How Labour can win Tory voters in 2015

Tory voters are defecting. The problem is that only a fifth of these defectors are switching their allegiance to Labour.

According to polling by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft, Labour is failing to sufficiently attract disaffected 2010 Tory voters.

Less than one in five of those who voted Tory in 2010 but won’t do so in 2015 have switched to Labour or the Lib Dems.

As Andrew Rawnsley wrote in Sunday’s Observer, this a measure of Labour failure:

“Labour is doing badly at taking voters directly from the Tories, a major drag on Labour’s prospects that Ed Miliband would be sensible to address this year.”

Tory voters are certainly defecting. The problem is that the defectors are rarely switching their allegiance to Labour.

However uncomfortable it may be, the first port of call in addressing this must be to formulate at least some policies that are likely to attract soft Tory voters. With next year’s election looking as if it could be as closely fought as the last one, the more of these that Labour can attract the better the party’s chances of an overall majority.

With this in mind, here are three suggestions aimed at winning over disillusioned Tories.

1) Start talking about contributory welfare again

Along with immigration, the Tories are way ahead of Labour on welfare, with 53 per cent of those questioned in a recent poll supporting coalition changes to the benefits system and only a quarter (27 per cent) opposing the changes.

According to the Guardian, the only groups of voters who were against the government’s changes “were likely to be Labour supporters, indicating that the party was not well placed to win over floating voters on the issues”.

There is of course a danger that in attempting to counteract thise narrative Labour becomes embroiled in race to the bottom on welfare. This means that any ostensibly punitive measure should contain a progressive element. The compulsory jobs guarantee is a great start, but the electorate what more – many remain sceptical as to where the jobs are going to come from in the first place.

Last year the Labour Party looked briefly at restoring the contributory principle to welfare but has hardly talked about it since. It’s difficult to understand why, when it seemed to chime so well with public concerns.

Overall people are still broadly supportive of the welfare state, but that support is undermined when there is a perception that the system is unfair. A great way to address this is to ensure that those who have paid the most in get the most out when they fall upon hard times.

It could be argued that this separates the ‘deserving’ from the ‘undeserving’ poor; but it’s hard to see how the accusation can be avoided: are we really saying that contribution makes no difference?

Last year Demos published proposals on this which would arguably have significant appeal. The government could pay higher benefits to those with strong work records (around £95 per week job seekers allowance) and retain the £71.70 that everyone gets at the moment for others regardless of their employment record.

Leaving the benefits system unreformed is what allows the Tories to come in and slash and burn with their ideological axe. Fairness should be Labour’s territory.

2) Employ extra immigration officers

The debate on immigration has become increasingly toxic. People who see migration as a problem outweigh those who see it as opportunity by 64 to 29 per cent. 40 per cent of Labour party supporters think immigration is bad for the economy and 36 per cent believe it is good for the economy. A little more encouragingly, 41 per cent think immigration is good for British culture compared to 40 per cent who see it as bad.

Thoroughly depressing stuff, all the same.

Short of leaving the EU, there is very little either the Tories or Labour can do to reduce EU migration. In terms of the economy, there are also few reasons why as a country we’d even want to. Migrants contribute far more in taxes than they take in benefits, and the average migrant is young, well-educated and willing to do unglamorous jobs which British employers say they find hard to fill.

As well as legal EU migration, the public are also concerned about illegal immigration, however; and it is here that Labour has scope to be ‘tough’ without damaging the economy or flouting EU laws. As Atul Hatwal recently suggested on Labour Uncut (p128), a good way to do this would be to promise more immigration officers (he suggests 8,000) to help rebuild trust in the immigration system. According to polling for the website, illegal immigration was a far bigger concern (p 128) than the numbers legally migrating to the UK – by 60 per cent to 23 per cent.

It is inaccurate to portray the British people as either xenophobic or brainwashed by reactionary tabloids. People tend to have a positive view of migrants in their locality or on an individual basis, but they want to know that the system is fair. That means ensuring that those who are in the country have a right to be in the country.

3) Guarantee a referendum on Europe

There are a number of people in the Labour party and on the left in general who would like Ed Miliband to promise a referendum on Europe. There are probably more, however, who would strongly caution against it.

While we at Left Foot Forward believe strongly in the European project, we also recognise that there is work to be done in democratising the EU. As a starting point this obviously involves giving the British people a say over whether to remain in the EU or go it alone.

Democracy should be the natural territory of the Left, and we shouldn’t allow the Right to paint themselves as the defenders of the ‘common man’ against the bureaucrats. The EU is something we should support; but it must be a thoroughly democratic EU, rather than a bureaucratic one.

The left should be constantly looking to push democracy beyond the confines of 19th century liberalism. That applies just as much to so-called ‘progressive’ institutions. An EU referendum would be a good start.

