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Why any Labour leader who can’t reach working class voters will lose again

working classThis is a defining moment for the future, and arguably the survival, of the Labour Party. In the coming months there will be much debate about what went wrong and where next.

In 2005, I produced evidence that Labour had lost 4 million voters since the election in 1997. A substantial part of these missing millions were traditional working class voters. This pattern has continued over the last 10 years.

In a minor tidal wave of what looks like pre planned statements, a group of commentators have argued that what lost the election was a failure to tap into the hopes of “aspirational” voters.

However, there is not a shred of evidence for their argument. The explanations for our defeat are deeper than this simplistic assessment.

The truth is that Labour recovered amongst middle class voters but has suffered a cataclysmic decline among working class voters.

It is possible to scrutinise now the initial voting analysis provided to me by the House of Commons Library.

If we compare the election results for our last election victory in 2005 with the result last Thursday and analyse by social class, a very interesting pattern emerges.

Here are the figures.

  2005 2010 2015
AB 28 26 27
C1 32 28 30
C2 40 29 30
DE 48 40 37

It is possible here to see that the proportions of AB and C1 voters who voted Labour in the last three elections has held steady. Indeed Ed Miliband’s leadership led to a mild recovery of these voters between 2010 and 2015 (as it did among the C2 group).

A full analysis of what happened last Thursday is not yet possible but at least one opinion poll has shown that the election result implied by polling would give the Tories 12.5 m votes and Labour 12.2 million. However, in the event the Tories secured 11.3 million votes and Labour 9.3 million. There were almost 3 million Labour identifiers that we failed to mobilise.

Labour’s electoral base last Thursday was by far the most middle class we have secured in our history. A strategy based on a misunderstanding of what is happening in our country will not work. We cannot expect to win an election without reaching out to other layers of the population and equally mobilising those Labour identifiers who didn’t bother to vote.

In the coming leadership election, candidates need therefore first of all honestly to demonstrate that they can develop a three-fold strategy in England (Scotland is a very special case):

A)      Hold on to and indeed increase our middle class vote

B)      Reach out to working class voters, and

C)      Mobilise Labour identifiers who did not vote Labour.

I will shortly publish further reflections on what we do next. However, the party should not elect a Leader who cannot concretely demonstrate that they can reach out to working class voters since they are the largest group of the electorate whose support we have lost.

Those in the parliamentary Labour party with leadership aspirations cannot remain in denial or ignorance of these facts. They do so at their own peril, but more fundamentally fail to understand why the Labour Party exists.


  1. Robert says:

    Labour or as they are now known The Progress party, have stated they do not do working class, or welfare or benefits.

    Cooper today is talking about the future not about looking back to Blair or Brown but if you do not look back and remember the good things not to many mind and the bad things your likely to do the same again.

    But Cooper, Chuka, are eager to state we are not labour of the past, but labour of the future which is what old labour said in fact it’s what Blair said often.

    Nothing has changed it’s the same old political speak, telling us we are new but in fact your old labour, hence labour is the party of the NHS you fell back onto that golden nugget but people did not believe you.

    I remember old labour saying we are labour of the future, do not look back look forward but at least they did not attack the vulnerable and they did speak about working class, not working people.

    The fact is labour or the Tories your way to close these day and people may as well toss a coin.

    In other words what Chuka Cooper are saying is one of the best knowledge nothing has changed it’s political spin. we are now back into the golden period of pure Spin and PR.

  2. Gareth Young says:

    Working class voters are more likely to identify as English (as opposed to British) than middle class voters (although all strata of English society are now more likely to identify as English), so Labour is going to have difficulty reconnecting whilst still perceived as being uncomfortable with, or hostile to, English identity.

    Ther’s no way Chuka will appeal to anyone working class or north of Watford. Burnham at least doesn’t think himself above the people he represents.

  3. John says:

    In order to understand what happened to the Labour vote, it is important to analyse who the people who voted Lib Dem in 2010, but didn’t this time, voted for instead.

