The Feltham Fig Leaf

by Atul Hatwal

It looks like 2011 is ending for Labour as it began, with a solid victory in a by-election. At the start of the year it was Oldham East and Saddleworth, and last night it was Feltham and Heston.

But although both Oldham and Feltham were strong performances for Labour, the similarities are superficial. The intervening months have fundamentally changed the context.

At the start of the year, the economic argument remained unresolved. Would the public back the Tories’ cuts when they saw them implemented? Or could Labour provide a more persuasive alternative.

Victory in Oldham in January bought the leadership some time to focus the party’s economic policy and make the case to the public.

Since then, Labour has set out its alternative, developing a distinct critique of the coalition and a very different economic prescription.

Eleven months on from Oldham, the choice has been made.

The graph above based on YouGov poll results shows just how badly Labour has lost the argument on the central economic issue – the deficit.

The top line shows the shift in majority over the year for those thinking that the way the government is cutting the deficit is necessary over those who feel it is unnecessary. The bottom line shows the trend in people believing the government is cutting too deeply.

At the start of the year, although the public felt that cutting the deficit was a priority, they harboured doubts about whether the Tories were going too far.

This didn’t translate into immediate support for Labour as the public held the last Labour government principally responsible for the cuts.

In January, 41% said that the Labour government was solely to blame, with 25% blaming the coalition and 23% both.

But at least the public had doubts. If Labour adopted policies that addressed concerns about the last Labour government, there was the potential for progress.

By December, the public’s doubts seem to have largely dissipated.

Although the numbers who feel the Tories are cutting too deeply is still greater than those believe the cuts to be either too shallow or about right, the majority in December is down to 4% from 19% in February.

At the same time, the majority that thinks the way the government is cutting the deficit is necessary has increased from 21% in February to 32% in December.

December’s numbers tell a tale of a public that increasingly feels the Tory’s cuts are right and which is ever more convinced that reducing the deficit is the priority.

Labour’s critique has been rejected as the argument has moved decisively towards the Tories.

As a result of this failure, Labour’s attempt to pivot onto growth in the past few months has been doomed.

Regardless of the economics, a series of unfunded VAT and national insurance cuts does nothing for a public which sees the same old Labour party spending money it doesn’t have, running up an even bigger deficit which will ultimately have to be paid for by tax payers.

Labour might be talking growth, but the public are hearing deficit.

The scale of public disillusionment with the party was revealed in perhaps the most damning of all poll findings at the end of November. YouGov asked whether the public felt the economy would be doing better if Labour had won the last election.

People were asked this the day after George Osborne had delivered one of the grimmest autumn statement’s in memory, admitting that growth was non-existent, not enough jobs were being created and that things were probably going to get worse.

The public response was unequivocal – 37% felt that the situation would be worse under Labour, with 25% believing it would have been better and 29% thinking things would have been much the same.

This 12% lead for the Tories was a withering judgement on Labour’s alternative.

If Labour’s failure on the economic argument wasn’t bad enough, the situation is compounded by the unpopularity of the party’s leaders.

David Cameron has maintained a daunting lead over Ed Miliband throughout the year as voters’ preferred prime minister. At the start of January, he held a 12 point lead. By December, this had increased to a 15 point lead.

The problem is less pronounced for Ed Balls, but still a problem. In June, YouGov asked the public their choice for chancellor between Balls and Osborne. They opted for Osborne, but not by much – 25% to 23%. When the question was asked again in the survey immediately following the autumn statement, Osborne had stretched his lead to 6 points, 30%-24%.

The combination of a rejected economic prescription with leaders who consistently lag behind their Tory opposite numbers, make this a dismal time for Labour.

Feltham and Heston might have been a victory, but unlike Oldham in January, there is no basis for hope. As Christmas approaches, no one should be fooled by this early present.

Labour is in deep trouble and Feltham is just a fig leaf.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

Tags: , , ,

22 Responses to “The Feltham Fig Leaf”

  1. Stephen says:

    The statistics are interesting but not surprising.

