Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Meet the swing voters

In this special report for Progress, Deborah Mattinson and Zoe Tyndall find out what swing voters in four ‘Frontline 40’ seats want to see from Labour

Lizzie, aged 36, lives in Crewe, and is a childcare worker with two kids of her own. Nilesh, 28, works for a firm of accountants. He is single and struggling to buy his first flat in Finchley, north London. Keith, from Harlow, is in his 50s. He works for himself, is married with three teenagers, and says he is ‘sports mad’. Jane is 48, with grown-up children, and a grandchild. She also cares for her elderly parents. She lives in Redditch and works as a chef.

What connects these four people? They are the voters who will decide the next general election. In October BritainThinks ran four workshops for Progress each with around a dozen carefully recruited undecided voters like them. None had voted Labour in 2010 but all were now ‘Labour considerers’, thus representing the party’s ‘low-hanging fruit’. The workshops were more than two hours long and, through a combination of group discussion and ‘projective’ exercises to identify underlying feelings, we set out to understand the issues that voters care most about, as well as how they feel about the state of the parties. Our overall aim was simple: to determine what Labour must do to win the support of voters like these in 2015.

We began the sessions by asking each participant to tell us what he or she thought were the ‘big issues’ facing Britain nowadays. Nilesh was worried about the cost of paying back student loans, and how hard it was to get on the property ladder. Jane’s concerns related to her family finances: rising fuel costs and the high cost of food. Lizzie talked about public sector cuts – job losses and lack of training – and also high taxation, while Keith chose more abstract issues, particularly the macroeconomy. We then discussed the extent to which politicians might help solve these problems.

Political impotence rules the day

How do these voters see politics? The short answer is that politics does not really fit into their lives at all. When thinking about the big issues they tend not to look to politicians to help. Keith discussed the lack of work in Harlow: ‘I have to go to London every day for work. It used to be local jobs for local people but not any more. It’s sad but I certainly don’t think there’s anything our local guy could do to change it. I wouldn’t bother wasting his time by talking to him about it.’

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We asked for participants’ top-of-mind associations with ‘politics in Britain today’. As this wordcloud shows, only two policy areas were spontaneously mentioned in connection with politics: the cost of living and immigration. Neither association is positive.

The cost of living highlights frustration rather than satisfaction with politics. ‘I just put “costs, costs, costs”. This lot have been in for years, they say they’re sorting out the economy but I can’t see it in my finances.’

Similarly, immigration is synonymous with political impotence: ‘It’s all messed up, isn’t it? It’s because they’re so out of touch with reality. You can see it on immigration – they’ve got no idea how big a problem it is, for wages, for housing, for jobs, for everything. They all talk about it all the time, but what actually changes? Nothing – well, no something changes – more and more immigrants come.’

This sense of failure leads to anger: ‘corrupt’, ‘lies’, ‘out of touch’, ‘scandal’, are immediate word-associations. Harlow voter, Keith, made redundant after a 13-year career with Tesco, described politics as ‘full of greedy, two-faced, liars. Show me one of them who actually cares about my situation. How could they, they’re all Oxbridge, London, they’ve got their salaries and their expenses. The economy isn’t hurting them like its hurting my family.’

The expenses scandal still looms large. It was a totemic episode, reinforcing voters’ existing suspicions about their representatives. Nilesh said: ‘It’s hard to believe they’re really going to sort out the economy and the debt, that they really want to, when they’re still claiming 3p here and taking first-class train tickets everywhere. The expenses thing was years ago, but they’re still the same.’

Many voters do not understand how politics works. Some find the constant change, impenetrable language and many layers of political structures complicated and confusing. Jane’s view was typical: ‘You see on the news there’s another big announcement, another set of elections, there’s so many layers. European MPs, local MPs, the cabinet, even these police elections now. And they all just speak in this jargon and you watch and you think, I have no idea what is going on here.’

The combative nature of politics compounds this, suggesting that politicians do not have the answers either – or how could they all disagree so intensely? ‘I wrote down “playground”. It’s just – you see them on the TV, arguing over and over and over and you just think, “I’ve seen this before, that’s the kids in the playground, bickering”.’ Others agree: ‘It’s about the arguing for them – they just want to slate the other side, they don’t want to concentrate on sorting out the mess this country’s in.’ The conclusion? ‘It’s just a mess, isn’t it? How am I meant to understand what’s really going on or how I can pick the ones that are really going to be best for me?’

