Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

Sean Fear’s Friday Slot

    Why Can’t Labour Motivate Its Identifiers?

Support for the parties, as measured by opinion polls, ebbs and flows over time, but one thing remains constant. More people identify with the Labour Party, even at times of great unpopularity, then identify with the Conservatives. The latest Communicate Research Poll is a good example of this. The Conservatives lead Labour by 40% to 27% in terms of voting intention, yet Labour lead the Conservatives by 28% to 24% in terms of voter identification. Labour have led, in terms of voter identification, since at least 1945, yet the Conservatives have been in government for 35 years, compared to 27 years for Labour. How can this paradox be explained?

Firstly, Conservative supporters tend to be richer than average, and Labour supporters tend to be poorer than average, although social class is gradually declining as a determinant of voting behaviour. It is well established that the richer people are, the more likely they are to vote, and the poorer they are, the less likely they are. This is one factor that favours the Conservatives.

Secondly, Conservative supporters tend to be older than Labour supporters. Older people have always been more likely to vote than younger people, but in recent years, turnout among pensioners on the one hand, and people aged 18-34 on the other, has diverged to a remarkable degree. According to MORI, about 45% of 18-34 year olds voted in 2005, compared to 75% of people aged 65 or over. This is a trend that benefits the Conservatives to an enormous degree, and can only have been exacerbated by the move to make postal voting easier. In my experience, very large numbers of Conservative voters now vote by post, and turnout among people with permanent postal votes is usually high.

Thirdly, ethnic minority voters tend to vote Labour by large margins. Unfortunately for Labour, the turnout among such voters, particularly black voters, is often very low. And the one group of ethnic minority voters that tends to have a high turnout, Indians, is the group that is most likely to consider voting Conservative.

Finally, there is the paradox that in quite a lot of the country, intense loyalty to Labour co-exists with enormous apathy towards Labour. In 2005, more than 20 seats saw votes in excess of 60% for Labour candidates. In no constituency did the Conservatives poll as well as that. Even back in the 1980s, it was very rare for a Conservative to poll more than 60%, and in general, the Conservative vote is more evenly distributed than the Labour vote. Yet often, a high vote share for Labour goes hand in hand with a very low turnout, often under 50%. In all likelihood, many people who see themselves as Labour can’t be bothered to go out and vote when the election of a Labour MP is a certainty.

There were five local by-elections last night, which were generally good for the Conservatives, but also produced one impressive Labour gain.

Derbyshire Dales District – Masson: Conservative 359, Labour 256, Lib Dem 126. Conservative gain from Labour, with a strong swing compared to May.

Maidstone Borough – Shepway South: Conservative 251, Labour 240, Lib Dem 173, Green 34. Conservative gain from Labour. Given that the Conservatives only lost this seat narrowly in May, when UKIP won more than 10% of the vote, they might have expected a better result. The Liberal Democrat vote share nearly doubled.

Richmond upon Thames London Borough – Barnes:
Conservative 1643, Lib Dem 1103, Labour 91, Green 87. Conservative hold, with a good swing compared to 2006. This is in the marginal Richmond Park constituency, and will encourage the Conservatives.

Sandwell Borough – Princes End: Labour 796, Conservative 517, BNP 314, Lib Dem 29. Labour gain from BNP. The useless outgoing BNP councillor had run a pub that was regularly raided by the police, and was disqualified from the council for non-attendance. As a result, Labour won the seat with a strong swing from the BNP, and the Conservatives also advanced strongly. This is a classic case of the BNP alienating their own supporters through the behaviour of one of their councillors.

Wokingham District – Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe:
Conservative 913, Lib Dem 237, UKIP 83, Labour 60. Conservative hold.

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