Labour voters lost faith in the state

New polling data suggests Labour needs to support public-sector cuts if it is to get through to the

What has got lost in the election post-mortem is the "listening" bit of "listening and learning". We are told that the Labour Party lost because it wasn't "on people's side". But analysis of new polling commissioned by Demos suggests that voters were turned off by Labour's main message on public services.

The poll shows that voters who deserted Labour at the last election felt that government spending had reached or even breached acceptable limits and no longer viewed the state as a force for good.

Demos commissioned YouGov to undertake a 45,000-respondent poll on social attitudes and perceptions of the main political parties in order to understand the election outcome. The poll allows Demos to compare the outlook of voters Labour lost since 2005 with that of those they retained at the last election. The full results will be published in September by the Open Left project.

Labour didn't have the funds to do private polling in the run-up to the last election on anything like the scale it had done in previous elections. So the party was limited to testing voter opinion in very small sample focus groups. This post-election poll shows that Labour's defence of services against spending cuts was falling on deaf ears.

When asked about the NHS, a third of voters who stayed with Labour thought the priority was to "avoid cuts", but among the voters who Labour lost, that proportion was just over one in ten (only 13 per cent). More than half (55 per cent) of voters that Labour lost thought that the priority should be to "seek greater efficiency and end top-down control" in the NHS, compared to just under a third (31 per cent) of voters that Labour retained.

More than one in three (35 per cent) of voters who left Labour at the last election felt "people should have more choices and control over local services", compared with just over one in four (28 per cent) who stuck by Labour. Almost one in five (19 per cent) of voters that Labour lost felt "central government interferes too much in local services" -- almost twice as many (12 per cent) as those who remained loyal Labour voters.

More than one in four (27 per cent) of voters that Labour lost said they saw government as "part of the problem not the solution", compared to just over one in ten (14 per cent) that Labour retained. More than half (54 per cent) of voters who stuck by Labour at the last election consider government to be "a force for good", improving their lives and the lives of their family, but among voters who left Labour this view fell to just one in three (33 per cent).

The poll also supplies evidence of a north/south divide, with more than a third (35 per cent) of voters in the north seeing government as "a force for good", compared to just over one in four (27 per cent) who see government as "part of the problem not the solution".

Labour has consistently argued that spending cuts should not go too far or too fast, but this poll shows that a significant number of voters recognise the need for cuts. That includes many people who recently voted Labour, many of whom felt that Labour was spending too much, too wastefully, with too little benefit for them and their families.

This poll will, with any luck, be a wake-up call for Labour's leadership candidates. The next leader needs to support public-sector cuts and embrace the "big society" agenda if he or she is to be heard by the public. Ultimately, Labour will not be re-elected on the determination of its opposition but on the credibility of its alternative.

In 1997, Labour needed to prove it had the economic credibility to be trusted to govern. At the next election, however, the next Labour leader needs to show voters that Labour can be trusted to reform the state, not just fight the cuts.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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