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Two Eds and the fallacy of being “tough” – even if it costs more

This is Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour’s national policy forum in Birmingham on Saturday. You can also read it here. The tough message is because

when George Osborne stands up next week and announces his cuts in day to day spending, we won’t be able to promise now to reverse them because we can only do so when we can be absolutely crystal clear about where the money is coming from.

There is no doubt that the two Eds have decided that toughness is the greatest virtue for these tough times. If we don’t show it, the story goes, we won’t be seen as fiscally responsible. But in spite of his commitment to “iron discipline“, it’s possible Ed Balls may still believe the excellent advice in his Bloomberg speech about jobs and growth, and about “changing and leading public opinion rather than being driven by it“. When we’re in government, the two Eds may well tax and borrow more to boost spending and jobs, but they’ll be careful to present it as “investment” (for which it is OK to borrow) not “day to day spending”, and we won’t commit to it in any case until we’re elected.

We don’t believe that this is the best way to win back those 5 million votes lost between 1997 and 2010. Of those voters who positively approve of austerity (far fewer than those who just see it as inevitable — the view Labour has failed to challenge), why wouldn’t they vote Tory or Lib Dem? The Two Eds are not only wrong in what they now say about what Britain needs but they are targetting the wrong voters. It’s worth looking at those who did vote Labour in 1997 and whom they support now.

Much of the analysis of what happened to Labour’s votes compares votes cast in 2010 with those cast by an earlier and older cohort in 1997 some of whom had since died. So, for example, Jon Trickett demonstrated that Labour had lost 4.1million manual workers (C2DEs) in that period although it gained 120,000 professional workers (ABs). Some argue that this reflects declining turnout by C2DEs and shifts in the social composition of the population – although others point out the inadequacies of these classifications in describing that social change – many C1s, for example, earn the minimum wage.

Peter Kellner in his analysis for an article in Prospect magazine, tracks the cohort that voted in 1997 which avoids these problems (though it ignores the nature of new voters). Their voting patters in 2010 and their intentions now are shown in this table:

million
Con
Lab
Lib Dem
Other
Non-voting or don’t know
Died
Total
May 2010
1.3
5.5
2
0.6
0.6
3.5
13.5
Sep 2012
0.7
6.4
0.3
0.7
1.3
4.1
13.5
move to Labour since GE
0.6
0.9
1.7
-0.1
-0.7

This reveals not only that 45% of the 10m survivors’ votes were lost by Labour in 2010, but much that undermines the Progress emphasis on winning Tory voters. Labour has, in fact, already succeeded in roughly halving the proportion of this cohort who intend to vote Tory next time compared with 2010. Lib Dem support from this cohort has almost been eliminated but the number of intending Tory voters is just a third of the number of don’t knows or won’t votes (which has more than doubled) plus those who intend to vote for minor parties.

Examining the table below (figures are the average of those in the last seven tracker surveys by YouGov) confirms the size of the don’t know category in the relevant age groups. There are very many people in this category who feel that the Labour party they know has far more interest in the rich and in Tory voters than people like them.

%
Con
Lab
Lib Dem
UKIP
SNP /PC
Green
Wouldn’t vote
don’t know
18 to 24
21
29
7
5
2
3
11
17
25 to 39
21
31
8
5
2
2
11
17
40 to 59
23
32
7
11
2
2
7
15
60+
29
26
9
15
2
1
3
14

Furthermore, it demonstrates that the cohort of voters too young to have voted in 1997 (i.e. now 34 or younger) are less likely to vote Tory, and more likely to vote for parties left of Labour (and much less likely to vote UKIP) than the 30% of those who voted in 1997 but have since died (6% of 18 – 24s currently intend to vote SNP, Plaid, Green or Respect compared with 3% of over 60s). Those left-wing voters plus don’t knows exceed the total number of would be Tory voters. This is not surprising: these are people who cannot or can barely remember Thatcher, who grew up or started work in the New Labour years, who witnessed the Iraq War, the MPs’ expenses scandal and have little or no experience of the values of the Labour movement but do have a deep mistrust of politicians.

What makes this story even worse is that, in its desire to present an image of “iron discipline“, Labour’s leaders ignore both the logic of their own arguments and the plight of those suffering bitterly from Tory cuts. Take for example, the bedroom tax:

Many of us would have hoped that when the shadow minister, Liam Byrne, says the bedroom tax will:

end up costing Britain more than it saves as tenants are forced to go homeless or move into the expensive private rented sector,

that might be a good enough reason to promise to reverse it – we do after all believe that it won’t save money, isn’t a “cut” at all though it certainly causes hardship. The people suffering from its implementation would certainly want us to save money by not forcing them into more expensive alternative accomodation. But it is apparently more important that we persuade people that we’re really tough and can make hard decisions. The right decision (even the financially responsible one) is, it seems, just too hard for us to make.

3 Comments

  1. Johnreid says:

    After seeing ED balls emanates sing performance at the despatch box today labor are anything but tough on spending,

  2. Dan says:

    Frankly, I wish all the members of the public who want to punish benefit claimants would just fall down and die. What a load of cruel, vicious barbarians they are. I hate them. I bloody hate them.

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