Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

A majority within reach

The general elections of 1945, 1979 and 1997 are rightly deemed to be milestones in postwar British political history. But if Ed Miliband leads Labour to victory in 2015, that achievement will instantly earn itself a place in the history books.

Put to one side Labour’s narrow win in February 1974 – when it won fewer votes but a handful more seats than Edward Heath – and there is not a single example in the last 80 years of an opposition party returning to power with an overall majority after a single parliament.

But by having avoided the rancour that normally accompanies its loss of office, and faced with a coalition government lacking in direction and achievement, the goal of winning a majority is one to which Labour can aspire. This is the central premise of the Campaign for a Labour Majority which Progress launches this month.

This is not to deny the gloomy historical precedents or the difficult political terrain which lies ahead. As Peter Kellner of   YouGov argues on page 14-21, not only is Labour attempting a comeback which no other opposition has achieved in decades, its polling performance since 2010 remains somewhat short of that required to win outright in 2015. ‘No opposition party has gone on to win without at some point achieving a lead of at least 20 per cent,’ Kellner writes – and even that is no guarantee as Neil Kinnock, who led Labour to a 23-point lead two years before the 1992 general election, discovered to his cost.  Sky News’ projections from the local elections – which showed Labour just short of a majority – confirm this analysis.

None of this is to negate the achievements of Ed Miliband’s leadership since 2010. He has united the progressive vote behind Labour and built a consistent lead in the polls. But, as Marginal Difference, Lewis Baston’s pamphlet for Progress last year, noted, ‘merely holding Liberal Democrat converts is enough to make it impossible for the other parties to form a non-Labour government but not enough for Labour to win a working majority’.

From the party’s list of target seats, Kellner concludes that Labour probably needs to take 60 directly from the Conservatives. And, moreover, 57 of them are likely to be defended by Tory candidates standing for re-election for the first time; such incumbents, Kellner estimates, normally receive a ‘bonus’ of 1,000-2,000 votes. These calculations suggest that the party may need a national swing of seven per cent, and a similar size lead in the national vote.

So where does Labour stand two years before the crucial test? Exclusive polling for Progress by YouGov underscores the advances the party has made over the past three years and underlines the challenges it still needs to surmount. On the positive side of the ledger, Labour leads the Conservatives on nine of the 12 issues that YouGov put to voters when it asked what they would expect from either party if it secured a clear majority in 2015. More voters, for instance, expect Labour would be ‘on the side of people like you’; would ensure public services deliver good value for money; and understands the problems Britain faces. However, Labour’s leads on some critical issues – that, for example, it would take the right decisions to help an economic recovery – are perilously small. And on some measures – most importantly, its ability to take tough and unpopular decisions – Labour lags the Conservatives badly. These weaknesses, suggests Kellner, could prove critical in a tight election campaign.

With two years to go until the general election, the Campaign for a Labour Majority will support the next phase in Miliband’s leadership. It will have at its heart two goals.

First, we want to help develop Labour’s case to the country, so we can turn widespread disillusionment with the coalition into positive support for Labour as an alternative government. This can be achieved by a focus on four areas in particular. First, the flatlining economy and George Osborne’s failure to eliminate the deficit by 2015 requires Labour to demonstrate fiscal responsibility and a plan for growth. Second, the tight public finances which an incoming Labour government will inherit demand the maximum return on every pound of taxpayers’ money spent, hence the development of a compelling programme of public service reform and innovation. Third, in place of the coalition’s divisive politics of ‘strivers versus shirkers’, Labour needs to rebuild public confidence in the welfare state. The Beveridge settlement was underpinned by full employment, the contributory principle and conditionality: the notion that all those capable of work must do so. These principles are as relevant today as they were in 1942.

Fourth, Labour needs to demonstrate it has answers to two critical long-term challenges: those of social care and childcare. Each are important in their own right, but, tackled together, a move towards universal child and elderly care will help, respectively, to drive up employment and relieve pressure on the health service.

Second, the Campaign for a Labour Majority will seek to help widen the party’s electoral map by focusing on the seats Miliband needs to win to achieve an overall majority. At the heart of this is the ‘frontline 40’: using Labour’s 106 target seats, we have identified the 40 seats, the first of which, beyond the first 66 gains, will produce a Labour majority of one. Target 67, Norwich North, represents ground zero in the battle for a Labour majority. Win all ‘frontline 40’ seats which follow it and Miliband will lead a government with a majority of 80. The new Campaign for a Labour Majority website – will tell you who the ‘frontline 40’ are, and June’s Progress magazine will provide an in-depth look at these seats.

Labour stands at a crossroads. Its opponents undoubtedly deserve to lose but the possibility of another indecisive election result remains. The party must now earn the right to victory; the Campaign for a Labour Majority aims to help in that endeavour.


See the rest of the May 2013 edition of Progress

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


The collection of Progress magazine's monthly editorials


  • Labour wont gain a majority, as long as we have a Tory organisation like Progress delibrately damaging the leader Labbour for it’s own ends.

    Also, on your selective history telling, no governing party has ever increased it’s share of a vote after serving a full term since 1959.

  • Its nice to watch, isn’t it ? Labour ‘bosses’ in-fighting, which even a non-classically un-educated, thicko like moi can see does nobody any good. [Least of all Labour’s image in the hinterlands]

    Some Top Labour ‘bosses’ and think-tank Supremos are busy quoting Lenin in this Progress mag’s edition. ‘Red Ed’ [may have] had a quasi-Marxist education from one of his relatives, but believe me, we the unwashed non-fraternity types, who make up the bulk of the Labour membership [currently] have little, or no desire to be viewing the “Et tu Brute ?” type shenanagins and backstabbing, and vitriolic comment ‘the ‘bosses’ that are plastered all over our media [press&TV] currently.

