The Left doesn’t understand the difference between ‘the people’ and ‘the voters’

by Kevin Meagher

It doesn’t matter how many young people turn up to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak from the top of a fire engine. Or how many ‘likes’ his Facebook page gets. Or how many Macbook revolutionaries follow Russell Brand’s inane ramblings on YouTube. All that matters in the political system we have is winning over a majority of voters. Without accepting this immutable law of electoral politics, all the hopes, aspirations and polemics of activists’ are instantly rendered meaningless.

The Left disagrees. Speaking at a rally for Jeremy Corbyn recently, the musician, Brian Eno, loftily proclaimed that “electability is not the most important thing” for the Labour party, to enthusiastic cheers from the adoring crowd. When it boils down to appealing to the maximum number of voters or Not Selling Out, then it’s a no-brainer. To many on the Left, ideological correctness is more important than political pragmatism. Instead, “changing the conversation” (another Eno-ism) outweighs the importance of actually winning the vote.

The fundamental mistake that Corbyn and his enraptured supporters make is confusing ‘The People’ with ‘The Electorate’.

‘The People’ include the downtrodden masses that don’t vote and aren’t, all too often, even registered to do so. The Left, nobly, wants to help them the most. If they were one and the same as ‘The Voters’ then the likelihood of changing the conversation in British politics – would be much greater than it is. But they’re not the same, so the chances are nil.

Fully a third of people didn’t bother to cast their vote in May’s general election, yet at 66 per cent, turnout was actually the highest since Labour’s 1997 landslide. By failing to stake their democratic claim, as the wealthy surely do, the poor, the dispossessed and the beanbag radicals of the Left keep the dial fixed onto a status quo that simply ignores their issues of concern.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission estimates there are at least six million adults missing from the electoral register. It’s a situation that’s likely to get steadily worse with the recent switch to individual registration, rather than the old system where households could be signed-up en masse.  Moreover, while 94 per cent of those aged over 65 are registered to vote, just 56 per cent of 19-24 year-olds are.

So, bluntly speaking, The People don’t matter (the young, least of all); it’s The Voters that the politicians and parties need to court in order to win power. They live in dozens of marginal seats across the country and will make-up the electoral battleground of the next election, as they do all elections. Any movement, of even a few thousand of them, has profound implications for the result. They want to be reassured that their mortgages, savings, two cars and foreign holidays won’t be put in jeopardy. Addressing their concerns becomes all that matters.

Is this an ideal arrangement? No, but the realpolitik of Labour’s moderates is preferable to the fantasypolitik of the Left. The public isn’t interested in a workers’ revolution or the overthrow of capitalism. They’re not even motivated to vote by the awfulness of the bedroom tax or the government’s other vindictive benefit sanctions. How do we know? Well, if a moderately left-wing Labour party promising the repeal of the bedroom tax couldn’t win in May, why would a much more left-wing Corbyn-led party?

For Labour’s pragmatic moderates – trying to deal with the hindrance of sub-optimal voter turnout – there is little choice other than to address the concerns of Middle England head-on. It isn’t ideal, but it’s the essential reality of our system. You cannot change anything for people lower down the ladder until you’ve assuaged those further up it. The ones that actually bother voting.

And you can’t blame middle class voters for going to the polls to defend their self-interest. Why aren’t the poor doing the same? After all, there’s a lot more of them. A reserve army that, if properly motivated, would alter the entire terms of British politics.

This, then, is the prize. So why aren’t all those pepped-up young activists, hanging on Jeremy Corbyn’s every word, straight off to their nearest housing estate to start signing-up the millions of dispossessed adults who are entitled to vote but who don’t and would never think of doing so. That’s how you change the world; when you can confidently treat ‘the people’ and ‘the voters’ interchangeably. Until that day come – if it ever does – left-wing politics will be little more than a juvenile indulgence.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

Tags: , , , , ,

36 Responses to “The Left doesn’t understand the difference between ‘the people’ and ‘the voters’”

  1. madasafish says:

    This, then, is the prize. So why aren’t all those pepped-up young activists, hanging on Jeremy Corbyn’s every word, straight off to their nearest housing estate to start signing-up the millions of dispossessed adults..”

