The Lib Dems are flocking to Labour, but are we losing support too?

by Kevin Meagher

So as we predicted earlier this week, Labour held Rotherham last night. And, on the face of it, in impressive style.

Labour’s Sarah Champion lived up to her name winning 46 per cent of the vote, 1.7 per cent up on 2010. UKIP were next on 21.8 per cent, with the BNP in third place.

Against the triple whammy of a horrible child grooming scandal in the town, the case of the foster parents who had three children removed from their care by the local council for being UKIP members and the circumstances of Denis MacShane’s resignation, it was not a bad night, all in all, for Labour.

The Lib Dems crashed to eighth place, repeating their dismal performance in the recent police commissioner elections in South Yorkshire when they managed fifth place. Out of five.

They could only muster 451 votes last night, on a 13.9 per cent swing away from their 2010 result when 5,994 people voted for them. Not enough support, then, to win a local council by-election in the town.

So where are these ex-Lib Dems going?

If they are coming straight over to Labour, which seems perfectly plausible given what we know about voting patterns between the two parties, then Labour’s result would have been even more impressive.

Could some of those defecting Lib Dems be heading for UKIP then? Granted its unlikely given the Lib Dems’ swivel-eyed pro-Europeanism, but even the 11.3 per cent swing away from the Tories doesn’t fully account for UKIP’s 15.9 per cent increase.

Is something more complex, but perhaps more troubling for Labour taking place; could Labour be gaining Lib Dems at a rate of knots but losing other supporters to UKIP at the same time?

My ever-prescient colleague Peter Watt floated this scenario the other day.

But why would Labour be losing support when the national situation seems so favourable?

Take my metaphorical plumber.

If you are a self-employed plumber struggling to find work in the downturn Labour’s message on the economy probably chimes with you. You are probably from safe Labour-voting stock. You scream at the television whenever George Osborne appears, telling him to pump more money into infrastructure and cut VAT get the economy moving again.

Similarly, you have always worked, pay your way and don’t rely on the state; but you look aghast at people on benefits who don’t seem to want to work like you do. When you see those people in the public sector marching for their pensions you wonder what planet they’re on when you can’t even afford one.

You are really aggrieved about waste in the EU and wonder why no-one ever sorts it out. You experience the sharp end of foreign immigrant plumbers competing with you for work and you’re not overly thrilled by the idea of gay marriage.

In this case, Labour – and the other mainstream parties – don’t really reflect your views anymore. You are bothered about issues no-one ever seems to do anything about. Which of course begs the question, which party hates EU waste, wants to stop immigration and opposes gay marriage?

No wonder Nigel Farage is grinning. His boast about taking support from across the political spectrum is usually dismissed as wishful thinking, but he may be right.

This matters. There are lots of similar plumbers, classic C2s, in marginal seats who are not motivated to join protest marches in defence of public sector jobs, or third world aid, or to oppose wars. But they are still an important part of a winning coalition, as Labour found to its cost during the 1980s when, by and large, they voted Conservative.

If defecting Lib Dems are switching to Labour because they see a party committed to public spending and social liberalism above all else, then the question Labour needs to ask is whether this in turn makes it harder to win over those plumbers, who may hold traditionalist social views and small state economic ones, but who will still vote for fairness, decent schools and to support the NHS.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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15 Responses to “The Lib Dems are flocking to Labour, but are we losing support too?”

  1. Ultra_Fox says:

    Why the obsession with plumbers? It didn’t exactly bring rewards for US Republicans, did it?

  2. Mike says:

    Cheap shot Ultrafox – you know what was meant, any skilled C2 type worker. It is right these are the backbone of English voters. Remember Basildon back in the 90’s. It was totemic because it was a seat filled with such people.

  3. wg says:

    It always amazes me – the number of mental hoops the inhabitants of the three-party bubble go through before they get anywhere near to the conclusion we normal working class people have reached years ago.

    The clue is in the number of people actually voting.

