Is Labour listening to voters enough? Not yet.

by Paul Wheeler

As a party organiser in the 1980’s I was charged with organising ‘Labour Listens’ events. The idea was that Labour MPs and councillors would respectively listen to an audience of voters on what Labour needed to do to win their vote.

It worked up to a point although the average time before one of the politicians broke their silence  was about ten minutes. It was more successful in allowing the then Labour Leader Neil Kinnock a platform to move away from a series of policies that were popular with activists, such as unilateral nuclear disarmament, and rather less so with the average voter. Sadly, it didn’t work for Neil’s bid to be PM, but a willingness to listen to the voters paved the way for our electoral success in 1997

As the full results of this month’s local election become clearer it’s evident that Labour fortunes were distinctly weaker the further you travelled from Central London. It’s not a good result when the Tories lose over 300 council seats and we gain barely 30.

So maybe It’s time for an updated ‘Labour Listens’? If so here’s two issues we can put out there for a wider conversation

David Evans the robust General Secretary is reputed to be a fan of the Values Mode analysis of social groups and voting behaviour. One of the key groups are what might be called’ ‘Prospectors’ those driven by a desire to succeed but also a strong sense of community and family values. Liverpool has a lot of them as do many ethnic groups whose support for Labour has been vital. Many rely on their vehicles to earn an increasingly precarious living as self- employed drivers and tradespeople. The outright hostility of many Labour councils to these elements of the working class through the imposition of driving restrictions and low/no traffic neighbourhoods has alienated many and was certainly a factor in the surprise loss of Tower Hamlets council. Thankfully Andy Burnham as Mayor of Greater Manchester successfully gained a deferral of a low emission zone there until the Government committed to additional funding.

If Labour can be accused of zealotry in its approach to the millions of motorists, it is minor when compared to its current attitude to the vexed issue of women’s rights and representation.

Misogyny runs deep in Labour’s history. You only have to look at the struggles Barbara Castle had in implementing equal pay legislation and the right of mothers to continue to receive family allowance in the 1970’s. As we all know Labour – apart from a few brief interregnums- has never had a women leader (a record also maintained by the equivalent Local Government Labour Group).  And part of the reason for this is everyday sexism.

Rosie Duffield the first ever Labour MP for Canterbury tells an interesting story of attending the 2017 Party Conference after her election. Jeremy Corbyn congratulated Labour on winning Canterbury as did Len McCluskie as Leader of Unite and Iain McNicol as General Secretary. None of them mentioned her name.

In recognition of this and against much opposition the Party introduced All Women Shortlists (AWS) for Parliamentary Selections in the 1990’s resulting in the historic election of over 100 women MPs in 1997.  Subsequently the Party maintained an informal process where constituencies with a sitting women MP maintained an AWS in subsequent selections. Progress was being made towards a PLP with equal numbers of men and women MPs. One of the more surreal aspects of the disastrous 2019 election result is that the NEC seems to have declared, a slightly premature, victory in the parity struggle and declared all selections for the next General Election open.

The result is increasingly evident as the first tranche of Parliamentary selections get underway. Inevitably a free market in selections favours those already in positions of power and influence. Favoured sons, backed by powerful unions and well-connected Shadow Cabinet Members, have already emerged as favourites in constituencies such as Stretford and Urmston and Burnley – seats previously represented by women MPs.  It’s early days in the selection process but these initial contests don’t inspire much confidence in the progress to parity in the PLP being maintained in the future.

If the issue of women’s representation is vexed then the party’s approach to women’s’ rights and the issue of self-identification is positively dysfunctional.

Like most of the voluntary and public sector the Labour Party has adopted wholesale the guidelines from Stonewall on self-identification which diverge considerably from existing equality legislation (introduced incidentally by the last Labour Government) and are now increasingly challenged in public debate.

Sadly, a similar debate is not tolerated within the Labour party where any divergence from the mantra that ‘trans women are women’ is now seen as a disciplinary offence. Genuine concerns about access to women only spaces in prisons and refuges by men self-identifying as women have been swept aside as prejudice and hysteria and in several cases deselection as party offices and councillors. The Corbyn years had many challenges but members were never required to accept wholesale nationalisation as an article of faith.

