The Milibelievers are destroying Labour’s chances for victory in 2015

by Atul Hatwal

The polls are fine. Labour’s rating is holding firm in the high thirties, it will stay there because Lib Dem defectors will boost Labour’s core vote from 2010 and UKIP will squeeze the Tories’ vote.

This is the litany of the Milibelievers.  A group that is distinctly under-represented in the PLP but more vocal in the media community and believes Ed Miliband’s gameplan is working.

It was neatly summarised by George Eaton before Christmas and represents one the greatest threats to Labour success in 2015. Because unless Labour radically changes course and accepts the current gameplan is failing, defeat is increasingly likely.

There are two flaws to the Milibeliever prospectus.

First, Labour’s base is not the 29% achieved 2010.

Given how appalling Labour’s performance was in 2010, it’s tempting to believe that it represents rock bottom. 29% was derisory, but Labour can fall further. In polling for Uncut by YouGov in early September, just over 1 in 4 (26%) of Labour’s 2010 voters said they did not intend to vote for the party at the next election.

There may have been some minor movement in the attrition rate since Autumn, but given the broad similarity in the polls between then and now, it is unlikely to have changed significantly.

This means Labour’s current base is actually nearer 22% rather than 29% and unless something major changes, Labour will not even be the largest party, let alone a majority government, no matter how solid the block of Lib Dem defectors.

Second, Labour is losing the argument in terms of leadership and economic competence. This is the underlying reason why the party’s base vote has eroded since 2010, why it is overly optimistic to believe Labour can rely on legions of 2010 Lib Dem voters backing the party into the high thirties and why many UKIP converts are likely to lapse back into the Tory fold.

The chart below sets out the scale of Labour’s problem. No opposition has ever won while being behind on both leadership and the economy, and Labour now trails by double digits on both.

Con lead over Lab on PM and econFor younger journalists, and some of the even younger MPs, Labour’s lost elections in 1983, 1987 and 1992 are just distant history. But they are very relevant to the position Labour now finds itself in.

In these wilderness years for Labour, the electoral decision was ultimately polarised into a simple, emotional proposition: can the country afford to take a risk on Labour, first with Michael Foot, and then Neil Kinnock.

It is often said that governments’ lose elections, oppositions don’t win them. But this only holds true if the opposition has de-risked the choice so that voters feel sufficiently secure to take a leap of faith into the unknown and trust an opposition.

In the 1980s and 1992 Labour failed this test because on the key determinants of voting – leadership and the economy – the public decided Labour could not be trusted. Then, as now on these issues, Labour trailed the Conservatives, regardless of the headline poll findings.

For example, in the first Mori poll of the 1992 campaign, when the headline finding was a Labour lead of 41% to 38% over the Tories, the party trailed on leadership and economy. There was 13% deficit on preference for PM, with John Major the choice of 40% to 27% for Neil Kinnock, and a 6% gap on the economy with 34% favouring the Conservatives and 28% Labour. Bear in mind, this was an election where 68% of voters agreed with the statement, “It’s time for a change.”

In the final days of the 1992 campaign, as the choice crystallised around whether voters could take a chance on Neil Kinnock, the twin shortfalls on leadership and the economy took their toll on Labour with the party ultimately polling 34%. For those swing voters that contemplated voting Labour, or even just not supporting the Conservatives, the prospect of Prime Minister Kinnock was a risk too far.

Looking at the manner in which Labour is once again trailing on leadership and the economy, it is not difficult to see how history will repeat itself.

Labour’s current deficits on leadership and the economy are essentially an index of fear, indicators that reveal the depth of concern about Labour for swing voters. The wider the Tory lead in these two areas, the greater the fear and the more likely wavering voters will subordinate residual concerns about David Cameron and the Conservatives, to stop Labour.

For some of UKIP’s current backers, this will mean returning to the Tories. For some worried Lib Dems it will mean either reverting back to Nick Clegg’s party or even voting tactically for the Tories to keep Labour out. And for disillusioned 2010 Labour voters it will potentially mean taking the plunge and voting for another party or just not voting at all.

It’s worth remembering the scale of divergence between mid-term performance in elections, and general election performance for both UKIP and the Lib Dems.

As Populus pollster and former Number 10 strategy director, Andrew Cooper has pointed out, UKIP scored 16% in the 2004 Euro elections, but 2% in the general election in 2005, and 17% in the Euro elections of 2009 but just 3% in the general election of 2010.