That is why so many voters, particularly women, feel reluctant to offer an opinion on politics, even when the question is as straightforward as ‘What should politicians be doing for you?’ It is a vicious circle – voters find it hard to understand the issues, hard to relate to the politicians, and hard to trust the process. When a politician stands up and announces a new strategy to help ‘hard-working families’, the public’s lack of trust in their intentions and competence makes it seem like just another dishonest attempt to win votes. Jane summed it up: ‘We sit back and complain about it and hope it will get better but you hear politicians making promises on the news, and you just think, that’s never going to happen. Because if it was that easy, wouldn’t the last lot have done it?’

One of the products of this disengagement is that voters often see little difference between the main parties. They are all London-centric, Oxbridge graduates. None keep their promises and all greedily claimed expenses that were not owed to them. However, once we move past this and start to probe more deeply, it is clear that the Labour and Conservative brands mean very different things.

‘Mr Labour’ and ‘Mr Conservative’: the party brands

We started by asking for participants’ top-of-mind thoughts about the parties.


The Conservatives are posh, arrogant and out of touch. They are friends with big business and the rich. But they offer strong leadership and are tough and decisive. They promised that it would be difficult, and it has been. Despite dissatisfaction with some decisions – the bedroom tax, NHS cuts – many believe these are hard choices being made to protect Britain’s future.

There is a contradiction at the heart of the Tory image: while considerable animosity is directed at those ‘arrogant, rich, out-of-touch snobs’ leading the party, there is a more positive view of how they are handling the economy. The fact that most say they are not feeling the recovery themselves actually makes the point. Lizzie explains: ‘The Conservatives are not out to please people, they don’t have to look like they’re worrying about us, they’re not the party of the people. So that means they can just get on with it, making these tough decisions, sorting out the country, the economy. They don’t care if it’s hurting us along the way. Maybe that’s what we need right now.’ Jane agreed: ‘We have to go through this painful period where we all hate the government, to get through to the other side and see the benefit. It’s not ideal, but this way the future generation will be protected.’

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To better understand what really lies beneath attitudes like this we used so-called ‘projective’ techniques to facilitate discussion of underlying feelings and emotional responses. We tried a personification exercise whereby voters were asked to imagine meeting either ‘the Labour party’ or ‘the Conservative party’ at a party. What is this person like? What is their mood? What do you chat about? Who are they talking to? What are they dancing to? What are they eating?

Both parties were imagined as male, but there the resemblance ended. The image of Mr Conservative, though unflattering, was much more consistent than Mr Labour: he is confident, even arrogant. He is drinking champagne – ‘obviously’. He is loud, and talkative, and surrounded by other men just like him, all dressed in expensive, grey suits. Their party chat avoids anything political except to say ‘how awful they think Ed Miliband is’. When it is his turn to choose the music, Mr Conservative puts on classical or perhaps a Michael Bublé album, and eats ‘something posh like tapas or olives’. The other partygoers try desperately to avoid him.

Meanwhile, Mr Labour is a much less clear-cut figure, quieter than Mr Conservative. He is on his own sporting a grey suit and a brown tie – apparently he threw his old red one in the bin. The suit looks ordinary, but, on closer inspection, some guests realise it is actually pretty expensive. Instead of choosing music, he is spending ages sorting through the CDs, which means he can avoid talking to other people. He will listen to any party guests who do approach him, but he does not have a lot to say in response. He is vegetarian – illustrative of his ‘otherness’ – turning down most of the food on offer: ‘He’ll eat one peanut maybe, but only for subsistence.’

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This discussion revealed one of the strongest contrasts between the two party brands: the consistency of the Conservative image versus a less formed, sometimes conflicting, view of Labour. There was little consensus among our swing voters about the Labour brand, reflecting their view that Labour is unsure of its own identity.

Our question, ‘What is Labour’s vision for Britain?’, met a full 10 seconds of silence, as 12 voters looked around the room to see if anyone else had an idea. In Harlow Keith finally broke the silence: ‘I wonder – maybe that’s just us all not paying enough attention to the news, or maybe they just don’t actually have one.’

Communicating party values through policy

Earlier this year, Progress commissioned YouGov’s Peter Kellner to conduct new polling on Labour’s challenge for 2015. His work reflected the findings above, and showed that, while Labour is seen by many as having its heart in the right place (it is ‘nice’), it is not necessarily trusted to manage the country effectively (it is also ‘dim’). Labour’s ‘nice but dim’ image contrasted sharply with the Conservatives’ ‘mean but smart’ reputation.