With honourable exceptions such as Wes Streeting the response from the party leadership to these concerns has ranged from the inarticulate to the offensive (here’s looking at you David Lammy)

Perhaps the reaction is understandable. The debate on women’s rights is fraught with danger for the Labour party.  There are significant differences based on age and class  on how the existing Labour coalition view issues relating to women’s rights and self identification. As the PLP and membership become more skewed to London and other metropolitan cities it is increasingly difficult to articulate genuine concerns on how these policies are viewed by the wider public. For all its faults the 2019 manifesto recognised the need for compromise – a positioning not currently acceptable to many in the party.

Obviously, our politics have much wider causes for concern then specific issue of self identification and the protection of hard fought for women’s rights.  But it’s naïve to think that this issue won’t be a factor at the next general election for a significant number of voters.  The Conservatives have identified these concerns as a wedge issue between the two parties (Indeed some cynics might suggest that they have actively fostered it as a diversion from more fundamental issues). If by the time of the General Election we still can’t define what a woman is, how we intend to secure the existing rights of women to safe spaces and the fair participation of women in competitive sports, we have a problem.

Over its lifetime the Labour Party owes it survival and growth to uniting seemingly irreconcilable factions whether it was the antagonism of craft and general unions in the early 20th century or the bitter sectarian differences between working class communities in Scotland and the North in the 1920’s.  We need that same self-discipline to create a winning coalition for the next General Election.

So what is to be done?

Well on a practical basis the NEC should be monitoring the outcome of the first tranche of Parliamentary selections if, as is looking likely, the majority are won by men they should re-visit the decision to abandon All Women Shortlists.

And on the critical issue of the preparation for the next general election manifesto we still have time to learn from the mistake of outsourcing our policy development to powerful external organisations such as Stonewall and the London Cycling Campaign.

We may have time but the clock is ticking faster than we think.

Paul Wheeler writes on local politics at @paulw56 and has been a member of the Labour Party for over 40 years.


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17 Responses to “Is Labour listening to voters enough? Not yet.”

  1. john P reid says:

    Probably the different was to some extent after 1987 labour wanted to win and was prepared to do this as they heard on the door step you can’t control the unions the defence policy ,you’re anti the police
    if labour hears you think the Working class are thick and racist and you hate real women, as Labour doesn’t want to win now it blames the electorate for not having the same views as the activists

  2. Tafia says:

    Rule 1. Voters are ALWAYS CORRECT.

    Rule 2. Accept that, never ever tell them they are wrong or you know better.

    Rule 3. Move to where they are – do not be that arrogant or stupid to think they will move to you.

  3. John P Reid says:

    I wonder if john Reid or David blunkett will vote to scrap the HRA in the House of Lords
    Having previously said it should go

  4. steve says:

    “David Evans the robust General Secretary is reputed to be a fan of the Values Mode analysis of social groups and voting behaviour.”

    The above sentence is indicative of everythiing that is wrong with the Labour Party.

    Unfortunately the LP’s out-of-touch, self-replicating Westminster elite have to resort to focus groups, reading the Sun newspaper etc. in their desperate, muddle-headed attempt to gain knowledge of voter’s concerns.

  5. A.J. says:

    Reading Mr.Williams’ thoughtful piece reminds one very quickly as to why the Labour Party has tended to lose a good many elections since the 1950s: they always have been – and remain – ‘high minded’, a turn-off for many voters (who, let’s face facts) are often not very sophisticated when it comes to ticking the little box.
    I was talking to an old leftie a few weeks ago. ‘Who’, I asked him, ‘do you think will win the next election?’
    ‘Labour’, he replied, almost mournfully. ‘By default’.
    By default. Not because the voters are enthusiastic. Hardly a ringing endorsement.
    If Labour should lose, however, there will be yet another round of blood-letting.

  6. A.J. says:

    My sincere apologies to the gentleman. It was shortly after breakfast and I misread his name. I hope he’ll not hold it against me.

