Kellner: Labour needs a vision of “Total Britain”

The president of YouGov, Peter Kellner, has argued that Labour party allusions to ‘middle Britain’ are “no longer useful” for developing a political strategy.

Daisy Blacklock blogs at Dress to the Left

The president of YouGov, Peter Kellner, has argued that Labour party allusions to ‘middle Britain’ are “no longer useful” for developing a political strategy. Instead, said Kellner, talk of “class” should be dropped, and exchanged for a vision of what he called “Total Britain” – the acknowledgment of the “totality of… experience of people across our country”.

He went so far as to describe the targeting of specific groups of people on the basis of class as a “complete red herring” for Labour’s political and policy renewal, on the grounds that such simple “circumstantial” distinctions can no longer be drawn between Labour and non-Labour voters.

Speaking at an event for Progress, the New Labour pressure group established in 1996, Kellner argued that while New Labour’s 1997 election campaign had been “utterly brilliant” in enlisting Labour votes, it had subsequently failed to make people “feel Labour”. This will need to be overcome if the party is to regain power.

But just what is the “feel” of contemporary Labour? For one, it should not concern itself with a return to the movement of the 1950s, a move which some people “in the ranks” are drawn to, argued Kellner.

While it is a recurrent criticism that Labour has “lost touch” with its base of working class supporters, Kellner observed that with big shifts in both the “mix and meaning of class”, the class war argument had lost its resonance.

He explained:

“If you go back to the 1960s, which is as far back as you can get to reasonably reliable and comparable data, at a time when more than 60% of the electorate was working class, Labour got 60% of that vote. The middle class made up around 40% of the electorate, and Labour got 20% of that vote… a class gap of forty points.

“Last year, the middle classes represented around 55-6% of the electorate… the working class accounted for around 40% of actual voters. Thirty three per cent of working class voters voted Labour, 27% of the middle class voted Labour. So where you had a 40-point class gap half a century ago, you now have a six-point gap.

“Now you can deal with this in either one of two ways. You can either say, it’s the problem of Labour and the working class, and if you can get that 33% back up to 40, or even 50 or 60 per cent, that’s it, done and dusted, you win. I think that’s unwise. There is a reason why the class gap is so narrow. And it’s to do with the fact that in terms of class experiences, conditions, and ownership, there has been a huge convergence.

“When I look at YouGov polls… the thing that they find consistently is that attitudes are incredibly similar. It not just that class seems to be useless as a predictor of votes, it’s pretty useless as a predictor of anything.”

Making reference to the polling company’s research on class differentiation and identity, he remarked:

“I think it is more useful to talk about Total Britain, because with the exception of a relatively small number of people at the top, and a relatively small number of people at the bottom, the essential range of experiences is pretty much the same.

“Whether you’re at 25% of the income range or 75% of the income range, the chances are you’ve got a computer, you’ve got Sky television, you’ve got a bank account, you’ve got a mortgage, you use public transport quite a lot although you own a car, and so on… you have to speak to the greater majority of people.”

While Kellner acknowledged there were some traditional differences between the values of Labour and non-Labour voters – citing the public versus private sector dichotomy, and newspaper choice – he concluded that such comparisons were no longer inherent enough to be the basis of a political operation.

He expanded:

“If you are trying to put together a package to police those concerns, you’ll find that whether it’s about security, or taxation, or housing, or inflation, or interest rates, or immigration or whatever it is, that actually the concerns of people in the 20% from the bottom are pretty much the same as those 20% from the top.

“You’ve got this middle 50, 60, 70 per cent [of people] where actually the underlying differences of their conditions and their concerns and their worries are much the same. And that’s where operationally you need a total reconstruction, not a middle reconstruction.”

The debate around the Labour party’s identity crisis continues.