    Ed M is clearly not up to the job and people are realising that he needs replacing. Ed Balls is little more than a clown who knows a lot about theoretical finance but is not practical. I am expecting Harriet Harmen to make her leadership move. I noticed she went for her ‘Plain Jane” hairstyle just before Party Conference and still sticking with it for PMQ. She is looking to the sisterhood for support. The question is who will be her running mate?

  2. swatantra says:

    Labour needs to get a grip and a new Leader.
    But that is a problem for the New Year. Being in opposition is difficult; a change is as good as a rest I suppose and the front bench all look a bit jaded and tired. We’re still waiting for the special one to come along and breathe a bit of life into the Party. So lets enjoy Feltam, because 2012 is going to an Annus Horribilis for us, until we sort things out. Thats just my feeling.

  3. Felix says:

    A good touch of hyperbole in here, but what I have come to expect from Labour bashing Uncut.

  4. figurewizard says:

    These findings simply underline the fact that a majority of people are not fools. It also signals a shift in their perception of the weight they feel able to attach to any politician’s view of anything in the absence of compelling evidence to support it. This is largely the result of the expenses scandal. Nothing is taken on trust any more which means that the crooks in the house who were responsible for this have unwittingly done the voters of this country a favour.

  5. Mike Homfray says:

    Wasn’t it just obvious that someone from this risible blog would come up with something like this,

    As much as you would obviously like Labour to lose until we adopt every last sentence of Tory policy, it didn’t happen

    It was a much better result than I had expected. Congratulations to the candidate – and if you don’t want to support our party ad its leader, then go off and join another party. You won’t be missed

  6. Taffarel says:

    Great news. Keep it up labour.

  7. The Future says:

    But most people agree that the cuts are too far and to fast.

    Selective use of statistics. You undermine the whole site with this sort of nonsense.

  8. gracie says:

    Oh for goodness sakes, you are reading far too much into a set of figures collated by a pollster that has recently changed its methodology in preference to the Tories. I note you do not even mention the fact that labour increased its majority over the Tories in Feltham, in the middle of a cold damp, wet snowy winter just over a week before Christmas when most people will judge they have better things to do with their time. For so many reasons the Oldham by election was different to the Feltham one and because of that turnout was affected.

    Perhaps instead of penning gloom and doom, you could turn your attention to the problem of why Labour is finding it hard to gets its message across and that is the lies of Cameron and deliberate misleading of people by Cameron perpetrated in the right wing press and the BBC, ITV and Sky. Also note that when labour and Ed Miliband get a fair crack of the whip, like in the phone hacking scandal, the public’s perception of Miliband and labour changes.

    When you consider how badly Labour did in the general election and the way they have not only had to battle to improve and battle to get their message across then they are not doing that badly.

    Last Wednesday in PMQs David Cameron lied through his back teeth about the halving of disabled children’s disability allowance, he went on to deliberately misquote Miliband and deliberately mislead the public, did you say anything about that? Until blogs like this start actually helping and highlighting the real problems Labour will stay unable to to get their message across. You can help why don’t you? Why not look at all Cameron’s intentional misquoting and misrepresenting what others have said, his lies and his deliberate misleading of the House and the public and make a graph about that, at least it would be useful.

    I have been knocking about politics for around 45 years and I know an unpopular government when I see one, and this is one believe me and it will only get worse.

  9. David says:

    Trouble yes. Deep trouble no. True our argument isn’t selling, even though virtually all sane economists believe it to be right. But that’s not insurmountable. It won’t be easy because the tories have, as you rightly said, so far won the argument. But events change, messages can be improved, and things can look very different. Won’t be easy though.

  10. Sussex Labour says:

    What utter rubbish. Since sept 10 Labour has won 5 By elrctions in England with incr majority

  11. Nikostratos says:

    yeah! everybody is in favour of Cuts until they have their and arms legs cut off
    at the moment the Torys are still using the usual scapegoats.
    The lazy(and rich) unemployed the lazy sick skivers.
    the lazy civil servant the lazy council workers. etc etc

    Eventually they will work their way through them and start hacking at those who at the present time cheer the Torys then bouquets turn to brickbats as ever.

