Tuesday, 14 April 2009

How Low can Labour Go ?

Mike Smithson on politicalbetting.com has tonight declared he is a seller of Labour seats at 226 and 228. Needless to say, the Tory activists have got themselves in a tizz over this and are salivating at the prospect of a Labour meltdown.

But are they and Mike correct about this ?

Labour's worst election performances in recent times were in 1983 and 1987. In the former, they won just 209 seats on 28% while in 1987 they won 229 seats on 31% of the vote. Recent polls have shown Labour support around 30% so it could be argued that around 220 looks a reasonable number for Labour to fall to.

Well, yes and no...

Constituency boundaries are much more favourable to Labour now than in the 1980s. Martin Baxter's site, Electoral Calculus, shows Labour winning around 240 seats on current polling data so that would leave Mike and other Labour sellers well out of pocket.

However, two thoughts make me think Mike and others might have a point. First, the Crewe & Nantwich by-election last year showed a swing of 17.6% from Labour to the Conservatives and, as 1997 demonstrated, it's often the seemingly safest seats where the largest swings occur. It may well be that while the national swing could be 6-8%, the swing in the second tier of Labour seats could be greater than 10% which would see a 1997-style fall of Labour seats.

Second, the emergence of the Scottish Nationalists as a serious political force has serious implications for Labour. Although the seats held by Labour in Scotland have large majorities, a number are or would be vulnerable based on the 2007 Holyrood elections. It's not impossible to imagine Labour losing another 6-8 seats in Scotland though wilder SNP and Scottish Conservative predictions of 20 Labour losses look well wide of the mark.

So, unless you think Labour will collapse in Scotland and Wales, it's very hard for me to imagine a floor of less than 200 seats. I think around 220 will be the Labour floor allowing for a few losses to the Liberal Democrats and SNP and more losses to the Conservatives.

It looks to me as though the spread market at around 225 isn't far off the mark.

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