The narrow path to another Labour surprise on election day

by Atul Hatwal

Most polls point to a big Tory victory and each media appearance by Jeremy Corbyn seems almost focus-grouped to boost their majority. But despite the sea of data and commentary, there has been relatively little consideration of the factors which made 2017 the thunderbolt result that it was. These haven’t gone away and could yet mean 2019 turns up another surprise Labour result.

Four were particularly relevant in 2017: the revolt of the under 44s, Corbyn’s ability to turn out non-voters, demographic change in Southern constituencies and the propensity for Remainer tactical voting.

In 2015, the Conservative victory was built on fighting Labour to a draw among 25-44 years olds and then winning well among over 55s. In 2017, Labour built huge leads in age groups up to 44 but then lost even more heavily among voters aged 55 and older. Here are Ipsos Mori’s figures from their 2015 and 2017 exit polls:

Following the 2017 election there was a rare level of unity, in private at least, between Labour and Tory candidates that excess austerity had been a significant factor in shifting under 44s to Labour. Since then, for the majority of under 44s, the situation has got worse. The median wage is still below its 2008 level while prices continue to rise, more schools are shutting early because they cannot afford to stay open, more people are sleeping rough on the streets and home ownership is ever more distant for those without access to the bank of Mum and Dad.

In theory, Labour should be set for another strong performance among under 44s. However, if we compare the results of YouGov’s 2019 MRP, which had a Tory majority of 68, with the above figures, we see a significant deterioration in Labour’s position (note: YouGov age bands are slightly different to Ipsos Mori).

The key difference is among 35-44 year olds where Labour goes from a +16 lead in 2017 to a -1.5 deficit and among 45-54 year olds where Labour goes from -3 to -13 in YouGov’s MRP.

What could be the reason?

Labour’s negatives might have overwhelmed it. Too many mistakes, the shadow of anti-Semitism and a lack lustre campaign may have taken their toll.

But many of these negatives were also present in 2017. It would require all of those candidates to be fundamentally wrong about what happened at the last election and the economic situation in 2019 to be broadly irrelevant. Again, quite possible but there’s a chance there maybe a difference between the MRP and election result, for under 44s.

The polling that underpins the MRP represents a snapshot of opinion in mid to late November. As election day comes nearer, voters considering anti-Tory alternatives such as the Lib Dems and Greens will be squeezed towards Labour, not least if the message is clear that the Tories are headed back to government with a commanding majority.

On its own, this doesn’t feel like it would recreate Labour’s 2017 advantage among under 44s but there’s also a wild card which might build a larger margin, one that many victorious 2017 Labour candidates subsequently said was critical to their results: Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal to non-voters.

Before the 2017 election, I saw Labour’s regional canvass returns, various candidate Whatsapp groups and spoke to countless canvassers and candidates. The consensus outside of London was that disaster loomed. I wrote it up on Uncut. I was wrong.

A few weeks after the 2017 election on Uncut, we ran a piece by Andy Howells which summarised a common story, “I phone banked for four weeks but picked up no Labour surge. And then, on polling day, there it was.” This paragraph from the piece is telling,

“In some parts of Jack Dromey’s Erdington seat we were shocked at past voting records. We used Labour’s software to do some fundamental analysis. In one key area — Castle Vale — 42% of voters had not voted once in eight years.”

Labour’s canvassers missed it, the pollsters missed it, but on election day 2017, large numbers of non-voters voted Labour.

The impact of austerity undoubtedly created the impetus for this. But these voters hadn’t turned out for Ed Miliband and as much as it pains me to say, they probably wouldn’t have turned out for a more centrist leader.

The key factor was Jeremy Corbyn’s status as an outsider, he was a vehicle for the frustration and rage many felt with the state of their lives. The motivation was similar to why many voters’ opted for Brexit and its no coincidence that wards like Castle Vale in Birmingham Erdington – deprived, working class communities – voted very heavily for Brexit.

In 2016, the issue of Europe wasn’t so salient as voters’ anger and desire to upend the status quo. Same again in 2017.

It’s open to question whether Jeremy Corbyn still retains that same attraction. He’s two years longer in the job and many of his ratings are even lower than in 2017. But, paradoxically, if the attacks on Corbyn as a Communist, high spending threat to national stability cut-through, then he might again become that anti-establishment vessel for these non-voters’ frustration.

The combination of austerity and Jeremy Corbyn’s personal appeal was exacerbated in 2017 by the scale of demographic change in many seats, even since 2015.

The recent 3m spike in voter registration ahead of the election was less to do with new voters coming onto the electoral roll than existing voters confirming that they are registered to vote. One of the primary reasons to check, given there was an election just two years ago, will be if you’ve moved to a new area.

