Labour’s kidding itself about this campaign. The Tories are winning the strategic battles

by Atul Hatwal

Labour chiefs are happy with progress in the campaign so far. Most activists are upbeat. Even PLP pessimists have been given to moments of optimism.

But for all the pleasant mood music – from the poll averages which suggest Ed Miliband is within touching distance of victory to the parliamentary number-crunching which seems to offer manifold routes into Number 10 – Labour’s campaign strategists have misread their three biggest strategic challenges: how to deal with the Tories’ SNP scare, which voters to target with the ground operation and what retail offer to make.

Over the next fortnight, the impact of these mistakes will become clearer.

Most immediately, Labour has utterly failed to understand the Tories’ intent with their scaremongering over SNP support for a Labour government.

The view of Labour staffers has been that the Tories are principally trying to frighten Ukip voters back into the Tory fold. But that for every vote the Tories get back on their right flank the more they accentuate their negatives as the nasty party with wavering voters.

The Labour analysis is correct about appealing to kippers but wrong about the impact on swing voters, specifically English swing voters.

Labour’s more frantic recent statements, denouncing the Tory attacks as “smears” – a sure sign that a political party is becoming panicked and does not have a line to take – suggest that the impact of what’s happening has started to dawn on party strategists.

The Tories’ objective is to fuse the SNP and Labour in English voters’ minds.

This vision of McLabour as an unabashed, economically left-wing party that will prioritize Scotland’s interests over England not only scares ex-Tory Ukip voters into switching back, it resonates with right leaning and centrist Lib Dems not to mention the quarter of 2010 Labour voters who have since abandoned the party.

These are voters who remain suspicious of the Labour’s plans for the economy and of Ed Miliband personally. They might not ultimately vote Tory but they’ll think twice about voting McLabour.

This is the priority for the Tories: not so much attracting this support themselves, but depriving Labour of these votes.

Labour has been slow to pick up on this in part because of its second big strategic mistake: the targeting of its ground game.

While the party almost certainly has more bodies knocking doors and posting leaflets than the Tories, it’s largely concentrating on its core vote: people who are either known to the local party as having voted Labour at some point over the last parliament or are likely to vote Labour based on their demographic profile.

Most marginals have not completed anything like a robust full canvass of the constituency so the armies of door-knockers are not focusing on pre-identified prospects, but trying to drum up new pledges by sweeping areas where Labour voters traditionally live.

Intrinsic to this distribution of canvassing resource has been a withdrawal from more middle class neighbourhoods.

I’ve now spoken to Labour campaigners in a dozen must-win marginals and only in one is a systematic attempt underway to target Tory and Lib Dem switchers outside of the heartland Labour wards.

This focus on the core has meant most Labour canvassers are simply not talking to the voters currently being persuaded by the Tories’ SNP campaign, many of whom backed Labour in 1997, 2001 and 2005 when the party last won these English marginals.

Yet even if some at the top of the party are belatedly realising the danger of the Tory attacks, they still harbour a residual hope: that Labour’s superior numbers on the doorstep can maximize turnout of the base and so compensate for the absence of switchers.

The problem is that the Tories are also working to turn out their base – which in a two-way marginal will be similar to Labour’s – as well squeezing the sizeable and soft Ukip vote.

A decent turnout of the Tory base plus Ukip squeezed down to single digits will almost always beat Labour’s core vote.

This is because, even though Labour’s core vote will have been boosted since the last election by left leaning Lib Dems, Labour’s loss of a quarter of its 2010 vote means that the net gain in a typical constituency is unlikely to be enough without Tory switchers or inroads into the centrist and right-leaning Lib Dem vote.

The Tories task in turning out their vote and balancing Labour’s personnel advantage is helped by the third decisive factor in this campaign: their retail offer.

The Tory proposals on inheritance tax and right to buy speak to their ideological base as well as providing sufficient, direct personal benefit to motivate voters from across the spectrum to turn out and vote Conservative.

Right to buy in particular is so attractive to tenants in social housing, the financial incentive so great, that Labour now runs the real risk of disproportionately boosting the Tory vote if canvassers continue to blitz social housing developments.

In contrast, Labour has little of direct comparable benefit to offer its support.

There is the fear of the Tories and what they will do if they get in again – always a powerful motivator – but where is Labour’s counter-offer to right to buy for voters living in social housing? Or the Labour alternative to inheritance tax cuts for parents who want to leave what they’ve earned to their children?

