From time to time William Rees-Mogg, the great defender of Richard Nixon, pops-up with an article worthy of consideration. Today is one of those occasions.
After dismissing Brown and wondering why Labour has not already taken the necessary action to change their leader, he takes a reality check on the polls:
Labour cannot reasonably expect to win the next general election, whatever Labour MPs decide to do; things are too far gone for that. But that does not mean there is nothing left to fight for, even now. A Labour victory in 2010 would be an astonishing reversal, but a hung Parliament, with the Conservatives as the largest party, is entirely conceivable as an outcome. Indeed the next general election is already on a tipping point at which a small shift in opinion, one way or the other, would produce a large switch in seats.
If one looks at Rallings and Thrasher’s Media Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies, one can see how small a swing might decide the election result. If one takes Labour’s baseline as 30 per cent of the votes, then the Conservatives would face a hung Parliament if they only got 40 per cent, but would have an overall majority if they won 41 per cent.
A single percentage point in the actual voting would be worth 14 seats, or 28 seats in terms of the majority. With the polls as they are, a comfortable Conservative majority and a hung Parliament can be regarded as next door to each other, and as about equally likely.
Then the penny drops:
This may explain why there has been so much recent interest in the possibility of a hung Parliament.
And now for the vital point:
This sheds a different light on Labour’s leadership question. If a change of leader were only worth a single percentage point in the share of votes at the next election, that could be worth 28 seats on the majority. That would not keep Labour in power, but it could result in a hung Parliament and prevent the Conservatives gaining an overall majority.
Rees-Mogg is spot on with analysis but once again, as with Nixon, his judgement lets him down:
If Harriet Harman or one of the Milibands could create the faintest ripple of additional support, that could be vital for the parliamentary arithmetic of the next decade. That is worth playing for.
Oh dear. The news about Harman and Miliband the elder has obviously not reached him. Miliband the younger is far from ready.
Anyway, the point Rees-Mogg makes should not be lost. For all the reasons that have been given many times, Labour has far better chance of stopping the Tories reaching the “tipping point” under a new leader.
As the sub-heading to his article says:
There is still something for Labour to fight for.