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15 Responses to “Kellner: Labour needs a vision of “Total Britain””

  1. leckie

    Kellner: Labour needs a vision of "Total Britain": reports Daisy Blacklock (@DressToTheLeft)

  2. Marcus A. Roberts

    Kellner: Labour needs a vision of "Total Britain": reports Daisy Blacklock (@DressToTheLeft)

  3. Michael

    Peter Kellner: Labour needs a vision of “Total Britain” –

  4. Liza Harding

    Peter Kellner: Labour needs a vision of “Total Britain” –

  5. Hitchin England

    RT @leftfootfwd: Kellner: Labour needs a vision of "Total Britain": reports Daisy Blacklock (@DressToTheLeft) #NewsClub

  6. dress to the left

    Kellner: Labour needs a vision of "Total Britain": reports Daisy Blacklock (@DressToTheLeft)

  7. anyleftiwonder

    Then you need a leader to really inspire…..

  8. Νέα Νέμεσις Εργασίας

    RT @leftfootfwd: "Total Britain!" << #LABOUR ALREADY DID THAT

  9. Phil

    “….the fact that in terms of class experiences, conditions, and ownership, there has been a huge convergence.”

    What fact? What about the recent study showing that we’re bang on target to reach levels of absolute inequality of early Victorian times in a couple more decades. And the doors to any path to social mobility seem to be bolted more and more tightly.

    Kellner’s analysis could not be more flawed. Labour can improve on its 27% support amongst ABC1s, but there has to be a ceiling to that support at about 40% or so. There is no ceiling on the potential increase in support amongst C2DEs, when such support has fallen to such an abysmally low level as 33%, and that’s just from those who bother to vote at all. But if it doesn’t talk in terms of addressing the huge problem of inequality of wealth and opportunity in this country, between an elite and the rest, it doesn’t stand a chance of realising the latter potential.

  10. Jim Milnes

    Kellner: Labour needs a vision of "Total Britain": reports Daisy Blacklock (@DressToTheLeft)

  11. Northern Worker

    This is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces I’ve read on Left Foot Forward. Kellner is talking sense. In some ways the proof of his theory comes out in just how little difference there is these days between the main parties.

    How this can be used to reinvent Labour is beyond my feeble brain. Ed Milliband is clearly a problem. He is unelectable unless Cameron presides over a disaster. Ed is seen to be too close to the unions, and in turn the unions really only represent public sector workers these days and us plebs in the private sector look at their shenanigans as rent-seeking at our expense.

    Kellner seems to say it is the big issues at a national level that concern the majority of electors. The trouble is that governments of any coat can only make marginal differences in the big issue areas of health, education, law & order, and jobs. When out of government, a party has little hope unless the government makes a mess, which is why we have the coalition.

    It would be interesting to know from Kellner what lesser issues might work for a party out of government. For example, would a promise to hold an in/out referendum cut any ice? It’s simple to understand unlike Phil’s ‘addressing inequality’, which is complex and relies on banker bashing or tax the rich bastards – class warfare stuff which Killner disavows.

  12. Tatyana Kavanagh

    Kellner: Labour needs a vision of "Total Britain": reports Daisy Blacklock (@DressToTheLeft)

  13. Dave Citizen

    I agree with Phil, although not in dismissing Kellner’s analysis. In my experience there is indeed a great bulk of the population sandwiched between a ludicrously rich elite and a group that has effectively been squeezed out of social participation at the bottom.

    If Labour is to offer a believable message of hope to the bulk of people it absolutely has to grasp the nettle of extreme inequality in the UK. In a world with a rising India and China it is totally unrealistic to think that our country can be economically competitive in ways that benefit the majority, while operating within the straight jacket of maintaining extreme elite privileges (e.g. spiralling relative pay at the top, or a third of our rural land still held by a tiny group of families that call themselves “aristocracy”, or the inflated costs of housing due to concentrations of property ownership) There are alternatives out there – look at Scandinavia, Germany, Netherlands, Japan etc. Majority populations in Europe of 2011 can no longer live better and maintain a super rich elite – it’s simply unrealistic.

  14. Robert

    For god sake if you annoy a Progress voter they mostly run back to the Tories, they still see Blair making a come back or the son of Blair, I suspect the reason the whole progress site never hardly has any comments it’s simple they are all over on Tory Home.

    Today Millipede sold out to the Middle class or so he thinks by becoming another of the semi Tory leaders to say the strike is wrong.

    waste one’s time voting for the whole bunch vote labour get a semi Tory party who have no idea, or vote Tory and get the full whack or do not bother voting, think I’ll stay at home



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