Labour must talk about the day-to-day lack of control that so many feel  

Labour will need to connect with voters’ deep sense of lacking control and demonstrate how a Labour government will allow them to ‘take back control’ of their everyday lives.   

Keir Starmer

Eloise Sacares is a researcher at the Fabian Society

There is a reason why Vote Leave’s slogan ‘take back control’ resonated during the EU referendum. Almost eight years on, this government may have left the EU, but they haven’t addressed the lack of control people feel every day.  

Why does this matter? Feeling out of control or powerless is severely detrimental to our individual wellbeing. But it can also have sinister consequences for society. One study found evidence that lack of control increases support for radical populist parties of both the left and right. Another found that those with greater feelings of powerlessness were less likely to take precautionary measures for Covid-19.   

As we approach a general election, Labour will need to connect with voters’ deep sense of lacking control and demonstrate how a Labour government will allow them to ‘take back control’ of their everyday lives.   

Understanding everyday control can enable Labour to connect on many of the areas they want to fix. People feel out of control when they can’t see their GP in good time, when they live in fear of being evicted, or when their train is cancelled, leaving them stranded – powerless. By relating to this sense of everyday disempowerment, Labour can reach the key voter groups who feel let down by this government and are keen for an alternative that might help them regain control over their everyday lives. 

And then comes the hard part. If elected, Labour needs to genuinely empower people to have more control in their everyday lives. Labour’s devolution agenda and the new deal for working people addresses civic control and workplace control respectively. But people’s sense of lacking control in their lives is far more comprehensive. In our analysis, we think of everyday control across six domains – civic, consumer, workplace, relationships, feeling safe, and public services. All of these have an impact on how in or out of control someone might feel in the day to day.   

To connect policy with people’s sense of being out of control, Labour needs to understand the state of the nation when it comes to everyday control. Measuring something is a key way to influence policy. Governments want to be able to point to a set of statistics to show they have tangibly changed the country for the better. And this in turn incentivises them to make the necessary policy changes to improve those metrics – or at least not let them fall.   

That’s why we are currently working to develop a new metric – like the ONS’ life satisfaction survey, but instead, measuring people’s everyday sense of control. The aim is to capture just how multi-faceted control can be. Our forthcoming Fabian Society report, in partnership with FEPS, will set this out. The idea of measuring individual control could also be applied to contexts beyond the UK.  

When the left talks about giving back power to people and communities, it is often in the abstract and lacks a connection to the policy decisions that impact people’s day to day lives. But whether it’s being able to walk in your local park without fear of crime, being able to have a say over how you work, or feeling that you can afford to turn on your heating as and when you need it – good policy decisions can help us feel more in control, and the left must ensure voters see this link.  

If Labour wins the election, they will want to make sure they can ask, after five years in government, ‘are you better off?’, and for the public to answer ‘yes’. But they should also be able to ask ‘do you have more control over your everyday life?’, and have the public answer ‘yes’ to this too. That sense of empowerment could be a significant factor in Labour winning a second term.  

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