It’s not that these policies are without flaw, but they offer a tangible personal benefit to the majority of voters in a way that extra nurses for the NHS, banning non-doms or reducing tuition fees for students, do not.

The Tories campaign has been lacking in many ways. The ludicrous uncosted spending commitments, the absence of hope or humanity and the shackled, bloodless performance of David Cameron have all been risible.

But on the challenges that will define this contest – the SNP scare, the ground game gamble and the retail offer – Labour’s campaign bosses have repeatedly made the wrong call.

The polls haven’t broken yet. It takes time for the public to engage and the electoral contours of this campaign – shaped only last week – to become politically evident.

But two weeks from now, the results will be plain for all to see.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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16 Responses to “Labour’s kidding itself about this campaign. The Tories are winning the strategic battles”

  1. swatantra says:

    Great to see one commentator at least, Atul, take a more realistic view at the scene, and not through rose tinted glasses as Ed’s advisors seem to be doing. I’ve got an unnervinga feeling of deja vu 1992, when we were lulled into a false sense of security by Kinnock. The Tories are past master in dirty fighting. We still haven’t got their killer stroke, their Double Whammy yet.
    Labour has to grasp this SNP Question, which is in fact the West Lothian Question restated. Labour must not form a Coailition under any circumstances, with what is after all just a Regional Party; if the SNP want to back a minority Labour Govt they are free to do so. Secondly, Labour must say that no Scottish MPs will be allowed to vote on English Legislation, and that may go for NI MPs too, and possibly Welsh MPs.
    And 3rdly, if Labour Lose the Election then EdM must resign as of.

  2. Tafia says:

    They are neck-and-neck with one of the most unpopular Tory governments ever and facing annihalation in Scotland. They are spending more on this campaign than the tories are on theirs. Hardly something to be upbeat about – quite the opposite, a bit of deep navel=gazing is required then an awful lot of strategists need putting to the sword.

  3. Ryland says:

    The fear of a Lab Govnt supported by the SNP is certainly beginning to hit home in my local Constituency -a safe Labour seat with a majority of 11000 it has been raised twice this week on the door step, with one couple saying they are not voting Labour because of it. I am confident that the Lab majority here will be up in the region of 13 000, but …… Worrying times!

  4. Ex labour says:

    Absolutely 100% correct in my view. There is also one other factor not mentioned. Think back to the Scottish Referendum, and all the hype approaching the vote was its a neck – a – neck race and anyone can win. The factor that everyone missed was the “silent minority” and a sizeable one at that. Turkeys do not vote for christmas so there will be a sizable proportion of those “don’t knows” who will swing to the Tories as their messages resonate.

    As you point out the foaming mouth response on the SNP question from Labour politicians, the Guardianista’s and BBC completely miss the point of the Tory strategy. Its designed for soft Kipper’s, English EVEL supporters from left and right and a general economic message to the English voters on Scottish profligacy.

    The Tories have been clever with the right to buy, even if the stuff on housing association properties is nonesense. It potentially nullifies some of the impact of the mansion tax in London. If you are a council tenant sitting in a two bed London flat in zone 1 or 2 it could be worth as a ex-council property £300K (ish give or take). If you are able to buy this at a fraction of its market value why would you not do it ? You can flip immediately and walk away alot richer.

  5. Jonathan Allan says:

    Hatwal is nothing more than a doom monger. The Private Fraser of Labour politics. He’s “spoken to activists in 12 constituencies” Wow. Well I’ve been out on the doorstep in 2 marginals. In rain hail and shine pounding the pavements canvassing voters and his view couldn’t be further from the truth. We are targeting Con/Dem voters as well as hard-core Labour voters we have to to win the seat it stands to reason.

    So instead of constantly criticising I would like Mr Hatwal to give credit where it’s due once in a while.

  6. 07052015 says:

    Ashdowns attack on the tories 60 bastards ,their ukip sympathisers within ,should firm up any libdems worried about the snp .Labour needs to find its own version of this line without getting into boring stuff about how governments actually govern and the limits on what opposition can achieve.

    The right to buy housing association stuff has bombed and labours private sector rent controls is a decent counter.Inheritance tax thresholds up to £one million isnt an issue when you have to sell your mums house to pay for her care.The mooted merger of personal care into the nhs has unfortunately disappeared even as an aspiration.

    Aspirational targetted politics will come back strongly in the next parliament if economic growth continues but with limited doorstep resources I can understand the choices organisers make to target the base.

