Labour likely to fall just short of Commons majority in 2015, experts say

Labour is likely to be the largest party in the Commons but fall slightly short of an overall majority when Britain goes to the polls in the general election next year, if projections based on the local election results are to be believed.

Based on voting in English councils, the BBC estimated that Labour would get 322 seats, the Conservatives 255, Liberal Democrats 45 and other parties including Ukip 28. Sky News calculations also project a House of Commons with Labour on 322 seats, which is 64 up on 2010 and just four short of the 326 required for a working majority.

It estimated that the Tories would drop back 45 to 261, very close to Labour's 258 last time, suggesting that a general election today would produce a near mirror image of what took place four years ago. However, Sky predicted a bigger difference for the Lib Dems, which would shed 20 MPs to just 37.

Projecting general election results from local election polls is fraught; turnout would probably be double the local showing of 36%. Within that, mostly urban and English parts of Britain had a council vote this time around.

The European ballot boxes, which will be opened on Sunday night, are a sounder basis for projection as the whole of Britain had MEPs to elect. However, the remote Euro-parliament has always been prone to protest voting, which disappears in the real contest. People vote differently in local, European and general elections.

A Guardian analysis of local voting in the most marginal Westminster constituencies shows a mixed picture for Labour; the party has taken some wards in its 106 crucial battleground areas, but failed to gain ground or retreated in others.

However, Labour aides claimed the party finished top in 29 of its general election target seats. One of its biggest coups was taking Amber Valley from the Conservatives, where Tory MP Nigel Mills has the 27th-slimmest majority in Labour's 11th most important target seat. Labour also won Redbridge, the borough containing Tory MP Lee Scott's Ilford North seat, which is 83 on Ed Miliband's list.

Labour won two extra wards in Bury, where Tory David Nuttall is defending Bury North – 40th on the target list. The party also got five extra councillors in Enfield, where the north of the town is defended by another Conservative, Nick De Bois, and the 29th Labour target. The party also gained two wards to take Crawley from the Conservatives.

However, it failed to take several councils with no overall control that contain desirable Tory constituencies, including Simon Reevell's Dewsbury, which is 21 on the list, Stroud held by Neil Carmichael, which is 16th on the list, Gloucester defended by Richard Graham, at 38 on the list, and Swindon held by Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson at 55 and 102 on the list. Labour also lost control of Thurrock, its second best hope of a gain from Conservative Jackie Doyle-Price, and Great Yarmouth, the seat of Tory Brandon Lewis, which is 73 on the list.

Some of Labour's most impressive gains were in Lib Dem areas, suggesting it is in a good position to take Sarah Teather's seat in Brent Central, Simon Hughes's in Bermondsey, Lynne Featherstone's in Haringey and Julian Huppert's in Cambridge.

But the most striking feature of the forecast concerns the minor parties. These would get some 30 seats, only one more than last time, despite Ukip appealing to a slice of the electorate.

Psephologist Rob Ford, of Manchester University, said: "People vote differently in local and national elections, so you have to be careful. But we can get some sense of the relative standing of the parties based on real votes."

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason and Tom Clark, for The Guardian on Friday 23rd May 2014 20.04 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010