Many Labour and Lib Dem hearts sank with the publication of the big YouGov poll and MRP analysis of constituency support that came through earlier this week. The headline projection was for a comfortable Conservative majority (68 seats) with Labour making substantial net losses (211 seats, down 47) and the Lib Dems only one seat up (13 seats) despite nearly doubling their vote share since 2017. Some of the detail is undoubtedly grim reading – for Labour to be behind in all four Potteries seats, Leigh and Rother Valley is extraordinary. There are no seats where the Tories won in 2017 and where Labour are projected to make a gain, and only four Tory-held constituencies where Labour is within five percentage points (Chipping Barnet, Hendon, Putney and Milton Keynes North).
And yet, the results are not completely without solace. The YouGov model is driven by an 11-point Conservative lead in voting intention; if this lead is indeed narrowing, as recent polls suggest, then Labour can pull back significant numbers of seats where the Tories are only just ahead – mostly those like Leigh and West Bromwich at the cutting edge of the pro-Tory swing. If the lead can be pegged back to 6-7 percentage points, we are back in hung parliament territory. The same is true if tactical voting can be effectively distributed, and the MRP model helps with that.
The revised YouGov figures (and a parallel analysis by Focal Data for the Best for Britain campaign) has changed the discussion about tactical voting. First, the big YouGov MRP model does clear up a lot of the ambiguities about tactical voting. It is now clear as to which from Labour and Lib Dem is the main challenger in nearly all constituencies that might conceivably change hands. There are only six left outside Scotland where the Conservatives are polling at under 50%, and there is less than six points between Labour and Lib Dem; the seats where there is still any point in debating who is best placed are York Outer, North East Somerset, Finchley & Golders Green, Kensington, Wimbledon and the Cities of London and Westminster. The fact that four of the six are in the capital is another indication that the election in London is a different business from that in much of the rest of the country.
Secondly, the tactical voting recommendations are much more likely to be in support of Labour than they were a few weeks ago. Best for Britain tacticalvote.getvoting.org has changed its recommendations in 84 constituencies since the first big MRP model based on October’s polling data. In 82 of them, the shift is from Lib Dem to Labour, in one more it is from sitting on the fence to backing Labour, and in only one seat (Conservative Party chair James Cleverly’s seat of Braintree) does the endorsement change from Labour in favour of the Lib Dems. Few of the changes are in true marginal seats, but Labour candidates in Putney, Southport, North East Somerset, Truro & Falmouth, Colchester and Watford have been given a boost in campaigning to win Remain voters and persuade Lib Dems and Greens to vote tactically.
The reason for the change is largely to do with the national position in the polls. There were several polls during October that had the gap between Labour and Lib Dem looking very tight, and one at the start of the month had the Lib Dems ahead. The most recent polls have shown a much larger gap in Labour’s favour, with the YouGov MRP model driven by a national voting intention of Conservative 43%, Labour 32% and Lib Dem 14%, a Labour advantage of 18 points. Other polls give a range of 14-21% Labour advantages. A swing of 7-8% from Lib Dem to Labour changes the balance of forces in a large number of constituencies.
Two futures that looked possible before the start of the campaign – a polarised contest on Europe between the Lib Dems and the Tories, and a four-way contest involving the Brexit Party – have both faded away to leave something that looks a lot more like the 2017 landscape. The strategic objective of the Lib Dems has changed, to making incremental progress in seats and achieving a lot of new second places that would make an assault on numerous Tory seats feasible in the election after this one. They might or might not win seats like Esher & Walton (Dominic Raab) and Wokingham (John Redwood) this time, but the idea of a serious Lib Dem challenge across the Home Counties is far from unthinkable.
The failure of the Lib Dems to gain traction during the election campaign has also closed down a possible battlefield. Other than in Sheffield Hallam, there do not seem to be any seats that are viable targets for the Lib Dems to gain directly from Labour. They might be able to restore respectable second places in seats such as Cambridge and Hornsey & Wood Green, but even Leeds North West shows up as a comfortable Labour hold in the MRP model. Through accident or design, the Lib Dem and Labour votes look as if they are shaking out mostly in a complementary rather than conflicting pattern. This comes despite a very tetchy campaign so far from both sides.
The message of the MRP projection is not that all is lost for Labour (or even for the Lib Dems if they get realistic about their targets). It is that there is a lot riding on the last 12 days of the campaign, and that both parties need to up their game. Perhaps they could start by landing some blows on the Tories rather than each other – they might have to live with each other in the next parliament, after all.