    A very simple model could accept that in seats where the Green vote increased most of the increase would come from ex Lib Dem voters (2%-3%), some would go to the Tories (say 1%) the rest would have gone to Labour (voters who deserted us in 2010?). Given the decline in the Lib Dem vote that means in most seats 10%+ of the vote would have shifted from Lib Dems to Labour. Can anyone provide an argument why these ex Lib Dems would have voted UKIP or Tory instead?

    Unfortunately the Labour vote did not not increase by the size of the returning Lib Dem vote. Why not? The only logical explanation is that we lost votes to UKIP.

    I’ve modelled this in a few seats and it is clear that Labour lost votes to UKIP and this loss of votes outweighed in some cases the size of the Tory majority. For example in Southampton Itchen (Tory gain) the Lab share of the vote decreased by 0.2%,
    Con up by 5.4%,
    Libs lost 17.3.
    UKIP up by 9.1% &
    Greens up by 2.8%.
    With my model 2.8% of the Lib vote went to Greens, 1.7% to Tory, the rest 12.8% went to Labour, but as the Labour vote decreased by 0.2% that means 13% went somewhere else. Even if all the Tory increase (5.4%) was ex Labour that still means 7.6% went to UKIP, approximately 3,500 votes – the Tory majority was 2,316.

    Without going through the figures a similar result happened in Halesowen & Rowley Regis (one of our target seats) we lost 4,300 votes to UKIP the Tory majority was 3,082.

    Before anyone accuses me of picking and choosing seats to suit my argument. I used to live in Southampton (so have have interest in what happens there) and now live in Sandwell next to the Halesowen constituency.

    I assume most CLPs will have carried out an analysis of each ballot box as the number of votes were verified. I suspect that they will show the same as the result I have seen from one ward. There was a marked increase in the UKIP vote from the most deprived areas of the ward. Those unfortunately were the voters our policies didn’t address (or at least they perceived our policies were not for them). As the author says the current crop of statements from Blairites about a failure to capture the ‘aspirational’ vote is complete tosh. If the new leadership accept that and fail to address where we actually lost votes then we lose again in 2020.

    1. Carl says:

      In my CLP (Labour gain by the way!) we did absolutely hammer the working class areas campaign wise. As a result we did get an improved vote share and an improved turnout, although UKIP’s vote was indeed also up.

      Where the Tories did do surprisingly well was in bungalow-land. Ok, not our core areas, but neither are they the ‘aspirational’ voters that Chukka and the like are banging on about. What happened is the Tories scared a bunch of pensioners into believing the SNP would have England over a barrel if Labour got elected.

      1. Robert says:

        Bungalow land you mean the disabled the sick and the elderly, interesting view.

        1. Carl says:

          Not so many disabled around there per se.

          People on a relatively comfortable retirement compared to some parts of the constituency but nevertheless they’re people who’ve worked all their lives and many in very much working class jobs, got a decent pension and a nice little bungalow but probably relatively low educational attainment mostly due to the age profile. They aren’t the kind of people the Blairites think went against us (or want us to believe went against us) – they aren’t people who’ve ever earnt anything like 40-50k p/a – they aren’t metropolitan middle-class southerners and they aren’t going to be impressed by a metropolitan middle-class type.

          So my point is if you like, that it wasn’t us being too left-wing that put them off. They may have had concerns that our leader wasn’t ‘strong’ enough or that he didn’t talk their language, but it wasn’t so much policy.

      2. John says:

        It seems you did what most of the rest of the party didn’t do and go and talk to those the Tories and their friends in the media were targeting. It appears therefore that you were able to counter the Tory negative campaign and explain how Labour’s policies would help the working class. I’d like to put your CLP results into my model, can you tell us which constituency it is?

  4. gerry says:

    Jon- this is all obvious stuff! If Labour can’t win many more working class and lower middle class voters (C2, DEs though I hate these terms) AND/or enthuse at least 3 -4 million non voters of 2015, then we will never come close to power

    The only (big) question is how we do that – a refried New Labour or blue Labour mix which – by appealing to the 60% of voters who backed the Tories, UKIP, and the Lib Dems – can restore the big tent that swept us to victories in 1997 and 2001?….or a more ideologically left or centre left party which can hold on to the 9 million and enthuse at least 4 million non voters especially in the South, East, Midlands and suburbs? A massive task and ask too!