    The Labour party may represent a number of worthwhile causes – the concerns of the skilled and semi-skilled are not amongst them.

    But, it’s a numbers game – will there be enough immigrants, migrant workers, public workers, and students to offset those lost tradesmen/women; I think that Labour are home and dry on that one.

    Like the well-documented 5million lost voters I’ve taken to the hills – you’re welcome to the hell you’ve created.

  4. Robert says:

    Labour is gaining votes because it is following a moderately left of centre and liberal (with a small ‘L”) approach, which is totally different to the hard left reputation of Labour during the 1980s. In any case, many of the people that Kevin describes might decide that good schools and the NHS are more important than being nasty to the unemployed and foreigners.

  5. Ex-Labour says:

    @wg – Good points. Labours core vote is now immigrants, public servants, students etc as you say plus of course the workshy, feckless and feral. The working person who labour is supposed to represent has been ditched with the hope that state handouts and the protest vote will get them through.

    The EU is a toxic issue for all parties as the public becomes more aware of the waste, corruption, legal and trade constraints and the fact that we are no longer in charge of our own country. We can thank Blair for that who constantly gave away our powers through various treaties. I was a Blair fan but he did some really stupid things. As a consequence the central message of UKIP is begining to chime with voters from all of the main parties.

    When will politicians realise that the public is far more savvy than they give them credit for ?

  6. Mike Homfray says:

    The C2’s are a bit of a myth in terms of both their enthusiasm for Labour – they tend to make up the bulk of the UKIP vote – and the seats they inhabit being ones we need. Some of them will vote for Labour, but most won’t. Many won’t vote at all.

    There is very little mileage in pursuing either social conservatism, or small state economics, as that is UKIP’s territory and they actually believe it.

  7. swatantra says:

    We have to kill this nonsense that Labour’s core voters are ‘immigrants, public servants, students etc …. plus of course the workshy, feckless and feral … ‘ because these are the very persons least likely to bother to vote, apart of course from public sector workers who are generally more consciencious.
    I’m not quite sure who Labours core vote actually consists of other than those who vote Labour out of habit, but it would be interesting to find out.
    Of course its Labours welfare and social care policies that provided the working class with that necessary safety net, which the Coalition wants to do away with.

  8. Henrik says:

    @swatantra: if you do find out who Labour’s core vote is, let the Party know, would you? It certainly seems to me that it devotes all its efforts to precisely the folk mentioned above – comfortably-pensioned and index-linked public sector workers, media types and cohorts of votes ably dragooned by “community leaders” on the basis of historic relationships and hierarchies back in the motherland. Of course, it’s very much easier to do that, it saves all that messy “let’s work out some policies which will make folk outside that bubble of privilege vote for us”.

  9. Ex-Labour says:


    ” Of course its Labours welfare and social care policies that provided the working class with that necessary safety net, which the Coalition wants to do away with”.

    Under Labour in the days of boom rather than bust (according to Brown) the welfare budget grew massively and is now a milstone around the countries neck. I live in an area where people choose not to work. I could provide you example after example in the area I live in where people have given up jobs because being on benefits is equal to, or just above / below what they were earning and as one of them put it to me “why should I work ?”. Unfortunately its this kind of selfish attitude where they feel entitled to what other people have but dont want to work. Dont even get me started on the benefit fraud going on.

    Needless to say I live in a Labour stronghold . So who is voting for them Swatantra ???

    Just one further point…..ITS MY MONEY you want to give these people and I work hard for it and object to being robbed. The left should learn its not their money.

