Archive for the ' General Election' Category


Tuesday is the 54th anniversary the last time a Labour leader other than Tony Blair won a working majority

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

As we approach the end of the Corbyn era I thought it would be look at what winning the argument actually looks like. This is not meant as an attack on Corbyn or Labour per se because winning a working majority is bloody hard.

Prior to Boris Johnson’s victory last December in the last 49 years no Tory had won a working majority other than Margaret Thatcher. It shows the difficulty of Corbyn’s successor, whoever that may be, winning a working majority. Although I wouldn’t rule out Labour taking power at the next election if the result is a hung parliament.

But whilst we’re on lockdown it has been fun to rewatch election night coverage.



The exit door. The state of Labour as Jeremy Corbyn departs

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

What of Labour?  This is a question that almost no one is thinking about as, almost unnoticed, Jeremy Corbyn slips out of the limelight.  Like the Magnificent Ambersons, Labour have got their comeuppance. They’d got it three times filled and running over. But those who had longed for it were not there to see it. And they never knew it, those who were still living had forgotten all about it, and all about them.

That irrelevance bodes ill for Labour.  Just how bad is the electoral landscape and what does the new leader, expected to be Sir Keir Starmer, need to be thinking about?

The post-election analysis has concentrated on two main possible causes of Labour’s problems: Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn.  One simple way of testing the importance of either of these is to look at the before and after position. What were Labour’s challenges after the 2015 election (before Brexit, before Jeremy Corbyn) and what are they now?

In 2015, Labour won 232 seats.  In 2019 it won 203. So it has gone backwards by 29 seats over the course of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.  Obviously, that is not good.

I had a look at Labour’s performance then here.  I did not have a crystal ball.  Brexit was just a twinkle in some evil fairy godmother’s eye.  Jeremy Corbyn was still an obscure MP. What did I think had been happening then?

“Where do Labour retain strength?… London, the English Core Cities, Hull, Leicester, Coventry, Stoke, south Wales, the north east as a whole and the wider north west surrounding Liverpool, including north east Wales.  Or, to put it more briefly, by and large, big cities.  With worryingly few exceptions, Labour have become an almost exclusively metropolitan party.  They have lost Scotland and they have lost smaller town England.”

“Labour made ten gains from the Conservatives.  Only two of these seats fell clearly outside the Labour fiefdoms listed above: Hove and Lancaster & Fleetwood.  Meanwhile, the Conservatives took Plymouth Moor View, Telford, Southampton Itchen, Derby North, Vale of Clwyd and Gower.  Labour are getting close to maxing out in the metropolitan areas, but all the time are being edged out of smaller towns and cities – and Southampton, Derby and Plymouth are not really that small.

Many of the exceptions to the general picture – Norwich South, Cambridge, Oxford East, Exeter, Lancaster & Fleetwood – are constituencies with a large university presence. They may be smaller places, but they have much in common with the metropolitan areas. They are places where the words “urban professional” would not produce a curl of the lip.”

“If the Conservatives can broaden their appeal, they will be circling around seats like Barrow & Furness, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Derbyshire North East and Wrexham.  In all of these seats the Conservatives closed the gap on Labour from 2010.  There are others on the Labour defence list that are becoming increasingly marginal.  However the boundaries are drawn for 2020, there will be constituencies like these that are trending away from Labour.  Unless Labour changes course significantly.

More generally, if Labour does not start to broaden its appeal, it may even find that other apparent heartlands that are outside its current metropolitan focus are vulnerable to attack if other parties get their acts together. South Wales and the north east, for example, don’t fit particularly well with the rest of Labour’s current heartlands.  Fortunately for Labour, its opponents in those areas are UKIP and Plaid Cymru, and neither has so far demonstrated much seat-winning prowess.  But things can change.  Labour needs to recognise the danger fast.”

I was not blessed with second sight but 2019 is highly consistent with all of that.  I listed four seats that the Conservatives might be circling around. All four are now Conservative-held.  I noted that the north east did not fit particularly well with the rest of Labour’s then heartlands. The north east swung massively to the Conservatives.

