Posts Tagged ‘London elections’

Labour’s swing voter problem

02/07/2012, 07:00:22 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Over the past 2 years a myth has taken hold within the Labour party: the fable of the lost 4 million working class votes. Votes that Tony Blair secured in 1997 which Labour had lost by 2010. The Unite political strategy mentions it and this factoid has been a staple at the union conferences this summer.

The implication being  that Labour needs to recast its platform to attract these missing supporters rather than chase after pesky, centrist swing voters. It is the core vote strategy, reborn.

For those that can remember Labour in the early 1980s it is all eerily familiar, right down to the same wilful ignorance on the evidence.

At the last election, YouGov’s eve of vote poll – which successfully predicted Labour and Tory vote share to within 1% – identified the Tories as the most popular party among working class voters: 32% of the social demographic C2DE backed the Tories, 31% Labour and 26% Lib Dem.

Given that the Tories were the preference for working class voters, it seems fantastical to believe that moving further to the left will magically win a majority of this group.

But evidence and logic do not seem to be highly regarded qualities among Labour’s myth-makers. The story has taken hold and the absence of voices challenging such nonsense is tantamount to intellectual self-harm.

The renewed emphasis on the core vote seems to be driving a decidedly half-hearted attitude to swing voters for Labour. The mood music from the party’s leaders continually reiterates the desire to move on from triangulation, emphasis on the centre ground and New Labour’s campaigning approach.

It might sound good at the podium, and even feel good in the warmth of the applause. But outside of Labour audiences, in the real world of voters, the electoral damage is already becoming evident.  It might seem strange to say this given the polls, but when looking at actual votes in real elections the danger signs are already apparent. The recent London elections shine a light on Labour’s lack of progress in winning back territory held by the Tories.

London provides a unique electoral laboratory because it held local elections on the same day as the general election in 2010, and then mayoral and assembly elections this year. In both cases, the ward level data is available which enables a unique comparison of how millions of voters have shifted their views over the past two years based on real elections rather than snapshot polls.

Labour’s current lead in the opinion polls is stable at almost 10% and the party needs a swing from the Tories of roughly 5% to form a government.

For Labour to be on track to move into government, in the London election, the party should have won a comfortable clean sweep of Tory wards where a swing of 5% was required. Ideally Labour would have won wards requiring a swing of upto 8% to come near to the current poll lead and ensure a solid working majority.

But it didn’t.

In London, research by Uncut reveals that there were 61 wards held by the Tories vulnerable to a Labour swing of 5%. Taking the assembly elections as the best comparator to 2010 (rather than the mayoral election which was more driven by the personalities of the candidates), Labour managed to win in 31 wards.

This means that Labour failed to take 49% of the marginal wards it should have.

Granted, London does not define the position around the country, and there are specific regional factors, but this result does provide an indication of what is likely to be happening elsewhere.

Despite the government’s omnishambles, Leveson, the recession and the budget, Labour missed out on half of its ward targets against the Tories.

In comparison, in wards already held by Labour, the party went from strength to strength. The average increase in Labour vote in Labour wards was 13%. Lots of votes there.  Shame none of them are worth much under first past the post.

If anything comparable were replicated at a general election, despite the current poll lead, Labour would fall substantially short of government.

This is the true result of the myth that has taken hold in the Labour party. Large national poll leads and an incompetent government cosset the party and keep us happy in our comfort zone. But when voters go to the polls in real elections, swing voters aren’t swinging.

The base is motivated. It’s turning out and small Labour majorities are becoming landslide leads. But marginal Tory wards are staying just that. Tory.

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut

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