Why every Labour member should read the new Policy Exchange report

Some of the post-mortems being carried out on Labour's defeat are badly wrong

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Overlooked but Decisive: Connecting with England’s Just about Managing classes, a new report from Policy Exchange, has examined the values and political attitudes of all-important C1/C2 voters in 119 ‘permanent’ battleground seats in England. It is essential reading for anyone interested in why Labour lost.

Here is a breakdown of the most important findings of the report from a Labour perspective:

1) Labour is viewed as the party of benefit claimants and trade unionists

Among C1/C2 swing voters Labour has an image problem. But so do the Conservatives; the difference is that Labour’s image problem hurt the party more on polling day. While Labour is seen as the party of people claiming benefits and working in public sector jobs, the Conservatives are viewed as representing rich people and business people. Paradoxically, despite the Conservatives overwhelmingly winning the support of C1/C2 voters at the recent election, Labour were more closely associated with the stated values of these voters – equality, fairness and family. Labour ought to have found it easier to win these voters over; yet it failed to do so.

2) It’s time to stop patronising women with talk about a ‘softer’ approach to politics

C1/C2 men overwhelmingly planned to vote Conservative at the recent election. On the other hand C1/C2 women were split. Yet this had little to do with women being put off by a lack of focus on so-called ‘softer’ issues. C1/C2 women were certainly more interested than men in childcare and the cost of living than men. Women were also more likely to name ‘family’ as their most important concern. Yet they were more concerned than men about immigration, school discipline, weak sentencing and keeping the country safe. Where they were put off by the Conservatives it probably had more to do with tone than substance.

3) ‘Squeezed middle’ voters believe in fairness. But their idea of fairness combines both left and right

Everyone has a preferred explanation as to why Labour suffered such a crushing defeat at the election and everyone’s diagnosis seems, conveniently, to align with their own politics. For those on the left the problem is that Labour wasn’t left-wing enough. If they are ‘modernisers’ or ‘Blairites’ on the other hand, Ed Miliband’s Labour party had ‘veered off to the left’ and wasn’t ‘aspirational enough.

According to the data both are to  some extent wrong. Swing voters sit on the right on some issues and on the left on others. They take a tough line on crime and welfare and want less immigration. Yet they take a left-wing approach to NHS funding and structure and private sector involvement in public services. They also want higher taxes on the rich and big business.

These aren’t ‘centrists’ – they take a strong line on most issues; and that line is sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left. It’s difficult with this in mind to maintain that Labour’s problem was a lack of ‘aspiration’. But that doesn’t mean the diagnosis is any more comforting for the left: Labour should take a tougher line on crime and a fairer (perhaps a more contributory) approach to welfare if it wants to win again.

4) The public see the world very differently to political activists

Unlike political activists, swing voters don’t have an all-encompassing ‘worldview’. Instead they are driven by first principles like family, fairness, hard work and decency. They get angry at those seen to be playing the system and they dislike criminals going unpunished. Yet they also believe in the rich paying their fair share recoil from the notion of private companies profiting from public services. To C1 and C2 voters, both of these concerns emanate from the idea of ‘fairness’.

5) Swing voters are politically open-minded – Labour can win them back

Over half (59 per cent) of C1 voters and 56 per cent of C2 voters in marginals often switch between parties. Just because they overwhelmingly voted Conservative at the election just gone does not mean they will do so again in 2020. Looking at the polling, one can perhaps see why the Conservatives won them over so successfully this time around. Top C1/C2 priorities this election were: raising the personal allowance, stopping ‘health tourism’, stricter discipline in schools, increasing free childcare and ensuring the swifter deportation of foreign criminals. That sounds rather like the Conservative manifesto.

It also points to what looks like an error in some of the post-mortems being carried out on Labour’s defeat. Many critics of Ed Miliband have attacked the former Labour leader for abandoning the policies of New Labour. Miliband’s politics were, so the cliché has it, insufficiently ‘aspirational’.

Yet the problem seems to lie elsewhere. A mythology has been created around New Labour which focuses on the economy. Yet New Labour also meant being tough on things like crime and welfare. Look back at the Guardian comment pages between 1997 and 2010 and you will soon get the picture.

At the General Election it wasn’t necessarily that swing voters were worried about Ed Miliband taxing the rich or stamping out aspiration. More likely they were worried about Labour giving a green light to ‘freeloaders’, health tourists and foreign and domestic criminals. Was Ed Miliband tough enough? Hell no he wasn’t tough enough.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

17 Responses to “Why every Labour member should read the new Policy Exchange report”

  1. EsterDWallace

    Reset your job with leftfootforward Find Here

  2. OldLb

    Tell Ed, he needs the cash.

  3. RJ

    And how including Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership contest allows the party to discuss these issues instead of it potentially being dragged into a left-wing black hole?

