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31 August 2023

Labour isn’t winning, the Tories are losing

While voters think Labour would do a better job on the cost-of-living crisis, they don’t actually know what the party’s priorities are.

By Ben Walker

To British voters, the cost-of-living crisis is king. Nothing else matters much, and it will likely stay that way until the crisis is solved or until after the next election – whichever comes first. This simple fact has rendered all attempts by the government and other parties to refocus public anxieties – be it on migration, Northern Ireland, the Budget – as little more than muted distractions. This is why Labour still leads the country by 20 points, despite the public’s uneasiness with the Labour brand and Keir Starmer, and despite their own preferences for strict border controls.

New polling from YouGov for the Stop the Squeeze coalition, which tries to provide answers for the cost-of-living crisis, lays those anxieties bare. They were told by both swing and safe voters that reducing the cost of living is critical to their voting intention. So far, so unsurprising.

Forty per cent of Britons say Labour would do a better job than the Conservatives on the crisis, compared with 21 per cent who say the reverse. This chimes with other polling data that suggests the party has a clear lead over the Conservatives on the economy – a fundamental metric when measuring competence and capacity. It’s something Ed Miliband’s Labour never led on, nor Kinnock’s, nor Corbyn’s. Voting intentions come and go. They are as fluid and fickle as the voting public. But who you trust to keep the lights on and manage the books will forever matter most, which is why Labour’s lead on the issue is significant.

But what the polling adds to the debate is evidence that there is doubt about the opposition’s capacity to tackle the issue. Forty-seven per cent of those identified as part of the Stevenage Woman demographic (a group of voters not just confined to Stevenage, but rather, identified by think tanks as key to a general election) say they do not know what Labour’s priorities are. This compares with 39 per cent for the Conservatives. That means almost half of what are tipped to be swing voters remain unsure about Labour’s plans to help them.

That the party’s brand is viewed blankly at the moment has positives and negatives. It’s a plus that Labour can be an opposition to and for all things – so long as it remains in opposition, and so long as the other side doesn’t sort itself out. Labour’s strategy is working right now. The primary driver of the party’s overwhelming lead in the polls is Conservative voters expressing indifference and apathy about the state of politics. They’re unsure about returning to the Tory fold when polls open, and enough are unbothered by the idea of a Keir Starmer premiership to not vote against him personally. Like most elections, however, a sizeable chunk of the 2019 Conservative base will likely come home on election day. If they do, Labour’s tactic of saying nothing might falter.

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In this era of intense disaffection with the status quo, parties might not need to give voters firm reasons for them to win. Governments often lose elections, rather than oppositions win them. If it’s Labour’s plan to be as inoffensive and “median” as possible to secure power, then it’s working. But at what cost for its future in government, and at what electoral risk?

Total sample size was 2,000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken on 25-26 July 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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[See also: What does Keir Starmer stand for?]

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