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

The University Challenge final. Photo: BBC iPlayer
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Why University Challenge is deliberately asking more questions about women

Question setters and contestants on how the show finally began to gender-balance its questions – and whether it’s now harder as a result.

University Challenge has long had a gender problem. When the show first started airing in 1962, some Oxbridge colleges were still refusing to admit women as undergraduates; in the decades since, women have been consistently outnumbered by men, with all-male teams still a regular occurrence. Those women that did appear were all too regularly criticised and objectified in equal measure by audiences: notable contestants like Hannah Rose Woods, Emma Johnson, Samantha Buzzard and Sophie Rudd have experienced intense media scrutiny and criticised the sexism of the show and audiences. In recent years, sexism rows have dogged the show.

How satisfying, then, to see two women carrying their teams in last night’s final: Rosie McKeown for winners St John’s, Cambridge, and Leonie Woodland for runners-up Merton, Oxford. Both secured the majority of points for their teams – McKeown with visible delight, Woodland looking unsure even as she delivered correct answer after correct answer.

But there is another site of sexism on University Challenge, one that earns less column inches: the questions. Drawing on all areas of history, science, language, economics and culture, the questions often concern notable thinkers, artists, scientists, and sportspeople. Of course, our society’s patriarchal hierarchies of achievement have meant that the subjects of these questions are mostly men. General knowledge is, after all, a boys’ club.

Over the course of this 2017-8 series, though, I noticed a shift. More women than ever seemed to be making their way into the questions, at times with deliberate reference to the inherent sexism of their lack of cultural prominence. On 5 February, there was a picture round devoted to female composers, with contestents asked to identify Clara Schumann, Ethel Smyth, Rachel Portman and Bjork from photographs, who, Paxman explained, are all “women that are now listed in the EdExcel A Level music syllabus after the student Jessy McCabe petitioned the exam board in 2015.” Episodes have included bonus rounds on “prominent women” (the writer Lydia Davis, the pilot Lydia Litvyak, and the golfer Lydia Ko), “women born in the 1870s and 80s” (Rosa Luxemburg, Elizabeth Arden and Vanessa Bell), and the female philosophers Mary Midgely, Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch.

Elsewhere, questions raise a knowing eyebrow at the patriarchal assumptions behind so much of intellectual endeavour. A music round on famous rock bands quoted the music critic Kelefa Sanneh’s definition “rockism”: “the belief that white macho guitar music is superior to all other forms of popular music”. Another, on opera, quoted Catherine Clement’s Opera, Or The Undoing of Women, which explores how traditional opera plots frequently feature “the infinitely repetitive spectacle of a woman who dies”. “Your music bonuses are three such operas,” Paxman said dryly, to audience laughter.

University Challenge’s questions editor Thomas Benson confirms that there has been a deliberate attempt to redress a gender imbalance in the quiz. “About three years ago, a viewer wrote in to point out that a recent edition of the programme had contained very few questions on women,” he explains. “We agreed and decided to do something about it.”

Last night’s final included a picture round on artists with works concerning motherhood (Mary Casatt, Lousie Bourgeois, Leanora Carrington and Frida Kahlo) and a music round on Marin Alsop, the first woman to ever conduct the Last Night of the Proms, as well as sets of bonuses on the American writer Willa Kather and Byzantine historian and princess Anna Komnene.

Former winner Hannah Rose Woods is delighted by the increase in such questions. “I think it’s fantastic!” she tells me. “These things are really important in changing people’s perceptions about women in the past, and the way women’s contributions to science and the arts have often been written out of history. We need to keep challenging the idea of the White Male Canon.”

Last night’s winner Rosie McKeown says that while she didn’t necessarily notice a deliberate attempt to gender balance the questions, she was “very pleased with the quality of those questions that did come up”.

“Although it wasn’t in one of our matches,” she tells me, “I thought the picture round on female composers was especially good for highlighting women’s achievements.”

For all the enthusiasm for these questions, in the studio they’re often met with blank stares. While University Challenge questions are broad and imaginatively posed, there are some reliable revision topics and techniques: from Nobel laureates and the years of their wins to identifying famous paintings and classical music excerpts. McKeown says she has been a religious viewer of the show since she was 11 years old, and admits to watching reruns of the show to prepare. Shift the kinds of answers you might be looking for, and teams may struggle.

“Do we know any female British composers?” Leonie Woodland said weakly, looking at a picture of Ethel Smyth. Trying to come up with a female Muslim Nobel laureate, one contestant desperately suggested Aung San Suu Kyi. Asked to provide a first name linking an American concert pianist with the sister of Lazarus one male contestant still buzzed in with “Daniel”.

“Even if we didn’t always get them right,” McKeown tells me, citing that round on female philosophers, which saw them pass on every question, as an example, “it was great to see so many important female figures represented.”

“I don't think the questions about women necessarily affected our performance, but it’s certainly a very good thing that they were there and I hope that they’ll arouse people’s interest in the women featured and in their achievements.”

Benson believes that it hasn’t had a significant effect on performance. “The great majority of the questions that feature women are no different to any others, in that they sit firmly within the realm of standard academic general knowledge.”

He notes that they often refer to historical and background details, citing sets of bonuses on Canadian novelist Ruth Ozeki and British physicist Hertha Ayrton, which both teams answered correctly in full. “Though Ozeki and Ayrton may not be household names, the questions are definitely answerable and deal with central themes in their work and achievements.”

It’s easy to brush off the significance of a fairly geeky Monday night BBC quiz show, but University Challenge still regularly pulls in three million viewers. In any case, a show like University Challenge has a cultural significance that outweighs its viewing figures. It helps to shape our understanding of which subjects are intellectual or important, which are history’s most notable achievements, and who is worth learning about. To ignore questions of identity is to risk intellectual laziness, relying on tired ideas of canonical figures – or worse, supremacist propaganda, privileging the achievements of white men over all others.

Quite aside from making for less predictable and more enjoyable television, by including questions on the likes of Stevie Smith, Nella Larsen, Gertrude Stein, Myra Hess, Margaret Mead, and Beryl Bainbridge, University Challenge can diversify the mental encyclopaedias of its viewers, be it a tweed-wearing 60-year-old in Leamington Spa or an 11-year-old like Rosie McKeown with her own dreams of one day competing. It has a responsibility to do so.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.