Kellner went on to test a set of ‘positioning’ statements, some about competency, some addressing broad policy areas and some exploring party values. Labour ‘beat’ the Conservatives on nine out of 12 statements but being in the ‘lead’ often meant simply being ‘less bad’ than the Conservatives. Most worrying, the poll showed that, on one key attribute – ‘Has the courage, where necessary, to take tough and unpopular decisions’ – the Conservatives had an overwhelming lead.

We set out to understand which of these attributes has greatest salience with swing voters, whether any were missing from the set YouGov explored, and, crucially, how Labour can credibly persuade voters that it ‘owns’ the attributes that matter most for electoral success.

At first sight, the overall ‘winner’ was ‘Ensure that public services such as health, education and the police provide good value for money’ – clearly a Labour strength. Our workshop discussions centred on Labour’s deep, historical commitment to public services, especially the NHS: ‘Labour are thinking about us. They always have. They didn’t break down the hospitals.’

However, the ‘value for money’ element of the statement, ignored at first, emerged more prominently after discussion, when voters start to fret about Labour: will it simply overspend? ‘Labour always spend too much. They throw money at the problem.’

Another positive statement was ‘Ensure that welfare benefits and social support go to those who really need it’. A small majority saw Labour as the better party in a forced choice, again drawing on historical evidence: ‘Labour’s duty has always been to look after the working classes.’

But, once again, detailed debate raised concerns about overspending: ‘The way I look at it with Labour is they just tend to give the money away so that it eventually hits the right people, so the people who need it are going to get it but along with lots of other people. If it said it “only goes to the people who need it”, then I’d change and say the Conservatives are best.’

Polling conducted by Kellner in the summer found a small Labour lead on the economy. However, four months on, we found that recent, more positive economic news has restored the Conservatives’ reputation to some extent – although voters remain reluctant to claim that Britain is in significant recovery yet: ‘We haven’t recovered. Whenever we hear about recovery it’s about 0.1 per cent or something small. It’s a victory but it’s a very small victory.’

However, our workshops revealed that the values-led statements were more motivating and used by voters to really define party brands. Attributes identified as the most important were ‘Having the courage, where necessary to take tough decisions’ and ‘Keeps their promises’. The first of these remains a core Conservative strength. It is closely aligned to ‘Keeps their promises’ and reflects the simplicity of the Tories’ austerity message: ‘From what I recall when the Conservatives were on the campaign trail they were pretty clear that it was going to be tough and that they were going to do some pretty horrible things and we weren’t going to like it. And to be fair to them, that’s how it’s gone.’

Having made some unpopular decisions reinforces the point: ‘Bedroom tax. Child benefit cuts. They have made a lot of decisions that haven’t pleased people. They were unpopular but they done them anyway.’

Discussing these statements, it became clear that a further, vital attribute was missing from the set that YouGov tested: ‘Having a strong, clear vision and direction’. Adding this in to the workshops revealed it as a Conservative quality, albeit one that explains, rather than counters, the hostility that we witnessed earlier. At best, the Conservatives offer long-term vision and a distant reward, but for some it is a ruthless journey: ‘In the last election the Conservatives were upfront and said what they are going to do over the next five years. And they’ve done that. They’ve done what they said they were going to do. And now we’re seeing signs that it might get better. Unfortunately it’s hurt a lot of people and it’s going to continue to hurt.’

Labour is much more of a blank page. Even those who were intending to vote Labour struggled to describe the party’s future direction: ‘That’s a hard question. I think they’ve got one but I don’t know what it is.’ Another participant said: ‘We don’t know what Labour’s vision is. We don’t know what they are offering us. At least with the Tories you know where they are going, rightly or wrongly. I assume everything will go to the top five per cent.’

Worryingly, the perceived absence of a long-term vision leads some voters to conclude that Labour is simply chasing votes, taking short-term, popular decisions: ‘I think they’d try to please the majority,’ said one person. Another suggested: ‘Labour is more of a friendly party so they do stuff that we want them to do whereas Conservatives do things that need to be done whether they are popular or not. Labour just wants to please … like spending – they just gave things out. That probably wasn’t actually the right thing at the time to do.’

