Fascinating new polling from TUC on voter attitudes

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,

Alan Johnson’s lament that Labour is no longer “a party of aspiration” confirms […] that Blairism is not so much wrong as just out-of-date.

[…] back in the 90s, it was easy to be a party of aspiration. The IT revolution was promising a bright new future, so talk of aspiration, modernity and newness chimed with the zeitgeist. And the world economy was growing well and a favourable supply shock – a falling China price – was boosting real incomes. A government could thus deliver rising living standards simply by not screwing things up too much.

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.

Blair’s Advice

Blair’s Advice
on hearing tell of his column in Sunday’s Observer

Easy to say,
you’d rather make loud love
to Lord Prescott, or have
your face smashed between
Sir Cyril Smith’s quivering cheeks
than read Tony Blair on how
the motorway to the mountaintop
he envisages lies
through the centre ground;
when you know neither
gentleman’s available, right
here right now, to take you.

We need to make voting Labour pleasurable
for call centre managers and
estate agents of a certain age
as lowering their roasting
menopausal testicles
into a nice cold bath.

To this end, we need a leader
with ideas thrilling
as a dripping cistern,
a man (or woman) likely conceived during
a Conservative Association dinner
somewhere in darkest Buckinghamshire;

who, while his or her fellow students
were thoughtlessly dancing the blues,
bravely danced the beige;
a person of exemplary character apart
from that one conviction for stealing
the brass handles off
their own father’s coffin.

We must offer hope
to those who aspire to shop
for gourmet sausage meat
at Waitrose, and not
waste time on people who perspire
as they rifle through packets
of past-their-use-by-date
picnic ham at Aldi.

17/5/15

KEVIN HIGGINS

Kevin Higgins’s poetry features in the generation defining anthology Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets (Ed Roddy Lumsden, Bloodaxe, 2010) and in the recent anthology The Hundred Years’ War: modern war poems (Edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe April 2014). The Ghost In The Lobby (Salmon, Spring 2014) is Kevin’s fourth collection of poems. Kevin’s blog is http://mentioningthewar.blogspot.com

Chuka seeks to “weaponise” Swindon

Chuka and Dempsey

Chuka Umunna’s odd decision to launch his leadership bid with an embarrassingly amateur video filmed in Swindon may come back to haunt him. It is hard to disagree with Dan Hodges’s assessment at the Telegraph that:

Formally announcing his candidature via a Facebook video filmed in the centre of Swindon, it was pretty obvious what Umunna was trying to do – refute the charge that he only appeals to a London metropolitan elite. Just in case this message was missed, he then sledge-hammered it home by insisting: “I also, frankly, wanted to get out of London and say what I was going to do here, because of course, we’ve got to be winning in a place like Swindon”.

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect. The video, which appeared to have been shot on an iPhone, made Umunna look a bit like a student embarking on a media studies project. In fact, as the good people of Swindon circled obliviously around him – he looked a bit like a documentary maker producing a film about an obscure Amazonian tribe: “Chuka’s World”. The overall effect was that by attempting to rebut a negative he merely ended up focusing attention on that negative.

I have some understanding of Swindon’s politics, being chair of the Local Campaign Forum there (though of course this article is written in a personal capacity), and having actively campaigned in the key marginal of South Swindon during the election. While our general election results were unexpectedly poor in the South constituency, our reverse in North Swindon was expected, where I had predicted a sizable swing to the Conservatives before election day.

On the Borough Council we held our own, winning a council seat in the Lib Dem stronghold of Eastcott after years of campaigning there, but losing one to the Conservatives elsewhere. In the marginal council ward of Liden, Eldene and Park South, where I spent election day, we ground out a narrow victory, by turning out the promises through organisation and hard graft.

I wasn’t intending to comment yet on the leadership election, as I am still assimilating and thinking about last week’s results. Indeed, I think that the opinions of those who already made their minds up by Friday 8th May might not be as reflective as we might hope.