It’s always nice to be right, of course, but that’s not my main point (it is a subsidiary point, I admit).  My main point is that neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Brexit seem particularly to have altered the axis between Labour and the Conservatives.  If anything, it is striking how little that has happened. The pendulum seems simply to have swung more in the Conservatives’ favour.

So the first thing that the new Labour leader needs to realise is that Labour’s problems are very deep-rooted indeed.  Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit may well not have helped. A successful Labour leader, however, is not just going to remedy the damage they might have caused but also tackle the pre-existing difficulty that Labour had in talking to those who live outside Britain’s biggest cities.

Having looked back to how things have changed (or not changed) since 2015, what new electoral trends should the next Labour leader be thinking about?  That will be for my next post.

Alastair Meeks


Events, events – how even a government with a big majority can be knocked off course

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Who can now remember that far off time – those few weeks between the election and Xmas – when it seemed as if the agonies of the previous three years were finally over? For good or ill, there was a government with a majority, Brexit (at least the departure) would no longer agonise the country (at least not quite so painfully and visibly), Corbyn was on his way out and there was the interesting spectacle of seeing how the Tories would reward their new Northern voters to look forward to. It seemed as if more normal political events were on their way.

Well, as Italians know very well: “Uomo propone e Dio dispone”. (“Man proposes; God disposes”.) A virus coming out of nowhere (now officially a pandemic) has turned into this year’s Black Swan, severely impacting Italian life and the economy, with who knows what knock-on effects on the euro, restricting every day life elsewhere, showing up Trump’s Nero-like approach to US public health, scaring the bejesus out of the financial markets, threatening economies across the world (and, most unfairly, just as wages in the Western world had started to rise above 2008 levels – how malicious is it!) and giving yet more impetus to a Nixon-to-China-style Tory spending spree.

It is quite enough politics to be going on with, you’d think.  And yet look at all these other events which are, inevitably, being ignored (for now):-

  • The Labour leadership election. Yes, yes, we all know Keir Starmer is going to win. And he’s hardly Mr Charisma and will now be faced with a Tory government even more spendthrift and ruthlessly populist than the wildest fantasies of John McDonnell could dream up.  But there are some odd stories about recent Labour members not getting ballots (could there be an upset in the offing?) and the suspension of Trevor Phillips suggests whoever takes over will have quite a job sorting out Labour’s internal machinery before he/she will be able to make an impact on voters.
  • And then there’s the EHRC report on Labour and anti-semitism. What will that say and mandate and what will the consequences be?
  • Talking of reports, will the Intelligence Committee’s report on Russia ever be published? And what of the Home Office-commissioned report on grooming gangs, reportedly withheld even from Priti Patel? A petition calling for this to be debated in Parliament has reached the 100,000 threshold. Will that shed any light?
  • The fall out between Saudi Arabia and Russia and what this portends. Relatedly, what is going on at the top of the Saudi regime? Saudi Arabia is embroiled in a nasty war in the Yemen, is fighting the Shia Iranians for dominance, is now arguing with Russia and has internal problems. None of this bodes well. The Middle East has not gone away, you know.
  • Talking of which, what on earth is happening inside Iran? Will the current Iranian regime survive what appears to be a human tragedy caused from the virus?  If it does not – or is left weakened – it might be Assad, ruling – with Russian help – over the smouldering ruins of his country, who will be the great survivor and, possibly, the dominant force in the area.
  • Russia: Putin is still there and will, if his latest proposals are accepted – and who would dare bet against him? – be there for another term and, more likely, for life. Fake news, interference in other countries’ elections, invasions by proxies, a player in the Middle East: can we expect more of the same from him? Almost certainly.
  • Turkey: its activities in Syria, its increasing friendship with Russia and now its weaponisation of the 3 million migrants in its borders. Just what Europe needs in the middle of a pandemic.
  • Australia: the apocalyptic bush fires are off the front pages. But they probably did more to bring home – literally in some cases – the realities of climate change than any number of rallies. How will Australia respond? 
  • The Comeback Geriatric: Biden or Trump. Someone has to win out of this dismal choice.
  • Netanyahu losing power in Israel.
  • The Metropolitan Police ignoring the lessons of Operation Midland and deliberately hiding the Henriques report recommendations from its own officers and the public. That’s one way to learn lessons, eh!