    Thta would require long hours of persuasion and hard work. Protests are easier and more fun.

  2. Tafia says:

    To understand the total idiocy and patheticness of modern Labour you only have to look at the farce of Corbyn suggesting women only carriages on tube trains and the other three promptly jumping down his neck.

    The other three somehow conveniently forgetting that in the Labour fiefdom of Wales, the Labour government there positively drools over women only taxis driven by female taxi drivers, and they are common all over Greater Manchester and heavily praised by Labour councillors and Labour MPs.

    So somehow a female carriage on a train or tube is outrageous, but taxi firms refusing to employ male drivers and refusing to pick up male passengers is bloody marvellous.

    What a bunch of clueless pricks. Obviously intent on making yourselves look a laughing stock.

  3. “This, then, is the prize. So why aren’t all those pepped-up young activists, hanging on Jeremy Corbyn’s every word, straight off to their nearest housing estate to start signing-up the millions of dispossessed adults..”

    Simply because, so far, they have been disenenthused and turned off all politics and politicians, and political parties for obvious reasons. Rightly or wrongly they feel “we are all the same”. Jeremy hasn’t been announced as the winner yet to its a little early to expect the signing up campaign to start just yet.

    But, as Kevin correctly argues, it will have to if we are going to win in 2020. We need to persuade everyone who’s eligible to enroll and we need to ensure everyone who’s eligable to turn out on the day too.

    The arithmetic isn’t that daunting. Even without signing up anyone, we just need to persuade 1 in 5 of those who didn’t vote in May, and we’d have a landslide majority.

    Surely that’s a better approach than offering a pale imitation of Tory policies?

  4. “So, bluntly speaking, The People don’t matter (the young, least of all)…”

    This would be an outrageous comment even on a Tory website. That it’s on a Labour website, and written by the editor too, is beyond belief.

    There are many young people who aren’t old enough to vote. So if they don’t vote, because they can’t, then they “don’t matter”?

    Of course that’s not only morally reprehensible. It’s practically reprehensible too. Many young people think that ALL we are interested in getting their vote. Once we have it that’s them back in their box for the next few years until we need them again. So who can blame them if they turn around and say “so stuff you!”.

  5. Janice says:

    yes, all true, but “the corbyn left” don’t want to hear. they believe their man can run the labour party machine better than those currently in charge, and they are going to do it.

    yesterday I did wonder if we might be watching history repeat itself as farce as hysterical corbyn supporters got so upset over anyone arguing against his “consultation” on women only carriages.

    as the reality of what is involved in running a political party and trying to win votes is slowly revealed to them many will retreat back into oppositionalism and embrace the paranoia that comes with believing the system is against them. after all running things is hard work, and I very much doubt that corbyn can sustain the level of activity required for any length of time. the behaviour of his supporters suggests he is far too sensitive to be a good party leader, he will make miliband look competent, as he displays miliband’s worst traits only amplified many times over.

    so the question is how the realists get back control of the party before it crashes, though it may turn out to be easier than you think.

  6. swatantra says:

    I couldn’t agree more ‘The Left’ basically live in cloud cuckoo land most of the time; they keep going on about the weak and the vulnerable and the desparate, but they simply haven’t got a clue what its all about. The Left ‘care ‘ but let me tell you the weak desparate and vulnerable don’t give a **** or the time of day to the Left.
    One of these days they are going to face reality, that its a pretty harsh world out there and there are a lot of nasty people all too keen to take advantage of the Left’s namby pamby andy pandy gullibility. Thank goodness that there are still a few of us real social democrats out there that actually can get things done for the deserving, real pragmatists instead of the Left arty-farties pouncing around. There I couldn’t have put it more succinctly. A recent example might be the collapse of Kids Company which if run properly would not have collapsed.

  7. swatantra says:

    … the other thing is that we have a very ignorant lot of voters out there, ignorant of politics and citizenship and responsibility to the state and nation. they see no duty to the state or nation. But the people and voters are the same; its just that 1 in 3 of the people couldn’t care a fig about voting; they seem to have opted out of life altogether, and are in it for themselves. So I would disagree with Meagher that there is a difference between the people/ the masses/the mob and voters. They are the same.