    So maybe “Red Ed” needs a bit of a USA-style face-lift ? Let’s be calling him, Prime Minister, theRt Hon,E.SAMUEL MILIBAND and ditch the ‘RedEd’.

    I certainly won’t be voting for any Party which supports defunct,extinct philosophies. A 150 year old Communistic-philosopher’s idealistic claptrap bears little, if any relevance to this, the 21st Century. A Socialist-Radical I may be ; I am certainly not throwing my lot in with any whiff of Commie-type thinking. I like E,Samuel Miliband. He knows the Party comes 1st. He knows he is only a conduit and messenger for the message – let’s hope his message is understood my the proletariat and also makes some basic sense to an under-educated thicko like me..

    I may have no education but I ask our ‘bosses’ at Labour HQ, Have you lot checked the date recently [?] we aren’t in Victorian England or Stalinist/Lenin Russia

  • The majority of humans think intuitively about self-preservation. Its built-in. Its survival instinct.
    Politics is a man made, control tool. [optionally rent a cave in Scotland’s Highlands].
    Of course Labour will ‘win’ the 2015 elections, maybe not a landslide victory, but we don’t need Lib/Dems or UKIP or Greens to secure a win.
    We [at Labour] don’t need caves in Scotland either, as we are human beings.

  • regarding The 92 election, it was a terrible tragedy to me, Labour weren’t fit to rule in 87 they were by 92, John Major said in his biography that his victory had Destroyed socialism totally , Barbara Castle said in her autobiography That it was the most important election of her life time, or was it, after all the Tories were unpopular and Had John Smith taken over weeks before the 92 election He may have had a quick ,small victory, before the public twigged he couldn’t have made a decision and he would have been very unpopular a lot more quickly, yet labour lost by 8% and that couldn’t all be attributed to Jennifer’s ear or the Sheffield rally Or the Tory press or the phrase ‘cling to nurse for fear of something worse’

    But by 97 we had to stand on a manifesto ’24 hours to save the NHS’ ,so the 97 manifesto implemented a lot that we had in the 92 one, as apart from putting the higher rate of tax up form 40p to 50p there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the 92 and 97 manifesto’s ,apart form referendum on Scottish parliaments, and (what Attlee and Thatcher thought of that), and the 40p tax rate had only been in power for 3 years up to 92′ anyway,

    Yet it was always going to be an uphill struggle to win 92, considering the stare we were in ,in 87′,

    Shirley Williams said in her autobiography, The public quite rightly felt that the Labour party of ’87 was more an extremist party than ’83 , with us wanting to buy back at the same price we’d sold , the Nationalised industries of BT and BP ,many members had not wanted to oust militant ,supporting Loony left councils and giving support for those who’d illegally acted at the GLC or the miners strike. Where the 83 manifesto Apart from Unilateralism, leaving Europe, getting rid of riot police and nationalising the 25 biggest industries, there wasn’t a great deal of difference between 74 and 83,

    Yet in 87 the levels that those who didn’t like the election result were prepared too go to, to try to oust the Tories was extremist, and the real change of the party happened between 87- 92 although it had caused Neil Kinnock to appear insincere as, he’d backed the 87 manifesto yet now he was standing on a totally different platform and still tried to retain that he believed what he said, and the feeling that when the public twigged this ,the lesson form 92, is that unless the leader runs his party and has the authority to tell the public this that the public will reject us and even if this means they’ll give up a national institution like the NHS as a socialist thing, but insincerity leads to failure

  • yes becasue old labour was so sucsessful wans’t it, and getting swing tory voters isn’t the way elections are won, as for your other assertion ,ican’t find it in the article, you’re right, but Wilson increased his percentage of vote in Oct 1974, although his actual vote went down, and that wasn’t admittadly a full term, I believe the Tory cote actually went down in 1959,but the percetange may have gone up,.

  • New Labour is as out of date as Old Labour. Progress want to go back to the 1990s. It is 2013, not 1993. Also the less-than-helpful interventions from Blair and Mandelson arse helping the Tories, and damaging Labour. Without reason, apart from the fact that they want to cling on to the past, and don’t like it that their man lost the leadership election in 2010.

  • From Gaitskell introducing NHS fees in 1950 to Rab Butler accepting Gaitskells view, the combined philosophy , matched the parties upto 1970′ defined as Butskellism, then labour swung to the left after a one term Tory party in 74′ and the similarity to then is the Tories maybe a one term party, labour rejects Giatskellism, New labour now, and swings to the left,the other similarity is that the Tories win again in 2019′ like they did in 9′ and we have 18 years of Thatcerism in 2019′ so saying new labour is over maybe true, but swinging to the left may result in a one off victory as it did in 74′ but it could put us out of power for 18 years,

  • ‘Campaign for a Labour Majority’? Come on guys, isn’t that a bit like ‘Campaign for a Labour Victory at the next Election’? Yes, the party needs to strive for that, but to make it into some kind of banner with a vanguard only creates more material for the opposition to argue that we’re so concerned we WON’T get a majority at the next election. I feel One Brewer’s Green has this covered, guys.

Sign up to our daily roundup email