And, finally, the UK – EU FTA talks. I know, Brexit again. They have been postponed understandably. Will we get a walk-out in June as promised or will there be nothing to walk out from? So will it be the same drama at the end of the year about extending – especially if Covid-19 is still causing mayhem this autumn/winter – or do we face an overnight move to WTO rules?  It’s nice to see that in British politics some things, at least, never change.



Swing for the moment. How the country shifted at GE2019

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

The Conservatives won the 2019 election decisively.  Received wisdom has it that it was won by demolishing a red wall in the north of England.  Let’s take a look at how each constituency swung, seat by seat.

Before the election, I posed some questions.  One of them was whether seats would continue to sort by Leave/Remain or whether they would now swing more uniformly.  It turns out that the answer is a bit more complicated than either of those answers.

Anyway, at the top of the thread you can see a map of every constituency in Great Britain mapped by swing.  It is interactive, so you can zoom in and out to look at detail. I hope it is pretty intuitive, but the code is as follows:

A: No swing (less than 1% in any direction)

B: Swing of under 5% to Labour

C: Swing of 5-10% to Labour

D: Swing of more than 10% to Labour

E: Swing of under 5% to the Conservatives

F: Swing of 5-10% to the Conservatives

G: Swing of more than 10% to the Conservatives

H: Swing of under 5% to the Lib Dems

I: Swing of 5-10% to the Lib Dems

J: Swing of more than 10% to the Lib Dems

K: Swing of under 5% to the SNP

L: Swing of 5-10% to the SNP

M: Swing of more than 10% to the SNP

N: Swing to the Greens

O: Swing to others

So, what can we see?  The first obvious thing is the Scottish border.  Last time I did this for the 2017 election, I didn’t need codes for the SNP: they hadn’t secured a favourable swing in a single seat.  This time round, there’s a swing to them pretty well everywhere in Scotland. They have successfully negotiated the dangerous bend that 2017 threw at them.

What is striking in England and Wales is just how uniform the picture is.  You can’t easily spot London on the map by colour, you’d struggle to work out where Manchester and Liverpool are or spot any major cities.  Many of the Remainiest constituencies swung to the Conservatives. Outside an area in the south of England shaped like a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, the country is a study in shades of blue.

The nationwide swing from Labour to the Conservatives was 4.5%.  That means that most of the constituencies shaded light blue actually underperformed the national swing. It would be wrong to talk about relative Conservative weakness – these are still substantial swings – but these are seats where Labour did relatively less badly.  A swathe of these seats is contiguous (with one very narrow gap at Erewash), running down the spine of England from the borders to central London. Middlest England is a little less receptive to the Conservative message than average.

The Conservatives ripped through Labour’s industrial heartlands. South Wales, Greater Manchester, Stoke and much of the West Midlands swung hard to the Conservatives.  But the Conservative message seems to have been most effective on the eastern side of the country, from the Thames estuary to the Tyne. The swings in south Yorkshire and around and in the North East are staggering.  Labour’s previous voting coalition was smashed to pieces.  

This is bad enough for Labour.  Just as bad for them is that big splash of orange in central southern England.  For those are the seats where the Lib Dems have established themselves as the Conservatives’ chief rivals.  Labour are simply irrelevant here now.

It’s not quite as good for the Lib Dems as it looks.  In many of these seats, even double digit swings leave them well behind the Conservatives.  It’s hard to work out how durable these performances were in some seats given that they had star candidates campaigning on a Remain ticket in a Brexit election.  They made no progress in south west England. And they completely flunked in every Labour/Lib Dem battleground. Nevertheless, they now have a coherent platform as the party for progressives in affluent rural England.  That’s something for them to build on.