  8. Richard says:

    Your are of course correct, voters not people matter in elections, though you must be incorrect in saying the left disagree as I am from the left and i agree.
    Your data that six million are not registered to vote and 34% of those registered failed to turn out leads you to the conclusion to forget them, all we need to worry about is the tory swing voters in marginals as the non voters and non registered, it appears to be assumed, will not change. Therefore, we need policies and communications that appeal to those who currently vote in order to win, power (pragmatism) rather than principles I could add, but I won’t put words in your mouth.
    Your evidence that enough non voters can’t be inspired to vote in marginals to swing an election, well they didn’t turn out to vote for Millibard and he was against the bedroom tax.
    I know I have been a touch sarcastic but I hope I have summed up the essence of your argument fairly.
    Are you aware that the highest tunnout in any election was the post war election. The Conservatives had Churchill as leader and Labour, who were not expected to win, had a raft of ‘socialist’ policies that in time altered the nature of Britain.
    We can find many explanations to this and, naturally enough, the one we prefer would, like as not, reflect our worldview, here’s mine.
    Working class people are the bulk of those not registered and not turning out, you are correct in that, but for what would they turnout?
    Us engaged in politics can see the differences in policies and to us they matter, but they really are marginal differences to the bulk of alienated working people who have been marginalised by successive governments. But when real policies that would change lives were offered in 1945 look what actually happened.
    Of course we had 1983 (Falklands and SDP) and the conclusion that the left can’t win and we have the tory press and every other obstacle that make this hard. So what. I feel that principles matter and the principle is that the Labour Party was founded to help change the lives of the people you would choose to ignore. This is an important principle and we need to find a way to do that and communicate it to inspire the kind of turnout that the 1945 labour party did. Don’t say it is impossible, find a way to make it happen.

  9. Betrayed says:

    What are these young activists going to say to the “dispossessed”?

    “We are fully in agreement with EU rules on Freedom of Establishment that require our councils to offer contracts to EU-wide companies, so we can’t really guarantee that if jobs are created in your city you will be at the front of the queue?”

    “And we know that you may well achieve the Utopian reward of a job sweeping up the arisings around a machine operated by those oh-so wonderfully-trained Polish engineers, and we know that the job will only pay a minimum wage (introduced by Labour and bailed out by those older British tax payers) – and the job will probably be on a Short Term Contract basis, and we know that there are a thousand migrant workers outside the factory gate who are only too willing to work double the hours in whatever conditions, but well…?”

    “Also, we are committed to a multi-cultural society that will eventually see your country and culture submerged, your cities overcrowded, environment degraded, and your identity destroyed, we are, in fact, looking forward to your demise and eventual extinction?”

    Are these the kind of things our young activists will tell our young people?

    And what is this obsession with money – the older generation are not turning their backs on Labour because the party threatens their hard worked for wealth, it is because they have seen a party that has signed up to a Global agenda and are quite willing to sacrifice their own people to follow the Blair-like piper; wars, the loathsome EU with its Lisbon Treaty, Rotherham.

    To sum up – Labour have nothing to offer the young and the old are disgusted and angry. People like Mr Meagher have absolutely no idea how close Labour are to complete collapse; irrespective of which of the four clowns becomes leader.

    The people who support Corbyn are the university and public sector crowd – and they dwell in their own rarefied bubble – a bit like any of these deluded Labour cheerleading blogs.

  10. James says:

    The problem with adding people to the register then chasing them for votes is that unless they believe you can win they won’t vote.

    I used to know a guy who was in rented accommodation low level job who’d vote tory or didn’t vote except when it was thought Labour could win.

  11. skarp says:

    I understand perfectly well the difference between the people and the “voters” and have done for a long time. Do you realise that by pitching to the “voters” and not the people you are fundamentally undermining our democracy (such as it is). The sight of new labour crowing over its “victory” in 2005 with just 35% of the vote was puke inducing and of course any government so elected feels it has no choice but to pander to it’s middle class, middle England conservative-with-a-small ‘c’ ‘supporters, who are only looking for the chance to vote Tory again. Labour is either a mass movement or it’s nothing, you will lead it to being nothing.

  12. Feodor says:

    “A recent example might be the collapse of Kids Company which if run properly would not have collapsed.”

