Labour’s task? Rebuilding a connection with the millions of voters in the middle

Andrew Harrop

Labour is preparing for its first electoral test since the 2019 election. In the 16 months since that disastrous defeat, the party has made important strides forward. But nobody, Keir Starmer included, would say that Labour is yet ready to win a general election. 

The clock is starting to tick. Party insiders are now openly planning for Boris Johnson to call the next election in 2023, which means there are only two years to get match fit. The Fabian Society is asking what Labour needs to do next to improve its prospects.

In our survey ‘Keir’s next year’, we pose five big questions. We’re asking Labour members and supporters to name one…

  1. New policy Labour should back that could transform the country
  2. Thing Labour should do to reconnect with voters who rejected the party in 2019
  3. Commitment from the 2019 Labour manifesto that the party should abandon
  4. Idea for creating more unity and harmony in the Labour movement
  5. Labour MP the party should make more use of

The best ideas will be written up in a paper setting out options for Labour’s next moves. The context for our consultation is of course the huge electoral mountain the party has to climb: at the next general election, Labour must target 150 constituencies that it does not currently hold. 

Importantly, Fabian Society analysis shows that only a minority of these targets are the ex-industrial ‘Red Wall’ seats that were lost in 2019 (often after having drifted away from Labour for years before). Many more are classic bellwether marginals or constituencies that Labour has barely ever won, but that have been trending towards the party in recent times.

The seats Labour needs to take are very diverse, which is why the party must be a truly national, big tent political force. But their centre of gravity lies in middle Britain – neither rich nor poor, young nor old, strongly for Remain or Leave. These are constituencies in every corner of the country, but overwhelmingly in towns and smaller cities, not Labour’s current urban core. The Fabians want to hear ideas that reflect this demographic and electoral reality.

The party’s problem is not that it has lost touch with a small slice of socially conservative, ‘left behind’ voters in places with symbolic ties to Labour. It is that the party must rebuild a connection with the millions in the middle: those who are neither suffering nor prospering, liberal nor authoritarian. This is the context in which Keir Starmer is rebuilding Labour’s fortunes and the yardstick against which Labour’s success must be measured.

Labour has spent a year starting to deal with its negatives: addressing the reasons people had for not voting for the party, be that Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit or antisemitism. Now, as the worst of the pandemic starts to recede, the party needs to set out positively what Starmer’s Labour is for, and what it is against. We hope your ideas will help in that endeavour.

Elections are always referendums on the party in power and Labour must do more to prove that the Conservatives are manifestly unfit for office. In the 1990s, Labour prospered by highlighting how the Tories were tired, sleazy and a menace to the public realm. All the ingredients are there to make this case again, as the David Cameron lobbying scandal shows. People must go into the next election asking themselves whether our fragile public services are safe in Tory hands, and whether Conservative politicians are governing in the nation’s interests or their own.

But Keir Starmer also needs to offer a powerful, resonant account of why he wants to be Prime Minister and how a Labour government will change the country. How should Labour tell a story of security for all and of a future better than the past? 

The party needs to explain how it will use the power of government to green the economy, create productive jobs, harness technology for good and equalise power and opportunity. And it must prove that it is in tune with people’s lives and can be trusted with power.

It won’t be easy, but Labour’s destiny is in its own hands. The Fabians want to hear your ideas on how the party can stake out big ambitions that chime with the common sense of the voters we need to win.

The Fabian Society’s consultation survey ‘Keir’s next year’ is open now.

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