Labour England

Andy Burnham? He’s just Ed Miliband with longer eye-lashes and a lower IQ!

This, crudely, is the bitter/condescending/complacent view widely held among Blairite, centrist and rightwing commentators. Liz Kendall is the candidate that Tories should fear most, they insist, because only she can bring back that old New Labour magic.

I wonder.

The latter-day Blairites rarely stop to consider the historical context of their hero’s triumphant reign: a rare combination of unfounded economic optimism and truly nationwide distain for the Conservative Party.

Sadly, the age of cheap money economics is far from over, but the consequences of it are now plain to see – and will continue to manifest themselves in various unpleasant forms for years to come. As for the Conservative Party, it’s not always the loveliest of sights, but it’s not nearly so weird and out-of-touch as it was in the ‘Back to Basics’ era.

If the Government chooses to make a horlicks of the next five years, then a repeat of 1997 can’t be ruled out, but the idea there’s an army of aspirational, middle-of-the-road voters just longing to be wooed by Labour is doubtful. Indeed (and very much unlike Tony Blair in ’97) the next Labour leader should worry more about shoring up the party’s core support.

In essay for the Institute for Public Policy Research, John Curtice lays out the facts:

“There is, in truth, no strong evidence here of Labour particularly losing touch with its more middle class supporters. Rather, what is notable about the party’s performance is that what had been an especially marked drop in its support among C2 and DE supporters between 2005 and 2010 was not reversed this time around.”

Contrary to the received wisdom, David Cameron did especially well among these voters in 2010. In 2015, however, he lost a lot of them (but compensated for this with gains further up the income scale). So, having deserted first Labour and then the Conservatives, where did the wandering working class vote go instead?

The answer is to UKIP:

“…support for Ukip among C2 and DE voters was at 19 per cent and 17 per cent respectively, markedly higher than among AB (8 per cent) and C1 voters (11 per cent).”

As Curtice implies, winning back these voters isn’t about aligning Labour with a sense of aspirational optimism:

“Whereas the Conservatives profited heavily from the support of those who were feeling some benefit from the recovery, Labour was relatively ineffective at garnering the support of those who were not convinced that they had or would feel any benefit. No less than 64 per cent of those who said they were feeling the benefit backed the Conservatives, while just 12 per cent supported Labour. Conversely, only 12 per cent of those who did not feel and did not anticipate feeling any benefit supported the Conservatives, but just 43 per cent of this latter group backed Labour.”

It should be noted that this group of pessimistic, economically insecure voters is far from undifferentiated. For instance, UKIP performed strongly among pensioners and social renters, whereas Labour did well among younger age groups and private renters.

What Labour needs now is a leader who can stop further losses in non-metropolitan, working class seats where UKIP is strong, while at the same time heading-off any attempt by the Green Party or other insurgents to mobilise the radical left.

Of the four Labour candidates, Andy Burnham is the only one capable of striking anti-capitalist poses while appealing to traditional Labour voters. Furthermore he’d have the backing of the party’s union paymasters, but without personally repelling the middle class.

Will this combination strike terror into Tory hearts? No. But it might just dash our hopes of a Labour meltdown.

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