    Under Mr Meagher and others’ logic it’s doubtful whether it would have been set-up in the first place. Where’re the votes in it? Of course, that it was set-up perhaps suggests that not even a New Labour world operates quite according to Meagher’s writ.

    Ridicule the idea of ‘changing the conversation’ if you want. But please, ask yourself this, why did Heath rescue British Leyland in 1975 and why would no Conservative government do the same today?

    Could it have been that there was a different political climate then, more conducive to Labour values, which would never have prevailed if the Labour attitude of the day had taken such a craven attitude to wealth and power as many of its current grandees now do?

  13. skarp is right, the others are obviously Thatchers children with a grocer shop mentality..
    democracy is constantly being undermined…read Al Gore!

  14. BarryE says:

    Here in Islington, in the heart of Corbynshire, we have social housing estates voting Labour with higher election turnouts than the national average.

    How have we done it? By continuously campaigning, knocking on doors and talking to people. It is those places where the local Labour elite say “they all vote for us around here, no need to canvass”.

    just ask the Scots how that turns out.

    P.S. The long-term solution is Electoral Reform no make every vote count. It was in the 1997 Manifesto.

  15. Madasafish says:

    This article from political betting just shows how out of touch Corbynistas are with normal people:

    And for anyone who thinks the Labour Party’s voters are representative of “the average” “Labour’ selectorate section.

    And then you wonder why no-one in safe Labour constituencies can be bothered to vote? You’re too left wing, too male and political geeks…

  16. Twinkle says:

    Read Labour’s own think tank analysis to the next election “The mountain to climb” at

    This points out “4 out of 5 of the extra (net) votes Labour will need to gain in English and Welsh marginals will have to come direct from Conservative voters”

    Anyone care to guess how many Conservatives be so attracted by Corbyn policies that they vote Labour?
    Will the Corbyn concept of leaving NATO and embracing HAMAS impress Conservative voters?
    Will the Corbyn policy of Peoples QE (money printing by another name) be attractive to the Tory mind.

    Meetings only attract believers. Non-believers don’t turn up.
    Remember this: Only 10% of the voting public think politicians do there best for the country and belief in politicians and political parties is at an all time low – down at Estate Agent levels.

    In effect the ‘Hallelujah Brother’ approach by Corbyn is in lead balloon territory with the people that matter most – those who can be bothered to vote.

  17. john P Reid says:

    tafia,taxis are slightly different, as its on your own, and minicabs have seen many rapes where its being able to take somoene out of their way, the train idea, is also silly because, its dealing with assaults by men towards women, where women may want to bring their children on the train and taking a taxi is a pesronal choice

  18. paul barker says:

    True but misses the point. Labour is now broadly divided into 2 tribes that want different things, that ask different questions as well as giving different answers. Its like trying to have a debate where half the audience only speak German & the other half only French. Each side shouts more loudly but to no avail.
    The only longterm solution is to have 2 parties.

  19. Madasafish says:


    You could be speaking in Mandarin for all they will listen..

  20. Richard says:

    You might be right Paul, two parties the only answer. Trouble is the the group who keep the party structures, organisation, name and the trade unions is the one with the most chance of winning an election, ask the SDP, hence the perpetual battle for the party. This is why both wings claim historic legitimacy to the party and both sides have a legitimate argument.
    As in every other instance the outcome will be decided in the battle but at this moment, should Corbyn win, the left have gone further than ever before, I would include Foot in that as Corbyn has greater legitimacy amongst working people with his record in parliament. This I believe is why the right have become so vitriolic and used so many smears and half truths, in the party and the press, all that work down the drain, 20 years work Osborne said in the Telegraph.
    If I wasn’t so worried by what the right will do next I could actually laugh.

  21. philip martin says:

    Wimmin only carriages ? Completely unacceptable in this day and age; it’s sexist.

  22. Diss1Dent says:

    Let the Corbynites do their worst. There are people who still believe that Arthur Scargill led the the miners back to work in 1985 having defeated Thatcher the successful coal strike. Protests get you nowhere, you have to win the hearts and minds of people in their homes. Ed Miliband brought Arnie Graff over to talk about community values. He said that ward meetings were moribund and bored the pants off new members. No doubt the 500,000 new young members will okay an active part in canvassing in local elections next year! What a bunch of clowns, comedians, crackpots, cretins, clots, Charlies and ..,, oh, I’ve run out of words beginning with C.

