Labour’s struggle: class and income no longer strongly relate to voting intention

Darren Jones
© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

The scale of the electoral challenge for Labour is greater than ever before. Our vote is concentrating inefficiently in too few parliamentary seats and we continue to fail to beat the SNP in Scotland. To win power, we need to win the most parliamentary seats. To do so, we need to modernise our party in order to build a new winning coalition of voters across the country.

As the British Election Study shows today, the Leave/Remain division had no significant direct impact on the outcome of the election for Labour. For voters we lost between 2017 and 2019, the leadership of our party was their main concern, alongside the general view that Labour wasn’t representative of them or their view of the country.

That might be an uncomfortable truth for some in our party, but it’s the view of the public nonetheless. We can either disagree with the voters, or seek to listen, understand and respond accordingly. The data further evidences the now common narrative of the split between the socially and conservative liberal voter groups. Those on the economic centre-left and left, divided by social values, proved to be a split particularly prevalent in the Brexit context.

Geographically, as others have highlighted for some time, this split in social values was also split between constituencies. Younger, more highly educated and socially liberal voters are concentrated in cities. Older, socially conservative voters who may not have been to university largely remain in the towns and villages that have suffered economic decline or stagnation.

In this new political reality, class and income no longer strongly relate to voting intention but education, social values and – to a lesser extent – age does. The important question we need to collectively answer is: so what?

Social values have created a split between Labour and Conservative voters, with most potential switchers aligning with socially conservative values. But the gap between left and right on economics has remained as it always has, with most voters on the economic centre and centre-left.

As a party, we have built winning voter coalitions before based on our economic offer, even when there has been a split on social values. The problem is that we’ve ended up focusing on social values whilst failing to provide an economic offer that the public sees as credible.

No one yet has the complete answer to how we win again. We must all do our bit to listen, think, understand, debate and advocate for the path back to power. Our party was created by our movement and we all have a responsibility to play our part. But one thing is clear: putting the divisions of Brexit and factionalism behind us is key.

United, we must hold the Tories to account. Together, we must modernise our party so that we can start to have a conversation with the public again. And collectively, we need to put forward a modern economic policy that shows how a Labour government will modernise Britain to generate wealth, sustainable growth, improve pay and transform the delivery of public services.

This task is not easy. We’re in a race with the Tories to get the economy working, but they’re in government and we’re not. We have no time to waste. We must all get behind whoever is elected leader to make sure we don’t suffer a fifth historic loss at the next election. Together, united, we must get this right.

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