Where is Britain’s centre ground?

A new poll shows Labour members and the general public have different views on immigration and transport taxes. But there is common ground on nuclear power and Trident.

As Ed Balls cautions the Labour party not to vacate the “centre ground” of British politics, new polling from YouGov for Left Foot Forward shows where Labour party members and the general public hold different opinions on a range of policy areas. The findings show considerable differences on immigration, transport taxes, and the role of trade unions. But there is common ground on nuclear power, ID cards, and Trident as well as a significant role for political leadership.

In today’s Times, Ed Balls writes:

“Mr Cameron will seek to present the coalition as dominating the centre ground, while caricaturing Labour as irrelevant, reactionary and retreating to the left.

“That’s why all of us as leadership candidates, as we seek the votes of Labour and trade union members and the praise of leftwing think-tanks and newspapers, must beware of departing from the centre ground, by making unwise promises or losing touch with our constituents on issues such as crime.

As the graph below shows, Labour party members and the general public have a range of views on policy issues. The most stark differences are on the level of influence that trade unions should exert over Government policies. Net support (i.e. the difference between those who support and oppose a series of policy statements) among Labour party members for more powers is +36 per cent compared to -30 per cent for the general public. The two groups are dramatically at odds on “Changing the current system for allocating social housing, so that British-born people are given higher priority than today, and immigrant families a lower priority” and on higher road and aviation taxes to lower the costs of public transport.

Graph: Net support by Labour members and the general public on a series of policy positions

The differences on other policy issues tend to be one of scale rather than setting out key policy differences. For example, net support for scrapping the replacement of Trident is +37 per cent among Labour members but still at +22 per cent among the general public. Scrapping ID cards has net support of +46 per cent among the general public and +21 per cent with Labour members. The underlying data shows that Labour members have more in common with trade union members than with either the general public or Labour voters.

The survey does, however, imply a significant role for political leadership. The strength of views held on many issues is low with significant numbers of the public in the “Don’t know” category. For example, 30 per cent of the public “Don’t know” how they feel about scrapping Trident suggesting that political leadership could bring the public’s view more into line with that of Labour members. A quarter of the public are uncertain on the questions around nuclear power, trade union influence, and rail ownership. The level of uncertainty among Labour members and trade union members is lower than among the general public.

Finally, the level of salience varies depending on the issue. Although 50 per cent of the public regard immigration as one of the top three “important issues facing the country at this time”, just 15 per cent say it is one of the top three “important issues facing you and your family”. Issues such as transport and the environment concern fewer than one-in-ten of the general public. The number one issue for both groups by some margin is the economy.

16 Responses to “Where is Britain’s centre ground?”

  1. Trakgalvis

    Where is Britain's centre ground? Labour members and general public have similarities and differences //bit.ly/9Nchhx via @leftfootfwd

  2. Matthew Sinclair

    Poll for @leftfootfwd shows the public oppose more influence for trade unions: //bit.ly/cMz78N

  3. Rick Muir

    RT @leftfootfwd: Where is Britain's centre ground? Labour members and general public have similarities and differences //bit.ly/9Nchhx

  4. Anon E Mouse

    Will – I can’t find any info regarding the same stats as above but for the coalition – the Lib Dem / Tory differences interest me.

    Do you have those available please?

  5. paul barker

    That Labour members are closer to the Unions than either the Public or their own Voters simply confirms that Labour is frozen in the pattern it was created in, reflecting the Britain of the 1890s. In a country where the vast majority have the vote if they want the idea of a Party controlled by the Unions seems undemocratic, illiberal & reactionary.
    I cant suggest a better alternative, you havent got one. Without Union money Labour would collapse. Your Future is one of of a long, slow decline into fringe status.

  6. Will Straw

    Anon – Good question. I’ve asked for it and will publish it if we get it.

    Paul – I think you misunderstand that (i) this was a limited list of questions and hardly reflects the entirety of public, Labour or trade union opinion, (ii) the Labour leadership can decide whether to take the Labour / trade union view or the public view, and (iii) on many of the issues there is significant opportunity for public persuasion.

  7. sunny hundal

    Ouch. On things like social housing, Labour / left opinion very out of sync with public //bit.ly/cMz78N (by @leftfootfwd)

  8. Lee Chalmers

    RT @sunny_hundal: Ouch. On things like social housing, Labour / left opinion very out of sync with public //bit.ly/cMz78N

  9. NewLeftProject

    RT @sunny_hundal: Ouch. On things like social housing, Labour / left opinion very out of sync with public //bit.ly/cMz78N (by @left …

  10. Lauren B

    RT @sunny_hundal: Ouch. On things like social housing, Labour / left opinion very out of sync with public //bit.ly/cMz78N (by @left …

  11. David Wearing

    YouGov asked people if they supported “Giving the trade unions more influence over the Government’s policies”. It would have been interesting if they’d then asked people whether they supported giving the financial industry, major corporations, the CBI, etc, more influence over the Government’s policies. That would give us a much clearer indication of how public opinion balances out between left and right.

  12. arnold

    @David Wearing

    Maybe if they asked “do you support giving individuals more influence over themselves” then this would better distinguish between left and right

  13. James H

    Why is the number of comments so misleading! Most of them just link to the article we’ve all presumably just read otherwise we’d have no interest in the comments!

  14. Mr. Sensible

    James H, what’s happening as far as I can see is that when people retweet the article, they show up in the comments.

    I personally don’t have a problem with it.

  15. Carl

    David Wearing is absolutely right! These questions are totally loaded.

    Take the social housing question. Surely it would be more sensible to ask people if they are in favour of new ‘social housing’ per se, rather than tying this to country of origin. Because there hasn’t been much new social housing for 20 years, has there? And if you want to analyse this further, and ask who should be prioritised, address it as a separate question. Tsk.

Leave a Reply