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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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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.