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21 June 2023

Why Labour is getting its political messaging right

A new survey suggests British voters want security and control – precisely the qualities the party has been trying to get across.

By Freddie Hayward

There were some interesting nuggets in a new publication from the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies on voters’ views on “freedom”.

The report, written by the veteran American pollster Frank Luntz (who I interviewed last year), finds that while the UK is less fanatical about freedom than the US, it remains one of the most important principles to people, alongside fairness and security. Prosperity matters most from a national perspective, and opportunity matters least from all perspectives. In many ways, the report finds that Labour voters are more freedom-loving than Conservative voters. For instance, 29 per cent of Conservatives would limit the right to protest in order to prevent disruption, compared with just 15 per cent of Labour voters.

But the positive news for Labour is that the report backs up its decision to emphasise security and control to voters. Yesterday, the shadow foreign secretary David Lammy delivered a speech arguing that “a prosperous nation depends on its security, and a secure nation is built on prosperity”. Rachel Reeves now champions “securonomics”. From devolution to energy policy, Labour frames its policies as a way to “take back control”.

“Security” – a top-three principle for voters – is particularly attractive to 2019 Conservative voters, who Labour needs to win over. Moreover, a plurality of voters think about freedom in terms of “control”. The theme of the report is that voters reject abstract terms and relate to the type of pragmatic language they would use every day. For instance, “quality of life” (not “standard of living”) and “control of your life” outpolls “freedom” and “liberty”.

Luntz focuses on the power of language – he’s the person who popularised the phrase “climate change” instead of “global warming” (which he told me in that interview he regrets). His argument is that politicians must use words that resonate with voters to convey their message. That’s why Labour’s first mission, to achieve the fastest GDP growth in the G7, is poorly chosen; likewise the Conservatives’ mantra about reducing national debt. It’s also why Labour’s co-option of the language of security and taking back control could mean it has found the right words to cut through.

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