by Atul Hatwal
There has been some excited Labour chatter in the past few weeks following the launch of a Fabian report: “Labour’s next majority: the 40% strategy.” The author, Marcus Roberts, is a smart guy with a persuasive line in reasoning. For a Labour party that has seen its poll lead dwindle over the past months, a clear numerical path to a substantial majority is like picking up a trail back to civilisation after being lost in the jungle.
George Eaton in the New Statesman and Jeremy Cliffe in the Economist lauded the analysis and it’s empowered leadership loyalists with a response to charges that the ceiling of Labour’s ambition is 35% of the vote.
In his analysis, Marcus breaks down the different blocks that could make up a Labour vote of 40%: 27.5% from Labour’s core vote, 6.5% from people who voted Lib Dem in 2010, 5% from non-voters and 1% from 2010 Tory voters.
At first glance it all seems reasonable if a shade optimistic. But there’s a problem.
The numbers aren’t right.
The foundation of the analysis is that Labour has a core vote of 27.5%. Marcus outlines how this estimate is based on an examination of generational churn and the anti-Tory nature of 2010 voters. He predicts,
“Labour can look with conﬁdence towards a core vote of at least 27.5 per cent from which it can build.”
Yet 27.5% is not Labour’s core vote. The Fabian projection is essentially an educated guess with little quantitative data to underpin the estimate. There is only one robust way to get a sense of how many of Labour’s 2010 voters will stay in the fold, come 2015: polling.
What’s required is for a sample of the party’s 2010 supporters to be asked whether they intend to back Labour in 2015.
This is what Uncut did with the polling it commissioned from YouGov in the run-up to conference. The results were striking: just over one in four (26%) of Labour’s 2010 supporters said they did not intend to vote Labour at the next election.
This has profound implications for the Fabian analysis. Applying these findings to Labour’s 2010 vote gives a new core vote figure of 22.2% not 27.5%.
If all the other blocks of Marcus’ analysis were correct, this would then give a Labour ceiling of 35%.
But it gets worse. The second largest electoral block in Marcus’ analysis is Lib Dem switchers. He makes clear that the Lib Dem vote must be held to 15% or below to achieve the target of 6.5% moving into the Labour column.
Once more, polling can help. Although the headline survey results have the Lib Dems languishing below 10%, few expect this to be their result at the next election. Again, a view of the core Lib Dem vote will give us a good indication of whether they can indeed be restricted to 15%.
Based on YouGov’s research for Uncut, 1 in 5 2010 Lib Dem voters say they will not support the party in 2015.
This would put the Lib Dems on roughly 18% at the next election.
Even if this is optimistic for the Lib Dems, it is unlikely the rate of Lib Dem voter attrition will increase from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3 as demanded by the Fabian model- the tuition fees U-turn is old news, the position of the government on cuts is well understood and the economy seems to have turned a corner.
Marcus outlines how Labour is regularly claiming 60-66% of Lib Dem switchers. Based on a fall in the Lib Dem vote of 5%, this would give Labour an extra 3.3% not 6.5%.
Add in the shortfall of Lib Dem switchers to the lower core Labour vote, then based on the Fabian methodology, even a 35% strategy drifts out of reach with Labour struggling to break through a ceiling of 32%.
And this is only possible if Labour can claim a significant 5% vote slice from non-voters and new voters.
Clearly, this is gravely concerning. It highlights the limits of Labour’s current strategy and the critical importance of directly attracting votes currently being given to the centre right. A target of 1% Tory switchers is too low and Labour will get nowhere near 6.5% of Lib Dems without tapping into their right-leaning, orange book backers.
The Fabian analysis does Labour a great service. For the first time the components of Labour’s potential 2015 vote have been broken down and, with the application of some polling rigour, the looming danger is quantified.
The moves from Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt over the weekend are welcome steps back towards the political centre ground. But as the Fabian study demonstrates, if Labour is to reach the giddy heights of 40%, much, much more is needed to reach out to those blocks of voters currently backing the Tories and the Lib Dems.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Labour Uncut