  12. Rallan says:

    Wow. I’m on the Tory side, but even I think this article is miserable (though accurate).

    Relentless negativity is unattractive to everyone, no matter how justified it seems. Both the Labour Party and Labour Uncut need to change.

    Labour Uncut needs to lighten up. Even when delivering home truths, confrontational articles just get people mad. You clearly can’t persuade or reason with the current mindset. Find the positive where you can and suggest rational/winnable policy positions. Eventually the Labour Party will have to come to its sense. You’ll just have to ride it out till then.

    The Labour Party needs to accept electoral reality and offer constructive opposition. Support the coalition in unavoidable choices. Offer (genuinely) practical positive alternatives where choices do exist. Stop saying no to everything. Start listening to the people. Reach out to the decent, hard working solid, respectable people who were once your core vote. Drop the academic theory b***shit. Get rid of the people that the public associate with disastrous government. Labour has a long long long way to go to earn back any kind of credibility. You’d better to get started.

  13. John P Reid says:

    Mike honfray, are yuo sure you don’t want loabur ot lose ,so you can say that we’ve lost the enxt ellection as it wasn’t left wing enough

  14. Somerset Labour says:

    The Tories are currently out-spinning Labour left, right and centre. They float populist measures out for the benefit of Mail readers and convince everyone that a meaningless refusal to sign up to a revision to the Lisbon treaty that no sensible Labour government would have signed becomes a “VETO” and an opportunity to have an unofficial referendum on the EU without any danger of having to have a referendum on the EU. If this government thought it would win votes by bringing back hanging for treason but lose votes by actually hanging someone, they would bring back hanging whilst making it technically impossible to commit treason. They have no interest in improving the country for the majority of it’s citizens and every interest in staying in power and keeping their rich-backers happy. If Labour is going to beat them, it needs to bring out a few more nasty, snarling left-wingers who can expose their rank hypocrisy.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Until Ed Milliband and Ed Balls are gone, it seems unlike Labour can possibly win a general election.

    But, the Labour Party has no mechanism for getting rid of either apart from praying they see the damage they are doing and resign.

    As that is not going to happen, the best thing Labour supporters can do is bury themselves and await a new leader after the next election, which is probably why the turnout in Feltham and Heston was so lamentably low.

  16. gracie says:

    @ Rallan – say that when its your turn next year. This so-called coalition government is not going to see out next year, we will have an election and I hope that comes before Cameron can Gerrymander parliament and the boundaries.

    Why are you here telling Labour what to do to get elected? If I were you I would pop back to the Tories, it is them that are in dire trouble, especially as they now have Clegg on the phones bigging himself up to other countries – oh dear!

  17. Rib tickle labour says:

    Labour winning was a forgone conclusion, the betting was who would come third.

    Miliband is better then David only because we have had enough of Blair, but the fact is Miliband is a much smaller copy of Blair and a bigger copy of Brown for the simple reason he has no idea of where his ideology lies. in tatters me thinks.

  18. Rallan says:

    @ Gracie – I don’t want Labour to be elected, but fortunately there’s no likelihood of that! 🙂 I just think that during the biggest crisis in my lifetime, the country needs a viable democratic opposition. Right now Labour is not it. I think it’s important that left-of-centre views are properly represented, even though I don’t agree with them. But you wouldn’t understand that.

    You see, it’s possible for me to respect people with different points of view. I can appreciate their goodwill, even if I think they are mistaken in approach. I read left wing blogs because I want to actually get what people on the left are really about. However, I see from your comment that your world is black & white. I don’t feel the way you feel, so therefore you think that I am simply evil. No-one hates like Labour.

    As for the predictions in your comment, that’s some extremely wishful thinking. You’re in for a lot of disappointment.

