Reforms in our electoral system will mean Labour face an even tougher battle in 2020by John Curtice / May 12, 2015 / Leave a comment
Labour is now coming to terms with the scale of its unexpected defeat. But when it has done so, there is more dispiriting news for it to take on board—the road back to power in 2020 is likely to be steeper than the one it was trying to traverse on 7th May.
Labour went into this general election in the knowledge it could conceivably end up with more seats than the Conservatives even if it were a little behind them in votes. After all, the constituencies it already held contained some 4,000 or so fewer registered voters, while the turnout in them last time was seven points lower than in constituencies currently held by the Conservatives. As a result, Labour votes translated more efficiently into Labour seats.
However, in practice the electoral system proved to be kinder to the Conservatives than to Labour—for two key reasons.
First, Conservative MPs defending marginal seats they had first won from Labour five years ago resisted the general trend (in England and Wales at least) of a small swing to Labour—probably as a result of personal votes they had gained on account of their work as the local MP during the last five years. As a result instead of taking the dozen or so seats off the Tories that would have been expected given the national swing, Labour made a net gain of just two. Many of those marginal Tory seats now look a little less marginal.
Second, while the Conservatives were gaining Liberal Democrat seat after Liberal Democrat seat, Labour was losing all but one of its Scottish constituencies to the SNP. This development reversed a long standing pattern whereby the Conservatives tended to “waste” more votes than Labour on coming second behind a “third” party, most commonly the Liberal Democrats. Now it is Labour that finds itself in that position.
As a result Labour now potentially faces a mountain to climb in its efforts to win power in 2020—at least if it is trying to do so simply by winning over Conservative voters. While it would take only a small swing—just 0.4 per cent—to deny the Conservatives to win an…