    Scotland, to be blunt, has to be electorally written off for the foreseeable future, given the scale of the SNP’s majorities and the emotional power of nationalism there, and probable independence.

  5. Bazza says:

    The Tories were elected by 24% of the electorate and 76% of the people in the UK did not support them (and millions of people didn’t even bother to register to vote).
    They perhaps look at the parties and may see bland politicians with bland policies and bland words and they may think, “Same old, same old” and as someone said,”Who Speaks for Our Dreams?”
    I am not a politician but a grassroots democratic socialist and I want to win people to our ideas(working class people, the progressive middle class and the general middle class – with this latter group mainly being socialised to vote Tory when we need to win them to the progressive middle class).
    So we need to be honest and could start by exploding the myth that MPs know everything about everything and are “experts” when of course as socialists we don’t know everything but we have good hearts and minds and can read up on issues and seek advice plus most importantly of all draw upon evidence.
    And what is the charge against us?
    Trying to build a beautiful, peaceful, dynamic and progressive society (and World).
    But it could be argued that Labour seems to have forgotten that it is a political party and that they should be about political education as well as campaigning (needed now more than ever) and of course winning elections.
    Shouldn’t we all be trying to get other human beings to feel what we feel and to also pursue social, economic, and environmental justice?
    And in short to help us to kick Neo-Liberalism out!
    It may also help Labour’s case to use humour, poetry, art and music.
    They perhaps need a leader who reflects a visionary grassroots.
    I support Labour because it has a very decent grassroots and because it is where the trade unions are (perhaps the only genuine working class voice left today) and because I believe in peaceful, democratic, radical change.
    But whatever we all do, we should be working with sister parties so that progressive forces all over the World are fighting for the same things at the same time; a global living wage, decent global health services, global better health & safety at work, more democratic public ownership (by country) with staff electing qualified boards and communities having a say, and urgent global environmental action.
    “Who will speak for our dreams?” All of us.
    Yours in love, peace & international solidarity.

  6. James Martin says:

    I find these sorts of discussions of class highly misleading, as the working class is far bigger than those who believe belong to it, although it is smaller then the US radicals slogan of the 99% vs 1%.

    The reality is that few people are able to do anything else other than to sell their labour for a wage. The tragedy is that we are still allowing the Tories to break of large chunks of that overwhelming working class majority by making them believe they are something else. This is particularly surprising given that most of the white collar professions that were seen as middle class in decades past are now nothing of the sort, and staff in local government and the civil service tend to be low paid workers lacking job security.

    So like ‘aspiration’ we should first define class on our terms, not theirs, and then we will see far better the job that needs to be done.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Remember when Michael foot went too Plymouth in 1983′ he was advised to go to the town hall, he went to the council estate, and was devastated to see SDP posters in every window, what do the hard left know about the working class

  8. Pension60 says:

    I was a lifelong Labour voter, as were all the generations before me, probably back to the start of Labour.

    Stopped voting Labour as the Labour left behind the working class.

    Labour offered me nothing. No benefit, no state pension. With nil coming now from 2016.

    So having watched the SYRIZA landslide now, have written up a new party for the 70 per cent who will never vote Labour again.

    Labour has now lost two general elections in a row.

    For the Labour Left without any ‘aspirations’ for the middle class vote, that may as well vote Tory.

    See my NEW PARTY page by clicking through my red button on my web page

    Below menu heading, is a drop down menu page BLOG to show support in the comment.

    Mr Salmond SNP says the Tories will not last 6 months.

    So between Labout Left and the unions a brand new party, could win as big as SYRIZA, and able to enact Statutory Instruments to end austerity laws and cruelties that are the direct cause of starvation.

    To the working poor and unemployed, the unemployed, the terminally ill, those with cancer, pregnant mother sanctioned for months, and families with kids and the mentally ill.

    Pensioners did not even make it onto the Edstone.

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