by Atul Hatwal
Uncut has learned the real reason for Ed Miliband’s sudden night-time visit to Russell Brand’s Shoreditch home: panic caused by the early tallies of postal ballots being fed back to party HQ, from marginals around the country.
Labour is behind and urgently needs to reach out to new voter groups. Russell Brand was a means to that end.
Postal voting started in mid-April. Over 5 million are expected to cast their ballot in this way and over the last week, local teams from all parties have attended postal vote opening sessions in each constituency.
Although the parties are legally not allowed to tally votes at these events, they all do and the constituency teams then dutifully pass their field intelligence back to HQ.
These are not opinion polls results or canvass returns but actual votes, hundreds of thousands of votes, from across Britain. Numbers have been flowing from each marginal to party strategists to give the most accurate picture of the current state of play.
Labour insiders familiar with the latest figures have told Uncut that the picture for Labour in marginal seats, where it is fighting the Tories, is almost uniformly grim.
Seats that canvass returns had suggested were strong prospects for gains are much more finely balanced and those that were close are swinging heavily to the Tories.
The tartan scare is working with the fear of McLabour shifting large numbers of wavering Lib Dems and Ukippers into the Tory column.
National opinion polls and Lord Ashcroft’s last swathe of constituency polling have seemed to indicate a shift towards the Tories recently, but Labour insiders say the effect on the ground in marginals is much bigger than picked up in polls so far.
Labour has already squeezed the Greens as much as possible for votes, and is coming up short. Despite a superior get-out-the-vote operation primed and ready for next Thursday, Labour cannot bridge the gap by organisation alone.
With just a few days to go until the election, Labour desperately needs new voters.
This is why Ed Miliband suddenly changed his plans and went to Russell Brand’s home to be interviewed.
Even though Labour’s press team advised that this would wipe-out Ed Balls’ planned offensive the next day on Tory tax plans and dominate media coverage, potentially for days, the decision was made to go ahead with the interview.
The rationale was that beyond the direct reach of Brand via his YouTube channel, and the millions that follow him on Twitter, the media discussion about Miliband’s interview would send a clear signal to young people and non-voters that Labour’s leader was different; that he would listen to them and engage with their concerns.
Whether Brand gave Labour an endorsement or didn’t (in the end he didn’t and backed Caroline Lucas and the Greens for Brighton Pavillion) was less important than sending this signal.
Given the intelligence that Lib Dems and Ukippers were already switching to the Tories, there was comparatively little downside to the choice with an upside that the story was the highest profile way to tip disaffected non-voters into voting Labour.
The tactic is logical, but speaks to an epic failure of strategy by Labour.
With just a few days left before polling, the party finds itself scrambling to reach non-voters; it is attempting to compress the work of years of engagement into less than a week, to save the election. Few expect this last minute gamble to yield any returns.
The very thin silver lining to the disastrous postal ballot field reports is Scotland: while the position in is bad, it is not the total meltdown suggested by the polls.
The opinion polls deal with Scotland as a whole where the huge reserves of SNP support in places like Glasgow deliver blow-out figures that suggest almost every Labour MP will lose their seat. However on a constituency basis, the distribution of support is much more even and Labour is competitive in seats that the polls suggest are lost.
According to the postal ballot reports, over half of Labour’s seats are genuinely winnable.
This is why so many Labour resources have been moved north of the border and the party has pivoted its campaign towards Scotland.
In recent days, Ed Miliband has been up in Scotland answering Tory charges about a future deal with the SNP, partially to try to address the problems in English seats, albeit far too late to have a major impact, but principally, to nationalise the Scottish campaign.
For disaffected Labour voters, the choice is being presented as Labour or Tory for the government of Britain where a vote for the SNP would just let the Tories in. For Tory and Lib Dem voters, the choice is between a party committed to the union, Labour, and one opposed, the SNP, where only a vote for Labour will safeguard the union.
In both cases the national dimension is central and Ed Miliband’s presence in Scotland, as national leader, underpins this approach.
The past week has been bracing and ugly for Labour strategists. The postal ballot intelligence has destroyed any residual sense that Labour is winning this campaign.
The priority now is to narrow the loss – the Tories are likely to be the largest party but if Labour can save enough Scottish seats, the result might just be close enough for Labour to cobble together a rainbow coalition to deny the Tories government, even from second place.
If Labour cannot save sufficient numbers of Scottish seats and results in England are as bad as the postal ballots suggest, then there is the real prospect of Labour entering the next parliament with fewer seats than in 2010.
The last straw being clutched among the leader’s advisers is that Labour’s vote, its base which has been relentlessly targeted by canvassing teams, is disproportionately under-represented in postal ballots. It’s a hope shared by few outside of Ed Miliband’s most committed coterie.
The election campaign is nearly over. After the past week’s postal ballot reports, many previously optimistic senior Labour MPs and advisers fear the same is true for Labour’s chances of returning to government, even as a minority administration.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut