Blue to red: Can Labour win without Tory switchers?

‘No.’ This was the simple answer from Mary Creagh that kicked off the Progress annual conference 2013 breakout session ‘Can Labour win without Tory switchers?’

To explore this issue Progress brought together a diverse panel chaired by Hopi Sen. Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, was joined by Independent columnist Owen Jones, former Daily Telegraph sketchwriter Andrew Gimson and Lewis Baston, the political analyst and writer.

It didn’t take long for this panel to agree that, while a win without Tory switchers is theoretically possible, we should not be trying to win any election on these terms. The debate was then dominated by how we could win the next election with a majority rather than whether we can win without the votes of wavering Tories.

Lewis Baston was the first to highlight that the 2015 election is going to be significantly different from past elections, citing that parties tend to decline and fall apart after they lose power but that this hasn’t happened to Labour. He went on to contrast this optimism with a bleak prediction that, while a majority may be possible in 2015, we are unlikely ever to get a result similar to that in 1997 without convincing the ever-growing group that he called ‘the abstainers’ to vote.

Owen Jones also recognised the potential in this group arguing that we ‘must learn from Obama’ by ‘mobilising people who don’t vote’ and that the key to succeeding in this objective is to give people hope. Hope being the missing element from every party’s approach, making now an opportunity for us to win over those disenchanted voters. He suggested that we combine a hope-instilling message with common-sense policies, giving adopting the living wage instead of subsidising bosses with tax credits and controlling banks with a national investment bank as examples. He claimed that if we were to do this and present the arguments in relatable stories instead of cold figures, we would be able to give people confidence in our coherent alternative to the government.

Feeding into the idea that politics is dearth of hope, Andrew Gimson quoted Raymond Chandler to illustrate David Cameron’s complete lack of ideas after three years in government, citing that ‘Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.’ This is the position, he argued, that David Cameron is in. Andrew Gimson claimed that, while Cameron now has the advantage of having experience in government, he does not have the same energy or dynamic vision that he had before the 2010 election needed to persuade a majority of the electorate. This therefore presents an opportunity to Labour to be the party of vision.

Mary Creagh put forward that, for Labour to connect with the electorate, we need to focus on ‘real life issues’, an area the Tories are failing to address. Disputing Owen Jones’ ‘common sense national policy approach’, she emphasised that it is by focusing on issues close to people’s hearts such as lacklustre flood insurance policies, badger culling and the rising use of foodbanks that will win us a majority. She emphasised that we need to show how Labour would impact on the country and not just talk about it.

Exploring the potential composition of our vote in 2015, one of the most interesting points in the debate, came from Lewis Baston. He argued that we are at risk of losing a substantial amount of Labour voters who voted Labour out of fear of an untested Conservative government in 2010 and may in turn vote Conservative in 2015 out of fear of an untested Labour government. This fear plus apathy caused by what Baston branded ‘horrible and alienating’ political discourse, referring to programmes such as ‘Question Time’, are the two biggest threats to what we assume is our base vote.

After a far-reaching discussion attendees were left with the feeling that no vote in the next election is guaranteed. To appeal to a broad range of voters, including 2010 Tory switchers, we need to campaign on issues voters can relate to and understand. It was made clear that only with an energised, forward-looking campaign of hope and new ideas will non-voters and voters alike be brought out of their apathy and a Labour majority achieved in 2015.

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Catherine Vallis is a member of Progress. She tweets @CateVallis

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Comments: 4...

  1. On May 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm Dan Filson responded with... #

    It’s not quite so clear cut. Nobody should want to win a general election simply by rousing the faithful more successfully than the other lot does, but our campaigns should be about weakening the voting resolve of those who voted Tory or LibDem last time whilst strengthening the resolve to vote Labour of those who should by any criteria have voted Labour last time but who, disaffected for whatever reason, didn’t. Personally I think the true swing voter, voting Tory one general election and Labour the next, is a pretty rare bird and hard to catch. They must exist, as the pollsters tell us they do, but in 40 years of canvassing I have rarely come across one potential genuine swing voter (and a lot of people who lie on the doorstep quite convincingly).

    The best we can hope for is to burst the “austerity is the only way forward” myth.