We began to turn the participants’ thoughts to what Labour could do to gain the definition and direction that it currently lacks. Given how dismissive voters are of politics and politicians, it is perhaps unsurprising that they find it hard to engage with political values in the abstract. We found that ‘values’ words like ‘fairness’ are now devalued to the extent that using them may even be counterproductive. When shown some of the statements we were using, Lizzie was exasperated: ‘It’s words, just words … politics-speak. They say it to get your vote. They don’t mean it!’

Instead, we found that leading into values through policy was a more effective route. Lizzie was happy to discuss education, health and crime and extrapolate value judgements about the parties from their stance on the issues she cares about: ‘Labour are more caring. The Tories don’t really care about the NHS, do they? Look at what’s happening now on A&E. But would Labour be soft on persistent offenders because they are more caring?’

In the early days of New Labour, policies that symbolised a party’s overall approach were dubbed ‘symbolic policies’. We would quote the example of the Thatcher government’s ‘right to buy’: giving people in council housing the right to buy their homes was a powerful symbol: it was innovative and newsworthy; it delivered a clear benefit directly to a significant group of voters; and it spoke to a wider vision. It combined Margaret Thatcher’s dream of a smaller state with a recognition that people wanted to ‘better themselves’. In doing so it also addressed the Conservatives’ biggest weakness at the time – that they were not ‘in touch’ with the working class. The policy defined that government then and now: it is still mentioned spontaneously – and very positively – in focus groups.

In the run-up to 1997, Labour embarked on a lengthy policy review and polling programme. Broad policy areas, then specific policies, were tested, retested and refined to find the symbolic policy that could rank alongside the ‘right to buy’. Five attractive pledges were settled on. But, popular though these policies were, it became clear that people were not voting for smaller class sizes, shorter waiting lists or fast-tracking of young offenders. Instead, they were voting for a different way of doing politics. The pledge card put to rest a perceived weakness that Labour would not be held accountable. Labour had stumbled across a symbolic policy in the shape of the pledge card itself: reducing a manifesto down to five compelling promises, and inviting voters to judge the party on its delivery of these was eye-catching, delivered clear voter benefit in areas that mattered, and spoke to New Labour’s distinctive approach. Which policies, we asked our workshops, could Labour adopt in 2015 to deliver the same results?

Finding Labour’s symbolic policies for 2015

Following a discussion about our voters’ priorities, we explored more than 50 policies across 12 areas, asking each workshop to set priorities. Several policies were well received, but did any of them have the potential to become symbolic policies for Labour at the next election?

Our swing voters deconstructed each of the policies that we set before them, and, in doing so, arrived at a set of criteria for a policy solution that might turn these ‘considerers’ into ‘sure bets’. Of course, any policy must offer a clear benefit on an issue that really matters to such voters. It must speak to the party’s values, while also having credibility. For Labour, this credibility means addressing the ‘nice but dim’ image; being competent and not playing to the perception of ‘spend, spend, spend’. Crucially, a ‘symbolic’ policy must set out the party’s vision for the long term and, of course, it must do so in a newsworthy way. It needs to cut through and the winning message must be told again and again.

A good starting point is Labour’s current campaign based on Ed Miliband’s conference pledge to freeze energy bills until 2017. This successful policy ticks several boxes. It offers a clear voter benefit focusing on a real area of grievance and it is an attention-grabber, setting the agenda, as it has now for several weeks. ‘We picked it out because it’s been in the recent news – everyone’s talking about it,’ said a participant.

However, popular though this policy was, its full scope and ambition to reform the energy market depended on a knowledge and understanding of how markets work that these voters simply did not possess. Instead it was seen as a short-term ‘sweetener’, rather than a vision of Labour’s longer-term aims. This is what some of our participants said: ‘We were a bit unsure about this energy prices freeze idea. Obviously, we’d all like the costs not to go up every month. But I think it would be just like the fuel tax. You know, get to the end of the two years then up it goes.’ Another remarked: ‘It’s nice, but it’s not really a solution, is it? The real problem is that these companies can do what they want. This is just a stopgap.’ Finally, it was suggested: ‘We liked it, but I don’t think this would make me believe what we were talking about with the vision thing.’

Combining this with the backdrop of mistrust in politicians, and the confusion about what Labour stands for nowadays, led some voters to dismiss the energy policy as mere populism: ‘This is just such a good example of what we were talking about earlier. They’re just trying to please us to get votes.’

