The future of the left since 1884

The Mountain to Climb: Labour's 2020 challenge

Labour will need to win 106 seats to secure a majority, reaching deep into middle England, according to this analysis.


The Mountain to Climb reveals that victory for the Labour party in 2020 will be more than twice as difficult to achieve as in 2015.

The report looks at the likely effects of scheduled boundary changes and concludes that Labour will need to win 106 seats to secure a majority, reaching deep into middle England. It lists the ‘target’ seats Labour will need to win (prior to boundary changes) and suggests that the ‘victory line’ could be Harlow in England and Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in Scotland.

The biggest surprise in the report is that Labour will find it easier to secure a majority in England than in the UK as a whole – a vital new consideration, given the government’s plans for ‘English Votes for English Laws’ announced in the Queen’s Speech.

Key points:

  • Labour will need to win at least 106 seats in 2020 to secure a majority, after taking account of the forthcoming boundary changes.
  • The electoral swing required in marginal seats to win a majority will be over twice that which Labour needed for victory in 2015.
  • This assumes a similar rate of progress in England/Wales and in Scotland; if Labour makes no gains in Scotland, the party would need to perform better in England and Wales than at any time since 1997.
  • Around 4 out of 5 of the extra (net) votes Labour will need to gain in English and Welsh marginals will have to come direct from Conservative voters (in 2015 this figure was around 1 out of 5, because of the Lib Dem meltdown).
  • ‘English Votes for English Laws’ no longer poses a separate challenge to Labour, over and above the task of winning a UK majority. It is actually slightly easier for Labour to win a majority of English seats than of UK seats.
  • But an anti-Tory alliance led by Labour would find it harder to achieve a majority in England (under EVEL) than across the UK. An alliance of parties could achieve a UK majority by gaining 38 seats but would need to gain 71 seats for an English majority. This task would be easier if the Liberal Democrats were to stage a recovery in areas of England where Labour is weak.

The report briefly assesses the political implications of these findings. It argues that the Labour Party needs to offer popular, big-tent politics to reach deep into middle England, revive support in Scotland and strengthen relationships with disillusioned voters in former heartlands. The litmus test for Labour’s strategy is simple: can the party win over large numbers of people who voted Conservative and SNP in 2015?

Read the full report here>>

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Andrew Harrop

Andrew Harrop is general secretary of the Fabian Society.


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