The epicentre of change is London and both within and without the capital, large numbers of constituencies across the country are being impacted.

Within London, there has been a significant movement from inner to outer London, of low income voters, as a result of George Osborne’s benefit cuts. Housing Benefit changes in particular have driven a major migration to formerly Conservative outer London Boroughs such as Croydon and Enfield, tilting these areas towards Labour.

Outside of London, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the capital is exporting gargantuan numbers of people, changing the nature of their destination constituencies.

In the year to June 2018, 340,500 people moved out of London – the highest since the ONS started to track it, in 2012. A proportion went to major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds but most went to nearby towns outside of London, within commuting distance. Towns like Dartford, Thurrock, Stevenage, Crawley and Brighton.

Since the last election, it is very likely that well over 600,000 people have moved out of London. The scale and pace of this change poses a particular difficulty to the various MRP polls in their modelling of constituency-level results.

Analysis by the Centre for Cities, commissioned by the BBC, illustrates how London’s leavers are dominated by people in their 30s and early 40s – the voters who, in 2017, broke most heavily for Labour.

While these London émigrés won’t shore up Labour’s vulnerable ‘red wall’ across the Midlands and the North, they could make a big difference to a number of Tory targets and Tory held seats in the South with small majorities.

For example, Dagenham and Rainham is a Tory target and has favourable demographics for the Conservatives but has seen large numbers of people move into the constituency who match a more typical Labour profile.

In the Tory column are currently some seats with tiny majorities. For example, in Thurrock, the Tories hold a lead of 345, Chipping Barnet a lead of 353 and Hastings 346. All have seen material inflow from London since 2017.

Further down the Tory marginal list come constituencies like Hendon (lead of 1,072), Watford (lead of 2,092), Crawley (lead of 2,457) and of course, Iain Duncan Smith in Chingford and Wood Green (2,438). All places, again, where there has been an inflow from London.

In some of these constituencies, the impact of demographic change will be amplified by the final factor which caused the 2017 upset: Remainer tactical voting.

During the final days of the 2017 campaign, unseen by the media, there was the first inkling of major trouble in Remain seats in Tory HQ. Multiple teams of canvassers were diverted from Tory target seats to shore up places like Putney, Wimbledon and Richmond.

In November, the academic think tank The UK in a Changing Europe, broke down the 17 Conservative seats under threat from a ‘Remain Alliance’.

Out of these, just under half – Richmond Park, St Albans, Lewes, Winchester, Hitchin and Harpenden, Esher and Walton, Guildford and Putney – will also have been impacted to varying amounts by London’s changing demography.

Tactical voting in seats where there is a binary choice between the Tories and a clear challenger is usually well understood by local voters. Most of the time it just involves voting Labour. In those Labour ‘red wall’ seats, it is clear that lots of switching is being driven by Leaver tactical voting against Labour on Brexit.

For centrist Remainers, often ex-Tories, the question will be whether their desire to stop a hard Tory Brexit takes primacy over their antipathy to Jeremy Corbyn.

The odds look heavily stacked against Labour for 2019. From where the polls are today, a hung parliament would constitute a shock result.

The key to Labour’s chances is recapturing its 2017 lead among under 44 year olds.

If, over the coming week, voters in their 30s and 40s are squeezed back towards Labour, a clear path opens up to denying the Tories a majority.

Jeremy Corbyn’s residual appeal to non-voters, the creeping Londonisation of lots of southern constituencies and Remainer tactical voting would potentially amplify this underlying shift in enough constituencies to balance Labour’s likely losses in the Midlands and the North, blocking Boris Johnson’s path to Number 10 and changing the result of the election.

The operative word, however, is “if”.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

15 Responses to “The narrow path to another Labour surprise on election day”

  1. John P Reid says:

    Not sure whom the people who moved to Dagenham snd Rainham who match the labour profile are, there’s gentrification white collar public sector workers for surbutvin 2017 labours stood on a manifesto to accept brexit
    And labours majority went down even though the Percentage went up, so did the Tory percentage making it a 2 horse race
    The 2017 election, saw many new voters register, the Tories nicked up the campaign, it was Like a huge by election
    I know people who didn’t like labour or the Tories thought it’d be a Tory landslide so voted labour as a protest vote

    Not sure what the article has to do with 2019

    I always find it funny when in 2010, I stood for a labour councillor that Kemi a Badenoch s mum has moved out the East end and had voted for me , ditto a new Tory Asian councillors parent voted for me, the assumption that minorities moved out of the East end and still vote labour as their parents did, is highly offensive

  2. Alf says:

    I think the continued presence of the Thatcher/Blairite cultists in the party still puts voters off. So I hope the members press again for full open selections at next year’s conference. Most of the wild-eyed ones have already jumped ship but – should we win or lose next week – what remains of the New Labour careerist rump needs to be forcibly eliminated.

