How does Labour secure a majority in 2015? Reheat the “white heat of technology”

In the run up to tonight’s Progress event , we have been publishing a series of pieces on what is required for Labour to secure a majority in 2015. Here, Jonathan Todd looks at how Labour can re-calibrate it’s economic message to reflect the changing times.

Back in October, Uncut noted the trends over 2013 for a narrowing of Labour’s poll lead and rising economic optimism. We ran regressions on these trends that indicated the Conservatives would take a poll lead when a quarter of the electorate described the economy as doing well.

On 9/10 January, 15% of voters reported the economy as doing well. A small rise on the 14% that had done so in the last three polls of 2013. Then 18% gave this verdict on 16/17 January. This reached 20% by 23/24 January.

At the same time, Labour’s polling lead has further narrowed. Three out of four polls reported in the YouGov tracker between 22/23 January and 28/29 January gave Labour a poll lead of 3%. Less than it has tended to be throughout this parliament.

Looking at the trend toward rising economic optimism and Labour’s further diminishing poll lead, it seems plausible that another bump in the optimism tracker to 25% would secure the Conservatives a poll lead. Consistent with this, the regressions implied that for every 1% increase in the proportion of the electorate that think the economy is doing well, the Conservatives would close on Labour by 0.6%.

Sadly, therefore, things are playing out as the Todd thesis – as Lewis Baston called the regressions – indicated. Labour has two options. First, hope that the trend toward increasing economic optimism abates. Second, act to prevent this trend translating into a shrinking Labour poll lead.

The first approach is a “something will turn up” strategy. It rarely does. And even if it does, it – persistent economic gloominess – is not something we should be hoping for. Instead, Labour should appreciate the context in which we now operate – one of rising economic optimism – and adopt an approach that allows us to get on the front foot.

Labour’s attempt to do so to date has sought to disassociate how people feel about the economy as a whole and how they feel about their personal economic circumstances. Under this strategy, while more voters may acknowledge that the economy is doing well – at least in terms of rising GDP – this won’t follow through to increased Conservative support, as they blame them for the “cost of living crisis”.

The price freeze commitment at Labour party conference was one of the most significant political interventions of 2013. But events now threaten to run ahead of Labour’s cost of living focused attempt to avert rising economic optimism producing a narrowing of Labour’s lead.

The Barclays Employers Survey 2014, which questioned 684 UK businesses, has revealed that 57% of businesses are planning to increase wages in the year ahead, with 39% planning to increase them for their entire workforce. Given that wages are a lagged indicator, this is not desperately surprising. We were always likely to see GDP growth preceding wage growth. Now that GDP is improving, we can expect wages to do so, easing the pressure on household finances.

Of course, we are not about to soon wake up in an economic nirvana. As such, there will continue to be mileage in cost of living campaign. But as wages rise, the context is shifting from that in which the cost of living campaigning was at its most potent.

We need to do more than such campaigning to adapt to our climate of growing economic optimism. This would be assisted by a contemporary version of Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” speech. This era defining speech was delivered in October 1963. Wilson became prime minister a year later.

Because we care deeply about the future of Britain, concluded Wilson, we must use all the resources of democratic planning, all the latent and underdeveloped energies and skills of our people, to ensure Britain’s standing in the world. Wilson articulated a vision of one nation, looking confidently to the wider world and its future. No wonder Shabana Mahmood says it has never mattered more.

She’s right but Labour Digital’s Theo Blackwell is also correct to urge that Labour show that we ‘get tech’. As the RSA’s Adam Lent has illustrated, there are plenty of reasons to be confident in our economic future. Nesta argue that the creative economy is one of the few industrial areas where the UK has a credible claim to be world–leading. In spite of all of this, there is a lack of popular or even elite narrative about how Britain will prosper amid the digital revolution and the ‘rise of the rest’.

As Wilson’s speech did, Labour now needs to provide economic reassurance and self-belief to a nation conscious that it is moving into an age of new possibilities and challenges. As economic optimism is rising, Labour needs to be as fluent in the possibilities as the challenges.

Labour must convince that we herald a glad, confident morning of new industries and new jobs. Not consumed by anger at what has gone wrong. But confident that we can make things better. And persuasive enough for this to be believed.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  

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One Response to “How does Labour secure a majority in 2015? Reheat the “white heat of technology””

  1. Frederick James says:

    This seems a good idea to me.

    However, it can scarcely be reconciled either with Miliband’s war on business or with Labour’s asinine refusal to adopt a sane energy policy. Miliband is evidently wedded to these two things, so your idea can’t happen in any credible way under his leadership.

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