And the Lib Dems achieved just 12% in the 2004 European but went on to win 22% in the general election the next year. Similarly, they registered 14% in the 2009 European election but then posted 23% in the general election of 2010.

Over the past decade, there is a well-established behaviour among voters to boost UKIP and low ball the Lib Dems mid-term, only to abandon UKIP and return to the Lib Dems at the general election.

Lord Ashcroft’s mega-poll over the weekend showed that the Conservative base level of support is 29% (23% from 2010’s Tory vote and 6% who have been attracted into the fold.) There are a further 3.1% who did not vote Tory in 2010 but would actively consider it in 2015 and 13% who did vote Tory in 2010 but who are now saying they won’t in 2015 (just over half of whom are currently backing UKIP).

For the Tories to match their 2010 performance in securing 36% of the vote and ensuring they are comfortably the largest party, according to Lord Ashcroft’s polling, they need to attract less than half of the 16% who are either “considerers” or “defectors.”

Given majority of this 16% say they would prefer a majority Conservative government and the extent to which Labour is trailing on leadership and the economy, what are the odds that the fear of Prime Minister Miliband and Chancellor Balls will help swing enough wavering voters behind the Tories to make them the largest party?

The further behind Labour is on the economy and leadership, the more potent will be the inevitable Tory line of “vote Farage, get Miliband.”

To most Milibelievers, 2013 was a good a year for Ed Miliband and Labour. They look to his conference speech and the energy price freeze, to the Syria vote and the persisting poll lead as signs that all is well with Labour’s plan.

But in the course of the past year, the headline poll lead halved and, as the chart above shows, the Tories pulled even further ahead on leadership and the economy. According to the indicators that matter most, 2013 was actually a very bad year for Labour.

Unless these gaps can be significantly narrowed, 2015 will see wavering Conservative, UKIP and Lib Dem voters acting tactically to neutralise the threat they see in Labour.

Not appreciating the impact of Labour’s deficit on leadership and the economy on wavering voters’ behaviour is the essential myopia of the Milibelievers. It’s why their counsel of calm is so dangerous and why, unless it’s overturned, Labour is headed for defeat in 2015.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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28 Responses to “The Milibelievers are destroying Labour’s chances for victory in 2015”

  1. paul barker says:

    Everything you say is right but what is your strategy ?
    Do you seriously expect Milliband to change direction or are you thinking he could be removed ? You must know that its effectively impossible to sack Labour leaders without tearing The Party apart.

  2. Danny says:

    If only they’d see sense and bring back Blair eh?

    *Bookmarks page for post-May 2015 gloating*

  3. John reid says:

    Oh, dear Danny,cqnt come up with any defence of Milibands strategy, so bring up, the idea that anyone on the right of the party will “gloat” if we don’t win, still it beats the alternative comments that will be made if we don’t win in 2015′ that of the left saying that we lost in 2015 as it wasn’t left wing enough,

  4. eric clyne says:

    Interesting article. I would say that there is much more dislike of Cameron by swing voters than there was of Major.

    And Ed Miliband can gain votes by developing a new radicalism (which is developing) whereas Mr Kinnock was trapped in the past.

  5. Madasafish says:

    Frankly if I were a Labour MP with any vision, I would be more concerned about what might happen IF Labour WON the election.

    After all, Ed balls has done his best in the last decade to prove beyond any shadow of doubt that not only is he a financial incompetent but he learns nothing from his past mistakes… He got it wrong disastrously in Government and since then he has forecast a double dip recession which has not happened.

    And he is going to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer?

    If Labour do win and stick to Balls’ plans, the money will likely run out and the resulting catastrophe will make Coalition spending cuts look like a picnic. (see IMF in the 1970s.)

    Any sensible Leader would rid himself of the man and appoint a competent person. Which goes back to leadership.

  6. Ex-Labour says:

    I think this and other similar analysis over the last few days is absolutely on the mark.

    I’ll hold my hands up and say that I defected to the Tories in 2010 – couldn’t stand the arrogance and policies of Brown, and I will be staying with them so long at Miliband and Balls are at the helm.

    However the most interesting thing for me is that my Red friends are openly talking about the lack of leadership of Miliband and the general idiocy of Balls and asking if the party is actually capable of winning with them in charge ? This is the first time I’ve heard it from them as previously they were crowing about a large poll lead and what an easy win it will be. What a difference a year makes.

    History has shown that voting at GE’s is always different to local and EU elections where the doubters and malcontents return to their home party to ensure the other dont get in. If this happens then it is curtains for Labour.

  7. Coeur_de_lion says:

    I personally don’t see as much distrust of Cameron as I do with Miliband.

