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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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.