…don’t worry I haven’t lost the plot. I’m certainly not predicting an outright Labour win at the next election – we’re miles from that point yet. But Cameron’s chances of winning an outright majority in the 2015 are now distinctly remote following his failure to get his own
gerrymandering boundary changes through parliament.
Lets take a look at the numbers. On the current boundaries, George Eaton notes that the Tories will need a poll lead of 11 points to win a majority at the next election. At present – despite Cameron’s limited EU bump – Labour still has a lead of at least 5 to 6 points in the polls. Even if you think Labour’s poll lead is a little soft (which, for the record, I do) it’s a different leap of faith entirely to believe that a 16 point turnaround in the polls is likely in the next two years, especially with UKIP snapping at Cameron’s heels.
Consider the position the Tory Party is in at the moment. This is a party that oudln’t win on these boundaries pre-cuts and with Gordon Brown as the most unpopular Prime Minister in living memory as their opponent. They’re divided (not just on Europe, but on a number of touchstone issues, including Gay Marriage which is voted on next week), as long as the economy continues to tank they can’t plan for pre-election giveaways and their reputation for basic competence is shot (see today’s Philip Hammond Mali cock-up for only the most recent example). There are certainly few Labour people would swap places – electorally that is – with their Tory counterparts at the moment.
This doesn’t look like a party that can get a majority, even when Labour are struggling. And if they don’t get a majority, then they have (by definition) lost the next election. That’s not to say that Labour will win – there must be no complacency on the Labour side over the next election. The bounce back required from Ed Miliband and his party is unprecedented in the modern era. A still possible outcome of the next election is another Tory/Lib Dem coalition. That would be unpalatable to the Tory Party, and would almost certainly be the end of Cameron’s reign as PM (the Tories loathe losers, never mind double losers).
Besides a small majority – which only hell, high water or a popular foreign war look likely to deliver – there’s no longer any real route to victory for Cameron. That’s why he was willing to afce a difficult and embarrassing defeat in the Commons today – he needed to take a shot at it because he has no other choice.
There are numerous Labour people who deserve credit for halting the Tory boundary changes. Although I think Labour should have stuck to their guns and defended the principle of Lords Reform, the outcome has been something of a strategic blinder for Sadiq Khan, as his assessment that the Lib Dems would drop boundary changes without Lords Reform has been proved spot on. If Khan fails to deliver on Lords Reform in possible future Labour government no-one will be more angry with him than me, but today, he deserves a pat on the back. So too do Labour’s Lords – especially Garry Hart (who spotted the opportunity for an amendment) and Lords Whip Steve Bassam, who marshaled the vote in the Lords than got us to this stage. Similarly Labour advisers in both the Lords and the Commons (especially in the whips office) have earned the celebratory drinks they will no doubt be enjoying tonight.
The final question that remains is how Labour should proceed with future reforms around parliamentary boundaries. My personal preference is for Labour to introduce a comprehensive set of boundary changes of their own. But that…is a blogpost for another day…