  2. On May 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm John Reid responded with... #

    2 years before the 2010 election in the opinion polls , Labour were on 23%, Tories 49%’ ,they’re currently Labour 39%, Tories 30%’ so the Tories fell by 13% in those Two years and we went up by 6%’ in other words if we fell by 13% in the next two years we’d be on 26%’ and if the Tories went up 6% ,they’d be on 36%’,

    the Libdems when in opposition normally to up by 3% in the run ups to elections, now as they’re in power I can’t say that they’re going to do this next time, but the Lib,Lab pact of 77′ could give an implication ,that they could go up,in the run up to the election, but they were also at their worse post Thorpe, in 77 being on 10%’

  3. On May 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm ishaan responded with... #

    well i think we can attract some but i think it is important instead of throwing policies to Tories such as promising not to raise the the top rate of income tax like in 1997 we should try and move the voters towards us by setting out a clear and decisive vision which appeals mainly to the progressive left whether that will be the l far left, left or center left or centre and attract middle class voters with small business friendly policies which are generally help in middle income families such as keeping business tax low cut VAT, kep the top rate of tax 50%

  4. On May 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm David Lindsay responded with... #

    Labour defined
    itself by uniting trade unionists, co-operators, wider mutualists, Radical
    Liberals, Tory populists, Guild Socialists, Christian Socialists, Social
    Catholics, and Chestertonian Distributists, among others.

    A
    new biography of Edmund Burke has been written by Jesse Norman, and it has
    attracted favourable comment from Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s official
    biographer. Yet, like almost anything by Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Disraeli,
    Chesterton, Belloc, or any Pope since 1891, almost anything by Burke would be
    screamed down in the Conservative Party that Thatcher has bequeathed, never
    mind in UKIP. The Independent Labour Party was said to include “even a variety
    of Burkean conservatism”. Anyone of such mind now has no political home but
    Labour.

    Today,
    Labour alone stands in succession to those among whom there persisted an
    ancestrally Jacobite disaffection with the legitimacy of the Hanoverian State,
    of that State’s Empire, and of that Empire’s capitalist ideology. That
    inherited, theologically grounded disaffection produced Tory action against the
    slave trade, Tory and Radical action against domestic social evils, Tory and
    Radical extensions of the franchise, the creation of the Labour Movement, and
    the opposition to the Boer and First World Wars.

    Labour
    is totally opposed to the cruel cuts in our conventional defence. To the
    ruinous reduction in provincial disposable incomes by the abolition of National
    Pay Agreements. To the further deregulation of Sunday trading. To the
    replacement of Her Majesty’s Constabulary with the British KGB that will be the
    National Crime Agency. To the devastation of rural communities by the allowing
    of foreign companies and even foreign states to buy up our postal service and our
    roads.

    To Royal Mail privatisation, which would sever the monarchy’s direct
    link to every address in this Kingdom. To the return of the East Coast Main
    Line, the only publicly owned railway in Great Britain and the one requiring
    the least subsidy from the taxpayer, to the private sector from which it has
    already had to be rescued twice. And to the disenfranchisement of organic
    communities by means of parliamentary boundaries designed by and for “sophists,
    economists and calculators”.

    Every
    single Labour MP voted to demand a real-terms reduction in the British
    contribution to the EU Budget. The number of Conservatives who voted with
    Labour was lower than the number of Liberal Democrats in the Commons. As
    Prime Minister, Ed Miliband will fight for Britain’s national interest at
    European level.

    Labour
    is the force for the Union against separatism on at least three fronts.
    Moreover, the vast area of England where Labour now massively predominates
    would secede from any Thatcherite rump state. The three regions of the Deep
    North alone have a combined population considerably greater than that of
    Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    But
    the relative success of Labour at the local elections in the South in 2012 and
    2013, capturing first Chipping Norton and then Witney Central, indicates that
    the Coalition’s vindictiveness is bringing the South East back into the United
    Kingdom.

    However, the whole of England has been removed from the United Kingdom
    without our consent by the dismantlement of our National Health Service. That
    defining aspect of British identity still exists everywhere else. The BBC is
    blacking out this scandal. Only Labour supports England’s NHS.

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