How do we judge Chuka’s contention that as leader he could help to win in Swindon? Firstly, one of the successes of the election campaign was a positive engagement through both GMB and the Labour Party with turning out the vote from the town’s large Goan community.

GMB’s standing in this community has been founded on our campaign against exploitation and shakedowns of Carillion staff by supervisors working at the Great Western Hospital. This led to 21 days of strike action by around 150 members during 2012, and a number of court cases are now in progress on behalf of these GMB members. On 10th July 2012, Chuka agreed as Shadow Business Secretary, along with his colleagues, Iain Wright – then Shadow Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Ian Murray – then Shadow BIS Employment Affairs, to address a public meeting in the House of Commons, in support of these workers. At this point, 10 GMB members who had given evidence to the employer about how money and gifts had been demanded by a supervisor in exchange for shift changes, holiday approvals and overtime, were being threatened with dismissal by Carillion, and though the union did successfully defeat this intended victimization, on the date of this meeting the situation was still highly tense.

We consequently organized a coach load of our members from Swindon, hospital cleaners, overwhelmingly women of South Asian origin to go to the Commons to hear Chuka speak.

On the very day of the meeting, with our members already on the coach, Chuka contacted the union to say that not only was he pulling out, but he was instructing all the members of his shadow BIS team to do the same. He had come under pressure from elsewhere, and he didn’t have the moral courage to honour his commitments to these vulnerable, low paid, and exploited women workers.

Fortunately, Ken Livingstone and Katy Clark stepped into the breach at the last minute, but in my view Chuka’s betrayal of these exploited women was shameful. Labour does need to deliver for our voters, and in my opinion Chuka showed that he was not prepared to do that.

More recently, Chuka attended a gala dinner fundraiser in Swindon. From my observation, it seemed more than usually difficult to sell tickets with Chuka as the star turn. The local GMB branch had recently taken a delegation of members to the European Parliament, who work at the M&S Distribution Centre in Swindon. They have a compelling story to tell of exploitation though Swedish Derogation contracts. I therefore spoke to a senior member of the Labour Party, and asked whether it would be a good idea for Chuka to meet them while he was in Swindon. I was advised it would be better not to put our members through that experience, as they would be demotivated by his smarmy indifference.

Now of course, my criticism here is that Chuka failed to engage with the “core vote”, and I concede that winning in a town like Swindon requires Labour to reach out beyond that constituency. So how do we judge Chuka by that criteria?

We do indeed need to win over those who are in well paid or professional jobs, and who are attracted to economic competence. We do indeed need to win over those who are less interested in abstract ideals of social justice, but who will listen to the political parties who address what they see as the best interests of themselves and their families. My experience of past campaigning in North Swindon, is that the electorate there is more than usually transactional.

However, time and again during the campaign, I was struck by how weary so many voters are with slick professional politicians, who see being an MP as a career, and don’t understand the lives of those who work in the real world. This is particularly true of those attracted to UKIP. It is reasonable to question whether a privately educated, London solicitor is the best person to connect with such voters, especially as Chuka talks the language and uses the jargon of a metropolitan policy wonk. Seeing him in Swindon’s town centre, he looks as at home as if he had just been beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.

Which brings me to the bizarre decision by Chuka to launch his campaign with the endorsement of the defeated North Swindon candidate, Mark Dempsey. North Swindon was from 1997 to 2010 a Labour seat held by Lord Wills, which the Conservatives won with a 7060 majority in 2010.

While those of us in the Labour Party, or active in Swindon’s political life, might have a different opinion, the sitting Conservative MP, Justin Tomlinson is seen by voters as a likeable enough bloke, who before becoming an MP ran a successful local business, who energized the local Conservative Party, who is seen as genuinely being committed to Swindon, and is relatively clever and articulate. He does have his vulnerabilities, but Labour failed to exploit them over the last 5 years.

