General Election 2017: Why Labour will perform better than many expect
Betfair markets strongly point towards catastrophe for Labour, with their projected seat total falling by the day. Paul Krishnamurty, however, says the trend has now gone too far...
"In order to translate the national swing into extra MPs, they will need to produce massive turnarounds in places where they not only never contend, but never campaign...Can the Tories really mount an effective marginal seats campaign in six weeks, aimed at seats they had never conceived as winnable?"
England is not Scotland. Apologies for stating the bleeding obvious but the differences should not be forgotten when trying to weigh up the scale of disaster facing Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.
We know the similarities and dire narrative. In Scotland, amidst a surge of nationalism in the wake of their independence referendum, Labour were swept away. Losing all but one of their Scottish MPs, the party of the Scottish working-class was displaced by the SNP. Now, the English will do the same to a divided party who were on the wrong side of the EU referendum. As in Greece, Spain, Holland and France, the mainstream centre-left will be reduced to rubble.
While nobody is predicting they will be reduced to one MP, the betting signals increasingly point to an electoral massacre. Never mind any question of winning the election, it is now rated highly unlikely that they even get close to the disastrous 1983 result. Then, Labour won only 209 seats as Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives racked up a majority of 144. Now, the market gives them only a 25% chance of getting Over 177.5 Seats.
Almost all the seats projected to change hands would go to the Tories, and this is where the specifics of English politics are important. The right-wing brand and English nationalism of the Tories and UKIP are worlds apart from the SNP's outlook. Nicola Sturgeon's party are pro-immigration, anti-Brexit and effectively stole the clothes of the liberal-left, then wrapped them in a flag. With Labour declining and mute when it came to nationalism, transferring to the SNP was an easy call for their supporters.
Politics is changing but old habits die hard
British politics is definitely in the middle of a process of massive re-alignment, but we should not ignore historic truths. There has always been deep-rooted opposition towards the Tories, based on real political substance. In recent decades, they virtually disappeared from numerous major towns, cities and regions. In Labour's heartlands in the North and Midlands - the core seats they are defending - the Tories presented no challenge. If an opposition was competitive, it was likelier to be UKIP.
Many of those Tory-free communities formed the backbone of the Brexit vote, but it requires a leap of faith to assume they will now suddenly elect a Tory when it would have been unimaginable just a year ago. Brexit may be big but it is not the sole issue that defines a person or an area's politics. It is one thing for an ex-mining community to vote UKIP or for Brexit, but quite another to support the party that shut the mines.
Time is against the Tories
Granted, polls do point to a remarkable nationwide Tory swing but do not underestimate the scale of their task. In order to translate it into extra MPs, they will need to produce massive turnarounds in places where they not only never contend, but never campaign. They will need to mobilise Brexiteers that rarely vote in General Elections, regardless of other issues about which they may be diametrically opposed to the Tories - cuts to the NHS, schools or welfare, for example.
Their last two successful campaigns were built on ruthlessly efficient targeting of marginals. Voters were targeted for years beforehand, but the party has never had enough activists or realistic motivation to focus on seats perennially labelled 'Safe Labour'. Can the Tories really mount an effective marginal seats campaign in six weeks, aimed at seats they had never conceived as winnable?
No obvious alternative vote for traditional Labour supporters
Here lies the fundamental difference with Scotland. There is no English equivalent to the SNP's young, diverse movement and progressive agenda. When Labour's core vote collapsed, there was a well-organised, relatively baggage-free, ideologically similar alternative already embedded in constituencies. Anti-Tories can vote SNP with impunity. In England, such a voter often has nowhere left to go - especially if like most Labour voters, they backed Remain.
This basic logic will stop Labour from being wiped out and it is quite possible that their polling slightly improves as it dawns on respondents. It also explains why Labour in crisis still polls beyond 20%, as opposed to their European counterparts who are being usurped by left-wing alternatives. Given the party's split over the leader, there are natural Labour voters who currently oppose Corbyn, but will probably return to the wider cause by polling day.
Betting may not have caught up with the task facing the Tories
Nevertheless, current seats lines suggest some very unlikely targets are in-play. In order to beat that 177.5 target, Labour needs to lose less than 53 seats. By the time the Tories get that far down their target list, they'll have won two seats in Stoke - the city in which they finished third in the recent by-election.
That level of target requires overturning a deficit of around 12%. Possible on some of the recent national polls but it leaves no room for error. What if, as seems likely, the Tories are hitting their ceiling in surveys putting them close to 50%. If Labour make any sort of comeback - such as the 16% national deficit in today's Yougov poll - they could plausibly restrict losses to under 40 seats, perhaps retaining up to 200.
Go much further than 50 gains and the Tories will need to over-turn deficits of 15% or more, in places where they have never even been competitive. Plus calculating solely on the national swing ignores critical local factors that are always worth a couple of percentage points. Labour incumbents will be better known and the party will be much better organised in these core seats. Many of these local councils have been stripped to the bone due to austerity.
Even in an election where the result seems beyond doubt, in which any sort of meaningful turnaround seems unimaginable, there is an angle backing the outsiders. Their chance of getting 178 seats is higher than the market has implied in recent days. Beating that target would not alter Labour's grim narrative but it is realistic. Much more so than talk of a wipeout.
Back Labour to win over 177.5 seats @ [3.5] or better