General election 2017: Can Labour's Jeremy Corbyn win?

The Week takes a look at the chances of the party winning a majority on 8 June

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a rally in Whitchurch in the Cardiff North constituency
(Image credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election on 8 June has been seen as a move by the Prime Minister to take advantage of favourable polls and increase her slim Tory majority.

But as the election draws closer, the Tories' lead in the polls has decreased, with Labour making surprise gains.

So with the polls narrowing, could Jeremy Corbyn's party win?

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How many seats would Labour need to win?

For a party to secure an outright majority in parliament they need to win 326 seats. At present, Labour has 229 - winning an additional 97 seats is a tall order.

Can they do it?

Initially, the answer from the polls was "absolutely not". When May announced the election, the Tories had 20 points over Labour. At the time, The Guardian said it would require "a polling error unlike anything we've ever seen combined with literally an act of God" in order for Labour to win, even as part of a coalition. The Daily Telegraph predicted the party was facing "electoral wipeout" and the Tories were on course for a "historic Commons majority of up to 150 seats".

But pollsters can and do get their predictions wrong – as they did with the 2015 general election and the EU referendum and US presidential election last year. Meanwhile, one poll published at the weekend showed the gap between the Tories and Labour at just six points. The Electoral Calculus, however, currently predicts a Conservative majority of 96 seats.

The Sydney Morning Herald notes that the polls predicting a healthy share of votes for Labour take young people at their word that they will go out and vote, whereas less favourable polls go on historical models of demographic turnout.

With Labour having the support of two thirds of 18 to 24-year-olds, mobilising the youth to vote is essential to Labour's chances.

What has Labour said?

"Yes, we are miles behind in the polls - but who believes the polls anymore?" shadow chancellor John McDonnell said when the election was announced. "They got it wrong at the last election, they got it wrong in the referendum and God help us, they got it wrong with [Donald] Trump."

However at the beginning of the campaign, there were mutterings within the party that winning was not their end goal this time.

Former minister Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, told ITV news: "I don't think that this election is about changing the government. I think this election is about preventing the Tories from getting such an overwhelming majority that there is no possibility of dissent in this country."

And the pundits?

Four weeks ago it was hard to find any mainstream political commentator willing to stick their neck out and say Labour will gain seats, let alone win a majority. Even among the left-wing press there was a depressed consensus.

In a column on Labour's chances, The Guardian's Owen Jones urged party workers to try and mount a "defence against a Tory landslide" rather than trying to win, while the New Statesman said a Labour win is "unlikely" – although not impossible.

But following the reveal of the Labour manifesto and boosts in the polls, some are cautiously optimistic.

Professor Jeremy Gilbert, writing in The Guardian, suggests Labour could win back its heartlands, which had been veering towards the Tories.

"A clear vision of an alternative future - and a break with 40 years of stagnation and decline - could yet win them over," he writes. "Whether Labour can offer that remains to be seen, but the party's improved poll showing on the back of its first decisively social democratic manifesto for 30 years, suggests it is beginning to do just that."

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