For the moment, the Conservatives are dominant.  We do seem to be seeing a slow inversion, where the Conservatives’ previous strength in the south of England is becoming less important to them.  If and when the pendulum swings away from them again, they may start losing seats as unexpected as the Labour losses this time round. British politics is being reshaped.

Alastair Meeks


Labour must get over its myth of 2017 if it is to win again

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

A well-timed aberration is still an aberration

Keir Starmer looks well set to win Labour’s leadership election in April. After securing comfortable leads among MPs, CLPs and affiliate organisations in the previous rounds, YouGov reported this week that he holds a 22% lead over Rebecca Long-Bailey, and is more likely than not to win on the first round.

If he does, it will be in no small part down to the last set of rule changes which at the time were thought to favour the left. YouGov puts him on 53%; under the old rules, Jess Philips and Emily Thornberry would probably have taken enough to deny him a symbolic outright win.

Quite where he will lead Labour is a different matter. Starmer has been remarkably adept at remaining a blankish sheet of paper; appearing at once to be both a continuity and change candidate. While that duality is possible to pull off – you can maintain many of the policies while clothing the party in a quite different style – in reality there will come a point where the Corbyn legacy must be appeased or confronted.

Some of that is about dropping Corbyn’s more ridiculous policies: the free broadband or what might as well be a Kremlin-approved foreign policy. Some of it is also about renewing and refreshing both the personnel and the culture of Labour’s HQ. But before winning the future, first Starmer must win the past.

Even now, many Labour activists will cite 2017 as something akin to a great victory. If it’s not the great recovery in the campaign (leave aside who dug the hole Corbyn climbed out of, and who supplied the opportunity for him to do so), then it’s that Labour won a tremendous number of votes – over 2m more than Labour won in any other election this century.

Such arguments have the tremendous advantage of being true. They might well ignore the important point that Labour still lost but for many Corbyn-supporters, that doesn’t matter: they show that his policies were popular or at least, that they can’t have been all that unpopular if they outpolled Blair, Brown and Miliband.

The trap here is that it’s easy to try to critique that analysis – to point out the other reasons Labour did relatively well and recovered during the campaign which didn’t happen because of Corbyn and sometimes despite him – but that to do so would be a mistake.

The right argument is that even if 2017 was a glorious defeat, it was also the one ray of false dawn in what was otherwise a four-year long record of failure, and that the consistency of the rest of the record represents the public’s genuine verdict on the out-going leader.

To remind ourselves of just how badly Corbyn did, here are a few of the low-lights:

  • A net loss in Westminster by-elections during 2015-20, including the first loss by an opposition party to the government in over 30 years
  • Finished third, losing to the Lib Dems, in the 2019 European Parliament elections
  • Lost a third of Labour’s MSPs in the 2016 Holyrood election, to finish behind the Tories
  • Lost around 400 councillors and 13 councils in net terms across the 2016-19 May rounds of local government elections
  • Worst ever net satisfaction rating by a Leader of the opposition
  • Failed to prevent Brexit, either at the referendum or afterwards
  • The smallest Labour PLP since 1935 (2019GE)

No opposition has ever endured such a lengthy and wide-ranging record of failure. Even the likes of Hague and Duncan Smith racked up decent local government gains and an EP election win. Put simply, the 2017 general election was not representative of some underlying truth; it was the aberration outside a truth that was all too obvious everywhere else.

And that is the point Labour needs to accept if it is going to move on and up. Certainly, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater – but there is a need to throw out the bathwater.

Can Starmer do that? Can he change the culture and tone of the party, and perhaps the policy direction, while also staying true to his desire to unify Labour and not pick internal fights? I don’t think so; it’s one or the other – or if he plays it right, it’s one after the other, with a necessary fight and then unity around a new consensus. But to get there, first the Myth of 2017 must be debunked.