  23. Tafia says:

    minicabs have seen many rapes
    as have trains

    taking a taxi is a pesronal choice
    As is a train

    where women may want to bring their children on the train
    I know you may find it hard to believe, but they will still be able to and they will be able to take them in women only carriages.

    silly because, its dealing with assaults by men towards women
    Errm yes, I do think that’s the idea – to deal with assaults buy men against women, not so that they can sit together and swap knitting tips or the pros and cons of various brands of tampon.

    You need to talk to ordinary women John. Every single one I have brought it up with thinks it’s a marvellous idea. Two have decided not to vote for Cooper and swithed to Corbyn because of it. (there are now a coup-le of dozen of my members voting Corbyn, one voting Burnham and none for anyone else).

  24. ad says:

    The problem with the Left is that it mistakes being a Tribune of the People, for being a left-wing activist. A bunch of people sit in a room calling themselves the true representatives of the people – unlike all those evil Tories the people actually voted into office.

    They have no idea how the actual People view them, until they stand for election and have to take positions that get them denounced as traitors by the people who stay in the room.

  25. therealguyfaux says:

    Then there is a bit of wisdom that says that “not voting” is itself a vote of sorts– a vote of no confidence in the System, stemming either from antipathy, apathy, flat-out laziness, or despair. Frankly, if you can’t be arsed to vote, then don’t, I say. Who needs people dragooned to the polling stations anyway? Sure– like the prospect of THAT will motivate people to want to participate in the democratic enterprise, right? It will be objected that nobody’s arguing for that, though– not YET, at any rate.

    Do those on the Left understand that those who are too passive to care to vote are probably ALSO too passive to want to really participate in any ideal society the Left will wish to set up?

  26. john P Reid says:

    therealguyFaux, if corbyn wins by the £3 and not the rest,he must realise there are tories for Corbyn voting for him,as they feel he’lll cost labour votes

  27. @Twinkle @madasafish

    “4 out of 5 of the extra (net) votes Labour will need to gain in English and Welsh marginals will have to come direct from Conservative voters”

    And presumably the other one will have to come from the Lib Dems or UKIP? Ergo, we need to be more like the Tories and the Lib Dems ! But maybe not UKIP?

    Of course this argument has several flaws. Probably the contributors to this blog, and I’d include myself, have a good idea where they are on the political spectrum and choose their party allegiance accordingly. So, yes , if everyone thought like me then it would make sense for the Labour Party to be just ever so slightly to the left of the Tories and possibly the Lib Dems too. Lets’s squeeze them right out in the middle! On this theory, I’d either have to waste my vote on some party like the TUSC or vote Labour. Which I probably would, even with Liz as leader.

    But, as anyone who has ever talked to ‘normal’ people knows, they don’t think along these lines. They don’t think in Left/Right terms. They vote for parties who they think have the right level of credibility. The Lib Dems don’t have that much of the political spectrum to themselves. There’s Tories and Labour Party members who agree with them on nearly everything. But when they got their act together in 2010 they did well. When they didn’t in 2015 they did badly. So their success or failure isn’t simply about being in the centre ground politically.

    If we were to chase the popular mood, we’d be anti-EU, anti-immigration, pro-monarchy, pro Nationalisation of the Railways and the RM, pro less taxes on cars and petrol, pro greater social equality, pro the NHS, and anti-austerity economics. In other words it’s quite possible for both parties of the left and the right to put forward a winning electoral program if they have enough enthusiasm and appear genuine and committed about what they say. There’s widespread disillusionment about the main parties which they’ve dismissed as LibLabCon. We want to get that to LibCon only.

    We’ll have that enthusiasm under Jeremy Corbyn. More than enough to win over enough of both the regular voters and the those who didn’t vote at all, and may not even have registered, in May to get a thumping majority in 2020.

  28. Tafia says:

    “4 out of 5 of the extra (net) votes Labour will need to gain in English and Welsh marginals will have to come direct from Conservative voters”

    That is drivel. That is only true if you literally can’t be bothered to persuade the 34% of registered voters (more people than actually voted Labour in total) who didn’t vote to actually do so.

