Esther McVey could well be the David Amess of this election.
Famously, it was Amess’ successful defence of Basildon in the 1992 election that symbolised Labour’s failure to make enough gains from the Tories to achieve an outright victory.
McVey could fulfil the same function in 2015. Here’s why.
I’ve had a go at calculating the bare minimum Labour needs to do in this election to end up the largest party in parliament.
Labour will go into the election with 257 MPs. The Conservatives will go into the election with 303 (not including the Speaker):
- Labour 257, Conservatives 303
Let’s say both parties win 10 seats each from the Liberal Democrats:
- Labour 267, Conservatives 313
And now let’s give the SNP 12 gains at Labour’s expense. That’s a modest figure, but I remain unconvinced that the nationalists are going to do anywhere near as well as some of the polls and headlines are suggesting:
- Labour 255, Conservatives 313
I’m not going to hand Ukip any additional gains from the Conservatives. I’m already assuming Douglas Carswell will hold his seat in Clacton, and that even if the Tories take back Rochester & Strood from Mark Reckless, they may lose another seat to Ukip elsewhere. Hence the Tories’ total is unchanged. I am going to give George Galloway’s seat of Bradford West back to Labour, however. I think this is now more likely than not to happen, especially as Galloway’s great cause celebres in 2012 have rather lost their potency in 2015.
- Labour 256, Conservatives 313
The difference between both parties is now 57. Labour would therefore need to take 29 seats from the Tories to be precisely one seat ahead of them:
- Labour 285, Conservatives 284
If the Tories take a couple more seats from the Lib Dems, and Labour lose a couple more to the SNP, 29 would obviously no longer be enough. So let’s say 35 might be the absolute bare minimum number of Tory gains Labour needs to achieve. What does this mean in terms of the battleground?
A swing of 2.8% in Tory-Labour marginals would deliver precisely 35 gains for Labour, but again let’s allow for a few missed chances and say 3% is the bare minimum.
And here’s why Esther McVey is key. Because lo and behold, the kind of seat that would fall to Labour on a swing of around 3% is Wirral West: McVey’s constituency, where she has a majority of 2,426.
In Lord Ashcroft’s most recent poll in Wirral West, Labour was one point ahead of the Conservatives. One point is enough, but that poll was done last October, and it’s hard to guess what may have happened since.
If there is one result more than any other that will help illustrate the extent of Labour’s success or failure, it will be the outcome in Wirral West. If Esther McVey is defeated, Labour ought to be on course for becoming the largest party in parliament. If she holds on, it’s the Tories who will most probably be the largest party, and hence best placed to try and form the next government.