Politics

Labour shouldn’t lurch to the right – it must get out the vote first | Andrew Fisher

Labour has lost the final 4 basic elections. From the loss of life throes of New Labour in 2010 to the implosion of Corbynism in 2019 and Ed Miliband in between, the celebration has been out of energy for 11 years now, and it falls to Keir Starmer to strive to reverse that development.

The celebration has an identification disaster that displays a altering class composition throughout demographic and geographic divides. In Scotland, the rise of Scottish nationalism and a Conservative unionist counterweight seems to have closed the door on Labour profitable the form of landslide the celebration used to take as a right, even in its dismal defeat in 2010. No wing of the celebration, in Westminster or Holyrood, has but discovered an answer to that conundrum. These challenges are important, however they aren’t insurmountable. If Labour is to win once more, it has to be crystal clear about its potential voters – and the electoral coalition it wants to win.

Electoral technique isn’t a value-free science; the political leanings of strategists inevitably affect the sorts of voters they need to entice. Those who advocate focusing on Conservative voters need Labour to be more durable on migration, social safety and legislation and order, whereas being much less daring in spending commitments. We can disagree on the strategy to rebuilding the celebration, however what must be past argument is the information.



That’s why a presentation briefed to final weekend’s Observer by Labour’s new technique director, Deborah Mattinson, is regarding. It allegedly acknowledged that Labour must “lure back millions who defected to the Tories in 2019”. The information about the numbers concerned suggests in any other case.

Winning again voters who defected to the Conservatives is critical however not ample, as a result of there merely aren’t “millions” of them. Labour’s inner evaluation, primarily based on the British Election Study in the aftermath of the 2019 defeat, confirmed that Labour lost solely 300,000 votes to the Tories. The same quantity defected to the Brexit celebration.

In the identical election Labour additionally lost about 600,000 voters to the Liberal Democrats and Greens. If Labour triangulates too far to Conservative positions, the celebration’s youthful voters may simply fracture to the minor events, as the May 2021 council elections in Bristol and the London mayoral election confirmed.

Some have used Labour’s crushing defeat in Hartlepool in May as a vindication of their calls to transfer to the right: to win again the “red wall”, Labour must enchantment to Conservative voters.

But it is a misdiagnosis. Labour’s vote in Hartlepool fell from 15,000 in 2019 to simply 8,000 in 2021. The Conservative vote rose by lower than 4,000 votes in the identical interval. The drawback for Labour was an intensification of its failure to mobilise and encourage the voters it ought to entice.

Labour’s post-2019 inner evaluation, shared with the new Labour management in 2020, confirmed that about 1.4 million individuals who voted Labour in 2017 didn’t vote in 2019. In 2017, Labour had impressed 3.5 million extra individuals to vote Labour, propelling the celebration to its solely electoral good points this century – and its largest enhance in its share of the vote since 1945.

Labour lost Hartlepool as a result of, as deputy chief Angela Rayner confessed, “people didn’t know what Keir Starmer stood for”. Activists and MPs who trod the streets in May’s dire elections nearly universally complained about the lack of clear, flagship policies on the doorstep. That grievance is recognised in the central thesis of Mattinson’s leaked evaluation: that Labour wants “clearer, sharper, more uplifting messaging about the party’s values and Starmer’s vision”.

My former colleague Matt Zarb Cousin is right to argue that Labour’s self-flagellation roadshow – the political equal of soccer followers chanting “we’re shit and we know we are” – is probably going to show self-defeating. Voters know Labour has allow them to down. They don’t need Labour to passively agree – they need us to actively enhance.

It is subsequently welcome that Andy McDonald and Angela Rayner have spent the final week setting out precisely the form of sensible insurance policies to enhance our working lives: making each employee, whether or not in the gig financial system or in formal employment, eligible for sick pay, parental depart, vacation and the minimal wage as quickly as they begin work.

In 2017, the day after Theresa May known as a snap basic election, Labour’s senior workers assembled to talk about election technique. A paper was put ahead outlining the electoral coalition we might search to build, together with changing non-voters from 2015 into Labour voters. “They’re called non-voters for a reason, they don’t vote,” snapped an government director primarily based in the Labour’s headquarters. That view was confounded when turnout rose, particularly amongst younger individuals, who have been impressed to vote for Labour in historically significant numbers.

Those who argue that Conservative voters received’t vote Labour as a result of they’re Tories are equally flawed. People mirror and alter their views, their materials circumstances change – and political events can and will search to persuade and persuade.

The purpose why Labour ought to give attention to non-voters is pragmatic: there are merely extra of them, and 2017 confirmed they are often impressed to vote Labour. Non-voters are extra doubtless to have a minimum of one among these overlapping traits: working class, younger or from ethnic minority communities. All three of those cohorts have one factor in frequent: in the event that they do vote they’re extra doubtless to vote Labour. But mobilising them would require the strongest voter registration drive in Labour’s historical past to overcome the voter suppression techniques that this authorities has imported from the American Republican right.

Voter registration drives are labour intensive: they require passionate supporters going door to door in the right neighbourhoods with the right message. Social media can do a few of the work, however it is not any substitute for human engagement in goal seats. It’s worrying, subsequently, that Labour membership, as reported to final month’s nationwide government committee, has dived by 116,000 since Starmer grew to become chief.

In distinction, when Labour evokes individuals to vote for them, it additionally evokes them to be a part of. Starmer’s Labour must resist a method of triangulation primarily based on exaggerated numbers of Labour-Tory switchers, and as a substitute prioritise a method of inspiration: solely then will it stand any probability of profitable the subsequent election.


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