    Cameron is unpopular, but Miliband, rightly or wrongly, is viewed with suspicion due to his connection to Brown and because people think he’s a bit weird. Sad but true.

    The Eds had the opportunity to change this perception, had they held their hands up and accepted some sort of culpability for the past, and shown a direction of travel for the future.

    The current tactic of picking fights with anyone they decide to paint as ‘evil’, is simply seen as negative, and achieves nothing more than momentary popularity spikes. Leadership and Economy are grown up subjects, and if Labour are to achieve any sort of credibility in these area, they need to go beyond the mud slinging, and adopt a more mature rhetoric.

    That said, it may be a bit late for to do that, for Ed Balls at least.

  8. I suspect Cameron is far less unpopular than most Labour or traditional Tory supporters would like to think. I can’t afford a YouGive poll to test this but my bet is that Cameron is regarded as no worse than most other senior politicians, while Miliband is regarded as a lot worse than most other senior politicians.

  9. Danny says:

    I hope that q in “cqnt” is in place of an “a” not a “u”!!!

  10. Fred says:

    New radicalism my bottom.

  11. Cupertino says:

    How exactly was Kinnock trapped in the past any more than Miliband?

  12. steve says:

    “Not appreciating the impact of Labour’s deficit on leadership and the economy on wavering voters’ behaviour is the essential myopia of the Milibelievers.”

    Leadership and economy are two separate matters and should be considered separately.

    Sure, Miliband is a member of the discredited political elite and he doesn’t know how to speak normal. He is, of course, responsible for his ‘leadership’.

    But Labour’s lack of credibility on the economy is a New Labour legacy. New Labour crashed the car so why should we hand the keys back to them? This will be the question hanging in the minds of the electorate.

    And there’s very little Miliband can do about the New Labour legacy other than make a clean break. But much of the PLP are still in love with Blair and sometimes, incredibly, they boast of New Labour’s record!

    Miliband can only hope that, on election day, Cameron is even more unpopular than himself.

  13. In my earlier post, YouGive should of course be YouGov. Apologies for the sloppiness.

  14. GSilver says:

    I think the public have got the idea that Ed M. has very little idea what he will do if he did get into power. They have no confidence in a party whose declared policies are being run into the ground by france.
    if theres a plan b its is simply to automatically condemn the coalition in the hope people dont like those actions. Problem is the public are buying into many of these policies and Ed balls being caught lying yet again re ‘double dip recessions he never predicted honest mister’ makes them look down right nefarious/two faced!

  15. skynine says:

    The reality is that there isn’t any point in having a Labour Government if it can’t spend other peoples money. If Labour did succeed in 2015 it would have to continue the same policies currently in place.

    There whole reason for Labour being in power is to spend spend spend; it always happens and the result is always the same.

  16. David Holland says:

    We’ll if we lose in 2015 it won’t be because we weren’t right wing enough.

  17. Kieran says:

    Atul – your statistic about the number of voters Labour have lost is completely misleading given the churn in the electorate which happens at every election.

    See the final paragraph of this blog post by the esteemed Anthony Wells

    This is the key paragraph:

    “I should make a comment about some of the media reporting of the finding that the Conservatives have lost 37% of their voters since the last election. This is accurate, but far less exciting than it sounds. A lot of it is just down to people saying don’t know, it happens in all polls, other bits are just the natural churn you get in all directions between parties. To put it in context, Labour have lost 22% of their vote since the last election, which would make a nice headline of “Labour lost one in five of their voters!” if one wanted to spin a poll badly for Labour. The more salient facts are that the Tories have gone from 37% at the last election to 30% in this poll, Labour have gone from 30% to 39%. The underlying churn and back and forth between parties is good for understanding what has driven this but is bad for creating non-misleading headlines! There is churn in all elections, even a party on a roll will lose some of its previous supporters, the key is gaining more than you lose.”

    Much of your critique of the Labour position is correct – there are certainly weaknesses around economic credibility and leadership.

    However IMO historical analysis only takes us so far. We live in a different set of political circumstances to either the 80s or the 90s.

    I think the next election likely comes down to two questions:

    Will the Lib Dem to Labour switchers stick with Labour?
    Will the Con to UKIP switchers stick with UKIP?

    If both of these are yes Labour will win a majority. If both one is a yes and one is a no Labour would likely be the largest party in a hung parliament with both parties getting a similar share of the vote. If both are no then the Conservatives may win a majority and will certainly be the largest party in parliament.

