We need to talk about Jeremy – part 2

In this post, following on from the previous one, I want to pick apart this assumption that Jeremy Corbyn can’t win a general election, because elections are won by having centrist policies which appeal to floating voters in the key marginals.

Since 1945, in most elections the party which wins the majority usually does so with around 12 million votes.  The 2015 election saw the Conservatives only securing 11.3 million votes, approximately 2 million ahead of Labour. So clearly, Labour needs to persuade an extra 2 million people to vote for them in 2020.  But – and this is the thing – it’s not just about increasing the votes, it’s where they are.  Re-engaging 2 million disillusioned voters in safe Labour seats would not, on its own, secure victory; to win a general election, you have to get those votes in places where they will be converted into seats.  Under our ‘first past the post’ system, it’s perfectly possible (although unusual) for a party to win a larger share of the votes but fewer seats and end up in opposition.*

Let’s be clear about this, First Past the Post is a bonkers system.  I showed my 11YO a breakdown of the results of GE2015, and she was outraged by the injustice of the SNP getting 50+ seats with 1.45 million votes, whilst the Liberal Democrats got almost a million more votes and ended up with eight seats.  When I scrolled down the page to show her that UKIP’s 3.8 million votes only resulted in one MP, her outrage was so shrill I think that really only dogs could have heard it.  And while UKIP getting more MP’s wouldn’t be my personal preference, I couldn’t pretend to her that this system was in any way fair or democratic.

So, winning the floating votes in key marginals has – up until now – been the best guarantee of electoral success (that doesn’t mean to say it’s the only way, but I’ll come back to that point).  Which leads me to the question: is Jeremy Corbyn the most likely of the four leadership candidates to achieve this?  Much as I think he seems like a top bloke and I agree with a lot of what he says, my answer would have to be ‘no’.

But like I said, is luring the middle ground floating voters away from the Conservatives the only way to go?  Corbyn’s strategy, I’m guessing, is going to involve re-engaging with enough non-voters and those more traditionally left-wing people who didn’t vote Labour last time.  And God knows, there’s enough of them.  If you add up the numbers who voted for the Greens, the Lib Dems, the SNP and UKIP, along with the nearly 16 million who didn’t vote at all, that’s over 24.5 million people.  Ok, not everyone who voted UKIP was a disgruntled old Labour voter, and we’ve no way of knowing what political leaning the non-voters might have, but just bear with me for a minute.  If Jeremy Corbyn could engage with 2 million – around 1 in 10 – of these 24 million non-Conservative-voters, he could theoretically win a general election.

So, my two questions – to both the pro- and anti-Corbyn lobbies – are:

  1. is it possible that Jeremy Corbyn could re-engage around 10% of the 24 million who didn’t vote Conservative at the last election?
  2. how likely is it that that 10% could be distributed in enough of the key seats that matter?

To make an informed decision, I really need someone to give me a better answer than ‘No he can’t’ or ‘#Jezwecan’.  I need to hear some analysis, some reasoned arguments from somebody who really understands psephology (and can I just say what a fantastic word that is?!) better than I do – because without it, we might as well just give Jez a Santa suit to go with his cuddly beard and hope he’ll put some new council houses in our Christmas stockings.  Because like it or not, FPTP is the system we’ve got, and a successful politician has got to know how to play it right.  And if we don’t like it, then surely, surely, it’s not Jeremy Corbyn we should be campaigning for, but electoral reform?

*1951 General Election: http://www.ukpolitical.info/1951.htm


8 thoughts on “We need to talk about Jeremy – part 2

  1. Much as FPTP is a ridiculous system, it’s ability to keep the more right wing parties out has always been a small consolation for me. The vast majority of people who understand how it works would, I believe, completely agree with you (us, and G). Therein lies the problem, the lack of understanding and therefore the apathy about the unfairness of the system amongst many of the electorate. This combines with the love by the Tories of FPTP because of the likelihood it returns them to power.
    So, somehow, you and I and G need to tell everyone how rubbish it is and get it changed. Hmmm, might need to brainstorm that one, over wine and lemonade? xx


    • I do see the benefits of FPTP in keeping the extremists out… and then I look at Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove, and think “yeah, that’s not working so well”. I like the idea of setting the world to rights over wine and lemonade sometime though! xx


      • Ha, I like your point. Gove got us all excited by reversing the book ban for prisoners then slashed YOS budget. Brilliant.


  2. I enjoyed your analysis and agree with it, and your last line says it all. We need electoral reform – the current system isn’t just bonkers, it’s an outrage, and Labour should have pulled out all the stops during the referendum. I wonder what Corbyn’s take on the subject is? I have to say, the Germans seem to have a pretty good voting system, with safeguards to make it harder for right-wing groups to get in. It’s funny that their system was apparently designed by us and the Americans after the war. Good enough for the Germans but not for us…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: JB Priestley: On wireless sets and world politics | kirstwrites

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