In just two years, Labour has increased its support from 29 per cent at the General Election to over 40 per cent in many opinion polls today. A result anywhere near this at the next general election would translate into majority Labour government, even with the proposed new constituency boundaries. Yet many in the Labour Party feel that our support is soft and sense this strong showing must be a temporary spasm.
New analysis by the Fabian Society using YouGov polling suggests that Labour’s election-winning lead should be more enduring. For the first time we looked in depth at people declaring support for Labour today who did not back the party in 2010: ‘Ed’s converts’ as we call them. Our conclusion is that the majority are unlikely to turn their back on the party.
The first reason for thinking this is that ‘Ed’s converts’ are distinctly left-leaning. Three quarters are former Liberal Democrats, with 2010 Lib Dem voters outnumbering Conservatives four-to-one. Indeed Labour is well ahead in the polls despite having won over just 6 per cent of David Cameron’s 2010 supporters. Surprisingly we found that, as a group, ‘Ed’s converts’ are actually more left wing than the typical supporter of either the Liberal Democrat or Labour parties in 2010.
77 per cent agree with the statement ‘services like health and education should not be run as businesses; they depend on the values and ethos of the public good’ compared to 67 per cent of 2010 Labour supporters and 60 per cent of the public. Even more notable, 40 per cent of ‘Ed’s converts’ agree that ‘the UK should have higher levels of tax to maintain current public services and provide a wider range of better funded free services in the future’. This compares to 22 per cent of all adults, 35 per cent of 2010 Labour voters and 33 per cent of 2010 Liberal Democrats.
The political views of ‘Ed’s converts’
|Ed’s Converts||2010 Labour||2010 Lib Dems||All adults|
|Government is a force for good||50%||47%||48%||41%|
|Support higher taxes to pay for public services||40%||35%||33%||22%|
|Believe public services should not be run as businesses.||77%||67%||74%||60%|
These results show that the former Lib Dems who have swelled Labour ranks mainly come from the left of the party, the Charles Kennedy social democrat wing. Perhaps this is no surprise, but it is surprising that there are enough of these new left-leaning Labour supporters to give the party such a comfortable lead in the polls.
The Fabian analysis also shows that a large proportion of ‘Ed’s converts’ are likely to stick with Labour come what may. Intuitively this stands to reason, since a largely left-leaning group has few other places to turn, but the data is striking. As many of Labour’s new supporters say they are very likely to vote Labour as is the case with Gordon Brown’s 2010 voters. Respondents to the YouGov survey were asked ‘on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means you would never consider voting for them, and 10 means you would definitely consider voting for them, how likely are you to consider voting for the following parties at the next election?’. 86 per cent of ‘Ed’s converts’ gave an answer between 7 and 10 out of 10, compared to 85 per cent of 2010 Labour voters.
The ‘stickiness’ of ‘Ed’s converts’ was also clear when we asked the same question about the other two parties. Only 17 per cent of the group would even consider voting Conservative and 43 per cent Liberal Democrat (each defined as a 4 out of 10 chance or higher). This suggests that around half Labour’s new supporters are pretty much undetachable, even if the coalition parties stage a good recovery. This ‘worst case’ level of support would still translate to Labour securing around 35 per cent in the next election, which guarantees another hung parliament. For the Tories to lead Labour pretty much all ‘Ed’s converts’ who would still consider voting Conservative or Liberal Democrat would need to switch their allegiance back. That’s not impossible, but it should be preventable.
2010 voters who would not consider voting for the same party again
|On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means you would never consider voting for them, and 10 means you would definitely consider voting for them, how likely are you to consider voting for the following parties at the next election?|
|Would Consider voting Lib Dem – 2010 Lib Dem voters|
|No (0 to 3)||32%|
|Maybe (4 to 6)||25%|
|Yes (7 to 10)||43%|
|Would Consider voting Conservative – 2010 Conservative voters|
|No (0 to 3)||10%|
|Maybe (4 to 6)||15%|
|Yes (7 to 10)||75%|
|Would consider voting Labour – 2010 Labour voters|
|No (0 to 3)||4%|
|Maybe (4 to 6)||11%|
|Yes (7 to 10)||85%|
After that, predicting what will happen in three years time gets harder. But there is enough evidence in our survey to suggest that Labour has a strong chance of winning a majority.