  4. David T

    Corbyn appeals hugely to some Labour activists, as much as the Monday Club wing of the Tories appealed to a section of the Tory activist base. But the Tories cut their link with the Monday Club in 2001, because they realised that this was one of the factors that made them the ‘Nasty Party’

  5. Jim Bennett

    Ester, great stuff. Could you forward your wonderful proposition to Mr. James Murphy, Home for Indigent former Labour MPs, Glasgow City Council, George Square, Glasgow please?

  6. Cole

    Corbyn won’t win. And there are lots of right wing loons in the Tories, although some have gone off to UKIP.

  7. Cole

    According to Ipsos Mori, there was actually a 4% swing TO Labour among C2s, the biggest of any social group.

  8. skarpa

    so once again the way to ‘win’ is to game the UK’s biased electoral system to talk to a tiny minority of voters in one sixth of the seats to try and persuade them that Labour will support Tory policies and attitudes on immigration and welfare and bugger talking about the 20 million who don’t vote or why Labour lost nearly 4 million supporters between 97 and 01.
    What a depressing load of cr*p.

  9. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland

    ‘a fairer (perhaps a more contributory) approach to welfare’

    But a more contributory approach to welfare is not ‘fair’. It discriminates against those who have not had the opportunity to contribute, and will only serve to further entrench levels of inequality, as the poorest are kept poor. Perpetuating Victorian prejudices against the undeserving poor simply plays into Tory plans to dismantle what’s left of the welfare state.

  10. UnrepentantBennite93

    “Contributory welfare” just seems like a sneaky way to abolish the ideological foundations of the welfare state. If it’s contributory, those who need it won’t have contributed enough to earn it and those who have contributed enough probably won’t need it. The whole thing is permeated by this idea that the welfare state only benefits a certain undeserving element of society. Like making sure people don’t fall through the cracks, are healthy, etc. etc. doesn’t more or less benefit everyone.

  11. disqus_EJmqmmuw9G

    Bottom line however, asking dumb (agenda constrained) questions and you get, if not a dumb answers, then answers reflecting very little beyond anger, worry and disappointment.

  12. Dark_Heart_of_Toryland


  13. Ringstone

    Speaking of ideological foundations. The Beveridge report identified idleness as one of the “five giants” impeding progress. He would be spinning in his grave at the idea of three or four generations being allowed to embrace the benefit dependent way of life, The state “should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in
    establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement
    for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that
    minimum for himself and his family”. Ideology isn’t just what you want it to be.

  14. UnrepentantBennite93

    You’re quite right on Beveridge but by idleness he didn’t mean some specious caricature of poverty or unemployment as moral failure. He was speaking to people who knew what it was for there to be no jobs. People who remembered the dole queue and the hunger march of the 1930s.

    I claim no sole privilege to define what is ideology and what is not.

  15. VictoriaWHerrera

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  16. Paul Trevor Bale

    The chief reason Labour lost was that we allowed the Tories to lead the arguments and never attacked the big lie that they kept repeating, that Labour caused the recession and had overspent. The greedy bankers caused the crash, and none of them have paid anything for causing it, while the poorer sections of the economy have been doing so ever since. Under Cameron they will continue to suffer as this Tory mob let the bankers and tax dodgers get away with the damage they caused and still cause.The deficit before the crash was a small one, and Labour has had far more surplus years in government than any Tory government. Time to attack the Tory lies and shout at people the ruth about the economy, and how Labour runs the economy better than the Tories, while still providing the welfare and services the Tories are determined to kill.!

  17. Torybushhug

    ‘At the General Election it wasn’t necessarily that swing voters were worried about Ed Miliband
    taxing the rich or stamping out aspiration. More likely they were worried about Labour giving a green light to
    ‘freeloaders’, health tourists and foreign and domestic criminals’.

    Far too many on the left have a blind spot on the reality of endemic welfarism.
    Most ordinary people know someone on benefits that is either consciously or unconsciously free loading the system. That have known these examples long before the DM headlines were written.
    Benefit fraud is incredibly costly and difficult to prosecute. People like Owen Jones relentlessly hide behind naïve statistics that apparently inform us less than 1% on welfare are miss-claiming. This completely misses the reality whereby a big proportion that could work, have learned victimhood and how to maximise their benefits.

    I see it through my business within which a letting agent operates. The least responsible most chippy tenants are those that have grown used to the state solving thier life and problems. This exacipates their issues for example because only the worst Landlords will take them on. Any reasonable, responsible person letting their property wants a like minded tenant.
    Endemic welfare breads indifference and an external locus of control mentality. Go on the benefits board on monseysavingexpert and see how the benefits culture works in reality – people all sharing their experiences of how to manipulate their situation in order to claim what is ‘rightly’ thiers, even if it means conjuring up all manner ‘issues’ to enable this.
    The left is just far too remote and distant from reality, instead favouring bar charts and naïve academic study for it’s information.

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