How did Labour do in the local and European elections 2014? The answer is more complicated than you might think. While the party undoubtedly did well in its urban strongholds of London and Manchester, a more detailed analysis reveals deep cause for concern as the party puts together its strategy for 2015.
We decided to compile ‘the experts’ view of how Labour did in May.
Let’s begin with Peter Kellner, President of YouGov and long-time election prognosticator.
He writes for Prospect magazine:
“If one looks at the Labour and Conservative vote…look at opposition:government, government:opposition vote shares…In 2009 Labour was in government and got 16% of the vote. Last week the Conservatives were in government and got 25% of the vote… Labour should be terrified by these results.”
If Peter Kellner were to advise concern, let alone ‘terror’ it is the kind of message that Labour should be listening to. As he points out on Progress, to win “Labour should be miles in the lead, not a paltry one per cent ahead.”
What’s the problem? For this we then turn to Lewis Baston, author of Marginal Difference and The Bradford Earthquake. He notes in a memo to Ed Miliband on the Fabian Review online:
“It is true that we are doing better than we did in 2010 (with a swing of about 4-5 per cent from the Tories), but so we bloody well should be. In most areas (other than London) 2010 was a low point and we could have hoped for better progress. Compared to Labour’s impressive gains in 2012, we have slipped back and there are a fair few wards that were Labour in 2012 but went Tory in 2014. Perhaps 2012 was always going to be Labour’s high point, as the economy languished and the Tories gifted us with an ‘omnishambles’ in the weeks before the election, but we still have to face the fact that (outside London) we did significantly worse.”
As Lewis again points out on Progress, the result in traditionally Labour areas should worry senior Labour politicians.
“We had been warned, in the 2008 local elections and the 2010 general election, but now we have suffered a severe punch in the gut from areas that have stuck with Labour even in our darkest periods like the 1980s and 1930s. Fortunately, the shadow cabinet will be under no illusions about quite how strong the Ukip vote was in white working-class areas of England.”
And he highlights high UKIP votes in Doncaster North (34 per cent), Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (25 per cent), Leeds West (28 per cent) and Morley and Outwood (23 per cent).
Although, as he points out, the risk of Ukip gaining parliamentary seats directly from Labour in 2015 is comparatively small, with the exception of the outgoing Austin Mitchell’s Great Grimsby seat, he highlights that a marginal first strategy will not suffice.
“[A] national-level political response is even more urgent because the sort of people who deserted Labour in the heartlands are also represented in the marginals. Three of the four wards in Harlow that voted Ukip in 2014 had been Labour in 2011 and 2012. Ukip’s strongest results in Southampton were the 30 per cent shares it polled in working-class wards (throwing one to the Conservatives); it was weaker in middle-class wards, where Labour polled well. In Thurrock, Ukip made strong gains, putting the contest for the second seat on Labour’s target list in turmoil.”
Ian Warren on the Fabian Review online clarifies who these missing Labour voters are.
“Between 2005 and 2014 Labour has seen dwindling support from a wide range of blue-collar working demographic groups. Transient single populations in routine occupations; low income families; comfortably off industrial workers; middle-aged working couples with young children; older couples in former council estates or low value housing. Whilst many retain their loyalty to Labour a sizeable proportion are moving to UKIP.”
He identifies Amber Valley, 11th on Labour’s target list, as a constituency where around 40 per cent of the population belong to these groups.
UKIP is then, clearly a problem for Labour. That’s not to say that it doesn’t affect the Conservative party as well but that the old orthodoxy (that UKIP was a Tory problem) is blasted.
Stephen Fisher, of Oxford University points out that the net effect of the rise of UKIP has been at the expense almost equally of both parties.
“What seems to have happened is that between 2010 and 2012 UKIP took votes mainly from the Conservatives, but between 2012 and 2014 they have had more success in attracting Labour voters.
“The net effect is that the UKIP rise from 2010 to 2014 has been at similar expense to Labour and the Conservatives.”
And as Ian Warren and Rob Ford point out in the Telegraph:
“[UKIP] have shown they can take votes from anyone – deposing the Tory council leader in Basildon, the Labour deputy leader in Rotherham, and sweeping the board in North East Lincolnshire”
They go on to say:
“Ukip draw their support from a very clear demographic: the “left-behind” electorate of older, working-class white voters with few educational qualifications. Last week’s results confirmed their strength within this group, and their weakness outside it. Ukip surged in areas along the east coast with large concentrations of such voters – places like North East Lincolnshire, Hull and Basildon – and flopped among the younger, more ethnically diverse electorates of London, Manchester and other big cities, as well as in university-dominated areas such as Oxford and Cambridge.”
Where does this leave Labour strategy? You might, as Sunder Katwala does, believe, “there is no majority strategy in play for Labour right now. This looks like a 32-35% strategy”. Yet such a strategy will be insufficient for Labour to win the next election.
Anthony Painter nicely summarises the dilemma for LabourList:
“Labour has two strategic problems: convincing white working class voters to stick with and suburban voters to support it. Labour has convinced former Liberal Democrats and that’s it. It seems to be losing ground amongst white working class voters if anything and suburban voters simply aren’t engaged.”
If elections are about momentum, then the Conservatives seem to have more reason for optimism than Labour at the moment. Labour will need to up its game to have a chance of a majority in 2015.