© Toms Norde, WMCommons
Dear Prime Minister,
I doubt that you have ever stopped thinking about next year’s general election: shrewd politicians know that the moment one campaign is over, the next begins. But with just over a year to go, a degree of urgency now informs your decisions. What you say and do in the next few months will matter more than the way you campaign in the weeks before polling day. What, then, must you do?
Let’s start with the size of your task. At the last general election, the Conservatives won 307 seats. Since then you have lost Corby to Labour. To win an overall majority you need 326 seats, which means gaining 20. To govern comfortably—that is, to protect you against rebellions and by-election losses—you need a majority of at least 30. This means winning 340 seats—or gaining 34.
Can you do it? Recent YouGov surveys have, on average, put Labour on 39 per cent, the Tories on 33 per cent, Ukip on 12 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 9 per cent. Compared with 2010, Labour is up nine points, the Tories down four, Ukip up nine and the Lib Dems down 15. If votes in every seat shift in line with those figures, Labour would have 364 MPs, the Conservatives 240 and the Lib Dems 21. Ukip would have no MPs, despite winning more votes than the Lib Dems.
However, opposition leads usually decline in the run-up to elections as people shift from protest mode to decision mode. History suggests that Labour’s current six-point lead is one that you should be able to overturn.
If you do stage a nationwide recovery, your richest pickings appear to be in Lib Dem territory. Most of their 57 seats were Tory-held not so long ago. Win most of them back (as current national polls suggest you would) and the job is done. However, that won’t be easy. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Lib Dem support has fallen by more than half since 2010. I would expect them, like you, to recover some of their lost voters. Their recovery is likely to be strongest in seats they are defending: local Lib Dem MPs are often well dug in, and most should survive however badly their party performs nationally.
Overall, you should pick up three Lib…