    So rather than chase 34% of voters who don’t vote and convince them of your honesty, you would rather chase 2-3% of tory voters and persuade them you really aren’t the Labour Party.

    A rather pathetic and contemptable position to be in in all honesty, not to mention stunningly defeatist.

  29. Madasafish says:

    You have managed to encapsulate the arrogance and ignorance of Corbynism in one simple post.

  30. Muscleguy says:

    So if the dispossessed, unregistered etc that we in RIC here in Scotland woke up during the indyref are not not woken up in the rest of these septic isles then Labour will never get into government in Westminster. That they can be registered is disproved by the fact we got 97% of eligible persons registered here in Scotland and 84% of them voted in the referendum. Why the rest didn’t is an interesting question, my opinion is because it was the then SNP running the get out the vote campaign and they did not have our canvass returns for the Estates. A mistake we will not make a second time if I have anything to do with it.

    But the point is your fatalism about those did not voters and are not voters is wrong. You just need to offer them decent reasons, something they want to vote for and it is NOT ever closer Triangulation with the Tories. There are reasons why we call you the Red Tories up here. We have seen through that tactic.

    You can ignore my advice because I’m not Labour any more but I offer it nevertheless. But be warned, 16million people did not vote in the last election, the Tories got barely more than 13million votes. If Labour doesn’t go get a significant proportion of that constituency then someone else just might. Through their Scottish Green co-leader I suggested she offer RIC’s expertise to the English Greens. The TUSC might be interested as well. I would be fairly happy to help both. Your choice but do not discount our hard won expertise. The numbers do not lie.

  31. nick says:

    ‘So why aren’t all those pepped-up young activists, hanging on Jeremy Corbyn’s every word, straight off to their nearest housing estate to start signing-up the millions of dispossessed adults who are entitled to vote but who don’t and would never think of doing so.’

    1. Why aren’t you off the the ‘nearest housing estate’ if that’s what you believe would help?
    2. The contempt you have for these people, your nihilism, and the reason why you have little to offer as a political force/ voice, is there in the word ‘never’. What arrogance for you to write off the 43% of DEs who didn’t vote in 2015. Are you a prophet? What possible qualifications do you have for say these people will ‘never’ vote?
    3.In 2005 48% of DEs and 40% of C2s who voted chose Labour… that had sunk to 37% and 30% respectively by 2015. A big drop… We don’t know how many of these went to UKIP or the Tories… but we can surmise that if they chose Labour once they could chose her again.

  32. Andrew Reid says:

    The people are the voters did no one explane this? Perhaps thats why you will be spending ten years in opposition. Perhaps more if the people choose to vote else where or abstain from voting.

  33. @muscleguy

    Yes. Absolutely right. We’ll all be put to the test , no doubt, when the first bye-elections occur under Jeremy’s leadership.

    There’s going to be a big problem though when the Tories remind the electorate of just how many times the word “unelectable” was used against Jeremy and how many Labour bigwigs used it. They’ll want to know how these bigwigs feel at the time. have they changed their mind? If not, how can they ask anyone to vote Labour etc etc?

    So will they publicly retract? Will they give Labour a chance to win? Do they even want Labour to do well under Jeremy Corbyn?

  34. madasafish,

    I might just make the point that “arrogance and ignorance” is more associated with a single sentence assertion, like yours, than a reasoned argument using several paragraphs.

    If you’ve no answer to the points I made, maybe you could answer Muscleguy? We’re both saying pretty much the same thing.

  35. Will Douglas-Mann says:

    Looking at the figure for voter turn out, and considering the larger question of voter apathy, should we not be worrying about the future of Democracy rather than Labours chances at the next election.
    If the voters are told to choose between a narrow range of options they will not consider it to be a real choice.
    Democracy grew in Western Europe and USA through the 19th and 20th Century’s in parallel with the Labour movement and trade unions. As ” labour ” in the wider sense is dissolving as a political force, along with the Unions we can expect democracy to fade as well with the electorate ” guided” by the media to endorse policies dictated by what ever the financial elite claims the markets demand.

Leave a Reply