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Election ‘stat porn’ points to Peak Corbyn

Election ‘stat porn’ points to Peak Corbyn

BRITAIN-POLITICS-LABOUR

In the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, the Tories looked like they’d lost and the Corbynites were wandering around cock-a-hoop openly declaring they’d won. It was all a bit Alice in Wonderland frankly.

So over the summer, the DI team did some heavy duty number crunching – well we have to do something while all you clients are at your yoga camp in Majorca or clubbing in Ibiza or whatever it is you do that prevents you from giving us new projects during July/August – and we came up with some fascinating analysis. In particular two very stark findings jumped out from the data, which we have called the ‘Labour protest vote’ and ‘UKIP collapse’ effects. Let’s deal with the more obvious one first.

The ‘UKIP collapse effect’ – a long term Tory benefit

Now despite her dire campaign, May actually did better than both Cameron’s election results in 2010 and 2015 and added around 2.3 million votes to the Tory scoreboard in June. But where did those votes come from? Clearly, mostly from the demise of UKIP. UKIP won 3.9m votes in 2015 (12.6%) and then slumped down to 0.6m votes in 2017 (1.8%), a truly dramatic fall. And this of course was the point of the original Cameron referendum strategy: kill UKIP and reunite the Right. For sure not every single UKIP switcher voted Tory but the numbers are coincidentally striking: 2.3m votes lost by UKIP and 2.3m votes gained by the Tories. All the other recent research evidence indicates that UKIP switchers went pretty much en masse to the Tories. And it is the DI team view that those that did are exceedingly likely to stay there as the Tories actually deliver Brexit, however hard or soft boiled it turns out to be. Put simply, there is nowhere else for them to go, so this really is a long term Tory benefit.

The ‘Labour protest vote’ effect – a short term Labour benefit

The high point for the Tories and Labour was at the 1955 General Election when between them they won just over 96% of all votes cast. The Tories and Labour “never had it so good” to misquote Macmillan’s phrase of that era. Since then, in successive elections, voters have increasingly fragmented into voting for the smaller parties, which have almost continuously proliferated at each election so that at the 2005, 2010 and 2015 General Elections around 33% of the votes cast were for parties other than the Tories and Labour.

But not in 2017. In June there was a very significant reversal of this long maintained trend. Just under half of the smaller party vote disappeared as, quite suddenly, only 18% of the votes cast were for parties other than the Tories and Labour. So what happened?

Putting aside the UKIP vote described above (and all the Northern Irish votes which are affected by quite separate politics), the smaller party vote dropped by around 1.3m votes. And Labour put on around 3.6m votes. So it is a good assumption that the smaller party switchers went for Labour seen as the only party that could realistically check the then universally predicted Tory landslide. Indeed, we had many Labour MPs actually telling voters on the doorstep, ‘Corbyn can’t win so lend me your vote as only Labour will be able to hold the incoming Tory landslide government to account’. So people were voting for Corbyn precisely because they knew he couldn’t win.

Where did Labour get its other 2m+ votes from? Turnout is the answer. Around 2.5m more people voted in June this year compared to May 2015, led by the so-called ‘yoof’ voter surge. Thus the ‘protest vote’ went quite dramatically for Labour in 2017 but this is most likely only a short term Labour benefit.

What could this mean at the next General Election?

So the question is, could Labour not only repeat this next time but actually improve upon it? To achieve that, they would need a perfect storm consisting of:

    • The next Tory leader being even more uninspiring than May – possible but unlikely.
    • The Tories run an even worse campaign – theoretically possible, but surely unlikely.
    • A further collapse in the smaller party vote – also possible but the smaller party vote is now getting too small to make much of a difference.
    • Voters who don’t want Jezza to win being prepared to vote for him a second time – much less likely now that he is perceived as a more credible threat (and assuming the then 72 years old Jezza would still be in post).
    • (Assuming he is still leader) Jezza’s own 2017 ‘JC the Messiah’ vibe to continue – doubtful he could inflate that bubble twice, and trickier now after his Clegg student debt U-turn moment.
    • If ‘JC the Messiah’ has been deposed by then, a new even more popular Labour messiah – possible but does the Labour party really have yet another Jesus?

 
The DI team thinks we have seen ‘peak Corbyn’; 2017 was the high point, with a pitifully weak Tory leader, a shockingly awful Tory campaign and all those loaned protest votes.
Looking ahead to the next General Election, whenever that may be, it seems very unlikely indeed that Labour could recreate much of those very special circumstances; rare good news for the Tories and more bad news for Labour.