David Herdson

p.s. Last week I tipped Bernie Sanders at 10/11 for the Democrat nomination and 7/2 for the White House. Those odds have barely shifted (he’s now 100/30 for the presidency but still 10/11 for the nomination). These odds are nuts and huge value.

Sanders has built up a big national lead, and an even bigger one in California with its huge number of delegates. Even if he loses badly in South Carolina (which is possible), I don’t see that doing anything other than trimming his Super Tuesday lead, not least because of so much early voting in the bag. I think he’s now about an 80% shot for the nomination and, given Trump’s typically self-centred and quite possibly grossly inadequate reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, should now be favourite in a head-to-head with Trump, the president’s skill at negative campaigning notwithstanding. The polls already give Sanders a healthy lead and while they gave Hillary a healthy lead much later in 2016, I think it’s different this time. It will be a lot harder to campaign negatively effectively if Trump’s own ratings tank, which is now entirely possible if the economy takes a downturn, never mind if he’s perceived to have seriously mismanaged the health crisis – both of which are now big risks.


For election junkies a great new resource from the House of Commons Library

Friday, February 28th, 2020

One hundred years of UK elections

I suspect many PBers are like me always wanting to check details of past elections usually in order to make a point about a current situation. Well there is a great downloadable resource just out from the Commons library which has data on UK elections going back a whole century and presenting it in an attractive way.

This 96 page document is available free from here and I am sure that many of those who come to PB regularly will find it interesting. This is a definitive reference source enhanced by its many excellent charts and tables,

I find I’m generally pretty good with a reasonably good idea of what’s happened over the past half century but even with this it is good to have the real data available.

The Commons Library produces excellent briefing papers after each election and there’s a good list at the back with links to all of them.

Mike Smithson


Memo to Sir Keir Starmer: Unless LAB can start winning MPs in Scotland again the chances of you becoming PM are slim

Friday, February 21st, 2020

Your first big electoral test looks set to be the Scottish Assembly elections next year in a part of the UK where for decades your party was totally dominant. Recovering some of the ground lost there to the SNP might be an indicator that a general election victory could be in reach.

The charts above from the Commons Library analysis of the last general election set out in stark terms how Scotland’s Westminster MP party distribution changed dramatically less than five years ago. Labour went into GE2015 defending 41 of the 59 Scottish seas and ended up, like at GE2019,with a single MP.

So from a situation where LAB getting two thirds of Scotland’s MPs was almost a forgone conclusion you start from a base north of the border at the next general election as the fourth largest party. And without that hefty block of Scottish LAB MPs what will soon be your party has to make many more gains in England and Wales.

All this changed, of course, in the aftermath of the September 2014 Scottish IndyRef. Although the vote was to remain within the UK the referendum set off a dramatic rise in the SNP which in May 2015 won all but three Scottish seats.

The overall picture is very daunting for LAB. In September 2015 when Corbyn became leader he declared that Scotland was his first priority. Assuming you become leader you need to do the same but unlike Corbyn you need to make a success of it.

Mike Smithson


Number 10’s power-grab is sowing the seeds of its own failure

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Cummings cannot re-engineer government while ignoring the human aspect

Political power is notoriously nebulous. Like fairies, or the value of fiat money, if enough people belief in it, that in itself is enough to call it into being – just as the lack of belief is enough to destroy it.

What then gives Boris Johnson the ability to accrete to himself and his advisors in Number Ten powers that no other prime minister has enjoyed? It’s not the size of his majority, large though it is: there’ve been governments with much bigger ones. Is it his commanding personal authority? Well, it’s true that this isn’t a government of heavyweights and that having just won an election and delivered Brexit, the PM’s stock is high. But that can’t be all.

As much as anything, it’s because he dares to, and other dare not. Johnson’s life has been one of taking calculated and at times even reckless risks; usually he has come out the winner and when he hasn’t, he’s bounced back. He’s not going to change that style now.

A desire to centralise control within No 10 is hardly new; in fact, it goes right back to the start. When the title of Prime Minister was applied to Walpole, it was as a criticism that he was getting over-mighty. Many others since have innovated structures and processes to try to assert control throughout Whitehall and beyond. The centralised system of political advisors (which is in itself a contradiction), is simply the latest in this line.