Another policy with potential because of its focus on issues that matter to these voters was supporting small businesses rather than ‘big corporations’. Many of the participants were self-employed or worked in small businesses and wanted to believe in this. However, it fell down on the credibility test, meeting scepticism about whether any political party would really support small businesses rather than big corporates. Lacking a proof point, Jane in Redditch observed: ‘I agree with it, but it’s like a mantra. Helping small businesses is what they’ve been saying since Thatcher. They all keep saying it but you never see it happen.’

We tested several immigration policies, all of which suffered a similar fate when put to the credibility test. All policies in this area floundered as participants simply did not believe that an ‘Australian-points system’ or similar control, desirable though they may be, would be workable. ‘They’re not being honest. The elephant in the room is being part of the EU.’ Again: ‘The last government had the same system with skilled workers but there’s always loopholes around it.’ It is hard to see how any party can find a credible immigration policy, such is the perceived failure of politics in general on this issue.

Unsurprisingly, welfare reform was high on many participants’ wishlists and we explored an innovative approach, offering a ‘no-claims bonus’ to those pensioners who had never claimed out-of-work benefits. This was eye-catching, addressing one of Labour’s major weaknesses, and potentially offering a clear benefit to voters who felt that their own hard work had not been rewarded. However, some voiced concerns that not all benefit claims were unreasonable. Nilesh in Finchley said, ‘I left uni and had to go on jobseeker’s for a couple of months. It doesn’t seem fair to penalise people. But then I suppose it’s not unreasonable to say that if you’ve worked and not claimed, you should get something back from that.’ Jane in Redditch agreed: ‘I don’t like this whole limiting benefits thing. I know there’s some people scrounging et cetera, but, for a lot of people, if they need benefits, they need benefits. There’s not a lot of jobs around. They can’t survive without it.’ Labour potentially faced a different credibility problem here: not being true to its own values of protecting the needy.

Reforming politics is another important policy area, though there must be a question about whether anything can break through the current cynicism and disengagement. Yet without doing so, it is hard to see how Labour can succeed. Of the range of policies we looked at, the strongest was the idea of fast-tracking those from non-political professional backgrounds (such as doctors and teachers) into elected positions in the Labour party. One participant’s reaction was: ‘It’s what they [Labour] used to be like – ordinary working people not career politicians. They used to be miners and postmen and nurses. Now they’re just like the other lot. Oxbridgey Londoners. I think this would make a big difference.’

We explored a wide range of public services policies. Further investment and improved standards – for example, increasing teachers’ pay for those working in the toughest schools, relaxing planning laws to build a million new affordable homes, and reintroducing the 18-week limit on NHS waiting lists for example – are clearly desirable, particularly when voters think about their own local areas. However, when thinking about what this says about Labour, these policies can become more problematic. The vision this spells out is a familiar one: that Labour wants to spend, but may do so recklessly. This undermines Labour’s fragile economic credibility and does little to reassure on tough decision-making in difficult times.

More successful was a new policy proposal about adult social care which introduced a National Care Service offering a universal right to quality care, funded by a hypothecated 2p rise in the basic tax rate.

This is certainly an issue that voters care about, and, we found, interest is not limited to those approaching or in retirement. Several of our voters in their 30s and 40s talked about the pressures and cost of caring for elderly relatives. YouGov’s polling for Progress last month supports this, finding social care is held to be the second most important area of public spending, after the NHS.

Keith in Harlow observed: ‘There’s just so much less help available now than there was two years ago. It’s not just the financial burden – not that it’s not expensive – but people don’t realise how draining it is, to always be thinking about them and how they’re doing. It dominates our lives at the moment.’

Like the ‘right to buy’ and the pledge card, the policy is framed by voter benefit, focusing on outcome, rather than process. The policy highlights future vision and direction, while simultaneously reminding us of Labour’s historic visionary achievement, the NHS. This could be presented even more strongly: referencing the country’s ageing population and projected increase in chronic conditions demonstrates that Labour is looking ahead at the issues really facing ordinary people, and proposing a solution.

That is why this proposal also speaks to the party’s values of fairness, equality and access to services for all. A particular communications strength of adult social care is that the recipients of the taxpayer-funded service are not controversial. Unlike those out of work, prisoners or immigrants, the elderly, ill and vulnerable are generally seen to be an innocent, deserving group. Jane in Redditch said: ‘Everyone can get behind supporting the elderly. They deserve it. That’s where we should be spending our money, rather than giving everything away to every immigrant who turns up in this country.’