  7. John P Reid says:

    In 1992 the tories had done enough to lose Labour hadn’t done enough to win
    but Labour thought the Tories have made lots of mistakes in the last 10 years they haven’t managed to get the unemployment down they said that they said they’d do and in crime had doubled whether this was due to poverty or not is two different things, but certainly pensioners are in poverty Labour came in and said that they’d put the higher rate of tax up , they’d save the national health service spend more on pensions and un do the damage of unemployment and poverty,
    yet this at the same time the idea labour can nod come in undo the damage in the country doesn’t appeal nod to what the public are worried about

    with the troubles in the country over mass immigration people fleeing over from Ukraine or Afghanistan even the refugees sent to Rwanda and not dealing with Ukraine post Brexit and Covid and the culture war labour hasn’t said one single policy that can be seen as an opposition, to come in and under the mistakes the current government are doing

    the fact Labour can’t present themselves and the government in waiting,
    that’s why the quip cling to nurse through fear of something worse show the Tories advantage

  8. john P reid says:

    Thing with lisa nandy is had she become leader she’d have had to have taken labour away from the culture war stuff some of her supporters voted for her in

    I know Starmer as Corbyn with a nice hair cut ,has taken labour away from the toy Town revolutionary , Palestinian flags Bollocks but that’s not the stuff labour has to go away from to win
    No one cares if a bunch of losers wave Palestinian flags
    They care about women’s rights and Women’s safe spaces being thrown away in the name of people wanting to have a battle they didn’t need to win , to think it was worth continuing LBB alphabet right and not twigging tarqiuns are feeling that they can throw women’s rights away as they’re in the right side of kink fetish identity

    Neil Kinnock also lost credibility by taking labour away from Grant Livingstone Hatton and Scargill without apologising for supporting them at first
    Kinnock at first like the black caucus but the black sections ides was really only used in liveroool. Against Derek Hatton and was called ramsey mcKinnock

  9. John P Reid says:

    During the 1975 EEC referendum when Jim Callaghan and Denis Healey both said vote to stay in
    The Labour Leave Campaign Dragged up Comments Callaghan and Healey had said 3 years Earlier about How they Didn’t want The U.K. to join the common market earlier

    Just thinking
    When in the lords the Tories propose Leaving the Human rights Act
    And David blunkett ,Vernon Coaker and John Reid now say how great The Human rights act is

    Will the Tories bring up that blunkett Coaker and Reid at the home office when all their anti terrorism legislation was being proved illegal under the Human rights act wanted it scrapped

    Will the Tories drag up these comments
    Noe they’ve had A Damaclese Conversion about how good The HRA Is, even though they couldn’t get laws through due to technicalities that held Ind arm beck on stopping violent crime and deporting foreign criminals

  10. John p Reid says:

    The reason Blair suppress Iraq despite knowing g there was no WMDs he wanted to appear on the side of the West and military intervention after labour appeared not to support the west 20 years later during the end of the Cold War even though blsir knew Bush had Iraq as he didn’t want Hussain to under circumstances trade deals in Oil for gold with France
    That is a bigger inaccuracy with the truth than saying I’m unaware of parties as to call them lied even excluding wilful blindness it’s saying they said something is True that was said in genuine honesty, if not true
    Blair won another election after Iraq
    The dishonesty of saying there were about parties could see Boris still win another election

  11. John P Reid says:

    Didn’t abbott once said about Tony Benn a broken clock is right 3 times a day
    And the thing about Benn was he was right in 3 things

    Abolish the lords
    Leave the EU

    and how easy if was for former communists like John Reid and David blunket to transition from Stalinist to blairite Fascist

  12. John p Reid says:

    When Keir Starmer said have a 2nd referendum for remain at party conference in 2018 against Jeremy’s Policy to a standing ovation from middle class blairite and Corbynite students
    It guaranteed him he’d win the leadership 16 months later, but in losing the red wall who won’t forgive him ,it also guaranteed he’d never become prime minister

  13. john P reid says:

    Diane Abbotts reference in the whats app investigated in the Forde report-I don’t see the fuss about pointing out she’s a angry woman

    She is a angry, she is a woman

    just coz. She’s black doesn’t mean you can’t call her that
    Take say black people are know for their musicals dancing or humour if you was to say that black person happens to make me laugh and dance but it wasn’t thought a good thing to say it’s not pointing out they are those things as they’re blank it’s pointing it out as it’s true