The Labour candidate, with whom Chuka has deliberately sought to associate himself, is just a Poundland Justin Tomlinson, even lacking some of Justin’s strengths. He did not unite the local party, he divided it, and fell out with at least some of the unions. He was timid, and failed to establish himself with the local press as the Labour PPC, and failed to land a glove on Tomlinson during the entire long campaign, because he was too afraid to publicly disagree with the Tories over issues of substance. The result was a 4% swing to the Conservatives.

Chuka Umunna’s leadership pitch therefore seems to be that he believes that Labour can win in places like Swindon by promoting weak candidates that fail to challenge or differentiate themselves from the Tories. This is a one way path to electoral extinction.

A plea to the Conservative party’s ill-informed supporters.

by James Bolster

Paying for your own healthcare, the abolishment of the human rights bill, and the only real winners; super-rich businessmen and Eton-schooled Tory politicians; that’s what you’ve just voted for. So firstly congratulations on making use of our wonderfully fair Western democracy system that we are all so fortunate to have. As for those who voted UKIP, well done for succumbing to right-wing media propaganda largely, overseen by one of those foreigners you don’t like (Rupert Murdoch, for those wondering) so again, congratulations on the hypocrisy.

I’m not going to underline the painfully obvious ‘secret’ plans of the Conservative government to break to country down into bite size, powerless chunks with the common goal of feeding the financial elite. Anyone who has ever read anything worth reading, or watched anything worth watching with regards to politics, should have known about this way before the election. Evidently for almost half of the electorate, this isn’t the case.

The first question you might ask is ‘well it will only affect the working class, I’ll be fine won’t I?’ the simple answer, no you won’t. Take a basic look at the economic make-up of this country; the zero-hour contracts, the lack of any UK based manual labour industries, there is no real ‘working class’ anymore, there hasn’t been for generations. Thatcher saw to that before most of us were born. The lower-middle class are the new working class, those on the average wage or just above, those that are nothing more than comfortable. These are the type of families most of us are brought up in, and you can all stop pretending you are anything more than that now for the sake of pride and pretentiousness, and more importantly, for the sake of the country. Yes, according to the de-humanised, economic outlook of the Conservative party, the lower-middle class are ‘better’ than the working class. The bottom line is though, we are dispensable, and if the elites are the beneficiaries, they are only too happy to dispense with us.

If you are a student and you voted Conservative, just take a look at your current situation: You are paying a ludicrous £9000 a year in fees, you might well do a minimum wage part time job, for a huge business with a billionaire, tax-evading owner who will have you sacked if you phone in sick once or twice. You probably live in a small terraced house in an area treading the poverty line, surrounded by those people whose lives your vote has just severely affected. Chances are when you graduate, the best you can hope for is what at the moment, would seem to be a comfortable job with a slightly better than average salary, until probable healthcare insurance and rising energy bills will make it difficult for to make ends meet. If that is you, you needn’t read any further, hopefully by the time of the next election you will be able to make a better informed choice, providing you haven’t taken the understandable and non-too farfetched decision to emigrate.

Perhaps though, there is some good to come of this, the twisted and depressing reality that you wouldn’t wish on anybody. There will be more jobs lost, more benefits cut to those who rely on the system the most, people will become homeless, small businesses and more importantly, families will be torn apart. Most tragically of all there will be deaths, lots of deaths. It’s no exaggeration to suggest for at least the next five years (god forbid they stay in government after the next election) are going to be the toughest of the average working person’s lives. In case you are wondering, no, on the face of it that isn’t the ‘good’ that is going to come of this. But perhaps this is what is necessary for people to see the bigger picture, to understand the dangerous truth of right-wing politics, we’ve had our warnings, and we didn’t heed them. We are now about to pay for the elitist, materialistic, every-man-for-himself society that we have gradually built.
Perhaps a more forgivable reason for the upsurge in Tory support is disillusionment with the Labour party, completely understandable; the Blair/Brown era was hardly a success, the war in Iraq was nothing more than a tragic farce. Involvement in Afghanistan comes under continued, rightful, scepticism, and yes, the poorly planned and frankly ridiculous spending of non-existent money and the de-regulation of banks greatly contributed to the financial mess the country has been digging itself out of. But let’s not forget, the Labour government could hardly bare sole responsibility for the global financial meltdown.

