The right didn’t win but the left did lose

New polling by YouGov for Demos shows why Labour lost the last election. But it doesn't mean - as Janet Daley - claims that the right has won the argument either.

Telegraph columnist Janet Daily claims today to have won the argument over cuts because a YouGov poll published by Demos shows that Labour voters lost faith in the state.

While she’s right that voters who deserted Labour were more likely that the voters that Labour retained to see the state as “part of the problem, not part of the solution”, the overall view of voters was slightly more positive about the state – 32 per cent to 29 per cent, with 18 per cent saying government “doesn’t have much impact on my life or that of my family.”

This does not represent a victory of the right over the left, but it certainly does help explain one of the reasons why Labour lost the last election. The poll shows that a significant number of voters recognise the need for cuts and that many people who had previously voted Labour felt that Labour was spending too much, too wastefully.

When asked about the NHS, a third of voters that Labour retained thought the priority was to “avoid cuts” but among the voters that Labour lost that proportion was just over one in ten. More than half of voters that Labour lost thought that the priority should be to “seek greater efficiency and end top-down control” in the NHS, compared to just under a third of the voters that Labour retained.

More than one in three voters who left Labour felt “people should have more choices and control over local services”, compared with just over one in four who stuck by Labour. Almost one in five voters that Labour lost felt “central government interferes too much in local services,” almost twice as many as those who remained loyal Labour voters. Voters lost to Labour were also more likely to see government as “part of the problem not the solution” and to reject the idea government was “a force for good” improving their lives and the lives of their family.

Pat McFadden was absolutely right to argue last month that if Labour only opposes cuts there is a “danger of being tuned out by the electorate.” This poll shows that in many ways, the electorate has tuned Labour out already and the challenge now is to tune them back in.

Being credible on the deficit is now a hygiene factor for Labour’s next leader. All the candidates are campaigning on their opposition to the unfairness of the Budget and of the cuts to come in October’s Spending Review. This is politically necessary but not politically sufficient. Labour will not get elected again on the determination of its opposition but the credibility of its alternative.

The perceived wisdom of the 1992 Shadow Budget is that setting out proposals in opposition for necessary tax rises – or indeed, spending cuts – is political suicide. But Labour had been out of office for 18 years and were not being blamed for the health of the public finances.

Calculations by Demos show how the Government could have used a 2:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises and reduce the deficit by £34 billion above and beyond the March Budget without raising VAT. Think tanks don’t have to get elected but the package of rises in income tax, CGT on primary residences, and taxing carbon is a reasonable, realistic and realpolitik alternative.

There is no need for Labour to do it’s own Spending Review before the Government does theirs but the response from the Shadow Chancellor has to include both welcoming necessary cuts as well as opposing unnecessary ones.

The left have to accept that the last Labour Government allowed the space to open up for the Tory ‘Big Society’ to march into. But the right have to accept that while they have turned the public mood against the state the Tory Party have not won an argument about the alternative. The role of the state, in the context of deficit reduction, is all to play for but Labour must start it’s argument where the public are, rather than sit it out and wait for voters to ‘come home’ in the way that Hague and Howard failed to in 2001 and 2005.

Labour’s new leader must reposition and they must do it within a month of taking over. They need to win two arguments at the same time. The first is that the deficit was not mismanagement but a decision taken to prevent recession turning to depression. The second is that Labour can now be trusted to reduce it. The public will not accept one without the other.

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