40% strategy? Nope. Fabian analysis suggests Labour’s current ceiling is actually 32%

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 con?dence 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

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24 Responses to “40% strategy? Nope. Fabian analysis suggests Labour’s current ceiling is actually 32%”

  1. swatantra says:

    Looks like another Coalition Govt.

  2. Marcus Roberts says:

    Thanks for the considered feedback Atul. If Labour did lose more of its 2010 vote our number would indeed go down. And as you note Labour needs to keep the LDs to below 15% or else we suffer from that too. As for the 2% generational decline that is more then an educated guess having used extensive YouGov data (as referenced in the report). As for appealing to more centre-right voters, far from being too timid the 1% Con-Lab convert number is actually ambitious: you probably know the polling on that score right now even better then me! The 40% strategy is indeed as you say a “shade optimistic” but it fits with the leadership, politics and issues we have and it is doable. The 2010 vote must be mobilized (as I say in the report “hard fought for and hard won” loyalist vote!), the pressure on the LDs must be maintained and voter turnout must be increased whilst some Cons are converted. We can argue over the politics that best delivers that (I still think a fusion of Ed’s liberal leftism and Cruddas’s gritty realism works best) but that’s not to say the numbers are wrong.

    Still, thanks again and let’s argue more over a drink sometime!

  3. Kieran says:

    Atul – why does your polling seemingly conflict with the You Gov daily poll?

    This seems to show on a fairly consistent basis that Labour is retaining 85% + of its 2010 voters and is attracting 30% + 2010 Lib Dem voters.

    In fact this polling regularly has the Lib Dems retaining less than 40% of their 2010 voters.

    What was different about your poll to explain such a wide discrepancy? Was it something to do with the treatment of don’t knows?

  4. aragon says:

    Move to the Political centre ?

    Perhaps you would like to reflect on this story by John Harris
    “In 1984, Orwell coined a term for this kind of political expression. He called it duckspeak: a bland but pernicious honk”

    People want an alternative!

    Why vote at all when all the parties are all the same and all offer the same diagnosis and similar solutions.

  5. Alex Harvey says:

    Latest YouGov shows a 2010 voter retention rate of 86% for Labour. So… um…

  6. paul barker says:

    Another thoughtful, well-argued peice that will be ignored by Your Party mainstream. The moderates lost & Labours course is set.
    Of course you understate your case to make it more palatable, in fact the idea of recruiting non-voters is wheeled out regurlarly on both Left & Right & its nonsense. Your analysis actually predicts a 2015 Labour vote of 27%. That ties in with most of the “Deep” Polling on real issues where between half & two-thirds of Labour “Supporters” actually back Your Party on The Economy or want to see Milliband as PM.
    Over the last 8 months Labours Polling average has fallen by 5%, to 38%. If that continues lots of Labour suppoerters will be looking for a scapegoat & Labour Uncut/Progress types are the obvious choice.

  7. john reid says:

    the idea that labour can get 30% of ex Libdem voters,is ridiculous, I’d say 6% of that 23% at the most,, this is a fantastic article, If the leadership dont accept this,then they’re denying reality,

    the low turnout and the Labour voters from 2010 who will stay at home, means labours percentage could go up,but actual vote go down

  8. james says:

    my friends who live in an ld/con constituency with whom they say have very effective ld cllrs and an mp to match. They received a labour leaflet through the door that says gives an analysis of the problems in the area without any solutions or how they’re going to be paid for. The LDs say what they’ve actually done in the area (and believe me they seem to cover every issue) and give a convincing case for the coalition outside Labour’s Westminster bubble world.

    All they say is `Labour are producing leaflets but it’s only the lds that regularly come to the door as well`. So, I think if you’re trying to factor in seats lost I think Labour might struggle as it’ll be either tories or LDs in 2015 where they live – and they don’t want the former.

  9. steve says:

    “All they say is `Labour are producing leaflets but it’s only the lds that regularly come to the door as well`. ”

    Labour no longer has the membership to launch much of a doorstep campaign. Most activists have given up on Labour – Labour abandoned them during the Blair era.

    In large areas of the country the Party is now as dead as the Monty Python parrot.

  10. Ex-Labour says:

    Like most political parties the Labour strategists are looking at a best case scenario. Polls of all sorts are usually wrong and that’s why they are given a +/- 3% margin of error normally.

    In this case it also seems there is a lot of wishful thinking and “ifs” and “buts”. We’ve seen a lot of protest stuff at the half way point, but IMHO the one to watch is if UKIP supporters realise that the sensible option for them is probably the Conservatives, then this will probably screw up all the calculations anyway.

  11. John reid says:

    Aragon, if only guardian readers were the only ones who could vote, then ,Harris article might be worth reading,

    Paul barker well said

  12. Tafia says:

    The danger for Labour is UKIP. UKIP have taken probably as much as they are going to from the conservative pond so if they have any intention of growing they must now turn their gaze on Labour’s vote and start to harvest that.

  13. uglyfatbloke says:

    National percentages are n’t a good indication of results to come. Ed may do rather better and still not get a majority. If the gnats keep their lead in Scotland – and there’s no reason to think they won’t – it’ll be them, not Labour that gains from FPTP and a lot of glib-dumb and Labour MPs will be looking for new jobs. Of course if the Salmondistas win, all Scottish MPs will be looking for new jobs…but let’s face it, they’ll not exactly be missed for their par,parliamentary talent will they?

