Labour must secure historic 12.7 pct poll swing from Conservatives to win UK majority

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The UK’s Labour Party needs to win a historic 12.7 percentage point swing from the governing Conservatives if it’s to secure power in a general election expected later this year, according to new research that lays bare the scale of the task facing opposition leader Keir Starmer.

The analysis — compiled by academics on behalf of the BBC, ITV, Sky, and the Press Association — shows Labour will need to com-mand a larger improvement in the vote share than the 10.2-point swing secured by former leader Tony Blair in 1997, and more than double the change achieved at any other election since 1945.

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The figures highlight the uphill battle facing Starmer as he seeks to unseat Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. At the last election in 2019, Labour suffered its worst defeat since 1935, and no party has ever come back from such a loss in a single parliamentary term. Tuesday’s research shows the boundary changes have made the task even harder.

“Our analysis suggests that the boundary changes have resulted in a modest benefit for the Conservatives and a very small loss for Labour,” Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, emeritus profes-sors of politics at Plymouth University who compiled the bulk of the data, wrote in their paper. Assuming all other parties perform as they did in 2019, a uniform Tory-to-Labour swing of between 4.2 percent and 12.7 percent is likely to produce a hung Parlia-ment, they wrote.

Had the 2019 general election been fought on the new electoral boundaries, which were recommended by the Parliament Bounda-ry Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ire-land, the Conservative majority in the House of Commons would have increased by 14 seats to 94, according to the paper. The To-ries would have won 372 seats, up from 365, while Labour’s total would have been cut to 201 from 203. At the next election, Starmer would need a net gain of 125 seats, up from 123 — mean-ing the swing required for Labour to secure an overall majority jumps to 12.7 percentage points from 12.

Under Starmer, Labour has recovered in the polls, with a percent-age-point lead fluctuating between the high teens and low twen-ties for much of the past 15 months. That’s a product both of his efforts to reform the opposition party since taking over from his left-wing predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, and the implosion of suc-cessive Tory governments led by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

While Johnson was brought down by the weight of scandal within his government and a series of rule-breaking parties in government buildings during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, Truss roiled gilt and currency markets during a disastrous seven-week tenure. Sunak made some inroads into the polling deficit behind Labour when he took over in October 2022, but has made little further progress since the first few months of his administration.

Labour, meanwhile, has attempted to rebuild its standing with Brit-ish business, through outreach led by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, who has stressed a commitment to fiscal probity.

As well as the work by Rallings and Thrasher, calculations for Scotland were provided by David Denver, a professor at Lancaster University, while Nicholas Whyte, founder of the ARK website that serves as a social policy hub for Northern Ireland, carried out the work for that region.

Read more: UK’s Labour leader Starmer says he’s ‘bang on schedule’ to win power

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