  19. Mike Homfray says:

    No, John – unlike the writers of this blog I support the current leader and want us to win, hence my post above. I think there remain some areas of policy which need clarification but there will be time for that before the election which is 3 years plus away

  20. John P Reid says:

    Mike-Cecil parkinson bought copies of the 83′ Labour manifesto as he thought it would be a winner for the tories, and when Blair becasme leader they had A secret email knowing they were in trouble, so suggesting the tories want labour to fight from the centre rather than swing to the left is ridiculous, I feel the labour party was left wing in ’83 and saying that there’s no point bieng in the centre as we might not exist, you can’t do anything if you lose elections and people suffered poverty under the Tories but tehy kept winning election as we weren’t fit to rule ,you may consider the 83 and 87 elections moral victories but I suffered massively due to thathcer and it was the left that lost laobur the 87 election

  21. Mike Homfray says:

    What has the ’83 manifesto got to do with what is happening today? I’m really not interested in looking back to the past for inspiration, whether that be to the early 80’s which were appalling for the party, or the mid-90’s which were totally different, with a weak and discredited Tory party and the LD’s also in opposition.

    What is clear is that the Tories, being in government, are likely to hold voters who voted for them last time, particularly as they had been in opposition for 13 years. I think this is the problem that the Blairites can’t appreciate. In the mid-90’s the Tories were much as we were in 2008-10 – pretty much out of ideas, appearing to be tired and there was a feeling of ‘time for a change’. To an extent the Coalition can benefit from that even now – there is still a sense of letting them have their chance, particularly given the events of our last year in government. So, the idea that we can simply triangulate and win Tory votes is unlikely. Its also the case that some of the things the Tories are now doing are in fundamental opposition to our basic beliefs. You don’t have to be on the far left to believe that the NHS is best run as a public service, or that politicising the police is a bad idea, or that we should have a constructive role within the EU.

    What we are fighting is not ‘the centre’ but a very determinedly right-wing government, and I think its perfectly reasonable to ensure there is clear red water between our views and theirs without having to be ‘extreme left’, which I am not , and never have been. One of the main reasons we did so badly in the 1980’s was that we came over as a badly organised rabble more interested in internal disputes, and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again. So, could you please ask your Blairite friends to support Ed, accept the fact that David lost, and stop printing negative stuff about him and scare stories about a new leader.

  22. John P Reid says:

    What has the ’83 manifesto got to do with what is happening today

    If we don’t learn the lesson of what put us out of power for a generationlast time, we are doomed to make the same mistakes again,

    What is clear is that the Tories, being in government, are likely to hold voters who voted for them last time, particularly as they had been in opposition for 13 years.- they got 10.75m voted las year less than Both Blair’a first two victories

    So, could you please ask your Blairite friends to support Ed -,I’m Not a blairite I’m A kinnockite,It seems Blairites like Peter Mandleson are supporitng Ed, and the so called Blairites like Ellie reeves, Luke Akehurst Peter Wheeler ,Peter Hain Stephen Pound and Stehpen Timms all backed Ed for leader.

    One of the main reasons we did so badly in the 1980?s was that we came over as a badly organised rabble more interested in internal disputes, -the reasonwe did so bad in the 80’s was there were people who wouldn’t vote LAobur in A million years as they new the Loony left of Hatton, benrie grant and his anti the police attitude, And Ken Livingstone supporting the IRA

    Whats Anyone on the right of the Party giving friendly criticism of Ed got to do with whether the Tories are pushing through badly thoght out, NHS reforms or Politicaisng the Police, Charles Clarke another Person who Backed Dvid Miliband who was A kinnockite beofre A bliarite was A big critic of the elected Police and NHS reforms,

    appearing to be tired and there was a feeling of ‘time for a change’- we said of The Tories in 92 that it was time for a change and the pubic didn’t buy it. as for us biegn out of ideas by 2008, therewere policies like the Police mergers, changing the abortion laws in Northern Ireland letting women set up their own red light brothels that was in the 2005 manifesto that was dropped, and the fixed term parlaiments and AV referndum that was in last years manifesto.

Leave a Reply