Labour is not losing support because left-wing policies are unpopular: it’s losing support because they are

If Labour wants to reverse its declining poll ratings, it shouldn’t be trying to fight the Tories for the centre-right ground.

If Labour wants to reverse its declining poll ratings, it shouldn’t be trying to fight the Tories for the centre-right ground, writes Salman Shaheen

The conventional narrative that framed New Labour’s dominance over the party and subsequent election victories went that traditionally left-wing ideas are no longer popular and that votes had to be attracted from the centre and the right.

Thus the Labour Party marched ever rightwards, confident in the assumption that its working class and left-wing base would continue to vote for it no matter how far it went. But the band has to snap sometime.

At some point, the electorate will begin to worry that democracy is not providing them with a genuine choice. Given the trend of low election turnouts, declining party memberships and people increasingly turning to smaller parties outside of the mainstream, or as is too often the case disengaging with politics entirely, it appears that point is fast approaching.

On a shorter-term scale, it is possible to see that Labour’s poll lead has been highest when it’s set out clear left-wing alternatives to Tory policies. And it has slumped when it has supported the Conservative agenda and announced austerity-lite policies.

Labour supportj

Many assume that Labour’s woes can be pinned at the door of Miliband’s personality, that he just doesn’t look or feel like a future prime minister. While Miliband certainly does have an image problem, this didn’t stop Labour surging to a decade high 12 point lead in the polls early last year when Miliband backed a very solid redistributive policy of reinstating the 10p tax band funded by a mansion tax.

Over the next few months, Labour abstained on workfare, refused to commit to repealing the bedroom tax and signed up to Tory spending plans. This cost the party significant support in the polls and it didn’t begin to recover until it got a conference boost on the back of finally coming out against the bedroom tax and pledging to freeze energy prices.

Labour’s lowest ebb came this year, however, when with the exception of 13 left-wing MPs, it overwhelmingly backed the welfare cap.

There are, of course, other factors at play. The recovering economy has boosted the Tories, although with Conservative support being eroded by the rise of UKIP this has been somewhat mitigated. Labour too is losing some support to UKIP.

But many erstwhile Labour supporters are simply becoming disengaged with party politics entirely, convinced now there is little point backing Miliband’s party if it is not offering anything radically different from the Tory Lib-Dem government.

If Labour wants to reverse its declining poll ratings, it shouldn’t be trying to fight the Tories for the centre-right ground – Cameron just does it better. Miliband needs to play to his base, the people Labour has for too long taken for granted, and offer a strong set of anti-austerity, redistributive policies that provide a clear opposition to the Conservatives.

Otherwise Labour will keep on haemorrhaging support.

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30 Responses to “Labour is not losing support because left-wing policies are unpopular: it’s losing support because they are”

  1. Ostercy

    Amen. Tell the Blairites.

  2. Peem Birrell

    Labour is not losing support because left-wing policies are unpopular: it’s losing support because they are

    WTF is this supposed to mean?

  3. Two Bob

    You are 150 years out of date. It is not right vs left anymore. Traditional Tories and traditional Labour voters are fighting the same enemy.

  4. AfterAtosAssessment

    Just read it again.
    “Losing support not because left policies are unpopular, but because they are “unpopular” i think that is how it makes sense. A load of senseless superficial pr muppets as equal to tories to go on about whippets and pigeons fish nchips n pasties bingo and eckythump as any condescending eton oxbridge pr corporate twit. Working clas and majority of uk is lot more edicated than these muppets and their pr masters assume. We are not US american backwoods rednecks.

  5. Asteri

    Maybe Labour peers could desist from advocated charging people £10 to use the NHS?

  6. Graham Wllmot

    The labour party are now mainly closet tories, from blair and before

  7. robertcp

    It confused me as well, although I know what it mean after reading the article.
    I agreed with most of it but I actually think that Labour is doing surprisingly well in the polls. The reason for this is that Ed Miliband has managed to return Labour to a more social democratic position without provoking a civil war. He has also avoided moving Labour too far to the left.

  8. Matthew Blott

    I certainly agree Labour need a game changer and I have been saying this for some time. But I doubt that promising to spend more on welfare and relaxing immigration controls will see a surge in Labour fortunes. Polls go up and down as everyone knows but it’s the longer term trends that you need to watch and these are dismal for Labour. I keep saying this and I’m sounding like a broken record but Kinnock and Foot enjoyed poll leads way ahead of anything Miliband has achieved. But Labour was always behind on who was most trusted to run the economy. And neither had Miliband’s appalling personal ratings. So, we have a leader who nobody sees as a potential Prime Minister (including Labour voters it would seem) and who is less trusted along with Ed Balls than George Osborn and David Cameron. This has been the case for a couple of years now and will not change before the general election and it is precisely this reason that Labour will lose. Revisiting the 1980s will only turn defeat into a rout.