    Personally I think the Lib Dem switchers are likely to stay but the UKIP switchers aren’t.

    One final thing to recognise in this analysis is that any unwinding of this switching will not be 1:1. For example – as the Ashcroft research shows there is LD to Tory switching. In addition if UKIP did not exist a quarter of their voters would likely not vote and the remainder would split maybe 75:15:10 Conservative:Labour:Other. I.e. It is wrong to look at a poll that is (e.g. Ashcroft) Labour 39 Con 30 UKIP 16 LD 8 and assume, as Dan Hodges for example has done that a GE result of UKIP 6 LD 15 would mean Labour 32 Con 40.

    One minor quibble Atul – the Conservatives got 37% not 36% last time. Opinion polls are done on a GB not UK basis (i.e. exclude Northern Ireland).

    Overall I find Atul’s analysis as simplistic as the so called ‘Milibelievers’. Yes Labour have real weaknesses but so do the Conservatives. Labour lead on shares my values, would improve my family’s standard of living and public services. The Conservatives didn’t win a majority because too many voters felt they were out of touch, only interested in the rich and too posh. Has that changed at all in the last three years? Will it change in the next two?

    A balanced analysis would say the most likely result at the next election is a hung parliament with both Labour and the Conservatives in the 35-40% range. Given the way the electoral system tilts to Labour this makes it very difficult for the Tories to win an outright majority. One of the interesting scenarios would be something like Conservatives 37% Labour 35% Lib Dems 14% resulting in a seat outcome of something like Labour 300 Conservatives 285 LD 35 – 40.

    The one real danger for Labour is that a booming economy leads to a big swing to the Tories. However, there is little to indicate that people will feel a sufficient recovery in their pockets for this to happen.

  18. Neil Foster says:

    Atul writes:

    ‘In polling for Uncut by YouGov in early September, just over 1 in 4 (26%) of Labour’s 2010 voters said they did not intend to vote for the party at the next election. There may have been some minor movement in the attrition rate since Autumn, but given the broad similarity in the polls between then and now, it is unlikely to have changed significantly.’

    That’s not the case. We can look at the most recent YouGov poll in December to find that Labour has lost 10% of its 2010 vote – not the 26% from September. This is a significant improvement and probably reflects Ed Miliband’s strong party conference, cost of living policies.

    The poll shows that while Labour has lost 10% of those who voted Labour in 2010 vote, the Tories have lost 21% of their vote and the Lib Dems have lost a staggering 63%. Of the lost Lib Dem vote, 12% of it has gone to the Conservatives but nearly 3 times as much (35%) has since gone to Labour.

    I can see why the old pre-conference data from September was used rather than more recent findings – current polls don’t fit Labour Uncut’s editorial/political narrative!

  19. Robert says:

    Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the 1980s and 1990s. I agree that Labour is unlikely to get a majority in 2015 but there are some grounds for optimism. Labour has avoided the civil war and extremism that followed Labour losing power in 1979, while the division of the centre-left that followed the formation of the SDP has finally been ended. We should also remember that the Tory Party has failed to get 40% of the vote at the last four General Elections and the voting system still favours the Labour Party, which will face a split right-wing vote.

    To sum up, a Tory majority in 2015 is verging on impossible.

  20. John says:

    Its the economy that will be Labours undoing. It always does #SaveEdBalls

  21. john reid says:

    david holland, although falkirk,isjust one point and Spending what we didn’t have in 2008-2009 is another, and our failure to distance themselves from that, they are two issues where we haven’t been right wing enough.

  22. uglyfatbloke says:

    The position is actually worse than the chart would suggest. As Robert points out, the electoral system favours Labour, but that cannot be relied upon in the future, or at least not everywhere. Mid -term of their second government, the gnats still have a healthy lead over Labour across Scotland and are very likely to be the beneficiary of a system that has, for decades, given Labour 80% or more of Scottish seats for 40% of the vote. On 30% of the vote (and it may be less, especially of it looks like the tories might win the GE) Labour could well be reduced to less than 20 MPs from Scotland.
    Additionally the Scottish glib-dumbs are looking at a near whitewash across Scotland (they’ll hold Orkney and Shetland if Carmichael does not quit politics, but I would n’t put money on it if he does) so we could well see the gnats gain 20 or 30 seats….possibly more. How would 30 or more gnat MPS affect Westminster arithmetic?
    On he plus side, Ed knows that the gnats will never go into coalition with the tories, but who’s to say they would n’t agree to confidence and supply in exchange for Full Fiscal Autonomy? OTH a minority tory government (without such an agreement) would face a lot of problems if the gnats became the 3rd party at Westminster. With 30+ gnats and 20 or so glib-dumbs (let’s be generous) it would be extremely difficult to dominate commons committees etc.
    There is a remedy to the Scottish situation. If Labour commits to home rule (as was the case until 1945) with FFA the gnats will be totally scuppered. Alternatively we could have democratic reform and there would never be a majority tory government again – but there would never be a majority Labour government again either.

