With one year to go until the General Election, Left Foot Forward asked a selection of leading left-wing influencers what Labour can do to attract so-called aspirational voters.
Winning over so-called ‘aspirational voters’ is important at any election, especially when things are as tight as next year’s General Election looks like it’s going to be. Indeed, some in the Labour camp have been increasingly nervy in recent days, as the poll lead the party previously held over the Tories has all but evaporated.
In the past Labour assiduously courted ‘Mondeo man’ and ‘Worcester woman’ – swing voters that were won over by Tony Blair in 1997 but who largely switched to the Tories in 2010. Middle England, in other words.
So with one year to go until the General Election, Left Foot Forward asked a selection of leading left-wing influencers what Labour can do to attract the so-called aspirational vote.
Mark Ferguson, editor of Labour List
Talking about ‘aspirational voters’ can be a bit of a misnomer. Everyone has aspirations and dreams for their family, their community, their country or even just themselves. But for anyone to have any chance of achieving their aspirations, they need power over their own lives and money in their pockets. One way of achieving that is to tackle the intergenerational crisis.
Older people are increasingly reliant on a creaking care sector that has to be funded by selling their home, or by support from their children. Younger people are often trapped in an expensive private rented sector and locked out of increasingly unaffordable home ownership – leaving many reliant on their parents for support. In the middle are a generation used to cheap credit who are now having to pay for their parent’s care and their children’s deposits.
By building more homes and finding a way to fund social care – either through inheritance tax or through a combined health and social care service – that intergenerational crisis might be lessened, rather than intensified.
Emma Burnell, Labour List columnist
What is an aspirational voter?
When Labour starts to lose votes, it is traditional to assume that we are losing the so-called aspirational voters. The comfortable, politically centrist middle classes who want to achieve more and do better. Those are certainly the voters we might lose to the Tories.
But though the General Election fight is between us and the Tories, the recent polls don’t show us losing voters to them but to UKIP. And I don’t think these are the same voters who want or need the same messaging from Labour.
The appeal of UKIP is not aspiration but a reflection of insecurity. Voters who are attracted to them are often not financially secure enough to aspire in the way the classic New Labour offer appealed to.
What is aspiration in the age of austerity? Is it what we used to think of as security? The understanding that we will have a roof over our heads and so will our children? That we will have secure employment and can be sure that hard work is properly rewarded?
Until we understand what it is that those who might – but currently aren’t – voting Labour aspire to, we should not jump to assumptions about them.
Robert Philpot, director of Progress Online
I’ve never been keen on the term ‘aspirational voters’. It’s normally coupled with the phrase ‘middle-class’ and contains within it the suggestion that Labour’s traditional working-class supporters are somehow without aspiration: that they are content to put up with poor public services, don’t want the opportunity to own their home, or see their children go to university.
There are two challenges for Labour today. First, to recognise that when it has rejected this false dichotomy – in 1945, 1964 and 1997 – it has managed to assemble a cross-class coalition which speaks to the aspirations of all voters for a better life. People voted for the creation of the NHS in 1945 – and to rebuild it in 1997 – not simply as an act of selfless altruism but because they recognised the virtues of pooling individual risk.
By contrast, the party has found itself in an electoral dead-end when it gets on the wrong side of the aspiration equation: as in the late 1970s when it dropped its own plans to introduce a ‘right to buy’ for council tenants thus ceding this territory to Margaret Thatcher.
Second, to understand that despite the immorality of the sight of food banks in 21st century Britain or the wastefulness of the ‘bedroom tax’, such issues alone are not going to win Labour power, and without power it can do nothing about them. As Victoria Groulef, Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Reading West puts it, the party needs to talk as much about business rates as it does the bedroom tax. And the key phrase here is ‘as much as’, not ‘instead of’.
Richard Carr, Anglia Ruskin University
In short Labour needs to act less like a pressure group trying to get coverage, and more like a government in waiting forensically reviewing the landscape.
Firstly, though presentation matters, the election isn’t going to be won by selfies, hashtags and ‘no notes’ speeches. Miliband is running for prime minister, not Student Union president – he needs, frankly, to be more aloof and serious. There are shadow ministers who come off better anyway – Stella Creasy, Liz Kendall, Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna to name four – and who should be increasingly brought centre-stage. 2015 should be about the ensemble not just the leading man.
Equally, Labour do need to watch the class rhetoric. The electorate knows Cameron and Osborne had an august education. But if Labour actually want to win in places like Brighton, Cambridge and Norwich they need to get over it, and fast. Is the public school a symbol of inequality? Yes. Does every voter who went to one eat swan for dinner and bathe in Bollinger? Probably not. If Labour wants to win in southern marginals they need to nuance their message on this one.
That is not a call to go easy on the affluent. At present, rapacious elements in the City actually get off scot-free through brushing off criticism as just Labour ranting imprecisely. To deliver one million homes by 2020 Labour will need significant private sector help. This will also be needed to re-skill our economy through University Technical Colleges and such like. It is time to re-engage the responsible capitalist.
Wes Streeting, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Ilford North
In his speech to Labour’s conference last year, Ed Miliband laid out a choice between two economic futures for Britain, promising to lead a ‘race to the top’ in contrast to David Cameron’s race to the bottom, which has seen living standards squeezed and working conditions threatened.
I’ve got a lot of families in Ilford North who are ambitious for their kids, but worried about their prospects, and thousands of small business owners who’ve made it through the recession and want to prosper from growth.
I’d like to see Labour build on its pledge to cut business rates for small businesses by creating a small business apprenticeship scheme to provide job opportunities for young people and support for small businesses struggling with the cost and red tape involved.
It’s practical, easy to understand and would illustrate how Ed’s race to the top really speaks to the aspirations of our people.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.