  9. Matthew Blott


  10. Tubby_Isaacs

    “Labour’s lowest ebb came this year, however, when with the exception of 13 left-wing MPs, it overwhelmingly backed the welfare cap.”

    Shortly before going back into the lead by about the same as before the budget.

    Not to say it’s right to back it, but it hasn’t done it any harm in the polls.

  11. inrerested

    The labour party is run by middle-class guilt and public sector workers unions, no wonder ordinary people don’t want anything to do with it
    look at this pos website all the little red princes and princesses playing at socialism

  12. isthisreallife2

    Reeves talking tough on austerity and committing to Tory spending plans was a turning point. Labour were sending our mixed signals as up until that point Milliband had been hammering the Tories on austerity and this went down well with the public. Labour let the Tories off the hook – they caved into the Blairites…..

  13. isthisreallife2

    Miliband hasnt gone far enough to the left. Thats the point of the article. They committed to Tory austerity. There is an alternative to austerity and Help to Buy. The alternative is investment in the real economy and housebuilding…..

  14. Joe

    Labour abstaining on workfare was the end for me

  15. robertcp

    I am old enough to remember to 1983 and moving too far to the left would be a disaster.

  16. Andrew Bryant Bristol


  17. Andrew Bryant Bristol

    Why are the fascist vermin so interested in Labour?

  18. Gary Barker

    Finally! Now please stop with the purple LFF i.e. red+blue logo and get back to red!

  19. Gary Barker

    Here we go, another Blairite Tory cuckoo in the nest trying to muddy the waters. That might have worked on the gullible 17 years ago, but not anymore.

  20. Sciamachy

    Yup, basically this. Labour has sold out its base & given up trying to educate people on why socialism is the answer. Meanwhile in the US & France, scientific studies show that we’re heading towards a crisis which only a massive redistribution of wealth & reorganisation of the economy towards a more equal society can possibly solve.

  21. interested

    Gosh what an insightful well reasoned argument

  22. Andrew Bryant Bristol

    Oh! thanks, true though.

  23. Andrew Bryant Bristol

    You really need more sleep.

  24. Andrew Bryant Bristol

    Here’s a game changer, all politicians funded only by the state not! big or small business. Ban financially funded corporate lobbying. Nationalise power generation the NHS and Water, that would be a good start.

  25. Chris Mack

    skinner for labour leader.

  26. Norfolk29

    Labour is faced with the issue of how to manage a declining economic surplus. Oh, for the days in 1986 when Maggie Thatcher had £18 Billion from North Sea Oil Revenues and spent every penny on feathering the nests of the rich. Yes, she won the 1987 election and introduced the Community Charge, which was designed to reduce the Rates to £40 a year per person (some hope). Now we have socialists who appear not to recognize “today” as different from 1986 and moan about the lack of socialism. Wake up and smell the coffee.

  27. Sun

    Oh yes lets democratize everything. Actually creating a restriction diminishes impacts on the society. Societies have been more free than they every have been in history and more wasteful due to it.

  28. Mukkinese

    The end?

    So what alternative is there that will not let the Tories back in?

    Don’t give me the crap about Labour being the same as the Tories they are not.

    If we get them back in power then we can work on pushing them back to the left. Out of power they are always pushed to the right, in order to avoid the worst hysteria of the press…

  29. Mukkinese

    Same old bollocks.

    If large numbers of the left do not vote Labour, then we will get another term of the Tories.

    No matter about all the complaints of Labour agreeing to Tory policies, we all know damn well the Tories would be worse and less fair than Labour ever could be.

    As is so often the case on the left, we are our own worst enemies…

  30. Mukkinese

    Few really believe that Labour would be as bad as another Tory government, regardless of the acceptance of some Tory policies.

    I cannot accept that there are Labour voters or any on the left who would not vote Labour because of the Tory policies they have accepted. Thereby letting the Tories back in to finish off the NHS and welfare. Most oppositions play it safe, even the Tories accepted Labours spending plans in 2004.

    What Labour really need is the one good thing that NuLabour got right, the very effective rapid rebuttal unit. Call Campbell all the names you like, but he and his team got Labours message across, even when dealing with a hostile press…

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