  7. Refitman says:

    Right to buy in particular is so attractive to tenants in social housing, the financial incentive so great, that Labour now runs the real risk of disproportionately boosting the Tory vote if canvassers continue to blitz social housing developments.

    Have you actually read any of the polling on RTB? Yougov polling a few days ago had 52% opposed to the policy, compared to 39% in favour.

  8. Merseymike says:

    You still haven’t got it.

    If the electorate agree with Tory ideas that is who they will vote for. It is not for Labour to forget all principle and say thins we do not believe. There is absolutely no way we should support RTB for housing associations because it is simply wrong not to mention more costly given the outcome of higher housing benefit claims

    I really wish you would grasp that you are not Labour and probably never have been. If Ed made any mistakes it’s not dumping the Blairite interlopers though he has cleverly placed Murphy in a position where he has destroyed his own career

  9. Michael Worcester says:

    I think a bigger mistake is the hand wringing over the migrants drowned in the Med on the same week as Muslims were throwing Christians overboard because they would not stop praying to Jesus and convert to Islam. It suggests a desire to open the door to asylum seekers like Jihadi Johns family. I find this talk genuinely frightening

  10. swatantra says:

    The most dangerous woman in Britain is no longer Shami Chakrabati (of Human Rights Watch) but Nicola Sturgeon. She could well unintentionally, scupper Labours chances of forming a Minority Govt.

  11. Atul clearly going for Dan Hodge’s crown here…

    Tafia’s much more spot on here. The Conservitive campaign has been a disaster, Cameron has shown that he is utterly unfit for office and today we saw a group of young people (please look at the Radio 1 Newsbeat Q & A – sheer comedy gold) utterly take apart the PM. Yet Labour are only level pegging with this shower.

    Yep, Milliband has had a decient campaign, but the SNP have out Laboured Labour in this campaign. And will do so again next year. He should have been bolder, been more overtly left wing. Not appointed Ed Balls as shadow chancellor and promoted policies like the scrapping of Non Doms and the bedroom tax much much earlier…

  12. Danny says:

    Atul can barely hide his rage that Labour just might be the biggest party in a fortnight’s time.

    To be fair, I’d be the same. If an event looked possible (probable?) that meant almost everything you’d written, surmised and speculated in the last few years would be rendered nonsensical, I’d be pretty miffed as well.

    “Or the Labour alternative to inheritance tax cuts for parents who want to leave what they’ve earned to their children?”

    Both my grandparents were able to leave everything they earned to their children. My old man will be free to leave everything he has earned to whoever he wishes. Me and my wife will almost certainly be able to leave everything we earn to whoever we wish.

    The alternative is the status quo. That being a single individual will be able to leave an estate worth ONE THIRD OF A MILLION pounds without paying anything to the taxman and a couple, or a widowed individual will be able to leave an estate worth TWO THIRDS OF MILLION pounds without paying anything to the taxman.

    For most people, inheritance tax is a non-issue. I can understand why something with your agenda would want to use something so insignificant to beat Labour over the head with, but you’re getting desperate.

  13. John P Reid says:

    ,reset amike,saying things we don’t believe,you do realize selling council homes was originally a labour idea in the 1959 manifesto, and also in the 1974 manifesto, that we actually win, until a tiny Abenaki managed to. Over turn our support for the policy at 1976 conference

    Who says what labour stand for, labour was a socially Conservative party pre 1974′ in fact Shirley Williams, Callaghan and a young David Blunkett,we’re all skeptical of the permissive society,

    If it’s better to lose,as we feel that the electorate are wrong in policies, that are passed their sell by date, but we should stick to those policies, and then when we lose, we can say it’s a moral victory,
    Lethal was good enough for Antony Benn saying 1983 was a moral victory, but he wasn’t the one living homeless in cardboard city, or not getting the anHS operation he wanted when the Tories destroyed the NHS.

  14. John P Ried says:

    If the Tories get too far ahead, their Ex voters who were going to vote Ukip, then started panicking at the thought of a labour gov’t, and enter back to the Tories last month, again see that the Tories may win, and suddenly go back to Ukip, actually I feel the Tories will still win, and Ukip, will do fairly well too.

  15. Tafia says:

    Have you actually read any of the polling on RTB? Yougov polling a few days ago had 52% opposed to the policy, compared to 39% in favour.

    39% is higher than the percentage of voters that intend to vote Labour or Tory.

  16. uglyfatbloke says:

    Danny’s right about inheritance tax. Hardly anyone has an estate with a net worth of more than £333,333 and those who do should be willing to pay a bit of tax on the excess.

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