Labour has to stop patronising socially conservative voters

Jon Cruddas


The second message from our Independent Review polling is the collapse of Labour’s support in its traditional working class base in England and Wales, and the rise of UKIP. It follows our first message which you can find here and here.

Since 2005 voters who are socially conservative are the most likely to have deserted Labour. Our polling suggests that UKIP has benefitted most from the collapse of their support for Labour.

Our poll uses a YouGov panel of 3,000 English and Welsh voters. To gain deeper insight into the causes of this collapse it incorporates 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.

In 2005 Labour’s vote was evenly spread across these 3 values groups. But in the period up to 2015 there was a significant shift. Labour’s vote share increased among Pioneers and fell modestly among Prospectors. But among socially conservative voters it fell heavily, down from 35 per cent to 26 per cent.

Change in Labour’s vote between 2005 and 2015 by values group

change in labour vote

In the same period the Tories modestly increased their vote share among Pioneers from 31 per cent to 33 per cent. Among Prospectors they increased it from 45 per cent to 50 per cent. And among Settlers they held their ground with 42 per cent in 2005 and in 2015.

Overall it is UKIP that has benefited from Labour’s collapse among socially conservative voters. In 2005 UKIPs vote share among Settlers was 4 per cent, but by 2015 this had increased to 24 per cent, only 2 per behind Labour. Settlers are twice as likely to be from socio-economic groups DE as AB. And so to an electorally significant degree the collapse of Labour’s socially conservative Settler vote can be seen as the collapse of its traditional working class base, that was once tribally loyal to the party.

In our research we asked voters the main reason they chose the party they voted for in the 2015 election. Socially conservative Settlers were more likely than other values groups to mention immigration, toughness on welfare, standing up for our country, Europe (either a referendum or pulling out) and fiscal responsibility.

Amongst these voters 79 per cent consider immigration as the most important issue facing the country. Amongst voters generally there are three main anxieties about immigration. First, the competition on jobs and wages, second the impact on services and provision such as housing and welfare, and third the loss of culture and community. Among the socially conservative Settlers the second and third of these are the most potent.

We can see how UKIP has picked up support amongst former Labour voting Settlers. Home is important to 83 per cent of UKIP voters. Their English or Welsh identity is important to 83 per cent – the same proportion.

Labour has to win back socially conservative working class voters in the South and North if it is to build a majority in England and win the election in 2020. To achieve this it will have to reach out across a growing cultural divide. We can get a measure of the cultural distance between Labour and these voters in four key political issues, immigration, Europe, crime and welfare.

91 per cent of UKIP voters agree with the statement, ‘There are too many foreigners in my country’ compared to 46 per cent of Labour voters. 55 per cent believe that Europe is the most important issue facing the country compared to 17 per cent of Labour voters. 87 per cent agree with the statement, ‘Criminals should be punished with maximum prison sentences to make them learn their lesson’, compared to 62 per cent of Labour voters. On welfare 79 per cent agree with the statement, ‘Our welfare system is too generous to people who aren’t prepared to work hard for a living’ compared to 40 per cent of Labour voters.

Despite these differences, bridges can be built. Socially conservative Settlers eschew risk and want financial stability. The more pragmatic minded can be won back if they can be persuaded to trust Labour with the economy and their taxes. And the creation of an English Labour can appeal to their patriotism and regional identities.

More traditionally minded Settlers often hold conventionally left opinions. 73 per cent of UKIP voters agree that, ‘The economic system in this country unfairly favours powerful interests’ compared to 78 per cent of Labour voters. And attitudes on immigration can be more nuanced. 93 per cent of UKIP voters agree with the statement that ‘Government should be firm on immigration and firm on discrimination’ compared to 72 per cent of Labour voters.

Labour has to recognise the ways in which UKIP appeal to former Labour voters and develop a politics that is both radical and conservative. It needs to build enough bridges to get its voice heard again amongst these voters.

Labour has to stop patronising socially conservative UKIP voters. They are not apolitical.  55 per cent consider their political beliefs are important to them compared to 58 per cent of Labour voters. 93 per cent consider their moral values important to them compared to 90 per cent of Labour voters.

The Labour Party is now largely a party of socially liberal progressive minded Pioneers who value universalist principles such as equality, sustainability and social justice. Its growing cultural exclusiveness is losing it connection with large parts of the voter population who are either pragmatists in their voting habits or who have a small c conservative dispensation and who value most their family, their community and their country.

The desertion of socially conservative voters heralds a broader trend of working class voters detachment from Labour. The problem lies with Labour and its own narrowing culture and not with the voters. Labour must broaden out its politics and its culture in order to reconnect with the whole country not just segments of it. If it does not do this it will become a minority party of sectional interests and cease to be a national political force.

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