Labour’s policies are popular. But politics is about presentation

It turns out Labour’s manifesto is more popular than doubters would portray. The trouble is, there’s more to elections than that. 

So often with politics, it’s not the placing on the spectrum that matters, but the presentation. Voters can back left-wing policies if they’re packaged right: much as the Conservatives can get away with doing traditionally ‘left-wing’ things like increasing the minimum wage, or backing state restrictions on energy prices.

New polling by Comres for the Daily Mirror shows 71% of the public back banning zero-hours contracts, 65% support increasing income tax for those on salaries above £80,000, and even 49% support renationalising the energy industry (to 24% against).

This all, of course, follows the leak of Labour’s manifesto, ostensibly out on Monday. And it didn’t backfire too badly: almost half of voters (47%) say they are less likely to vote for the Party having read or heard about the newly ‘announced’ policies, while only 34% say they are more likely to.

Other key Labour policies backed by voters:

  • 74% support keeping the pension age 66 and no higher
  • 54% support requiring local councils to build an additional 100,000 new council houses per year
  • 52% support renationalising the railways, while only 22% oppose

It begs the question: if voters agree with most of Labour’s headline policies – what’s going wrong?

The latest poll of polls has Labour on around 30% – 16 percentage points behind the Conservatives. It’s a divide that makes sense only if you understand politics as being about much more than policies – but leadership, and above that: presentation of those policies and that leadership.

There are of course the usual misgivings over Jeremy Corbyn’s qualities as a statesman (56% say they think he would be ‘a disaster’ as Prime Minister while 30% think he should be given a ‘fair chance at leading the country’).

But beyond that, there is the issue of presentation. It’s been said time and again that Labour’s current policies aren’t significantly to the left of his predecessor (‘warmed up Millibandism’). From renationalising the railways and ending private involvement in the NHS, to prioritising council housing and clamping down on the energy companies: all this has been done and said before.

But it often feels that the left do ourselves few favours – in presenting policies as more radical than they really are – and voters do perceive Corbyn as much more left-wing than he is: with 0 being effectively a communist, and 10 being the most right-wing, voters put Corbyn at 2.2, and Labour at 3.

But if you’re on a zero-hours contract, the real ‘strong and stable’ is having guaranteed hours every week. If you have no idea how much your energy bills are going to go up, strong and stable is ensuring real competition so that you don’t have to worry so much.

The ‘security’ issue of this election isn’t thousands of miles away: it’s falling wages and the loss of your rights at work – or your child not being able to afford a place to live. Stability doesn’t mean cutting immigration to economy-damaging levels, or pulling Britain out of the single market.

Unite have just given the Labour Party another £4.5m for this election. Maybe some of that can go to presenting Labour policies not as revolutionary acts to rip up the economic order – but to give people some peace of mind in these disconcerting times.

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