The mountain to climb

Andrew Harrop

A new Fabian report, ‘The Mountain to Climb‘, reveals that victory for the Labour party 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 Mountain to Climb by Andrew Harrop


  1. Frazer

    I could be wrong but aren’t the figures in this wrong? Under boundary changes the total number of seats is being reduced to 600. So if Labour’s total seats end up being around 220 under the changes then they would only need to win 81 more seats, as a party would need 301 seats in order to have a majority? It would still be a mountain to climb for the party.

    Or maybe I have misread the numbers.

  2. David Dobson

    Does your assessment take into account the EU debate and referendum? If Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership and pushes the ‘official’ Labour Party line to vote us out of Europe where would this leave voters?

    Secondly a Corbyn victory could cause untold and hard to envisage battles within Labour MPs v Labour activists which I suspect would further reduce our vote in 2015.

  3. Ben

    Just had a skim of Andrew’s insightful report. One issue which is surprisingly omitted is the question of turnout. Overall general election turnout sank by 10% after 1997 and has remained stubbornly in the 60%’s ever since. It’s interesting to note that in terms of percentage of the electorate overall, rather than straight up percentage of those who did bother to vote, both Brown and Miliband had a lower level of endorsement than Foot did. While one wouldn’t wish to discount the conventional wisdom of playing the man and not the ball in terms of winning votes and seats, it would be missing a trick to ignore the possibilities that an increase in turnout could deliver in some of these seats – particularly with the surprising level of engagement that younger voters appear to have with Corbyn’s policies.

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