It’s true that those at the top of the Labour tree have not in the main represented the working people they claim to, nor have they reflected the party’s core values. The truth of the matter is though, we live in a two party system, whether we like it or not, and that isn’t about to change. Before going into further detail, it has to be noted that in a political system with growing mistrust from the public, Labour is the significantly lesser of two evils. You may not have faith in them being able to keep to their promises, but at the very least the breaking of those promises aren’t going to severely affecting the living conditions of huge numbers of the population.

Now let’s look at Labour’s (supposed) main principles; strong community, reward for hard work and social justice are just some of the values listed on the party’s website, admirable, and one would hope reflect the beliefs of most of the population, a labour party represented by the right people would exactly what this country needs. A party is only a product of its members and those who choose to represent it, perhaps its high time more well informed and educated, but ultimately average people took a stand and properly spoke for the masses, maybe then the country could finally move in the right direction, maybe instead of sitting back and complaining about the situation, more of us should get involved. Every small contribution counts, the more people willing the speak their mind, the more will be heard, controversial as it may be, UKIP have proved that.

This is country of hugely different cultures, beliefs and levels of wealth, and yes, there is no doubt, if working harder and showing more ambition than the majority means you are wealthier than the majority, fair enough, you deserve it, but you’ll be far more deserving of that wealth if you are happy to contribute to a society that looks after those less fortunate, the country will only benefit as a whole.

The coming struggle within the Labour Party is long overdue

The malaise within the Labour Party runs deeper than even its most sternest critics could have conceived. It is measured in the fact that Ed Miliband’s defeat in the election and demise as leader was a cause for celebration not only by a victorious Tory Party but also by the Blairites within Labour’s own ranks. The sound of those champagne corks popping in the early hours of May 8 was not restricted to Tory Party HQ. It was also heard at gatherings at which Blair’s name is still associated with everything that was good about Labour rather than bad.

Coalescing within and around the party’s Progress faction, this staunch redoubt of the Third Way post-ideologial doctrine championed by Tony Blair has identified an opportunity to return to prominence in seeing one of their own elected Labour’s next leader in an upcoming battle that will determine the future of the party as no other has since 1994, when Blair took up the reins.

Crisis precedes opportunity, they say, and the voices of Labour’ recent past have been quick off the blocks in making the case across the media for the party to abandon the left orientation of Ed Miliband and return to the centre ground.

Peppering post-election interventions by the likes of Jonathan Powell, Alan Johnson, John Reid, Alastair Campbell and Blair himself have been words such as ‘aspiration’, ‘middle class’, ‘ambition, and ‘centre ground’. In other words, Mr Blair and his cohorts would have us believe that Labour’s defeat was down to the party shifting back to prioritise its base with a return to something approaching the core principles upon which the party was founded.

The world has changed, they tell us, and Labour can only win by appealing to a middle class and the business community in a coalitional arrangement that mirrors the aspiration (that word again) of people to do well for themselves and their families. It is a manifesto of selfishness, a smokescreen employed to justify the embrace of Thatcherite nostrums when it comes to the economy and the role of government as an enabler of market forces, rather than a necessary check on its unfettered drive for profit regardless of the human, social, or environmental cost.

Further, it is an analysis that collapses upon the rocks of the reality of Labour’s decimation in Scotland. The electoral hiding the party has just received north of the border had nothing to do with it being too left wing or failing to appeal to middle class swing voters. Its drubbing in its former industrial heartlands had everything to do with its past record under Blair and the abandonment of the very core values that once ensured its dominance in Scotland could be taken for granted.

