Election campaign

Labour will have enough trouble getting to 35%, never mind 40%

The Fabian Society has published a pamphlet called Labour’s Next Majority: A Constituency Guide. It’s written by the society’s deputy general secretary Marcus Roberts, and contains ideas and tactics to help candidates, party members and supporters fight the best possible campaign in target seats next year.

What caught my eye was the pamphlet’s premise that Labour should still try and win a 40% share of the vote. The Fabian Society first proposed this in 2013, and it is repeated here in undiluted form. Roberts even details how the 40% can be amassed:

27.5 points from people who voted Labour in 2010
6.5 points from former Lib Dem voters who now support Labour
5 points from brand new voters plus those who didn’t vote at all in 2010
One point from former Tory voters who now support Labour

I’ve already written about why it seems highly doubtful any party will manage to get more than 35% at the election. 40%, to me, feels like a fantasy. Labour looks set to end this month with an increase in its monthly poll average for the first time since the start of the year. But only to around 36%. The days of the party enjoying sustained ratings of 40% or more are long gone (more on this tomorrow).

It’s interesting that Roberts assigns only one point of his notional 40% to ex-Tory voters. In this he is being realistic. I get the sense that Labour’s current lead in the polls is almost wholly made up of its long-term supporters plus varying quantities of ex-Lib Dems and new voters. Whereas Labour in the 1990s soared in the polls thanks to vast numbers of defecting Conservatives, the Labour of the 2010s doesn’t, can’t or won’t appeal to Tories.

Those Conservative voters who have fallen out of love with their party seem to be taking themselves elsewhere (Ukip) or are sitting on their hands.

Roberts’ model for fighting the campaign next year incorporates many of the tactics used by Labour in London last month – to great success, it should be said. Maybe I’m underestimating things. I admit I didn’t think Labour would win London councils like Hammersmith & Fulham or come close to taking control of Barnet.

All the same, there’s being ambitious, and there’s being over-ambitious. Labour certainly needs to be ambitious to gain the 68 extra seats (count ’em!) it needs to form a majority government. But it could feasibly do this on 36%, not 40%. To admit to such a strategy would be perceived as defeatist, perhaps; but it might also be pragmatic.

The Tories are limiting their campaign to holding their 40 most vulnerable seats and trying to win 40 more. No talk of landslides from them. It might be wise for Labour to do the same.

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