As the Labour Party Conference commences in Manchester today, new research from Progress examines the 2015 electoral victory strategies available to Ed Miliband, looking at the voters he needs to win and where.
Lewis Baston’s “Marginal difference: Who Labour needs to win and where” (pdf), uses the trends from recent elections to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘steady as she goes’; ‘missing voters’; ‘centre-ground’; and ‘progressive majority’ approaches, asking:
• Where should the party be focusing its energies in trying to expand support from the low share of the vote that it gained in 2010?
• Where did the voters who left Labour’s coalition between 1997 and 2010 go? and
• What is the best way of getting them back?
Looking at the key question of which voters will do Labour most good in terms of winning the seats the party needs for an overall working majority, the paper examines the 100 most marginal LD/Lab and Con/Lab seats, victory in which would give Ed Miliband a 66-seat majority (on current 650 boundaries) - the same majority Tony Blair secured in 2005.
Compared to the national changes in voting behaviour, it is apparent that the main difference is that the Labour vote dropped rather more in the marginal seats.
The benefits in the Conservative-Labour marginal seats were scattered between the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and abstention. In the Liberal Democrat-Labour marginals the Liberal Democrats gained more votes from Labour and also managed to take votes from the Tories and slightly reduce the losses to abstention.
The Conservatives gained a bit more in the Conservative-Labour marginals than nationally, but not hugely so – the bigger difference was in the Labour change.
These numbers suggest a complex pattern of loss for Labour in the Conservative-Labour marginal seats, although probably a fairly straightforward switch in the seats where Labour needs to win against the Liberal Democrats.
This is best illustrated by two charts in the paper, looking at the change in the share of the electorate by party in the 88 top Tory-Labour marginals:
… and looking at the change in the share of the electorate by party in the 12 top LD-Labour marginals:
Overall, the paper concludes:
‘Steady as she goes’ and depending on former Liberal Democrats can only get Labour so far, but then Labour does not need to get very far at all to be in power in 2015 – even if in coalition or without a working majority. Winning back Tory switchers seems to be the recipe for a fair-sized working majority (provided it is not done in a way that is repellent to former Liberal Democrats and 2010 Labour voters).
Mobilising the ‘missing millions’ (provided one does not also mobilise a lot of Tories) is the only route to another landslide. Much also depends on the response of the Conservatives to their own strategic dilemma, and the balance in their own calculations between preventing losses to UKIP and attempting to gain more of the centre-ground from the Liberal Democrats and Labour. It is quite possible that both parties are in an environment where there is no reliable pathway to an overall majority and that rational strategies pursued by each will tend to end in stalemate.
The easy answer may appear to be to adopt aspects of all of them, but the problem is that each of the strategies has implications for policy which are not consistent with each other. It may be possible to work them into a synthesis but the party has not reached that point yet. It still seems to be combining the different approaches on an ad hoc basis.
Plenty to work on – and, as the paper says, the policy implications of each strategy cannot be overlooked; a more consistent message of what Labour and Ed Miliband are for, and who they are for, offers the best route to victory.