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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6 Responses to “Labour’s policies are popular. But politics is about presentation”

  1. Will

    Unfortunately we now live in a world that tells us that image is the most important issue. Is it any wonder that mental health in youngsters is increasing so rapidly when the media present celebrities with perfect teeth, bone structure, body shape and long flowing locks of hair? This imagery moves sideways into all walks of life including politics although, having said that, T May is not within the above range (in my humble opinion) and nor is J Corbyn for that matter but this upcoming election appears to be between the two leading characters rather than the parties they head or even the policies they endorse. When the public are asked about Labour’s policies the reply is often possitive until they realise which personality is heading the policy, then they find any excuse to change their minds!
    I find all of this puzzling as J Corbyn can hardly be classed as a true left winger these days. He is far nearer to the Labour Party as run by the likes of H Wilson and J Callaghan—-in my view, of course.
    As for the Conservatives, they are putting across their ideas by lying and deceiving the public with their false promises and fear-mongering as they move even further to the right—if that is possible. It is setting a very bad example to today’s youngsters of how to be successful. It is almost bound to end in tears soon.

  2. RobD

    It just goes to illustrate that the so-called “centre ground” of politics can in fact be moved. Most of the things in Labour’s manifesto were “centre ground” in the Wilson, Callaghan even Heath years. Privatisation of public services certainly wasn’t. After Thatcher, the “centre ground” had moved to the right. This is what Tony Blair doesn’t seem to understand – he had a golden opportunity with two landslides to move the country back towards a mixed economy and the concept of accountable public services and didn’t. The “centre” stayed to the right. So, now, with the most right wing government we have had in decades, Labour’s manifesto seems far more left wing than it actually is.

  3. Tony

    It is important to understand how the human mind works and that emotion plays a huge part in the way that decisions are made. The Conservatives have, like the Republicans in the US, tended to have a better understanding of this and so are generally more effective.

    In order to change this, I recommend the following:

    James Garvey: “The Persuaders: The hidden industry that wants to change your mind”

    Thank you.

  4. Tony
    (Yes, I have obviously had a presentation problem here!).

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