‘Squeezed middle’ facing the “age of insecurity”

Southern voters abandoned Labour at the last election because the party failed to address their insecurities, new research by Policy Network reveals.

Southern voters abandoned Labour in their droves at the last election because the party failed to address their insecurities, according to new research carried out by Policy Network. The results of the research, unveiled at a special “Southern Discomfort Again” event in Wesminster last night, shows that 67 per cent of respondents in the south believe Labour is “close to benefit claimants” and “the trade unions”, while 57 per cent of those surveyed believe Labour is close to immigrants.

Newly-elected Shadow Cabinet member Liam Byrne MP told the event that Labour had failed to listen to voters about their insecurities, particularly about changes to their communities and immigration.

He said:

“For me, the most important moment of the last election was what I call ‘The Gillian Duffy Moment, and what Mrs Duffy had to say about Britain.

“We failed to recognise complex change that people were seeing in their communities. People felt something was missing, but we simply can’t go back to the 1960s.”

Mr Byrne told the audience that Labour “must be careful on symbols of aspiration” to avoid putting off southern voters as the party moves forward under its new leader, whilst maintaining its traditional support.

He added:

“Across Europe, workers’ share of their national economies is failing. Under Labour, rates of return for UK PLC were going up and up but the share for workers was going down. We have to say more about equality.”

The research, a sequel to the 1992 early-Blairite leaflet “Southern Discomfort”, produced by Giles Radice, also demonstrates how the Conservatives outperformed Labour amongst “aspiring” southern voters on major issues. It revealed that 78 per cent of those voters believed the Tories were “close to people in the south” and a further 69 percent thought the Conservatives were close to the middle class and homeowners.

In the May General Election, Labour lost 57 seats in the South and Midlands, almost two-thirds of its loss of 91 seats – this reflected Labour’s inability to adapt to the “age of insecurity”, according to YouGov’s Peter Kellner. Lord Radice, meanwhile, told the event the 1992 and 2010 research had remarkable parallels, particularly on “the party’s inability to appeal to relatively affluent classes and white collar workers”.

He said:

“Now voters feel very insecure about themselves and their future. There is extreme skepticism about what Labour now stands for. No longer are we seen as the party of fairness. Voters are saying ‘we put everything in and get nothing back from Government’ and they no longer trust us on the economy.”

The research also reveals that only 16 per cent trust Labour to run the economy, only 12 per cent trust the party to reduce the deficit, and 12 per cent believe it would “get value for money on behalf of taxpayers”. Additionally, a staggering 47 per cent believe that public spending under Labour was wasted and did not improve services – Lord Radice described this as “the most disappointing finding of the whole survey”.

To combat this perception gap and win back southern voters, the report argues that Labour must address their concerns – particularly reestablishing its reputation for economic competence, its support of individual aspiration and grasping the nettle of the  immigration issue.

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