One thing is pretty much certain: the Labour vote is going to go down and the Tory vote up from where they both were in the 2015 general election when the next GE comes around. It’s a matter of how much, really. Labour could go down 5% nationally – or 10%, or even more. The Tories will go up at least 5%, but could experience an even greater rise.
But how will other parties do? And how will that translate into seats? These are key questions for all parties, but particularly the Liberal Democrats, as targeting could become a key issue if they want to pick up any seats whatsoever.
Here’s a tough truth: if the Lib Dems target the constituencies they used to hold in the West, from Yeovil to North Devon to any of the Cornwall seats, they will probably not gain a single one. The reason is simple. When those seats were gained in 1997, the Tory vote had declined steeply. It’s like standing in the ocean in cement blocks; if the water level comes down below your nose, you win; if it goes above your head, your options are extremely limited. Basically the Tory tide rescinded enough back then to allow the Lib Dems to take some of those western seats. But the Conservative ocean is about to get a whole lot deeper, not shallower as compared to 2015.
The much better option for the Lib Dems in 2020 would be to target Labour seats. The problem is, there isn’t a great history there, apart from a few isolated examples, as well as not having the same level of data and people in seats not held by Lib Dem MPs recently. I can see the desire to “stick to what we know” overcoming Lib Dem HQ, meaning that Cambridge and uh, well that’s it actually becomes a Lib Dem seat again.
The other small parties have a similar problem. Labour have been so solid in most of the seats they have at the moment, it is hard to see where you start to go after them, even if you begin by accepting the idea that the national Labour vote share could crumble by 10%. There’s only one party that is really well on top of how to gain seats from Labour in 2020 at present: the Tories, of course.
Whether anyone likes it or not, for all parties other than Labour, 2020 will be about how much of the ex-Labour vote you can capture. For the Greens and Lib Dems, this is a little uncomfortable – all that talk of “progressive alliances” means that it feels much, much better for many of them to try and take seats from the Tories rather than from Labour. Add to that anger about the Tories pushing ahead with Brexit and that makes this feeling even stronger – and the need to deny that Labour really could crumble that badly becoming that much more likely to be upheld. If it’s any consolation, they should consider this: if they don’t try and get those seats, they will probably go Conservative instead. If they can figure this one out, it might clear the head a little.