John Curtice: Lib-Dem advance would hit Blair - but still leave Howard without hope

Share

Labour are worried about the Liberal Democrats. They fear that Labour voters who are unhappy with Tony Blair's handling of the Iraq war will switch to the Liberal Democrats because of Charles Kennedy's opposition to the war. After all, as compared with 2001 it is the Liberal Democrats who are up in the polls, not the Conservatives.

Labour are worried about the Liberal Democrats. They fear that Labour voters who are unhappy with Tony Blair's handling of the Iraq war will switch to the Liberal Democrats because of Charles Kennedy's opposition to the war. After all, as compared with 2001 it is the Liberal Democrats who are up in the polls, not the Conservatives.

The NOP for The Independent poll earlier this week underlined Labour's fears. Amongst those who felt Mr Blair's decision to go to war was wrong, Labour's vote was down nine points on how people voted in 2001, but by only three points among those who believe he was right. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat support was up seven points in the former group, down five in the latter.

The explosive entry of Iraq into the campaign this week has only increased Labour's concern. Hesitant Labour voters have been reminded of the controversy about the war just when they are deciding how to vote. Perhaps the reminder will encourage them to defect.

But Labour reckon that if there is one thing these voters fear more than the re-election of Mr Blair with another large majority, it is that Michael Howard should become prime minister. So every time Charles Kennedy has threatened to do damage in this campaign, Labour spokespersons have uttered one simple mantra. ''If you vote Liberal Democrat you could let Michael Howard in." Indeed yesterday Mr Blair claimed that Mr Howard would win if just one in 10 Labour voters switched to the Liberal Democrats.

Labour's claim has some truth in it. If people switch from Labour to the Liberal Democrats then the Conservatives would start to pick up Labour marginals without themselves winning a single extra vote. Moreover if enough people made the switch Labour could lose its overall majority. But the swing required, 11.5 per cent, is the equivalent of one in four Labour voters defecting, not one in 10. So, the Liberal Democrats could potentially threaten Labour's security of tenure, but the swing required is well above the figure suggested by the Prime Minister.

However, it does not follow that if Labour has lost its majority that the Conservatives have secured one. If there were a 11.5 per cent swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats the Conservatives would still only have just over 200 seats, far short of the 324 needed for a majority. Britain would simply have a hung parliament.

Indeed, there is no uniform swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats that produces a majority Conservative government. If the Conservatives remain stuck on 33 per cent of the vote about the best it could ever possibly achieve is around 230 seats. And that eventuality would happen only on a swing of 15 per cent or more from Labour to the Liberal Democrats, the equivalent of one in three Labour voters defecting. In fact there is virtually no swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats that even enables the Conservatives to become the largest party let alone gives it a majority. It is also impossible that any such swing would enable the Conservatives to secure an overall majority even if they were up three points or so on 2001.

The reason is simple, So many Conservative MPs face a second-placed Liberal Democrat challenger that swings of much above 15 per cent from Labour to the Liberal Democrats would begin to result in the mass decapitation of Conservative MPs.

The real truth about the likely effect of switching from Labour to the Liberal Democrats is rather different from the picture being painted by Labour - it could eliminate Mr Blair's majority but it alone cannot let Mr Howard in.

John Curtice is one of Britain's most respected political commentators and has been writing about the country's electoral system and voting behaviour for 25 years. He is professor of politics at Strathclyde University and co-author of "The Rise of New Labour".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tony Blair’s time as Middle East envoy representing the US, Russia, the UN and the EU has come to an end  

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Robert Fisk
Sepp Blatter and Vladimir Putin. Was Russia awarded the 2018 World Cup unfairly?  

Fifa arrests: Is it the final whistle for corruption in world football?

Mary Dejevsky
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada