If popular wisdom is to be believed, Labour are set to dominate at the next general election.
The wind appears to have changed: Starmer is visibly more confident in public and many behind the scenes – Labour and Conservative – are talking with near-certainty about the prospect of an incoming Labour government.
Starmer’s newfound assertiveness does seem to be backed up by the numbers too – at least at first glance.
Labour’s poll lead appears to have stabilised and is currently hovering at around 20%, and last month Savanta released an MRP model predicting a staggering majority of 314 seats for Keir Starmer’s party, based on current polling.
That would give Labour 482 MPs, with the Tories all but wiped out with just 69 – a miraculous turnaround, particularly given the dire straits the party was in just three years ago.
Given these figures, it’s easy to see why some in the Labour Party might be beginning to believe.
Our country desperately needs a progressive government to reform our democratic system, take action on the climate crisis and rebuild our broken public services.
In between now and the next general election, Compass will be working tirelessly to get the Tories out so we can make that happen.
But while the numbers do look good for Labour, there’s ample reason for caution, given the pitfalls ahead.
Deeper analysis below reveals Labour’s lead is softer than it may appear. This could have dire consequences thanks to First Past the Post, which too often favours the Tories.
The injustice of our crooked voting system means that even if Labour are doing well – as they are right now – it isn’t always enough to guarantee election victory, and they can’t rely on winning alone.
Starmer must recognise that the key to a progressive win lies in pluralism, alliances and proportional representation.
Below are six reasons why Labour can’t rely on winning alone, and why without progressive cooperation the next general election might return a hung parliament in place of a Labour victory – or worse.
The swing Labour needs
We know First Past the Post produces unrepresentative results and skews elections towards the Tories.
Because the current Conservative voting coalition is more efficiently distributed across the country than Labour’s, our electoral system makes it easier for the Tories to win a majority.
Labour needs an election day advantage of around 12% just to gain a majority of one, while the Tories with a 12% lead win a majority of over 100.
This means Labour needs to achieve a huge national swing bigger than either 1945 or 1997 to gain an unprecedented 120 seats – a huge undertaking.
The Boundary Commission is due to report its final recommendations for the 2023 Boundary Review in July this year.
The Commission has made changes to constituencies across the UK to equalise the number of votes in each seat.
Boundaries are subject to regular review and there has been input from political parties, but opposition parties are rightly watchful for any signs of gerrymandering.
The new boundaries are bad news for Labour – First Past the Post already advantages the Tories, but these boundary changes are set to twist things even further in their favour.
Had the 2019 election taken place under the proposed new boundaries, the Conservatives would have gained 6 more seats – 3 from Labour, 1 from the Lib Dems and 2 from Plaid.
These boundary changes have an even larger impact when overlaid on previous election results, with 9 extra seats for the Tories in 2017, 15 in 2015 and 12 in 2010.
Under the new boundaries, Labour will have more marginal constituencies, while the Tories will have fewer.
In practice, this means Labour will need an even larger swing to oust the Conservatives and win a majority.
New rules coming into place this year will require people across England to show photo ID when voting at local and national elections.
There are concerns that those without ID, who are more likely to come from disproportionately marginalised communities and groups in society that are more democratically disengaged such as young people, will be disenfranchised by these new regulations.
These people are also more likely to be Labour voters, so many anticipate this will have a net negative impact on the Labour vote – another win for the Tories.
Many seat projections based on current polling do not factor in the large number of still-undecided voters.
Analysis of these key voters from campaign group Best for Britain has revealed that the bulk of them are likely to be timid Tories, due to their age and education profile.
Areas that now have a large number of undecided voters – termed the ‘wavering wall’ by BfB – also previously had a large Conservative vote, suggesting these voters have only recently turned away from the Tories.
They may be undecided for now, but this is likely to change, as 85% of them say they will vote in the next general election.
Given their demographic makeup, it’s possible they will swing back to the Conservatives, which would slash Labour’s seat count and make a hung parliament even more likely.
Sunak VS Starmer
Recent polling shows Rishi Sunak is currently a lot more popular than his party – and on some crucial metrics, more popular than Keir Starmer.
Figures shared by Redfield & Wilton earlier this month show Rishi Sunak has now overtaken Keir Starmer on the question of who would make the best PM, mere months into his premiership and following a disastrous year of scandal and instability for his party.
Parties’ polling usually trends towards their leader’s popularity in a general election, so this is a worrying development for Starmer.
Savanta polling for the Telegraph also shows Sunak is more trusted to deliver on the economy – another crucial metric for election success.
While it’s important to recognise that figures vary from pollster to pollster and incumbency bias means the sitting Prime Minister is usually more popular on the question of ‘Best PM,’ it’s clear the polling could be better for Starmer, particularly given the events of the last year.
Governments tend to recover ground at elections
We’re currently at mid-term, and still likely at least a year away from the next general election (possibly even two).
Things have been bad – very bad – for the government over the last year or so, but there are some signs in the polling that we’ve already passed the nadir of their unpopularity.
Invariably, governments recoup ground as a general election approaches, and if the Tories focus on merely preventing things from getting any worse, they may be able to successfully claim this as competence against global factors.
Reform UK are currently polling in the double digits, according to some organisations, but many of these voters are likely to return to the Tories during the squeeze of an election campaign.
Remember – in June 2019 the Tories won 9% of the national vote in the European Parliament elections, but six months later they won a landslide at the general election.
The Conservative Party is a brutal election-winning machine and arguably the world’s most successful political party, so there’s every reason to suspect they’ll do better in a general election than current polling suggests.
While there is obvious cause for optimism given Labour’s current poll lead, the above reasons show there is no room for complacency.
Compass welcomes the turn in fortune towards progressives, but the toxic glue of First Past the Post means Labour might still struggle to win alone.
The case is stronger than ever for increased cooperation, collaboration and coalition-building between parties and parties and civil society.
But this cooperation is about more than just delivering victory – in order for a future progressive government to be a success, we need to build a strong, confident progressive alliance capable of following through with their promises when in power.
Win As One is already working to build those alliances – both at a local and national level – so we can see the transformative change our country needs.