With the Liberal Democrats in the previous post, it was fairly easy to analyse which of their seats could be considered safe, as they have a relatively small number. With Labour and the Conservatives, it is harder and has to be looked at more generally. What we cannot do is take a poor Labour performance, for example 2010, and say that all of these seats will necessarily be safe in the next election. Somewhere like Birmingham Edgbaston has been a huge Conservative target for the last two elections and will continue to be next time around- just because Labour held it during a poor year, it doesn’t stop it being a marginal seat next time around.
What we really want to see is which seats will vote Labour come rain or shine. Where we can use the last election, is to say that if Labour had a ‘safe’ majority at this election, perhaps 5000 or more, then we can be relatively certain that nothing apart from the most dramatic of capitulations would send this seat away from their hands.
Labour have 166 seats that currently have a 5000+ majority. To put this into perspective, the Conservatives only managed to win 165 seats in total at the 1997 election. This is a very strong base for Labour as it means that there are a huge amount of seats where they simply do not need to waste any resources whatsoever.
Let’s also remember that Labour only actually won 258 seats in total in 2010- so 64% of Labour’s seats are by our measure ‘safe’. This bodes very well for Labour in future elections- and shows how great the challenge is for any other left-leaning party to make any kind of impact at Westminster level (the Greens superb campaign in Brighton Pavilion aside).
It was perhaps this strength in depth that Labour had that allowed them to save many more marginal seats than was expected in 2010. The Conservatives managed some swings early on election night that made many think that a Conservative majority was apparently, defying the exit polls – the 11.6 swing in Washington and Sunderland West springs to mind – but Labour went on to hold seats that required far smaller swings for the Conservatives, by aggressively targeting their marginals.
This is the kind of luxury that a party like the Liberal Democrats do not have- Labour getting reduced to 200~ seats at a future election would be a very poor result~ but also still a very large base to build from the next time around. The Lib Dems being reduced to 20 or 30 seats could see them slide further and further into irrelevance- as not only the seat numbers are diluted, but inevitably, the talent that the party has to choose from.
Labour of course, will not be looking to defend marginals next time around- but to target Conservative ones. The overall point here is that Labour are firmly entrenched in wide swathes of seats around the country – and they, along with the Conservatives, are not going to be shifted any time soon. Let’s remember the hyperbole around the ‘Cleggasm’ last time around – people were genuinely starting to believe that the Lib Dems could become a party of equal standing along with the big two. Whilst Labour have a safety net that we have described here, it is simply impossible for any other party to get much further above the level that the Lib Dems are currently at.
Next time we will look at the Conservative safe seats- and how likely a repeat of 1997 would be for them in the event of a big Labour win in 2015.