  14. Anne says:

    Sorry Paul, but I do not agree with all women short lists. The reality is that it should be the best person for the job – be that male or female. I have seen some excellent male candidates being passed bye for, quite frankly, second rate female candidate.
    Blair has warned us about The Labour Party becoming biased regarding ‘woke’ arguments. I am also very sceptical regarding such general terms as the ‘Me Too’ movement with regard to domestic violence and women. Since the 1990s evidence based practice is paramount. What evidence is there that domestic violence took place or what is the evidence that this candidate is the best person for the job.

  15. Tafia says:

    OPINION POLLING FOR MAY

    Across May there were 24 Westminster polls released during the month at various times by all the major polling agencies.

    Polling average was (figure in brackets compared to last month).

    Con 33.3% (-0.7)
    Lab 39.3% (-0.7)
    LDem 11.3% (+1.5)
    Grn 5.6% (+0.3)
    Rfm 3.0% (-0.1)
    Oth 7.5% (-0.3)
    Ave Lab lead over Con for April: 5.96% (-0.04)

    The month started with political eyes focused on the local elections. At the start of the campaign, Labour were forecast to make huge gains (600+ with the Tories losing 800-1200). However as the campaign wore on, their lead over the Tories slowly fell away and once the dust settled, Starmer had done slightly worse than both Corbyn and Miliband before him in similar elections. In England for example, of 4,411 seats being contested, Labour ended with 22 more than they started, 66 more in Wales and actually lost one Mayoral election to an old enemy – extreme-Leftist Lutfer Rahman and his party ‘ASPIRE’ in London’s Tower Hamlets (ASPIRE also took a majority on the Borough council), while the Tories gained the new Mayoralty of Croydon. The real winners as such were the LDems who picked up around 800 seats. The turn-out was appallingly low at less than 25%. Nationally Labour increased it’s seat share by around 90, and the tories lost around 400

    As for the national opinion polls, Tory support swung between 31-36%, Labour’s between 36-43% and the LDems between 9-14%. Labour managed to hit the magic 40% only nine times during the 24 polls (their worst tally for some months) and on one occasion showed an 11% lead (SavantaComRes, 27-29 May).but bizarrely, a YouGov done in the same period only had them at 3% (an average of the two is roughly in line with the consensus among other polls). Labour led in every poll with leads of between 1%-11%.

    If a General Election were conducted on these MAY figures and using the new boundaries, it would result in a hung Parliament of L311, C253, SNP50, LD12, PC4 G1, NI18, with neither side being able to form a majority government and Labour needing a coalition of minimum of the LDems and Green – however the LDems demands that we re-enter the EU – including the adoption of the €uro and preferably without even a referendum & the current voting system scrapped and replaced with PR, combined with Green’s demands that the move to net zero is accelerated etc, make the likelihood of a stable coalition remote at best, especially when you factor in that the LDems would expcet Rayner’s Deputy slot and several other Cabinet posts. As a result, Labour would probably choose to limp on with a minority Government.

    There are three by-elections coming shortly with the Tories expected to do badly in all three, on forecasted and expected disinterested low turn-outs combined with Labour & LDems not competing against each other to ‘capitalise’ on each others vote share. If any move will be made to oust Johnson as leader by his party, it will be after them so that they can sort out the leadership during the summer months. That said, Johnson enjoys heavy support amongst the Tory MPs so in the unlikely event they submit enough letters to call a vote of No Confidence, Johnson is in a pretty powerful position and should win it easily. Tory party rules state that at least 15% of Tory MPs must write a no-confidence letter to make a leadership challenge possible. This currently equates to 54 MPs needing to submit a letter thus forcing a vote. Currently the figure is believed to stand at around 36. It should though, be remembered that when Thatcher found herself in a similar position and won her vote of No Confidence with over 60% of the vote, she still decided to stand down. So it’s not just winning, but winning massively that seems to count in the Tory party within itself. The favourites within the Tory party to replace Johnson as leader should he go are (in order) Nadhim Zahawi, Liz Truss, Michael Gove, Ben Wallace. That said, the ‘rebels’ do not enjoy widespread support and cannot even put together a united & unified front – for example the two main camps appear to be led by Andrew Bridgen – a hard Brexiteer, and Tobias Ellwood – who wants to rejoin the EU’s Single Market. Neither has the time of day for the other and they despise each other more than they don’t like Johnson.

