Tuesday, 19 May 2015

2020: where might the Conservatives go from here?

Yesterday I looked at Labour's position following the last election.  Today I look at the Conservatives' opportunities and challenges.
The Conservatives have been understandably euphoric about their unexpected overall majority.  This euphoria has strayed close to hubris at times.  Is it justified?
Here are the seats that they currently hold (ranked from most marginal to safest):
And here are their target seats, ranked in order of swing that the Conservatives require to take them:
I hope that these lists are fairly self-explanatory.  On the first list I have highlighted the majority in the colour of the party of the nearest challenger (I have used grey for the SNP because bright yellow is hard to read).  On the second list I have highlighted the seat and the majority in the colour of the party of the incumbent.  On the second list I have also asterisked the majority if the Conservatives are in third.
But remember, there may well be boundary changes which may or may not result in a reduction in the number of seats in the House of Commons.  In general these are likely, but not certain, to be to the benefit of the Conservatives.  These lists should therefore not be taken too seriously but do show how the next election will shape up in the broadest terms.

Let's look at the second list first.  The Conservatives' chances of substantial further gains look limited.  It is unusual enough for a party of government to get a swing to it after serving in power, and the swings required start to get quite large quite quickly.  The first 17 targets would fall to a relatively modest swing of 1.6% (that would give them a majority of 46) but double this swing would be required to take even 29 seats (and a majority of 70) on a uniform basis.  A historically unprecedented 5% swing to an incumbent government would yield 48 seats (and a majority of 108) on a uniform swing.  Even if the Conservatives stay in power after 2020, a landslide looks unlikely.

If the Conservatives are aiming to make further progress, they will need to improve their performance in London in particular, the location of seven of their top 20 targets.  And they would need to train their fire on Labour: only five of their top 50 targets are not held by Labour.

But it is much more likely that we will be spending the current years thinking about how vulnerable the Conservative-held seats are.  And there too, the main battle is with Labour, who are the main challengers in exactly three quarters of the top 100 seats.

With a majority of only 12, the Conservatives could lose their majority very easily.  A uniform swing of just 0.5% would wipe it out.  That's a hair's breadth. They should be able to remember that they are mortal without anyone whispering in their ears. 

Beyond that point, however, the Conservatives have built up decent majorities in their seats.  A 3% uniform swing against them would deliver only 29 seats to their opponents (and only 21 would transfer directly to Labour).  It would take a 4.7% uniform swing against them for the Conservatives to lose 50 seats, of which only 38 would fall to Labour.  The experience in 2015 was that the Lib Dems did not come close to retaking any seats where the Conservatives had broken their incumbency.  Ten of the Conservatives' 50 most vulnerable seats are Lib Dem held.  The Lib Dems may find it harder than Labour to get the swings required against the Conservatives to take target seats, given their particular past emphasis on incumbency.  Whether the Conservatives can keep these former Lib Dem seats may determine whether the Conservatives have most seats and whether the Conservatives remain in power in 2020.

But what is likely to be the critical seat count?  With the Lib Dems so diminished in numbers and in any case likely to be less well-disposed towards the Conservatives in future, the Conservatives have few potential supportive partners after the 2020 election.  If they get 305 seats or more, they will probably scramble home with support from the DUP, UKIP and/or the Lib Dems.  Fewer than that and the progressive parties are likely to be just too strong.

So the Conservatives probably need to restrict any swing to Labour to roughly 3% or less, and to hold onto their gains this time round from the Lib Dems.  Far from being invincible, Conservatives should have no particular expectations of retaining power in 2020.  It's going to be a hard fought battle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

2 words boundary changes