Reality check: Labour is not going to win the next election by a landslide


10:30 am - May 27th 2014

by Sunny Hundal    


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A bizarre notion has taken hold of some of my fellow Labour commentators. Some of them believe that the Labour party is going to get around 40% at the next election and win by a landslide. They believe this is not only possible but within reach.

This is a fantasy. The results of the 2015 general election are going to be close. Too close for comfort, in fact.

There are simple reasons for this.

1) In 2010 Labour got only 29% of the vote – its second worst defeat ever. The party had become intellectually exhausted, hollowed out and tired. To change minds and add 11% to your vote within 5 years isn’t just a Herculean task – it is unprecedented in British politics. It has never happened because people do not change minds so quickly.

2) The financial crash of 2008 happened under New Labour’s watch. They were “intensely relaxed” about people getting super rich and let the bankers run wild by cutting regulation. Sure, the Tories urged them to be even more reckless but the electorate won’t remember that; the fault always lies with the party in power. And people take a long time to forget that. It took the Conservatives 15 after the ERM crash of 1992 to match Labour on economic credibility.

3) It takes time to change people’s minds and get them to trust you again. This is so obvious a point that it feels silly just to say it. This is especially true when New Labour leaders also lied about invading Iraq and started a war that cost tens of billions of pounds. Labour lost a lot of trust during those 13 years and it will take more than the image of David Cameron’s face to bring them back.

Sure, you say, but wasn’t Labour polling in the low 40s not long ago? Why isn’t this possible?

Again, simple. Labour polled high at a time when discontent against the government was at its peak and the economy was in dire straits (2011 – 2012). The ‘omnishambles’ budget was fresh in people’s minds and anger at the Lib Dems had driven most of their base to Labour.

But the economy has improved; UKIP and Greens have taken some Labour voters away. Some ex-Lib Dems have returned or decided Labour wasn’t particularly liberal either. Momentum within the UKuncut, student and Occupy movements has petered out. Fatigue has set in.

As the economy improves more people will go back to the Tories regardless of what Labour does or say. That is how people respond in any country, including ours.

I think there are strong factors that help Labour. But the shift in public opinion needed to win a big majority is far too much for just five years. That’s why it has never happened on this scale before.

This doesn’t mean Labour should aim low. But getting 36% or so next year is a massive task in itself, and the idea that we are failing because we’re not heading towards 40% is just fantasy.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Pretty much spot on there Sunny, can’t argue with the analysis. One thing that’s unclear and needs looking into, there’s significant research coming out of Canada (where they also use FPTP) that the big challenge isn’t changing the minds of undecided/swing voters, but motivating supporters, turnout may look the same but it’s different people voting/not voting—that’s certainly my experience with Lib Dem voters of late, they’r enot necessarily switching elsewhere, they’re just staying home.

What I’d love to see is some analysis of the areas that, say, UKIP did well in that are normally safe(ish) Labour seats/wards that looks at turnout over time, which would need access to marked register data (ie what only parties keep, and privately at that) to see if, for example, UKIP turnout was in some proportion people that don’t normally vote, and if so in what numbers.

Because Labour could, potentially, win if the previously Labour but now non-voters can be persuaded to start turning out and voting Labour again, but only if the non-voting support base is fairly large, and without that sort of analysis over larger areas it’s hard to judge—it’s definitely partially true in my ward, Labour had disappeared electorally years ago, but won the seat in 2012, despite most other parties getting similar votes to normal (and our support mostly going to an Independent we were tacitly backing).

> To change minds and add 11% to your vote within 5 years isn’t just a Herculean task – it is unprecedented in British politics.

Except that’s exactly what Labour did in last week’s European election. Increased their vote by 10% points compared to 5 years ago.

Frankly, if Labour won the most seats in 2015, it would at least change the terms of the political debate.

I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written. I think it will most likely be a hung parliament next year, or only just a Labour victory.