Under Tony Blair, Labour abandoned the social base upon which it was founded in search of another one. This ‘other one’ comprised middle England, vying with the Tories for the votes of those driven by the principles of ‘me’, ‘myself’, and ‘mine’ instead of ‘us’, ‘we’, and ‘ours’.

The shedding of members and votes Labour experienced over two decades of Blairite domination of the party is a matter of record. Five million votes were shed over three elections upon ever-lower turnouts, as Labour voters in Scotland and throughout the country stayed at home, preferring a non vote to a vote for a party that no longer represented their communities and lived experience.

In Scotland the emergence of the SNP as a social democratic alternative to Labour – however justified when its policies are placed under scrutiny – has culminated in the most seismic political shift in British electoral history. It was no overnight occurrence and will likely take many years to reverse. The election of a Blairite as next Labour leader will only guarantee that it will never be reversed.

Scotland is not in the grip of some post-rational nationalist fever, as many commentators south of the border have postulated or inferred. The huge surge in support for independence last September was not driven by narrow nationalism but by an opportunity to break with parties and a Westminster system that had locked out working class communities from the political process, not only in Scotland but across the UK.

Alienation, marginalisation, and social and economic injustice has been the norm for large swathes of the country since

Thatcher’s revolution set about uprooting the foundations of the postwar settlement. The Iron Lady’s oft-repeated statement that one of her greatest achievements was New Labour is as true now as it was when she made it. The party of the millions was transformed into a party of the millionaires, responsible for inequality going through the roof as it eagerly attached itself to the coattails of big business, the City, and media barons such as Rupert Murdoch.

The expenses scandal, phone hacking scandal, cash for questions scandal, and of course Britain’s shameful attachment to Washington’s rear-end – these were the consequences of the Blair years. As for Iraq, this remains a stain on the British establishment that will not be eradicated until Tony Blair is held accountable for it. It was a criminal war that left a mountain of dead bodies in its wake, leading inexorably to the abyss in which Iraq and its people exist today, 13 years on.

The coming struggle within Labour between right and left is long overdue. And as it begins the right and those who adhere to the values espoused by Mr Blair should be under no illusions that they own the word ‘aspiration’. On the contrary, it is the very word that describes the hard years of struggle that won working people the justice and quality of life which they and their communities are now seeing assaulted under the rubric of austerity.

Individual aspiration or collective aspiration. Strip away the embroidery and this simple statement describes the contours of a struggle not only for the soul of the Labour Party but the country as a whole.

This weekend’s edition of the Morning Star is a must-read

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Despite the post-election woes the left is suffering, this weekend’s edition of the Morning Star reminds us of a period when the left faced a far greater enemy than the Tories and prevailed.

To commemorate VE Day the Star has produced a fantastic 12-page supplement of superb article, pictures, and commentary on the struggle against fascism.

It also contains excellent analyses by Robert Griffiths and Jeremy Corbyn MP on the reasons for Labour’s election defeat.

Ed’s message to Labour Party members

Dear ….,

This is not the email I wanted to be writing to you today. I am profoundly sorry for the defeat we suffered, and more grateful than I can express for the support that you have shown me, and our party, throughout this campaign.

I take full responsibility for the result of the election, and that’s why it’s absolutely right that I step down as Labour’s leader today.

It has been the utmost privilege to serve this party as your leader, and to spend the last four-and-a-half years fighting for the millions of British families who need and deserve the fairness, compassion and opportunity that only a Labour government can provide.

Yet while defeats are hard, we are a party that will never stop fighting for the working people of this country. Britain needs a strong Labour Party and it is the responsibility of each of us to continue the fight. The stakes are too high to wait for others to lead.

It isn’t simply leaders who achieve change, it is people that make change happen. I will never give up on that idea, I will never give up on our cause and I will never give up on our fight.

Thank you again for everything, and please, keep on fighting too. The course of progress and social justice is never simple or straightforward, and change happens because people like us don’t give up.

Yours,
Ed