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16 Responses to “How Labour can win Tory voters in 2015”

  1. gladiolys

    What’s the point of making Labour more Tory? Might as well vote Tory.

  2. Paul Trembath

    Are there really enough racist I’m-All-Right-Jacks to support both Labour *and* UKIP, or should we leave this kind of thing to people who are a bit less half-hearted about out-Torying the Tories?

  3. Sarah_LNX

    Wouldn’t the Labour party be much better occupied addressing the concerns of the of 18-24 year olds who didn’t think it was worth voting in 2010 … the number of whom equalled the total number of people who voted Tory?

  4. AB

    The high UKIP votes in Tory no-go area by elections suggests that there might be! Rather than painting them as racists (even if some/many might) it might be better to consider them to be more Old Labour. So, they are socially conservative and find the idea of “British Jobs for British workers” attractive without being horrid about foreigners.

  5. swatnan

    We can only do that if we can convince weak Tories that Labour is not in the control of the loony Left; thats what they most fear. We convinced them in 1997 and we can convince them in 2015.

  6. uglyfatbloke

    It might be better to offer the wider public a decent level of protection against an unnecessarily intrusive state and scarp stupid spending programmes such as Trident, HS2 (guaranteed to benefit London at the expense of everyone else) and the ludicrous replacement tank project. We might also want to think about introducing a democratic electoral system and announcing an aggressive programme to prosecute all the MPs and lords who got let off for stealing through the expenses system…and if we can’t reform the lords into a democratic chamber, let;s at least reduce their allowance to (at most) 100 per day. Most ‘lords’ are pretty well off and a great many have become well off through political careers. Since so many of them did such a bad job when they were in the ‘elected’ (I use the word loosely) chamber it’s outrageous that they get another (unaccountable) career path in an unelected one.. At the very least it should be the case that those who got fat salaries (and other goodies) when they were in the Commons should be barred for life from the Lords.

  7. Sparky

    Absolutely no chance. Those people realised what Labour was about when we had immigration at 500% of historical levels since the 1960s, a welfare system that encouraged idleness, human rights legislation that allowed foreign murderers to stay in the UK because they had a dog here. Whether you agree that those things are true is irrelevant. It is the dominant public perception of Labour’s time in office, and people such as myself who switched to Labour in ’97 are lost forever and are never coming back. People largely switched in 1997 because there was a groundswell of popular opinion that said ‘it’s time for a change’ and you had a charismatic leader. Neither of those exists this time.

  8. Cole

    The main reason Labour are ahead in polls is that they have attracted 2010 LibDems who oppose the coalition. They should focus on holding these (and attracting more). Of course getting people who didn’t vote last time is helpful, as are the few Tories who have come over. But it’s a mistake – a mathematical one as much as anything – to think that Labour can win in 2015 by concentrating on Tories.

  9. swatnan

    The fact is, if you vote Tory you’ll get Cameron; if you vote UKIP, you’ll get Labour; if you vote Lib Dem you’ll waste your vote and give Clegg a leg up. If you don’t vote you’ll get a hung Parliament and a Coalition.
    But if you vote Labour then you’ll get a changed Labour, unlike the Labour of ’97 or 2010.

  10. treborc1

    Lets wait and see what the Polls show next December then you will have a better idea.

  11. treborc1

    Vote labour get Miliband what a thought and Balls dear god.

  12. swatnan

    Sorry to disappoint, it’ll be a much more tougher more pragmatic and more realistic change making Labour, with balls, but without Balls, if you get my drift. I know its not quite up your street, but there you go.

  13. RAnjeh

    I agree with 100% of that but you forgot fiscal responsibility and convincing people that we could be trusted with their money.

  14. Sparky

    I’m like, yeah, young people should get out and vote and stuff?

  15. Cole

    Sounds like you’ll be backing the Kippers if you believe the nonsense you’ve written. And if the public really think this, how come Labour are ahead in the polls?

  16. Cynical

    We have always known the right hijacked the word ‘freedom’. Now they’ve hijacked the word ‘fairness’ for their own ends. ‘Labour’ should take the word back, not entertain tory policy. Contributory welfare: that’s the tory definition of fairness you’re using – I prefer a system where our historical wages do not dictate future state support. Immigration: stats on economic benefit tend to be averaged national figures which ignore social implications both for immigrants and communities. People are not just numbers. I ignore any stat that rates people as economic benefits – all sounds a bit tory. But yes, give us a vote on the EU before the troika wreak any more free market austerity nonsense on anyone else. When I hear comrades on the left loving the EU, it seems they’ve been lured into the dragon’s lair with a carrot of civil liberty (and the occasional subsidy) while corporations feed on cheap labour and relaxed trade rules.

    When will you centrists realise you are NOT left wing?

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