    Economically, Ukraine is now starting to bite and bite hard in the western economies and this will progessively worsen as the summer rolls on and politicians all over the free world will be hoping that their voters have enough brain cells to work out that there is nothing that any government can do except largely sit it out (or intervene directly and risk an almost certain nuclear war). Sanctions on Russia and in turn the Russian blockade on Ukraine combined with their workforce now serving in the Ukrainian Army are now starting to bite us as much as Russia as alternative suppliers for basic commodities such as eggs, chicken, wheat (bread, biscuits, cake, flour) barley (beer, animal feed), white fish, sunflower products, timber, steel, concrete, aluminium, silicon chips etc etc do not exist or if the do, not in sufficient quantity to meet demand (which is what is driving inflation – to few goods in comparison to demand), and large tracts of the Third World – in particular the highly unstable middle east (think oil, think Israeli security) and north Africa (think refugees into southern europe, salads, liquified natural gas, textiles, gold) are looking at severe and widespread food shortages. Meanwhile (as if on cue) Trades Unions right across central & western Europe are becoming increasingly beligerent and seemingly unable to corelate basic economic facts such as above or near inflationary pay rises without increases in worker productivity actually make the situation worse (as happened in the mid-1970’s).

    We will now enter the summer season where by tradition, Her Majesty’s Government of the day pretends it has a grip of world events which in reality are beyond it’s control, while Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition of the day, pretend that if they were in power they could get a different outcome. The summer ends with the usual party conference pantomimes and sing-along – the ‘Red Flag’ in Liverpool (while waving an assortment of arab terrorist flags, EU flags, assorted gender-based stripey things & taking the knee) and probably ‘God Save The Queen’ in Birmingham (with plenty of Unions Jacks and flags of the Home Nations and colourful waistcoats and dickie bows).

    As we go to press, the government of Estonia has fallen due to allegedly being undermined by Kremlin backed ethnic-russians in ptheir parliament, working in government administrative departments etc deliberately sabotaging things (bit like our civil service then LOL). Estonia is a member of the EU and NATO and uses the €uro as it’s currency. The last thing the EU, and NATO want or need at the moment is a member state becoming politically highly unstable and starting to do a ‘Yugoslavia’. Nor will the European Central Bank relish the idea of trying to stabilise the economy of a €uro user in the current financial climate.

    Comparisons
    General Election 12 Dec 2019:
    UK TOTAL – Con 43.6%, Lab 32.2%, LDem 11.6%, Grn 2.7%, Oth 9.9%
    GB ONLY – Con 44.7%, Lab 33.0%, LDem 11.8%, Grn 2.8%, Oth 7.7%
    UK lead Con over Lab: 11.4%
    GB lead Con over Lab: 11.7%

    Polling figures for 2021 (256 polls)
    Con 40.3%, Lab 35.2%, LDem 8.4%, Grn 5.7%, Rfm 5.7, Oth 4.7
    Con lead over Lab 2021: 5.1%

    Polling figures for 2022 (119 polls)
    Con 33.6%, Lab 39.6%, LDem 10.3%, Grn 5.6%, Rfm 3.3%, Oth 7.6%
    Lab lead over Con 2022: 5.92%

    Polling figures for May (24 polls)
    Con 33.3%, Lab 39.3%, LDem 11.3%, Grn 5.6%, Rfm 3.0%, Oth 7.5%
    Lab lead over Con May: 5.96%

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    SCOTLAND

    There were three Westminster polls released during May. They averaged as follows:-

    SNP: 44.0%, SCon: 19.7%, SLab: 23.0%, SLD: 7.7%, SGP: 3.0%, Oth: 2.6%

    (GE 2019 – SNP: 45%, SCon: 25.1%, SLab: 18.6%, SLDem: 9.5%, SGrn: 1.0%, Oth: 0.8%).

