Despite Labour being in opposition for a decade, the party has seen a period of decline which has left it with only 202 seats in the House of Commons. With a monumental defeat for the party at the last election, there are questions whether it is possible to return to government at the next election, or whether it will take many more years on the opposition benches to rebuild their strength.
But how many seats would be needed to have a Labour majority in 2024? How big a swing would be required and how does that compare with previous election results?
To achieve the smallest possible majority, Labour will have to gain an extra 124 seats, many of those being seats in and around the former ‘red wall’, as well as in northern Wales, Cumbria and 16 seats in Scotland.
Whilst 54 seats fall within only a five percent swing to Labour, a swing of 10.52 percent would be needed to win all 124. Only the 1945 general election has seen a swing larger than that – with a national swing from the Conservatives to Labour to 10.7 percent. Repeating such a historic shift in support would take a monumental effort.
For a more recent comparison, Labour fell to 209 seats and 27.6 percent of the vote in 1983 under Michael Foot. It then took the party three elections to return to government under Tony Blair with his triple-figure majority.
Although this might sound like a daunting prospect, Labour would be able to deprive the Conservatives of a majority and even be in the position to lead a coalition government with much smaller swings.
The challenge faced by Labour is also made greater by the need to gain a large number of seats in Scotland at a time when the SNP commands great support. Many of the Scottish gains, in particular, needed are in Glasgow – one of the areas that backed independence in 2014. If you remove the Scottish targets from the list, the swing needed would increase to a historic 12.11 percent and include a number of seats in the south of England – normally solid Conservative territory.
Moreover, many former ‘red wall’ seats are increasingly sharing demographics that are more likely to vote for Johnson’s Conservative Party – older, less educated and poorer, so it’s possible Labour may not be able to win those voters’ trust in one election.
Whilst this may sound incredibly daunting to Labour supporters, there is some possibility for Labour to make greater strides in areas with higher proportions of educated voters, such as Basingstoke, Croydon South and York Outer. As well as this, as Canterbury proved in 2017, Labour can win in seats in traditionally Tory regions, such as the south of England. Constituencies like South Thanet, Crawley and Truro and Falmouth are all possible targets for Labour.
Moreover, with both Corbyn and Brexit no longer an issue for the voters at the next election, Labour will almost certainly regain some of the credibility lost by voters who abandoned the party at the last election, and hopefully in enough numbers to regain some of the seats lost to the Conservatives.
Although securing a Labour majority at the next election is challenging to say the least, achieving a minority government or being in the position to form a coalition is considerably easier. Labour would only need to deprive the Conservatives of 41 seats with a 3.18 percent swing to stop the Tories from forming a majority government, and 82 constituencies to become the largest party (with a swing of 7.87 percent). Among some of those seats include the Prime Minister’s constituency of Uxbridge and Ruislip South.
If Labour were to also take an approach similar to 1997, working together to attack the Conservative government rather than attacking one another, the party could not only reallocate resources to more important targets but also reduce Conservative numbers at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP, and perhaps the SNP. Such a strategy could help produce the necessary gains to make a Labour-led progressive coalition possible.
An ‘alliance’ of this sort could end up with a result like the one below. Whilst the Conservatives would remain the largest party with 304 seats, they would be unable to form a government. Labour, with 252 seats could call on the SNP on 53 and the Liberal Democrats on 22 to get a majority of two in the House of Commons.
However, all of these figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt as the next election will be fought following boundary changes to make each constituency a roughly equal size. Although this process has not begun, an initial estimate by Electoral Calculus suggests that Labour will be reduced to just 200 seats, with the Conservatives on 371.