Last week another report came out – this time a much smaller qualitative report – based on voters in five of Labour’s target seats. They were all self-confessed lifelong Labour voters. They were among the 6% of voters who are reckoned to have switched from Labour to the Tories on May 7.
These people were recruited from C1/C2 and D social groups, in the age range 30-65. They were all in work. They had all voted Labour in 2010 – and had previously been regular Labour voters.
They were drawn from the marginals of Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Croydon Central, Southampton Itchen, Watford – and our own near neighbour, Pudsey.
Most made up their minds only during the campaign – and ALL had considered voting Labour during the last 5 years.
Of those who took part in the 20+ group discussions, only 2 voted Labour in 2015.
So why didn’t they vote Labour in the end:
– because the Tories were fixing an economic mess Labour had left;
– because Labour had overspent – even those who blamed the banks, also blamed Labour. Liam Byrne’s infamous letter was often quoted;
– because Labour had no credible economic plan, was in denial, should have apologised;
– because Labour had a weak leader – Miliband was not perceived as a potential PM;
– – So strong was this feeling that most could not believe in a renewed Labour party – or the possibility of strong leadership;
– Labour was seen as anti-business, taxing the successful, not speaking for people like them. Food banks, zero hours contracts etc were all well and good, but these people felt the Tories now spoke for people like them;
– Both Tories and Labour were ‘soft tough’ on immigration and welfare, but especially Labour. THESE were the two issues to which people recurred over and over again. ‘They were the prism through which evyertjing else was viewed. Dealing with these two issues would effectively solve all problems in Britain as far as all the people we spoke with were concerned, hence the attraction of UKIP for some of these people.’
– Fairness was the issue – immigration, benefits, scroungers, need to reform an over-generous welfare system – all these were about fairness. Labour was seen to subscribe to a ‘Benefits Street’ view of life. It would let people in who would then take benefits and use the NHS without contributing anything.
– Especially for those further south, fear of the SNP’s influence if Labour won was an important factor.
You can read the full summary of the findings here.
There are some uncomfortable statements. Labour’s economic credibility was completely shot for many in this group. Many would not consider voting Labour again until it had proved itself – i.e. not until 2025!
There was much support for getting people into work, but little for creating public sector jobs [= more debt]. Labour was seen as anti-business and not concerned with wealth creation.
There was support for welfare – but also strong views about who merited it. It should be a ‘helping hand’ not a ‘way of life’. They agreed with a benefits cap, and with freezing benefits until wages caught up as a way of making work pay. They supported limiting the number of children eligible for child benefit.
‘Immigration was the topic that, left to their own devices, the respondents would have talked about all night.’
– the country is full, broke, public services creaking, not enough jobs, houses; immigrants drove down wages and made it even less likely that ;feckless UK youngsters’ would work;
– they had a strong sense of contribution and what was deserved – they saw immigrants as coming here to take benefits and use our NHS. Pay in before you take out. People born here should come first – then help others.
They were concerned about inequality, but clearly felt Labour had got its message wrong here. Its attacks on the rich were seen as penalising those who got on, while giving handouts to the unemployed – they felt Labour would hold people back rather than help everyone do better. Inequality was somewhere where they could be convinced – but they struggled to understand the links between social changes and longer term problems, including longer-term costs to the State. As far as education was concerned, they wanted the world of work and education to be much more closely linked.
Trade Unions were seen as having too much power in the Labour Party – and as irrelevant to the lives of these people. They were seen as ‘destructuve not a constructive force.’
They struggled with globalisation – it’s ‘scary and threatening.’ Politicians have a challenge to explain and manage it.
The authors suggest 5 questions for Labour Leadership contenders to answer – to appeal to these voters, that is:
What is Labour’s purpose now?
Why should we listen to you when we didn’t listen to Ed Miliband?
How will you re-build Labour’s economic credibility; and what is your plan
to help create jobs and wealth without taking the country further into debt?
How will you reform the welfare state?
How will you help the country and our communities flourish within an
increasingly globalised world that has growing migration of people?
The conclusions of the authors were – there’s room for a Labour narrative to speak to these people. They believe in fairness, rights and responsibilities. They support companies paying taxes [though worry about them being harmed], they don’t support charges for health care, even for those with unhealthy lifestyles.
It is also interesting that they clearly felt that Labour had not offered a large vision, a coherent vision – but a ‘confused’ and small retail offer.
We would add that these findings largely confirm many of those in Ashcroft’s and the TUC’s polls – not least on immigration and the question of economic competence. The qualitative nature of this research makes their views appear stronger, and more anti-Labour. It’s probably important to realize that the interviews took place some time after the election – in all cases a fortnight or more, in some cases over a month and a half later. During that time the media narrative about Labour’s failure had been taking shape, and had had time to affect opinions, more so than in the other polls.
It is also the case that these were a voter group who, to some extent, could feel ‘guilty’ – and thus defensive and self-justificatory about changing the voting pattern of a lifetime or of their families. This again could have served to harden or sharpen criticism. At the same time, it may also be a change which will be adhered to, for exactly the same reasons – a difficult one, which will thus not be readily abandoned.
It would undoubtedly have been interesting to read the views of a comparable group of Tory voters who switched to Labour in 1997 – and at a comparable time in relation to that great electoral shift.
And it should be noted that the group included no under 30s – though nor did it include those over 65, who swing heavily to the Tories.
But all that said, these are sobering findings for Labour. They have to be one more element in the analysis of what happened on May 7.