  10. Vern says:

    I’m a real plumber, not a metaphorical one and if you want to put people in to categories (C2) this is the first mistake. when it comes to voting there are far too many permetations.
    I am a conservative voter, and always have been – i have witnessed labour’s charade at purporting to support the workers only to saturate their sector with cheap overseas labour.
    I see people in the public sector marching and then think where were you in 2007 and 2008 when the recession started-still picking up inflation linked rises as a result of the last administration.
    i’m disappointed at those who claim benefits who could work but choose not too-but i am more disappointed with MP’s fiddling expenses, flipping homes, pretending to be mad to avoid conviction and public sector employees who earn over £40k having their pensions paid for them.
    The whole political class operating with a blatant disregard for decency will manifest itself in something far uglier in years to come.
    And the question of marriage between same sex partners is so far from being relevant in todays age that it raises more questions about you and not your metaphorical plumber.
    Farage is saying all the right things, Con, Lib, Lab parties all look and sound the same nowadays. And Farage has a backbone – unlike our recent experiences with Blair or Cameron for that matter.
    i am hugely disappointed that over the last 15 years successive governments but particularly Blair and his team have destroyed politics for C2’s like myself!

  11. wg says:

    I do agree with some of the commenters above, @vern has my position about right.
    I joined UKIP a few years back but I’m afraid that as they stand at the moment under Farage they are not quite there politically.
    I like the idea of a UKIP, I am fiercely anti-EU, but Farage has to present a workable exit strategy – just tearing up treaties is not going to do it, we do need to maintain a trading relationship with the EU countries and unfortunately that means dealing with some sort of bureaucracy.
    He is a strong speaker but I believe that UKIP need a person with more gravitas – it needs someone who can conciliate between the large number of people out there who have a wealth of experience and knowledge.
    There is one more thing – if most “working class” people were aware of Farage’s free market theories they wouldn’t touch UKIP.
    As it stands I may vote for UKIP because I am sick of the present three-party stitch-up; democracy has been completely destroyed by the interference in our lives by non-governmental organisations that have insinuated themselves between the elected and the electorate – we are now governed by quangos, the biggest of which is the EU.

  12. Andy says:

    An awful lot of low-skill/no-skill and unemployed are switching to UKIP. They are sick to death of cheap labour taking jobs and blame the presence of cheap labour from eastern europe squarely on the EU.

    They don’t see why they should compete with people from elsewhere in Europe for jobs, social housing, places in the nearest school, benefits, places at doctors and NHS dentists etc etc not only in their own country, but in their own communities. They find the BNP unpalatable for obvious reasons, so vote UKIP instead. They have had enough of the pro-EU drivel from the main parties and want it not only stopped but reversed – markedly and visibly. Not promises, action and until they see action and feel it then the support for UKIP will grow. UKIP have become something that the big three should panic about – a respectable alternative.

    Believe me, this is just the start of it. By 2015 things will be very different politically and the big three have only themselves to blame. (They won’t of course, they’ll blame squirrels. Or badgers. Or journalists or whatever)

  13. BenM says:


    “Labours core vote is now immigrants, public servants, students etc as you say plus of course the workshy, feckless and feral.”

    Public Servants – 6 million votes
    Recent Immigrants – say, 0.5 million votes and climbing (and Labour has 2nd\3rd generation immigrant vote sewn up)
    Students – 1 million votes
    Benefit recipients – 5 million votes

    If the Tories want to dismiss all those votes, I’m fine with that.

  14. Robert says:

    Ex labour why are you an ex mate is it because Blair has gone, sound like it mate, if you think Immigrants and the feral and the work less are within Labour voter core.

    You do sound more BNP then labour mate.

  15. swatantra says:

    I’ve made it pretty clear in previous posts that I’m not in favour of universal benefits. I’d rather see means testing brought in so that those who don’t need the benefit, like Child Benefit or Winter Fuel Allowance or Free Bus Passes etc, don’t get it.
    But there are some people genuinely caught in the benefits trap, on the borderline who may find that if they work the income coming in is just about the same as if they were on benefits; and I can see their dilemma.
    But I have no sympathy for those that could work but refuse to work and choose to live off the state for years on end, making no genuine effort to find work or stay in work.
    And I’ve also made it pretty plain that I am against this culture of dependancy that has crept in over the generations.

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