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Why did Labour lose?

Labour failed to get aspiration or to reach people in and only appealed to one section of the electorate, says Jon Cruddas.

The third message from our Independent Review is that Labour was sunk by a tsunami of aspirant voters,  and pollsters could not see it coming.

You can find our first Inquiry message here and our second here.

Our poll used a YouGov panel of 3000 English and Welsh voters and incorporated 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.

We conducted two polls in England and Wales, one in November 2014 and one after the May election. Each had representative samples of 3000 people,

By comparing the two polls  we can see the shift between how voters in each values group said they would vote in November 2014 and how they now tell us they actually voted in the election.

In our November poll Labour was six per cent ahead, in line with other national polls at the time. But in our poll of how people voted in the general election in England and Wales the Tories are eight per cent ahead, again in line with the general election result in England and Wales.

Over the period between the two polls Labour was weakest amongst socially conservative Settlers and strongest amongst liberal progressive Pioneers. It held its ground among both values groups.

The Tories improved their position among both Pioneers and Settlers but at the expense of the smaller parties. At the election Labour remained ahead among Pioneers (5 per cent) but among Settlers it ended up significantly behind the Tories (16 per cent).

However it was the pragmatic-minded Prospectors who dealt Labour its devastating electoral defeat. In our poll in November 2014 Labour was 6 per cent ahead of the Tories in this values group. By the election it was fully 19 per cent behind. Prospectors who had said they would vote Labour or who had considered voting Labour swung behind the Tories, who secured a phenomenal 50 per cent of all voters from this values group. 

These aspirant voters responded to the Tory messages on a strong economy, low taxes, and sound finances. They abandoned Labour because it lacked economic credibility and gave the perception that it would be profligate in government. Pragmatic minded Prospector voters, concerned about their financial prospects, secured the Conservatives an unexpected victory.

Pollsters did not see this coming. Pragmatic minded voters typically have little interest in politics. But those who were feeling the pinch before the election were angry that their life is a struggle. If asked who they would vote for many may have been inclined to say Labour when they had not fully confronted the choice between Labour and the Conservatives.  But the harsh reality for Labour was that in the polling booth its economic credibility looked threadbare and it posed an untenable risk for too many aspirant voters.

Our third Inquiry message reinforces the electoral rule that a party has to be trusted on the economy to be electable. And it again highlights the problem of Labour’s growing cultural exclusivity. The heat maps below provide graphic illustrations of this trend. You can read the maps using the descriptions of the Values group above.

Despite its weaknesses among Settlers, Labour’s pre-election support shows a reasonable spread among Prospectors and Pioneers. 

Labour support November 2014

But the election result shows the consequence of where Labour’s support currently sits in the voter population, as its support among Prospectors retrenches.   

Labour support at the general election

It reveals the extraordinary contraction in Labour’s electoral appeal to what is effectively one cultural segment of the population. In contrast the Tories managed to position themselves in a more balanced way across the voter population, winning over the centre ground where values are softer, doing well among Settlers and dominating among Prospectors.

Conservative support in the 2015 general election 

The Tories lack support amongst liberal progressives but their policies on a living wage, on childcare provision and on the NHS are designed to reach out to this group.

Their rhetoric on being a party of the workers is designed to solidify their support among Prospectors, and lock Labour out of this aspirant group.

In contrast Labour is becoming dangerously out of touch with the electorate and as of now appears unwilling to recognise its predicament. Labour’s historical task is to represent the interests of working people in government. It means listening to the people, trusting their judgment, letting them decide the destiny of their country. And it means recognising when we got it wrong and learning from our failure.

 

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

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Europe's elections show why liberals should avoid fatalism

France, Germany and the Netherlands suggest there is nothing inevitable about the right's advance.

Humans are unavoidably pattern-seeking creatures. We give meaning to disparate events where little or none may exist. So it is with Brexit and Donald Trump. The proximity of these results led to declarations of liberalism's demise. After decades of progress, the tide was said to have unavoidably turned.

Every election is now treated as another round in the great duel between libralism and populism. In the Netherlands, the perennial nativist Geert Wilders was gifted outsize attention in the belief that he could surf the Brexit-Trump wave to victory. Yet far from triumphing, the Freedom Party finished a distant second, increasing its seats total to 20 (four fewer than in 2010). Wilders' defeat was always more likely than not (and he would have been unable to form a government) but global events gifted him an aura of invincibility.

In France, for several years, Marine Le Pen has been likely to make the final round of the next presidential election. But it was only after Brexit and Trump's election that she was widely seen as a potential victor. As in 2002, the front républicain is likely to defeat the Front National. The winner, however, will not be a conservative but a liberal. According to the post-Trump narrative, Emmanuel Macron's rise should have been impossible. But his surge (albeit one that has left him tied with Le Pen in the first round) suggests liberalism is in better health than suggested.

In Germany, where the far-right Alternative für Deutschland was said to be remorselessly advancing, politics is returning to traditional two-party combat. The election of Martin Schulz has transformed the SPD's fortunes to the point where it could form the next government. As some Labour MPs resign themselves to perpeutal opposition, they could be forgiven for noting what a difference a new leader can make.

2016 will be forever remembered as the year of Brexit and Trump. Yet both events could conceivably have happened in liberalism's supposed heyday. The UK has long been the EU's most reluctant member and, having not joined the euro or the Schengen Zone, already had one foot outside the door. In the US, the conditions for the election of a Trump-like figure have been in place for decades. For all this, Leave only narrowly won and Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than her opponent. Liberalism is neither as weak as it is now thought, nor as strong as it was once thought.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.