Imagine, if you will, Jeremy Corbyn beaming and waving from the steps of 10 Downing Street, installed in power after a general election victory. On most current polls this looks unlikely: Labour are well adrift, perhaps as much as 10 points behind the Conservatives. Politics, however, is particularly volatile at present and Labour managed to turn around a much bigger deficit than that in 2017. Such fantasies or nightmares cannot be dismissed as fanciful just yet.
If Labour are going to win the next election, how are they going to do it? For a start, they’ll need substantially all of the 262 seats that they won at the last election, including those taken by those who have since left the party, but on top of that they’ll need gains. Above is an interactive map of Labour’s 100 most attainable targets, representing every seat that could be taken on a 7% swing. That’s a big swing, but Labour would need to take nearly two thirds of these to get an overall majority of one.
I have categorised these by Brexicity. Where Leave or Remain won with more than 60% of the vote, I’ve labelled them strongly in that category. More close-fought seats are labelled Moderately Leave or Remain (as appropriate).
The first thing to note is just how many of these are in Scotland: 28. Even if Labour would settle for being the largest party, eight of the 30 most attainable targets are in Scotland too. That’s wholly disproportionate – fewer than one in ten seats in Parliament are Scottish.
Labour can win without Scotland but it would make their job a heck of a lot harder. They would need nearly a 7% swing to get a bare majority. This would mean them taking seats like Southport, Worthing East & Shoreham and Cities of London & Westminster, seats that they have never taken before.
Labour’s dismal polling in Scotland should be a huge concern to them. If turning things around in Scotland isn’t in their top three priorities right now, they are making a big mistake.
What about the question of Brexit? Superficially, it’s more or less a wash. 47 seats leaned Remain and 53 leaned to Leave. But once you take out Scotland and London, just 11 out of 62 target seats voted to Remain in the EU. If you wondered why Labour haven’t seemed more enthusiastic about courting Remain voters, there’s your answer.
(This may nevertheless be a strategic error. Labour’s voters are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of Remainers even in heavily Leave-voting seats and will form a majority of their voter base in almost every seat they hold. A high priority should be keeping these voters happy. Manifestly many of them currently are not.)
Those 62 target seats outside London and Scotland are in the main very different from Labour’s traditional metropolitan strongholds. Labour have been focussing on the concerns of towns and this is why. Gloucester, Colchester, Carlisle, Mansfield and Telford are very different places but all have the similar concerns of third division places in a world that to many seems as if it is increasingly being run for the benefit exclusively of those in the top tier.
Labour is looking to move the conversation on from Brexit. That may be an impossible task but it is its best chance of further progress.