policies, and to win, as they would be being led by a two-time loser. A spell in opposition would offer a Boris Johnson (or other) leadership, a commitment to unadulterated Toryism and a chance to humiliate Ed.

Miliband could be allowed to form a government, and struggle without any reasonable hope of getting his fundamental policy programme through. This would not be Wilson Feb – Oct 1974, with Labour managing a dissolution on its own terms (and in any case, how well did that work for Labour?); it would be 1924 – a minority Labour government, spun against, and turfed out at the worst moment for Labour – but much worse, as in 1924, Labour was new; now what follows would be portrayed by the right wing press as more evidence that 2008 was because the Labour Party cannot do economics .

So even if Cameron wins more seats that Miliband (as seems likeliest, as I write), the Tories might be best served by a period in opposition. Once Miliband is in, we are back to the 1924 scenario.

The same tactic would not work for Labour, unless it can be perceived as having “won” in 2015. Even if it is the biggest party, that will still be portrayed as a defeat. If Miliband cannot win a majority in a few weeks time, why should he be able to a few months later, if he has no majority with which to demonstrate his economic competence and winning ways.

So, if my analysis in convincing, both the Conservatives (but not Cameron) and Labour (but not Miliband) would benefit from coming second in a hung parliament. I suspect that Labour would actually hang in with Miliband as leader, but the Conservatives would dispense with Cameron. The Tories have always been less sentimental.

You will notice that I am assuming that UKIP will not do well in the election.


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