He's toxic, Labour are slipping under. Photo: Getty Images
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Labour are becoming a toxic brand, warns Jon Cruddas

The latest findings from our inquiry make bleak reading, says Jon Cruddas. 

The fifth message from our independent review polling is that Labour is becoming the toxic brand.

Our polling is based on a representative sample of 3000 English and Welsh voters using the YouGov panel and analysed by the Campaign Company. We asked voters a question about their voting preference. Did they, ‘always vote’ for a particular political party, ‘sometimes vote for it’, ‘consider voting for it’ or, ‘never vote for it’.

In 2011, the Campaign Company used the same YouGov panel to ask

almost 2500 voters the same set of options for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  Our 2015 survey differed only in having a slightly larger sample and in including Ukip.

To determine the toxicity score for each party we measured the proportion of the electorate that say they will “never vote” for a particular party.

In 2011, the Conservative Party was clearly more toxic than Labour.  Despite Labour’s defeat in the 2010 general election only 31 per cent of voters said they would never vote Labour while 40 per cent said they would never vote Conservative. Today the toxicity gap between the two parties has all but disappeared. 36 per cent of the electorate say they will never vote Labour and 38 per cent say they will never vote Conservative.

Labour is now as toxic in the South  - the South East (outside London), South West and East Anglia – as the Tories are in the North. 42 per cent of voters in the South say they will never vote Labour and 43 per cent of voters in the North say they will never vote Conservative. The full significance of this for Labour lies in the fact that it must win 27 seats in the South to gain a majority of one on a uniform national swing.

The regional dimension to Labour’s toxicity is compounded among the over 60s – the age group most likely to vote.  45 per cent say they will never vote Labour and just 30 per cent say they will never vote Conservative. Unless Labour detoxifies its brand with the grey vote it will find it all but impossible to win a majority again.

To get a deeper analysis of Labour’s toxicity amongst voters our polling incorporates the Values Modes analysis. This divides the population into three main values groups based on dominant motivations.

The first group are the Pioneers who currently make up 34 per cent of voters. They are spread evenly through different age groups. Pioneers are socially liberal and more altruistic than most voters. They are at home in metropolitan modernity and its universalist values. As the name suggests they value openness, creativity, self fulfilment and self determination. They are more likely to vote according to their personal ideals and principles such as caring and justice. They tend to be better off and to have been to university. They now make up a large majority of the Labour Party membership.

The second group are Prospectors. These voters are acquisitive and aspirational. Their priorities are to improve their social status and material wealth. They value a good time, the trappings of success and the esteem of others. They typically have little or no interest in politics. They vote pragmatically for which ever party they think will improve their financial circumstances. They also want to back winners. Their transactional approach to voting means they form a high proportion of non voters and switch voters. They tend to be younger and currently make up 37 per cent of voters.

The third group are the Settlers who are socially conservative and are concerned with home, family and national security. They value safety, a sense of belonging, their own cultural identity and the continuity of their way of life. They want to avoid risk. Tradition, rules and social order are important to them. They tend to be amongst the older age groups and currently make up 29 per cent of voters.

These value groups function like archetypes. They frame the complexities of cultural traits and patterns of behaviour while avoiding fixing voters into simplistic unchanging categories based on income, demographics or other visible attributes. Each individual has elements of all three values and their proportions shift and alter throughout our life course. The polling is designed to capture the dominant motivation that shapes an individuals voting intention.

Between 2011 and 2015 Labour’s toxicity score among altruistic Pioneers remained stable, down one per cent from 28 per cent to 27 per cent. But among aspirant Prospectors it increased by 11 per cent, from 28 per cent to 39 per cent. Among socially conservative Settlers it increased by 8 per cent, from 35 per cent to 43 per cent. Labour is now more toxic among socially conservative voters than the Conservatives on 37 per cent and Ukip on 35 per cent.

 Toxicity score by values group –  % of voters who say they will never vote Labour or Conservative

 

All electorate

Altruistic voters (Pioneers)

Aspirant voters

(Prospectors)

Socially conservative voters (Settlers)

2011 Conservative toxicity

40

45

34

40

2011 Labour toxicity

31

28

28

35

2015 Conservative toxicity

38

44

30

35

2015 Labour toxicity

36

27

39

43

Current toxicity gap (Conservative minus Labour)

2

17

-9

-8

 

The main cause of Labour’s toxicity amongst socially conservative voters is their perception of its ‘open door’ approach to immigration. Our second inquiry message revealed that since 2005 these voters are the most likely to have deserted Labour. Our polling suggests that UKIP has benefitted most from the collapse of their support. Labour’s current toxicity score amongst these voters suggests that many of them will be hard to win back.

Amongst aspirant voters the main cause of Labour’s toxicity, and one shared by socially conservative Settlers, is its lack of credibility on the economy. As our third inquiry message revealed it was the pragmatic-minded Prospectors, concerned about their financial prospects, who dealt Labour its devastating electoral defeat. They abandoned Labour because it gave the perception that it would be profligate in government.

Both Prospectors and Settlers believe Labour is a ‘soft touch’ on welfare spending. As our fourth inquiry message argues Labour has marched decisively away from the views of voters on welfare in each of the last two general elections, but particularly in May, 2015. 65 per cent of the 2015 electorate agree (strongly or tend to agree) that ‘our welfare system is too generous to people who aren’t prepared to work hard for a living’ compared to 18 per cent who disagree (strongly or tend to disagree).

Amongst Labour’s 2005 voters 54 per cent agree with the statement compared to 27 per cent who disagree. By 2015 there has been a significant shift in attitude. 40 per cent of 2015 Labour voters agree with the statement compared to 37 per cent who disagree.

 

Our fifth message confirms once again the extraordinary contraction in Labour’s electoral appeal to what is effectively one cultural segment of the population – those who tend to be socially liberal, progressive minded and higher educated. It is a trend that is linked to the Labour brand becoming increasingly toxic amongst voters.

 

You can find the first four of our Inquiry messages here, here, here, and here.

Jon Cruddas is Labour's policy review coordinator and MP for Dagenham

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.