    There were also three Holyrood polls released during May. They averaged (const/list) as follows:-

    SNP: 45.3/35% , SCon: 19.3/19.0%, SLab: 22.7/21.3%, SLD: 7.0/8.0%, SGP: 3.0/11.7%, Oth: 2.7/5.0%

    (HOLYROOD 2021 – SNP: 47.7/40.3%, SCon: 21.9/23.5%, SLab: 21.6/17.9%, SLDem: 6.9/5.1%, SGP: 1.3/8.1%, Oth: 0.6/3.4%).

    There were three IndyRef polls released, averaging:

    Yes: 43.8%, No: 47.0%, DK: 9.2%
    (Y:48 N:52)

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    WALES

    There were no polls released during the period.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    NORTHERN IRELAND

    Northern Ireland held it’s Stormont election. As the pollsters forecast, Sinn Fein became the largest party but barely moving and finishing with the same number of seats as it started with, in the main because the unionist vote is now split between three parties (DUP/UUP/TUV), but Sinn Fein is not and is nowhere near being an outright majority.

    Northern Ireland Assembly 2022 Results:-
    (Comparisons to last Assembly Elections 2017 in brackets)

    First preference:-
    Sinn Fein 29.0% (+1.1)
    DUP 21.3% (-6.7)
    NIAP 13.5% (+4.5)
    UUP 11.2% (-1.7)
    SDLP 9.1% (-2.9)
    TUV 7.6% (+5.1)
    PBP 1.2% (-0.6)

    Total Seats (90)
    Sinn Fein 27 (n/c)
    DUP 25 (-3)
    NIAP 17 (+9)
    UUP 9 (-1)
    SDLP 8 (-4)
    TUV 1 (+1)
    PBP 1 (+1)

    If anyone did well, it was the Northern Ireland Alliance Party (NIAP) and True Unionist Voice (TUV). As expected, the DUP (and TUV), refused to take their seats and elect a Speaker – honouring their main election pledge, and as a result the Assembly cannot sit. The system has a complicated set-up to ensure that neither side can ever get the better of the other. All political parties in Northern Ireland have to register as either Nationalist, Uionist or non-Aligned. Likewise, all MLAs have to register in the Member’s Book as beng one of those three choices as they take their seat. The First Minister always comes from the largest party. The Deputy First Minister then comes from the largest party on the ther side of the sectarian divide. Then for a law to pass in Stormont, a majority of nationalist MLAs and a majority of Unionist MLAs must vote in favour. BUT…….before Stormont can sit, it has to elect a Speaker – and likewise said Speaker must gain the support of a majority of MLAs from both nationalist & unionist communities. And with DUP & TUV holding 26 of the 35 unionist seats, that is impossible. As a result, the posts of Speaker, First Minister and Deputy First Minister cannot be filled, a government cannot be formed and the Assembly cannot sit.

    Stormont it should be remembered, is the most devolved Home Nation of the three with devolutionary powers and is basically semi-autonomous.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

    I include the Republic because they are the only foreign country with a common land border with the UK and also share a common heritage. In addition, what goes on in Dublin also has an effect in Belfast and in London and vice-versa all round.

    There were two polls during the month that averaged as (comparison to last month in brackets):-

    SF: 35.0% (+1.5)
    FF: 17.8% (+0.8)
    FG: 20.8% (-0.7)
    GP: 3.0% (-0.5)
    LP: 4.0% (n/c)
    SD: 3.8% (-1.7)
    S-PBP: 3.0% (+0.5)
    AÚ: 2.0% (-0.5)
    Oth/Ind: 10.6% (+0.6)

    (General Election 2020)
    SF: 24.5%
    FF: 22.2%
    FG: 20.9%
    GP: 7.1%
    LP: 4.4%
    SD: 2.9%
    S-PBP: 2.6%
    AÚ: 1.9%
    Oth: 13.5%

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  16. Tafia says:

    And in case anyone is wondering what the third by-election is, there’s Wakefield, Tiverton and sooner or later Leicester East will be up.

  17. john P reid says:

    Anne ,you’ve become one of us, welcome aboard
    Yes Tafia the Leicester one is inevitable all the parties want it

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