Briefing: Things can only get better…

…unless they get worse. That possibility is the focus of an excellent piece of analysis from Fabian Society GC Andrew Harrop, entitled “Stuck: How Labour is too weak to win, and too strong to die“.

The prognosis is split across three scenarios, each of which involves Labour getting under 150 seats and the Conservatives over 400. Those numbers are the ones making headlines, but the new news is in the other numbers, notably of voter flows since 2015.

The report discusses boundary changes, citing this NCP analysis of the initial proposals among others, and (rightly) points out that net impact on numbers of seats is tiny compared to the other threats to Labour’s seat count.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, the paper actually gets to grips with one of Labour’s key problems, namely the cultural gap between it and much of its traditional base, and suggests that it “plant its flag midway between these [cultural] poles”. Which in practice sounds difficult, but the first step towards solving a problem is understanding it…

There really isn’t much in it that I’d dispute, though I would be a bit more concerned about UKIP. That’s not so much in terms of them winning large numbers of seats (as the report notes, that is unlikely because the electoral system protects Labour from losing second place in seats) but in terms of votes lost. Although the polling suggests relatively few direct Labour-Ukip switchers, this is one group that has given pollsters particular trouble, so I would be careful here.

Yesterday’s polling numbers underscored the report’s grimness rom Labour’s point of view, the latest YouGov/Times poll marking a 34 year low for the party’s vote share while in opposition. But just how does Labour’s recent form compare historically? Here’s a chart I’ve adapted from the 17 for ’17 chart storm – the net change in the Tory lead from the previous election win in each month subsequently, with the average since 1979 added in black.

Things can only get better (unless they get worse) Incumbent lead in average of all polls in each month, relative to general election result. Data source: NCP, Mark Pack

Right now Labour is doing about 20 points worse (net) than normal, and only slightly better compared with the same point in the last parliament. While both might be exaggerated due to improved polling accuracy, it’s probably not by much.

Elsewhere Mark Pack explains why he thinks the Lib Dems should be willing to put off voters at the Copeland by-election. The maths is simple – the Lib Dems got 3.5 per cent in 2015 and Remain got about 40 per cent. So there is plenty of upside potential to Tim Farron wrapping himself in EU flag, even in areas where Remain was less than half the vote.

Have a good day!
Matt

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