  23. BenM says:

    The Tories won’t poll as high as May 2010. There really is a crisis in that Party.

    Labour will poll higher than May 2010.

    So first off a Tory majority government is impossible.

    The first couple of polls in 2014 show no shift to the Tories whatsoever, they are literally flatlining. But in the low 30s which is a losing position.

    The economic situation won’t help the Tories either. The general feeling out there is that this isn’t a true recovery – and it isn’t. The Tories used up their political capital on the economy through 3 years of self inflicted stagnation – including a double dip recession.

    It’ll only take a sagging of economic growth to torpedo unjustified Tory claims of economic competence. And I think this will happen by the end of 2014. Just in time to torpedo Tory election chances.

  24. Robert says:

    John Reid, spending money the country did not have might be a valid criticism before 2007 but not in 2008-9. The economic stimulus prevented an economic catastrophe, although one of the consequences is that there will not be much money for governments to spend for the next decade or so.

  25. El Sid says:

    A few things to add :

    I’m not sure about the whole concept of “base votes” given the natural turnover – and as a floating voter the whole concept of a 35% strategy disgusts me, it suggests a party that doesn’t give a toss about 65% of the population. Miliband is not so much One Nation as Third of a Nation.

    I wouldn’t put so much weight on the history, particularly positing a return to the LibDems, given the unusual circumstances of them being in government. They will no doubt recover some lost votes, but they are no longer a protest vote – that role will fall to UKIP (and to a lesser extent Labour) in the GE. In particular one suspects that the large number of public sector workers who have switched mid-term to Labour will probably stay there out of self-interest rather than political principle.

    You also can’t assume that national figures will translate to the constituency level – LibDem MPs will benefit from a personal incumbency effect, and Ashcroft’s polling suggests that Labour is doing much better in the marginals than the national figures suggest.

  26. Tafia says:

    Labour is not losing the argument – it is avoiding listening to the people and doing what they want. They will be bigger than the tories at the next election even if their vote base falls and really that’s all they will care about. The fact that more people can’t be arsed to vote than vote for either of the two main parties will be largely ignored. After all, it’s seats in Parliament that count.

    This is why people are thoroughly pissed of with politicians and regard them as greed self serving scum on a good day and pure filth on a bad one.

    I can’t stand UKIP but I am glad they are here and glad they are continuing to grow – the others will have to up there game, listen to the people and actually do what the people want as opposed to what they want and become a a lot more humble and stop thinking they are important or UKIP will just get bigger. And bigger, And bigger.

  27. james says:

    People are forgetting one thing – just because `the middle is being squeezed` it doesn’t mean that swing voters feel that Labour would EFFECTIVELY make their lives better nor does it mean they think their lives over the past few years would have been made better if Labour were in power – in fact, they might even think that they’d have been made worse.

    For example, Labour haven’t factored in the raising of tax thresholds for the majority of working people who (barring education and stuff for kids) is probably the greatest long-term driver of greater equality for a generation. Everyone knows it was beyond Labour’s comprehension to even think about that.

    The truth is that Miliband is a Scandinavian style Social Democrat without the balls to say what that system requires to make it work fairly – higher taxes, tax transparency for all, welfare and public sector reform that would make Unite squeal. Most people get the gist of that – thus will either vote for one of the other parties or stay at home.

  28. Julian Gibb says:

    The article is a pretty accurate assessment in my opinion. I think Ed Ball is a major liability and will turn off many floating voters.

    The problem with a convergance strategy (accepting all the governments policies e.g. cap on social spending) is that people see no reason to change the current government.

    I also think many “UKIP” voters will switch back to the Tories at the GE having helped UKIP to achieve a great success in the Euro elections.
    Why – because the Tories have promised a referendum on Europe and that will be a major attraction to those who defected to UKIP.

    I think it will be a hung parliament with the Tories holding the most seats. The LibDems will be down to 24-30 seats but enough to form an alliance.

    Labour will dive like a kamikaze pilot in the last 6months.

    I do not want a Tory or Tory/LibDem alliance but I’m a realist. We have a soft lead – face it!

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