For the moment, Johnson can do that because he can afford to lose those, like Javid, who object – and also because very few, like Javid, have objected. Perhaps ministers are genuinely willing to be treated in this way but much more likely is the knowledge that Johnson’s honeymoon protects him. He can win just about any argument because ultimately, his position is unassailable.

There’s a comparison with Trump here. We should be very careful equating the two men whose policies and political and personal characters are more different than many would have you believe. But on this point there is similarity: they are protected from bad decisions and behaviour by public support. Republican senators will not vote to convict a Republican president when that president’s net approval rating among Republicans is around +90: the Trump fan-base would have its revenge rapidly. Similarly, Tory MPs will have little enthusiasm to go against their leader when their party is polling 20 points ahead of Labour (as in yesterday’s YouGov poll).

There’s one other similarity we should note too: any attempt to exert excessive central control betrays a lack of trust in the leader’s colleagues and, implicitly, assumes that they have a lack of faith in the leader. Good leaders do not need to demand control or institutionalise it to the minutest degree: people will follow a leader naturally when they have confidence that they will be led where they want to go.

That, however, is more of a problem for Johnson than Trump. Johnson travels ideologically light. It is true that he said he would deliver Brexit and he has made good on that – though whether he can be similarly successful in the second round later this year remains to be seen. It’s one thing screwing over the DUP with their less than a dozen MPs; it’s another to finesse a second deal that ends transition without either crashing the economy or betraying those MPs and activists whose support you built your leadership campaign on.

Brexit aside, so many MPs and activists were willing to give their support to Johnson not because of his innate leadership skills or his ideological vision but because he was believed to be a winner. That judgement was vindicated in December. But it is also a very transactional, and hence conditional, support. When he ceases to be seen as a winner, that support will ebb away and with it, power – whatever organisational measures No 10 might have introduced.

And ebb away it will. Not just because Brexit still poses questions which would like defeat far more diligent and nuanced prime ministers (in truth, Johnson’s willingness to refuse to deal with detail may actually be an advantage here: if the rules of the game make it irresolvable, don’t abide by them), and not just because Johnson and Cummings cannot go on insulting and demeaning ministers, MPs and their assistants without creating a deep well of grievance and resentment that in time will find release, but because even now, at the point when he should be at the zenith of his popularity, he’s not all that well regarded.

The Mori leader ratings for January had him at a net +3. That’s historically low for any PM in Johnson’s position. Since 1983, on only three out of 13 occasions has a leader polled worse than Johnson in the month after either taking office or winning an election: Blair in 2005, May in 2017 and Johnson himself last July. Both Blair and May lost office two years later when their party had finally had enough of them.

The factor, beyond Brexit, reconciling that poor rating with the Tories’ 80 majority, 13.97m votes and 45% GB vote share at the election was the scale of the unpopularity of Labour and Corbyn. But Corbyn will be gone when Labour’s leadership election eventually concludes. Certainly, Labour’s new leader will face significant challenges him- or herself and may well fail them – the leadership election has proven Starmer, for one, more prone to (if adept at) tacking and more susceptible to be moved by the winds of the movement than I think the public will appreciate. All the same, the easy few years that the Tories have had from the Opposition is likely to end.

It is true of course that with an 80 majority, Labour cannot do now what it could in the autumn in terms of winning votes. That only matters on one level. On another, it’s not the numbers in the divisions that count but those in the opinion polls and by-elections. Margaret Thatcher wasn’t voted out in 1990 because she was losing in the Commons.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Johnson’s power exists only as long as people ask ‘how high?’ when he says ‘jump!’. As soon as there’s a critical mass that decides that’s not a game worth playing, it’s over. It may be that when that does happen, Johnson remains in office for months if not years ahead – but if he does, it will be on very different terms. My guess is that he’ll be replaced in 2022 or 2023.

David Herdson