The first reason for thinking this is that prospects for a Liberal Democrat revival are limited (at least while they are in coalition and with their current leadership). One third of 2010 Liberal Democrat voters say they will not consider supporting the party (using the same question as before). This means that even with a partial recovery the Lib Dems will struggle to win more than
16 per cent of the vote (compared to 23 per cent in 2010), with Labour the main beneficiaries. The election number-crunchers reckon that this means Labour would win a majority, even after boundary changes, with just a modest lead over the Tories on Election Day.
The second reason for being confident on Labour’s behalf is more paradoxical. It turns out that Ed Miliband’s main electoral weakness is also a strength. He is struggling to win the backing of voters who backed Cameron in 2010 (just 6 per cent of 2010 Conservatives now support Labour). But he is way ahead in the polls despite this. As a result he is less vulnerable to losing his current poll lead than would otherwise be the case, as there aren’t many flip-flopping ex-Tory voters on his side who might change their mind again.
With the ‘uniting’ of the left behind Labour it therefore becomes possible to imagine a Labour majority without a ‘new Labour’ appeal to lots of those famous swing-voters who choose between Labour and the Conservatives at each election. All Miliband would need to do to win would be to keep the very modest number of former Tory supporters who have already switched to Labour.
This is potentially revolutionary for how Labour does politics because a voter with a 50:50 chance of voting Conservative or Labour tends to be on the right of centre-ground opinion (remember that 64 per cent of voters didn’t back the Tories in 2010). An appeal to this demographic segment therefore drags political discourse to the right of mainstream public opinion. So a Labour campaign that relied less on swing-voters would permit a modest shift to the left without the prospect of electoral oblivion.
That does not mean that Labour’s work is done. Far from it. For the notional Labour vote reported in the polls actually needs to turn out on election day. Labour still has a long way to go to develop ideas and language that appeal both to lower income communities and left liberal voters, who now make up two distinct ‘core’ constituencies for the party. These blocs can be brought together on economic issues, but Miliband faces a real challenge in defining a social agenda that motivates both blue-collar voters and social liberals.
Ed’s role-models now must be Obama or Hollande not Tony Blair. The Labour Party does not have to trim to the centre to win, indeed it may need to do more to show that it offers a distinct alternative to the coalition. But it does need to be seen as a convincing Government-in-waiting and here the critical factors for success will be perceptions of leadership and economic credibility.
The Conservatives need to worry about turnout too, as well as the splintering of the right of centre vote. Indeed even with the Tories so low in the polls their support appears to be softer than Labour’s: while 24 per cent of current Conservative supporters would consider Labour, the figure is just 11 per cent in the opposite direction. At the moment 17 per cent of 2010 Tory voters say they are undecided or won’t vote and 9 per cent back UKIP. Overall one-in-ten 2010 Conservatives will not consider voting for the party again (ie they say there is a 0-3 out of 10 chance of considering the Tories). By contrast, the only source of new support David Cameron can count on are former Lib Dem voters, but our survey suggests he can only expect to pick up at most one-in-five of their number.
Although the Conservatives are certain to recover from their current dreadful polling, this analysis suggests there is an upper limit on the support they can expect. It is this potentially long-term slump in the Conservative vote that would allow Labour to win a majority even without large numbers of Cameron’s 2010 support switching directly to Miliband. Nigel Farage could decide the next election.
It is becoming received wisdom in Westminster that politics is in ‘stalemate’ with neither large party able to win voters off the other. While this is true, the Fabian analysis shows that it is because Labour has won few ex-Tory votes that its current lead is less ‘soft’ than first appears.
Even without an army of former Cameron supporters, Labour stands a very good chance of winning a majority in 2015 if it successfully unites the left. Labour are now the favourites, with all the pressures, pitfalls and opportunities that implies.
Andrew Harrop is General Secretary of the Fabian Society.
This article forms part of the society’s Labour’s Next Majority programme.