I broadly agree with your conclusion, Sunny. A few thoughts:

1. There exists the perception that Labour has become a party for middle-class oddballs who are London based or focused. This might work for London, but won’t elsewhere.

2. Your article totally omits to mention Labour’s immigration policy. The perception is that the last Labour govt was not only ‘rubbing the right’s face in diversity’ but also the working class’s faces too.

Those two points need to be addressed by Labour if they want to gain more votes quickly.

@J – Totally different. That was a Euro election, where the electorate register their anger at the incumbent government – Thatcher and Blair’s only triumphs were prior to becoming PM. Oppositions always do well… except Labour in 2014 apparently, because they didn’t win it, did they? In fact they only outpolled the Tories by 1%.

It’s also worth pointing out that they also have significantly less local councilors than the Tories, historically oppositions have never won majorities with such low seats at local level.

Represent the views of your voters.

If your vote is then still too small, you are representing too narrow a range.

This decline will continue until you invite white non university educated (code for working class and the main insult to UKIP) men back to the fold.

8. John reid

6 well said but your last point about the low amount of councillors, doesn’t really rate, as the boundaries mean it’s a lot easier for labour too win, and even in the 80’s when there were a few Libdem councillors having their own popular support as the 2 parties were unpopular (the Tories mid term),and some had their own following, it was still a 2 party election. We no w have nationally 5 main parties, and more independent councillors now then ever,

9. douglas clark

Sunny,

You may also lose your Scottish contingent of MP’s if that great steed Alisdair Darling has anything to do with it. You could at least have acknowleged it as a possibility.

Me, I’m working for an independent Scotland which has almost every policy you could want.

Your chum.

10. douglas clark

Sunny,

Continuing on, if I may:

What do you think about having a nuclear capabilty on the Clyde? That is my back yard. (It will be interesting how the ‘my’ works out above.)

However the chances are that England – your green and pleasant land – will play NINBY games on having Trident based – oh Lord! – in the Thames basin. Well, you’ll have to find somewhere.

Frankly, Sunny, you know that that is true. Your Labour Party has achieved knowt about nuclear disarmament, let’s seeif we can do better!

La conception doit minimiser les hanches et ajouter la forme de la partie supérieure du corps. Robes sans bretelles de bal fournissent filles avec ce type de corps une chance de montrer.

gulab: “Your article totally omits to mention Labour’s immigration policy. The perception is that the last Labour govt was not only ‘rubbing the right’s face in diversity’ but also the working class’s faces too.”

Really? I seem to recall Labour ministers (especially John Reid and Hazel Blears) spent large amounts of time in the last government desperately trying to look tough on immigrants, shaking up border control repeatedly, and posturing about how those naughty immigrants must be made to integrate.

It’s true this is not the ‘perception’, but that’s because the ‘perception’ is that Labour spent the entire time crowing about multiculturalist diversity, banning Christmas, and giving lavish benefit handouts mostly to Muslims (which by the way caused the world financial crisis). Oh yes, and they apparently have an ‘open door policy’, which is actually an evil conspiracy to import left wing voters.

You have to bear in mind that the news sources UKIP voters read will *always* tell them this absolutely regardless of anything those parties actually do or say. They could have a zero immigration policy and be vocally in favour of imprisoning migrants in metal dungeons, and UKIP voters would still believe they had an “open door policy”.

Labour either need to fight on other issues, or do something to get the right wing press on-side, or take them on.

13. douglas clark

Alice,

“La conception doit minimiser les hanches et ajouter la forme de la partie supérieure du corps. Robes sans bretelles de bal fournissent filles avec ce type de corps une chance de montrer.”

through Google translate reads as:

“The design should minimize the hips and add the shape of the upper part of the body. Strapless Prom provide girls with this body type a chance to show.”

I fail to see, perhaps I am blind, how that adds anything to the discussion?

14. douglas clark

OK Alice is a bot, sorrry.


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