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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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear