By Mark Ferguson and Olly Parker
There was some cheer online among Labour supporters yesterday after Conservative Home editor Tim Montgomerie published his list “Ten facts to worry every Conservative”.
Instead of cheer Labour supporters should worry. While we were Refounding Labour the Lord Ashcroft funding machine has been putting polls and focus groups in the field up and down the country tasked with looking at how they can move from 36% to over 40%. It is often thought that ConservativeHome represents part of the “right-flank” in Tory grass-root activity. Reading this you can see it’s “ideology be dammed, pass me the husky” – they will do what it takes to detoxify and get the Tories over the finishing line in 2015.
Labour needs to move from 29% to over 40% to win a majority next time. The task is that much greater, the slope even steeper. We must reject the politics of “one more heave” – the electorate firmly rejected New Labour at the last election and the task is massive. Here are ten facts we need to remember if we are to win again.
1. The party of the poor – Tim is right to acknowledge that the Tory Party is seen as the party of the wealthy, but while the Tories may be viewed by swing voters as for the rich, Labour is viewed as the party of the poor, immigrants and benefit scroungers. The centre ground of politics is wide-open.
2. Party finances – Labour doesn’t have any money, or at least has very little compared to the Tories. If Cameron called an election tomorrow, the Tory Party would be able to compete financially, Labour simply wouldn’t. Judging by how little the party has declared in recent quarters, it doesn’t seem like Miliband is spending a great deal of time on fundraising either.
3. Scotland – The party took months to agree on a timetable for the Scottish leadership election, leading to the embarrassing spectacle of Iain Gray being in post long after he said he’d be gone. And to compound the embarrassment, Ed Miliband didn’t know who the front runner to replace him was. Labour faces a genuine existential crisis in Scotland. For decades we have been the dominant force north of the border – now there’s a very real risk of the end of the UK. That would have a devastating impact on Labour’s chances of ever winning a majority in Westminster.
4. Leadership Ratings – A further lesson from Scotland comes from Iain Gray’s leadership polling. Before the election we enjoyed healthy leads on voting intentions, but Iain Gray’s leadership ratings saw him third behind Tory leader Anabel Goldie. As the election started the lead whittled away as the election became all about Alex Salmond. The Tories know this – expect to see the word “leadership” thrown out by Cameron at every turn over the next four years. Ed’s personal polling isn’t as bad as some have tried to make out, but it isn’t good and it certainly isn’t as good as Cameron’s.
5. Economic Credibility – Tory economic policies (especially cuts) may be unpopular, and worse – are starting to be seen as unfair. At present however we’re just not seen as a viable alternative. Despite the government steering the economy downhill since he election, Cameron/Osborne are still more widely trusted on the eonomy than Miliband/Balls. Essentially, the public still believe we overspent on schools and hospitals and we haven’t fought back hard enough against that.
6. Lack of media cut through – The only Labour MPs who gain substantial attention from the media on a weekly basis have the surnames Miliband and Balls. The journalists like to be where the power is and, thanks to the Lib-Dem differentiation strategy, they have power and opposition in the same government. The press still like to divide Labour into Blairites and Brownites. Those labels are outdated but although the party is united, we lack definition, which means those old labels stick.
7. The Boundary Changes – Cameron didn’t get the magic 326 seats last time, so this time he’s lowered the bar to 301. The boundary commission will draw up its plans in as fair a way as possible but the abolition of 50 seats benefits the Tories and means the result will be decided by a small number of swing voters in a small number of marginal constituencies. The same constituencies, it should be noted, that tend to vote along the lines of the leadership ratings or economic credibility numbers.
8. Electoral registration – whilst most column inches are reserved for boundary changes and the cut in seats, an even bigger risk to Labour’s ability to govern again in future is actually the change to electoral registration. The switch to individual registration in other countries saw up to 35% of the electorate become disenfranchised and obviously these are usually demographics where Labour polls strongest. If the Boundary Change plans go through with this and the redrawing of the electoral map every five years added on – watch as Labour seats disappear.
9. Lib-Dem Polling Numbers - we’ve all enjoyed laughing at the Lib-Dems as they lose council seats and their polling numbers rest in single figures. However those isolated gains in London and Manchester will be small comfort compared to the twenty seats the Tories can gain off a Lib-Dem party flatlining in the South-West. The electoral maths combined with the boundary changes mean Cameron’s Tories could lose votes but still end up with a majority. The Lib-Dems need to get their act together and if it’s not looking too good for us on the majority front we need to start being nicer to Clegg and his mates fast.
10. Our Polling Numbers – One last sobering thought looking at the mountain we have to climb: Sure we’re ahead on the YouGov daily but our vote is as soft as warm butter. In September 2010 Demos commissioned a poll looking the most widely held perceptions of the Labour Party held by people who voted Labour in 2005 but not in 2010 and they were:
– ‘Weak’ (73%)
– ‘Divided’ (72%)
– ‘Out of touch’ (66%)
– ‘I never hear from them’ (60%)
– Represent ‘the past’ rather than the future’ (58%)
Still feeling cheerful…?