A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Friday, September 24, 2010


This is a must read for the next Leader to understand our psephological challenge: http://www.policy-network.net/articles/3894/Labours-fatal-southern-flaw?

They should also have a look at Tim Horton's forthcoming Fabian Review piece on Values & Fairness to try to grasp that middle class voters aren't all obsessed by choice. Some exerpts:

"Perhaps the least surprising thing about the Labour leadership contest was how quickly it degenerated into an argument about whether to focus on the concerns of Middle England or those of the many voters Labour has hemorrhaged off its left flank. One of the first challenges the new leader now faces will be to get debates about Labour’s electoral strategy out of this cul-de-sac.

This isn’t just because it’s silly for a party to devote so much energy to arguing about which voters it doesn’t want. What is so toxic about the ‘core voters v. swing voters’ argument is that it’s based on a false premise: the idea that there are two types of voters who are completely different animals, with different concerns. And that you can’t appeal to both at once.

Of course, there are many ‘touchstone’ issues that have split the Labour Party internally over the last few years: how to deal with immigration, benefit fraud, the super-rich and public service reform. But in fact on none of them could you get a cigarette paper between your average Mail and Mirror reader.

On all of these issues the sentiments involved extend far across the political spectrum. They are all topics where polling questions get numbers of 70-80 per cent. For example, a recent MORI study shone a light on public queasiness about diversity in service provision; it found that “Two-thirds of the public think that standards of public services should be the same everywhere in Britain, with just one-in-five preferring greater local decision-making. This commitment to uniformity in standards cuts across party political affiliation…and is not altered by deliberation. Fairness and uniformity appear to be indistinguishable for many members of the public.” Similarly, when we polled people on tax avoidance last year, 88 per cent of Labour voters wanted the Government to act on it. The equivalent figure for Tory voters was 82 per cent. Far from playing to either core or swing voters, getting this politics right scoops both.


The Blairite critique of Labour under Brown is that it lost Middle England because it was too attached to tax-funded, centralised service provision. This was argued with passion, but at times was dangerously detached from reality. In 2008, Blair’s former speechwriter Phil Collins set out this critique in a Prospect article that argued the party should instead adopt a ‘liberal’ agenda of public service localism, combined with a greater emphasis on wealth taxes and green taxes. Personally, I support the idea of fair wealth taxes, green taxes and public service reform. But I also genuinely struggle to think of a less attractive headline package for Middle England.

In August, the think tank Demos did some helpful polling of the voters Labour lost at the last election. Whereas 19 per cent of Labour’s lost voters said central government “interferes too much in local services”, 35 per cent agreed instead that “the whole point of government is to make sure that there are decent standards across the board and everyone gets a fair deal”. And while 27 per cent of them thought government is “part of the problem not the solution”, 33 per cent thought the opposite. An agenda aimed at winning back the largest number of these voters will clearly need to be a pro-government one.

The Labour left can be fairly accused of not interrogating seriously enough why Labour didn’t win a majority. But the Labour right can arguably be accused of not interrogating seriously enough why the Conservatives didn’t win a majority. If people were really that queasy about the state, Cameron would have swept to power by a landslide (and that’s before you take into account the financial crisis, deep recession, a tired 13-year-old Government and an unpopular leader). He didn’t."


Blogger Dave said...

Labour's problem in the South is the same as the problem in the North - its economic policy had little to offer the middle. It favoured the very rich and redistributed to the very poor, but the same reason the northern working class felt Labour abandoned them was true - and its the same truth in the south. Under Labour life was became more insecure for anyone not in the top 10% of society. Your house price if you had one - was the only thing you had going for you, and people knew that was a flawed strategy. And for those not fortunate enough to own property, tough. We'll send you a postcard when the boat you missed arrives at its destination.

Indeed, labour's policy set both against each other. It needed the demand of the latter to stay unmet in order to fuel the houseprices that were only way they could massage the actual depression in real wages in the working and middle class. The property ladder was described as a system which turns society into the smug and the damned, but under Labour, the smug felt too afraid to be smug, and felt pretty damned all the same.

The problem - as it is in the US - is that for 30 years, the proportion of national income which goes to the super wealthy has increased. Whilst Labour increased the state's take of national income, that cut no ice for people who were working harder than ever before, working more insecurely than ever before, and yet all around told that these were the glory days and the boom years.

It's a testament to our fundamental European-focussed direction that we're still much more in favour of the state doing something than getting all populist-liberatarian (though that strain is growing). I hope Labour elect someone who recognises the role the state has in what people want to happen, rather than talk for 13 years as if power were a chimera to be not used lest one offends the lords of finance.

3:42 pm, September 24, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Let's also remember that we have never been the party of choice in most of the south. We need to win enough seats in the south, to be in government, but we really don't need a majority of 150!

The Midlands is very different - I think recent by-elections indicate that Labour will find this easier to regain than the south

4:57 pm, September 24, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand that the message on public service reform is laden with emotion and the public is not always on side with the direction of travel by instinct. That is a conundrum for those who enter politics to improve services.

Politics is not about the campaigning machine alone, although I am sensible enough to recognise you have to win to do anything. It is about what you do with it. To improve services you have to have your eyes open to the evidence on outcomes, rather than perceptions of services, and sometimes you have to take people on a journey against their gut instincts, that's politics.

Carol Propper at CMPO (an economic research institute based at your own Alma Mater, Bristol) has undertaken rigorous research on health services. There is some interesting evidence now available. If someone came and told you they had evidence that "choice in the health service saves lives" would you say "the public doesn't want choice" even though by implication you are causing people to die? Really? Carol says exactly that. You might disagree, but to convince me you would have to disagree on the evidence, not the ideology.

11:55 am, September 26, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

Congrats on your new leader and a good choice in my opinion. He's got a tough job ahead because the media appears to have pigeon holed him already.

No doubt this has something to do with the Tory media moguls. How the papers can publish this crap legally is shocking.

One thing labour do need communicate is what cuts they are going to oppose and what cuts they will support. If you don't then I can see some major problems with
the unions.

7:51 am, September 29, 2010


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