  14. John reid says:

    It’ll be another 7 weeks before the post party conference bounce, reveals what the public think of the parties

  15. Robert says:

    The results of General Elections suggest that Labour’s vote will never go below 28%. Adding to this total the Lib Dems that are upset by the coalition, means that Labour cannot fail to get between 30 and 35% of the vote in 2015 if it follows the left-liberal approach suggested by Marcus Roberts. This also means that it is almost impossible for the Tories to get a majority.

    My personal view is that Atul’s preference for a return to “the centre” is a non-starter because I would not vote for it myself!

  16. paul barker says:

    Robert makes an interesting point in saying that The Labour vote has never gone below 28% in a General Election. However the combined 2 Party vote has been in decline for 60 years, one reason why “Hung” Parliaments have become more likely. The last time Labour lost power before 2010 was 1979 when they got 38% of the vote. Both Labour & Tories are much weaker now so new lows are quite possible.

  17. Political Trainspotter says:

    Atul – why does your polling seemingly conflict with the You Gov daily poll?

    Because their ‘polls’ were of the meaningless, push-poll variety, which YouGov do to earn cash on the side, in addition to their more serious tracker of opinion ones.

    In other words, file under ‘spurious’ and ignore.

    As an aside, someone might like to ask who paid for the series of dodgy YouGov polls which ‘Labour Uncut’ commissioned around Conference season. They don’t come cheap.

  18. Danny says:

    I’m becoming more and more sceptical of any data that has arisen from Uncut’s commissioned polling by YouGov. It seems very, very convenient that the outcome of their results appears to have aligned perfectly with their backward-looking, New Labour ideology; a diminishing of Union influence, a free reign for businesses, military intervention at the drop of a hat and essentially a policy of our Torying the Tories.

    I have little doubt that their instruction to YouGov came with some confidential caveats. It’s the only way their findings could have come back so detached from reality.

    Political Trainspotter has it spot on. Spurious. Ignore.

  19. john reid says:

    Robert, you feel ,that theres between 2-7% of Liberals who’ll vote Labour,Id’say it could be 1.5% ,with the rest of the Ex Libdems abstaining and then if there’s a low turnout,it automatically pushes the percentage of votes the main two parties up by between half and two percent, so 30% could be right,

  20. Lynne says:

    You forget UKIP. People switched from Labour to the Lib dems because of New Labour’s increasing authoritarianism. Some ex Labour voters, those that treasure they’re personal freedoms, are now looking towards UKIP. UKIP won’t just take votes from the Tories.

  21. John Jones says:

    Predicting the outcome in 2015 is more difficult than with any other recent election. That’s because there are too many new elements in the mix this time around. As well as the traditional imponderables there are a set of additional questions to which no answer is knowable in advance: how will the existence of a coalition government actually affect final voting patterns at the next election? how will a fourth-party insurgency (UKIP) alter the lie of the land for the three conventional parties? and to what extent will the ever-greater skew in the electoral system, converting votes into seats in a way that is heavily to Labour’s benefit, really play out on the day?

    What we can say is that if anything like the normal rules apply Labour does indeed have a problem. It’s been an unvarying feature of modern UK elections that the outcomes on polling day are better for governing parties and less helpful to oppositions than appears likely from opinion polls a couple of years beforehand. Some form of “swingback” seems normal, whether because voters ultimately “cling to nurse for fear of something worse” or because it’s only close to polling day that they finally start to concentrate more closely on what the opposition might actually be like in government and begin to have gresater doubts about it. Even in 1997 Major did much better (a 12% loss) than had been predicted two years out (in some polls a 30% Labour lead) while Blair in 2001 and 2005 actually won by much smaller margins than had seemed likely in mid-term. Even going back further we see the same pattern: Thatcher in 1983 and 1987 and Major in 1992 all won elections as sitting governments having been less well placed in opinion polls a couple of years beforehand, while most recently in 2010 Brown lost by much less than the polls in 2008 had suggested was likely.

    That’s why the narrowing of Labour polling leads this year is so thought-provoking. If Labour’s margin over the Tories has steadily reduced from around 10-12% to now more like 4-6%, and there are very good grounds for expecting these trends to continue over the next eighteen months, we’d better start hoping that the new imponderables mean we’re not just looking at yet another standard “swingback” towards the government. After all, if past patterns are repeated, it won’t be Ed smiling at the cameras on the steps of No. 10 on a Friday morning in the early summer of 2015.

  22. Robert says:

    John, 30% is on the low side and I think that Labour will get nearer to 35%. This is a hunch rather than anything more scientific.

  23. uglyfatbloke says:

    Johh raises a good point about swingback, also, most people loathe the government of the day whoever it is so of course they say they’ll vote against it, but that doe not mean that they will when the day comes. Does nobody remember that pollsters used to try take account of the fact that electors did not want to admit that they were tories?
    It’s repetitive I know, but we also have to remember that FPTP and regional variation have an enormous impact on results. I’ve posted here a few times to the effect that the Scottish glib-dumbs will be routed by the gnats and that Scottish labour may well lose a dozen seats top them as well, but it could be a lot more dramatic than that. It would hardly be a surprise if the gnats take 46-48% of the vote and Scottish Labour gets 28-30, but that won’t meant an equitable share of the seats; the gnats could easily end up with forty seats.

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