The opinion polls suggest that Labour is now in a position to form a coalition government with Liberal Democrats for the first time since the 2019 General Election.
According to Politics.co.uk’s general election model – one that digests the last 3 weeks of national opinion polls and extrapolates them into a constituency by constituency result – the Labour party would win 294 seats, and the Liberal Democrats 27 seats.
These projections include the usual caveats about the possible unexpected local result and the need to see how the boundary review will impact the final outcome. Even though Sinn Fein MPs don’t sit at Westminster this projection of 321 MPs would still be sufficient for Labour to be able govern in coalition with Liberal Democrats.
This development is significant because it means that Labour wouldn’t be reliant on support from the Scottish National Party in order to be able to form a government in London.
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Although Labour currently has a lead of 6.5% over Conservatives in national polls, this doesn’t translate into a majority at Westminster. Under the current constituency voting system, Labour votes are more heavily weighted in existing Labour seats, notably those within England’s major cities. The lack of representation in Scotland is a major handicap for the Labour party, which has just one MP.
Unless Labour can sustain a double digit opinion poll lead, the party’s only real chance of outright success in a general election, is to recover at least some of its lost ground in Scotland. The Labour party expected to win over 40 Scottish MPs during the post-war period, up until 2015.
To form a majority government in Westminster, Labour would only need a lead of around 7 percent in the national opinion poll if it is able to reach the 20-seat mark in Scotland.
The party appears to be making some tentative gains north of the border under Annas Sarwar as the new leader of Scottish Labour. Labour now polls at 23% in Scotland, a rise of 4% from the 19% it received last year. To win even 20 seats in Scotland Labour would need to increase its vote share from around 28% to 29%. In this sense, Mr Sarwar’s impact on the overall direction of travel in UK politics cannot be underestimated.
A Labour party that fails to achieve a double-digit lead in polling would be well served by some political accommodation with the Liberal Democrats.
This is due more to a recent increase in support for the Lib Dems than to anything fundamental with the Labour party in England or Wales.
Lib Dems have struggled to exceed 10% in the polls throughout this parliament. The party’s poll ratings have risen by 2% in spring 2022 and they are now on track for 16 seats at Westminster. This is at the expense of Conservative party.
It is worth noting, however, that this Lib Dem advance would see them overthrow two Conservative leadership hopefuls in the form Dominic Raab (recent foreign secretaries) and Jeremy Hunt.
A Lib-Dem/Labour combination is not always something that will be welcomed by all parties.
Many Liberal Democrats still feel scarred from their experiences with the Conservatives between 2010-2015. As is the case with many European coalition governments, the junior coalition party felt the impact of voter disquiet at 2015’s general election.
However, there are many in parliamentary Labour who don’t like the idea that Labour might be dragged to the centre in a union of convenience with Lib Dems. The extent to which the composition of the parliamentary Labour Party has moved to the left – itself a by-product of Jeremy Corbyn’s five years of leadership – is again something that remains under discussed.
Nevertheless, this latest shift in the electoral arithmetic is an interesting lens to overlay upon political developments in the years to 2024.
This gives a more meaningful context to the suggestion that a informal electoral alliance may be emerging between Labour and Lib Dems. One in which Labour at a local level is relatively passive as the Liberal Democrats fight to win their target seats from the Conservatives within the English shires counties.
Moreover, when the respective soap operas of ‘partygate’ and ‘beergate’ finally run their course, the increased possibility of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition government, makes it altogether more interesting to observe potential similarities in the two party’s unfolding policy positions.
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