  3. Tafia says:

    Bollocks Atul. You’re making the very basic mistake of isolating one opinion poll to illustrate a point – read Anthony Wells’ excellent blog UKPollingReport to see how stupid doing that is. ( ). That ICM poll is what is known as an ‘outlier’ and even the age demographic ‘cross-breaks’ are wildly out of kilter with the average. You picked that one purely because it’s Labour share is the highest so far this week, and wildly out of place with the others, thus it’s cross-breaks are wildly out of place as well. Try making the same claims using the Opinium one from earlier this week – you’ll fall flat on your arse. The Poll that’s closest to the average so far for both this week and the entire campaign is ComRes’s first poll this week released on sunday – and that doesn’t support what you are saying either.

    I have kept a spreadsheet of every single published opinion poll where the sample was taken AFTER the election was called. It runs into hundreds. Just this week – Week 4, their have been 11 polls publlished so far up to and including last night’s ComRes.

    For week 4 so far, the ICM poll taken in isolation is C42, L35, LD13, BXP2.5, Grn2.5, compared to the average so far for week 4 of C42.818, L32.777, LD13.000, BXP2.954, Grn2.954 . And the average cross-breaks are also totally different to the position you are ridiculously trying to make.

    Do you know what the average gap was at the start between Labour and the Tories commencement? – around 10%/

    At the end of Week 1? – Around 10%
    The average of Week 2? – Around 10%
    The average of Week 3? Around 10%
    The average so far in Week 4? – Around 10%
    The average from the very first poll to last night’s ComRes? Around 10%

    Never ever isolate just one poll or it’s cross-breaks to try and prove something – it’s the mark of an idiot and a person who doesn’t understand even the basics.

    And this tactical voting nonsense is just that – nonsense. In Wales the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid have done it for this election – the voters have rejected it, their ‘Unite To Remain’ candidates are getting nowhere and are being rejected on the doorstep with different parties core voters rejecting the idea of voting for a candidate from another party because they want to know where they stand on more than just one issue and they regard is as attempting to ‘fix’ the result, and the Lib Dems ‘Revoke’ position is deeply unpopular even with their own core support. None of the three looks like it will end up with more seats than they had to start with and Plaid look likely to fimnish with one less than now, bizarrely and ironically losing that one to the Lib Dems because of a local issue (it’s the only one where both have stood a candidate).

    And now, with a week to go, all your are fantasising about is trying to get a hung Parliament, which will inevitably lead to another general election before the end of February because Labour cannot yield on just the basic demands of either the SNP or the Lib Dems. (And Labour will have to try to form a government, Johnson will not take Office unless he gets a majority – he isn’t obligated to so Labour will be firced into trying to cobble together an government from at least two other parties, possibly three and having to include the DUP as well as having to support things it is vehemently against – such as allowing IndyRef2 and allowing it to be held before any second EU referendum).

  4. Rob says:

    There’s one huge, significant difference between 2017 and 2019.
    In 2017 Labour promised to respect the referendum result in their manifesto and got away with it because May was following orders to destroy the Tory majority to thwart Brexit.
    In 2019 Labour have a ridiculous Brexit policy and the Tories have a pro leave leader promising to get Brexit done.
    END OF.

  5. Tafia says:

    YouGov Leave/Remain polling over the weekend:-

    “Do you think Britain should now leave the European Union, or remain a member of the European Union?”

    Leave – 46%
    Remain – 44%
    Dont Know/Will Not Vote – 11%

  6. John P Reid says:

    I see Ash Sarkar is Comparing labour proposing another EU referendum and Jeremy Corbyn staying Neutral is same as Harold Wilson in the 1975 referendum (actually he didn’t
    There’s no comparison ,we had a referendum in 2016 we voted to leave,
    its not been implemented ,so comparing it to the option to vote to leave in 1975 is not credible

  7. John P Reid says:

    The thing that will need to be repeated after the election
    Over and over again
    Is the majorities the Tories will get in the Seats they win off labour in Bristol, Wales and the Midlands if they’re labour seats where labour had 5,000 majorities and the Tories get 8,500 majorities
    Does labour have any idea how hard it will be to Win those seats neck
    It’ll be harder than Scotland where both the SNP not great record in a office
    And people tactically voting for who ever cane second to get rid of the SNP they’ll be no tactical anti Tory vote to get labour those seats back
    The Tories May only win A majority of 30 but labours votes will be so highly stacked in the Cities
    The members will have to listen to the Teams the candidates who list in the Heartlands what they heard on the doorstep
    Some of those seats had been labour since 1935

  8. Ian says:

    Just tell people living in Tory held seats to vote Liberal Democrat (or Green or PC where they are carrying the Remain banner).

