Has Labour Lost Its Core Working Class Supporters?
It has become fashionable to argue that Labour has alienated its core working class supporters, in favour of middle income supporters in marginal constituencies. A good example of this was written by Seamus Milne in yesterdayâ€™s Guardian , and plenty of other left-wing commentators, such as Polly Toynbee, Roy Hattersley, and Dagenham MP, John Cruddas, make the same point.
Usually, the argument is that Labourâ€™s core supporters have lost out economically, although a variant of this argument holds that it is mass immigration, and New Labourâ€™s social attitudes that have alienated such voters.
Fortunately for Labour, this really isnâ€™t true, with some important qualifications. At the last election, according to MORIâ€™s aggregate survey Labour led by 23% among the poorest voters, in social groups D and E. This is quite clearly borne out by the fact that there is a clear correlation between the level of deprivation in any given constituency, and support for the Labour Party. Of the twenty most deprived constituencies in the country, only two arenâ€™t held by Labour with massive majorities. They are the Speakerâ€™s seat and West Belfast. By contrast, both main parties were level-pegging among middle income voters, in 2005, and among groups A and B, the Conservatives only enjoyed a lead of 9%, which explains why Labour can win a seat like Finchley and Golders Green, with the second highest average income in the country, as well as making a clean sweep in Glasgow.
Labourâ€™s heartlands have not done badly out of this government. Huge sums of money have been redistributed from London and the South to the partyâ€™s strongholds in Central Scotland, the urban North, and South Wales. Unsurprisingly, those strongholds have largely continued to elect Labour MPs with hefty majorities. There are a few qualifications, however.
Firstly, even in many of its heartlands, Labour has faced intense competition in local elections. In places like Sedgefield, Derwentside, Barnsley, Wigan, Mansfield, and Doncaster, new local parties and independents have made big inroads into the Labour vote. In Barking and Dagenham, and some other authorities, they have lost ground to the BNP. Overall, the party has polled around 34% of the vote in Metropolitan Boroughs, in the last three rounds of contests, down no less than 19% from 1996. However, despite some quite impressive votes for independents, and the BNP, in a handful of constituencies, there is no real sign that this support can be transferred to Parliamentary level. Many people who vote for independents are expressing dissatisfaction with their local Labour party, rather than with the government.
Secondly, turnout has fallen to a very low level in many safe Labour seats. The Butler and Kavanagh guide to the 2005 election puts turnout at 55% in safe Labour seats, 6% below the average. That certainly suggests some dissatisfaction with Labour, but is worth noting that for quite some time, turnouts in safe Labour seats have been below average. Equally important, people who donâ€™t turn out to vote donâ€™t pose any threat to sitting Labour MPâ€™s.
Thirdly, and unusually, both George Galloway and Dai Davies were able to win safe Labour seats at the last election, the one standing for Respect, the other as Independent Labour. Even this is not unprecedented though. Communists occasionally won safe Labour seats in the past, and deselected Labour MPs have sometimes been successful as independents
From its own point of view, Labour should ignore those who demand more of a core vote strategy. Labour has its core vote in the bag, and the next election will be won or lost in Middle Britain.
Yesterday was Super Thursday, with no fewer than ten by-elections contested.
London Borough of Brent – Queens Park: Libe Dem 1242, Labour 851, Conservative 292, Green 239. Liberal Democrat hold with a strong swing from Labour. This is one of the wards that goes into the new marginal Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.
London Borough of Harrow- Marlborough: Labour 972, Lib Dem 628, Conservative 507, BNP 94, Independent 74, Green 71. Labour hold. The Liberal Democrats leap-frogged the Conservatives into second place.
Cotswold District – Water Park: Lib Dem 648, Conservative 519. Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative with a huge swing.
Middlesbrough Borough – Gresham: Labour 584, Independent 377, BNP 135, Lib Dem 78, Conservative 44. Labour gain from Independent.
Middlesbrough Borough – Marton West: Conservative 993, Labour 413, BNP 170. An easy Conservative hold.
Oxfordshire County – Grove and Wantage: Lib Dem 1901, Conservative 1786, Labour 382. A narrow Liberal Democrat win. Both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives advanced strongly at the expense of Labour, and the Greens, who did not field a candidate this time.
Oxfordshire County – Wallingford: Independent 867, Conservative 386, Labour 69. Independent gain from Liberal Democrat, although it appears the Independent was supported by the Liberal Democrats.
Telford and Wrekin Borough – Horsehay and Lightmoor: Conservative 358, Labour 172, Peopleâ€™s Association 145, Independent 110. Conservative gain from Independent. This gives the Conservatives control of the Borough Council, so long as they retain the Mayorâ€™s casting vote.
Telford and Wrekin Borough – Wrockwardine: Conservative 918, Lib Dem 306, Labour 141. Conservatives hold easily.
Vale of White Horse District – Wantage Charlton: Conservative 760, Lib Dem 731, Labour 177. Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat, although there was a small swing to the Liberal Democrats, compared to 2007