The TUC are today publishing vital polling information, which throws light on the areas where Labour needs to improve, if we are to win the next election.
The polling was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of the TUC, straight after the election. The findings are available as interactive graphs, allowing users to compare different subgroups and questions at: http://www.gqrr.com/uk-post-election-1
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“We commissioned this poll having no idea of the election outcome. But the unexpected result means that there will be much wider interest, and we are pleased to put its results into the public domain. It will be fascinating to see how Labour’s leadership candidates respond to some very challenging findings, just as we can see other parties acting on the same issues that their own polls will have revealed.
“What comes through is that this poll offers no simple set of solutions for a new Labour leader – the attitudes revealed are a fascinating mix that shows voters are on the left on some issues and on the right on others.
“The challenges Labour now faces are very different from those in the past. Voters back a lot of the trade union agenda on living standards and an economic policy based on investment and growth, rather than the deep cuts we now face. But on welfare and immigration their views are very challenging.
“Interestingly, voters are not greatly worried about Labour being against aspiration or anti-business, despite these emerging as themes in Labour’s post mortem. But they did see Labour as a risk and doubted their competence to run the economy, despite being unenthusiastic about Conservative cuts.
“There is no simple formula for a Labour victory here. But to find a route, the party will need to start with the kind of map this poll provides.”
There are a number of positives for Labour. For example, 18-34 year-olds voted for Labour by 39 to 30 over the Conservatives, with UKIP and the Greens each getting 8 per cent. Labour is also seen as being on the side of ordinary people (a 31 point lead over the Conservatives among voters) and the NHS (a 17 point lead). Labour also fared generally better among women than men, although even among women the Conservatives had a 2% advantage (36% to 34%), compared to a 10% lead for the Conservatives among men (39% to 29%)
The current leadership debate seems to be developing an early consensus that Labour needs to address “aspirational” voters. In fact, as Chris Dillow has perceptively observed,
But now is not then. Labour productivity has been flatlining for years and the intelligent talk today is of secular stagnation, not of a new economy. This changes everything. In a world of zero productivity growth, people’s real incomes can rise only in one of three ways: by moving from unemployment to work (which whilst a good thing is not what Mr Johnson means); or by getting a lucky supply shock such as falling commodity prices, which might not happen; or if one person’s income rises at the expense of another’s.
When productivity is flat, “aspiration” is a zero sum game.
What the TUC polling shows is that 13 % of voters considered voting Labour before choosing another party. It is reasonable to assume that this group who considered but rejected Labour are the key swing vote constituency that Labour must win over. Of this group, just 8 % of them say their biggest doubts included that Labour being ‘hostile to aspiration, success and people who want to get on’. This was dwarfed by concerns over Labour spending too much, and being hostage to the SNP.
Contrary to the argument coming from some leadership contenders, by 42 to 22 voters thought Labour was too soft on big business, not too tough; and this rose a ratio of 50 to 15 among voters who considered Labour. By 46 to 35 voters thought Lab should increase taxes on the rich rather than worry about driving investors abroad.
There is also evidence that many voters have a very instrumental view of politics. For many voters, the deciding issue will be which party gives them confidence that they and their familly will maintain or improve their standard of living. The conservatives benefited from incumbency, at a time when most people see the economy recovering, and low interest rates benefit mortgage payers. The Conservatives are seen to have a good track record in government by 54 per cent of voters, perhaps explained by the fact that 60 per cent think the economy is improving and more think their personal finances are improving than think they are getting worse.
Labour is 39 points behind on economic trust despite the fact that the poll suggests Labour’s potential growth arguments are more persuasive than a right-wing focus on the deficit, red tape and tax.
Interestingly, the evidence is contradictory when it comes to evaluating the claims from “Blue Labour”, that a new social model of reciprocity and mutuality should be central to Labour’s vision. By a ratio of 77 to 15 voters are looking for ‘concrete plans for sensible change’ rather than ‘a big vision for radical change’ from political parties. However, by a ratio of 62 to 20 voters want Labour to be tougher on immigration rather than more positive, and a similar margin exists on welfare. This would suggest that to be successful, Labour does need to engage with the collective sense of shared national identity and its values, but this needs to be done organically, rather than trying to sell a big “vision thing”
Where Labour does have an advantage, is that it already has an organic link with some 3 million trade union members, through the affiliated unions; and those unions retain their members by addressing the day to day concerns and problems of their members. While trade union activists are perhaps sustained by a shared ideology of mutuality, and even socialism, the relationship that these activists have with the wider membership is a more complex one, and the art of trade union leadership is to present the case for collectivity and solidarity to members who have a much more instrumental attitude, and a much weaker relationship to the union than the activists do. This is something that Labour needs to learn to do better, it is necessary for the party to create a vision of a fairer and better Britain, and develop that into detailed policies, but it is also necessary to persuade millions of potential voters, who don’t already identify with Labour, that a Labour government will result in not just a fairer society, but also one where they, and those they care about, are more prosperous, and less exposed to economic risk.