    Labour simply isn’t going to win seats off the Tories.

    The LibDems and their allies still might.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Did anyone ask the older ones people in the suburbs of the Cities if they wanted the demographic changes they’ve had the values of metropolitan 24/7 culture thrust on them

    if London Councils just moved the older ones from Social housing to Essex then it’s Class cleansing
    what london doesn’t realise is the rest of the Britain does not want to be like it,

    The left wing liberal demographic changes that feel social housing can be given to those who work local rather than pensioners that they don’t want real policing that the greenbelt can be built

    What I was talking about is when middle class people move in a working class area tell them they want to change the workings and ethic to suit younger people without twinging it disrupts the ones there

    shami Chakrabarti said don’t leave me trapped with Essex man

    working class estates in inner London where middle class councillors start telling the working class how to live their lives without realising as they dint know the area they don’t know the values, Shami Chakrabarti has been pulled up by the daily mirror on this
    Its wanting their fair share, they see the GLA giving minorities benefits from unions, fact is when old folks are moved from London to the old folk homes it’s the Essex tax payer who pays for it

  10. John P Reid says:

    The Methodist EU Sceptic working Class Trade Union Northern Constituencies thought the Party was there’s based on Decades of new working class generations moved in hold their “salt of the Earth moral values”

    As even when the party wasn’t there’s the 1980’s when despite being A EU sceptic party the Fact Harriet barman’s getting a minimum elected to the front bench, Grunwick or the GLC, and lesbian and gays for the miners saw identity politics the opponent to Thatcherism and Even during Blair’s liberalism era at least the working Class got money as the Country was doing well

    And the inner London Middle class people getting into position where they run Working class mainly minority ethnic areas have thought the party was there as they were informed historically when the Labour Party was a identity party in the 80’s and saw pictures of members opposing Aparthied or section 28 or when Durunf Blair’s time some of his Zucsesses snd battles were based on carrying out ideas originally proposed by identity groups in the 80’s and dismissed by the Tories at the time

    This came to a conclusion
    When Ed miliband having denounced Thatcherism and Blair’s expression unlimited cheap EU migration under globalisation was a mistake with his “control immigration mugs” and his support for gay marriage of inquiries into islamiphobia
    Thought he could appeal to both the working class north snd inner London middle class
    As such when he lost Jeremy Corbyn said in his leadership bid he was against the EU and pro identity politics
    And the working class north and the identity politics of inner London both thought they were talking to him
    And come the 2017 election they both interpreted that labour was pro brexit up north
    And against it down south

    Then at the 2018 October Conference labour made its choice was it gonna be the party of the working class north or Remain inner London
    It decided the latter and the working class North thinking the Labour Party belonged to them after 84 years has just been told the identity middle class London Labour Party has won
    Labour will lose the northern working Class vote Thursday

    It’s no Coincidence How many Members who voted For heir To Blair David Miliband then Voted Form Jeremy Corbyn five years later rather than Going for Blairtite Liz Kendall, the acceptable varying position these groups would have took was Is Novara Media or Momentum the group to follow in their devotion for Jeremy Corbyn and Was peoples vote or Stand up to racism the best option for the next referendum
    A generalisation would be that where Some ex liberal democrats who were upset with their Party going into the coalition ,Interpreted Jeremy Corbyn as a Pro EU Middle class liberal Londoners into Identity Politics pro the EU, Like Ed milibands wing before them

  11. john zims says:


    nail head hit

    The stupidity of Corbyn,the May deal with Customs Union etc. is / was exactly what Corbyn was proposing but he chose to oppose for opposition sake, truly a complete idiot.

    Could of faced a future election without Brexit being an issue but tried to be a smart arse.

  12. Mike G says:

    *LABOUR MEMBERS* Last three days. Let’s all get our battle cry across on the doors: “Vote Labour, even if that means voting for a Blairite.”

  13. buttley says:

    The guy who’s weighting formula enabled Survation, to call it correctly in 2017, has forecast the following:

    Hung parliament – yes, smart bet
    Lab minority govt – yes, smart bet
    Lab most seats – unlikely
    Lab majority – very unlikely

    He thinks there is less than 2.9% gap between them.

  14. Tom says:

    How did it go?

  15. Tafia says:

    re-read my comment above of December 5th at 1.26pm.

    It was baltantly obvious atul. Blatantly, blatantly obvious to all but a cock.

Leave a Reply