But is there a danger that this is simply tax-and-spend politics that some voters worry ‘is what got us into this mess in the first place’? Discussion in these workshops suggested that being specific about the trade-off, the tax contribution required, and promising hypothecation, eases concerns. The majority of our participants claimed they would support an increase in the basic rate of tax on this basis: ‘I’d pay for that. I know we’ve been going on about everything going up, but if you knew exactly what it was going to, like it was a separate thing on your payslip, then it makes you feel better about it.’ Such honesty in itself addresses Labour’s perceived vulnerability: the urge to seek populist policies without thinking through the consequences.

A further strength is that this is something which Labour is well positioned to deliver with credibility – public services, particularly ones seen as an extension of the NHS, are a core strength of the Labour brand. It also is reminiscent of the last Labour government’s approach to childcare: a policy area previously seen solely as the responsibility of families rather than government. Labour’s reforms included childcare tax credits and free nursery places and they marked a radical departure, placing responsibility for finding childcare solutions in the hands of government too.

Finally, while it is clear that such an extension to public services would clearly be a newsworthy, eye-catching policy, it is equally clear that it will only succeed if the right language is used. Our participants told us that the phrase ‘social care’ is only vaguely understood; finding the best alternative expression would be a condition of success.

The task ahead

After running four workshops with swing voters in key marginal seats and exploring more than 50 policy ideas across 12 policy areas, we are not claiming to have found Labour’s silver bullet. It is worth remembering that in the run-up to the general election in 1997 Labour spent months and considerable resource on focus groups and polling to arrive at the best policies in the right policy areas as well and, having done that, promoted them up to and through the campaign to reach the point where swing voters in focus groups could name every one of the pledge card pledges.

Our detailed analysis of the views that lie behind the polling data reveals the challenge that Labour faces in defining itself by its future, not its past. It also shows that Labour must address its weaknesses as well as celebrate its strengths if it is to be taken seriously by the increasingly sceptical swing voters. But, as many voters struggle to engage with abstract concepts, so they openly reject some of the values statements that politicians would most like to be associated with. Instead we found that selecting the right symbolic policies can help to cut though the cynicism and showcase party values in a relevant and credible way.

So what criteria should we apply to judge any symbolic policies that might emerge ahead of 2015? Using the feedback from people like Lizzie, Nilesh, Keith and Jane we have put together a checklist:

A symbolic policy should …

  • Offer a clear voter benefit in a policy area that they care about presented in a way that is easy to understand
  • Spell out the party’s vision and long-term direction
  • Be true to the party’s values
  • Address the party’s vulnerabilities
  • Be newsworthy and striking
  • Be something the party can deliver on with credibility
We ended our sessions by asking our participants to write letters to Ed Miliband, setting out what they would like to see him do. A cross section of responses reproduced below shows the importance of spelling out Labour’s future vision, but of doing so in a way that is both believable and accountable.
Ed Miliband MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
Dear Ed
You’d win my vote if you could convince me that Labour would continue to take unpopular decisions but implement them with more thought.Dear Ed
Have a strong identity. Be passionate and forthright. You will need to take unpopular decisions. Your ideas have often been right but not always well thought through in the implementation.Dear Ed
Listen to the people, take decisions and stick to them! Keep it simple! Don’t overpromise and underdeliver!Dear Ed
The key to my vote is me believing that you will stick to your promises. Don’t give false hope to the country. Say what you’ll do then do it. Words are meaningless otherwise.


Deborah Mattinson is co-founder of and Zoe Tyndall is research lead at BritainThinks. The other members of the BritainThinks team were Ben Shimshon and Michaela Rhode


Progress invites you to:

Campaign for a Labour Majority: What’s the voters’ message for Labour? Launch of BritainThinks research for Progress
6pm, Tuesday 3 December
Committee Room 15, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

Presenters: Deborah Mattinson and Zoe Tyndall, BritainThinks
Stewart Wood Shadow minister without portfolio
Marcus Roberts Deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society
Hopi Sen Political journalist and blogger
Chair: Joan Ryan Progress strategy board and PPC for Enfield North

This event is one in the Campaign for a Labour Majority series. Deborah Mattinson and Zoe Tyndall will present newly published research, conducted by BritainThinks for Progress, on what the voters’ message is for Labour. The panel will discuss these findings and what they mean for Labour ahead of the next general election.


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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  • “They are all London-centric, Oxbridge graduates.”

    ‘Nuff said.

    I’d like to see Miliband do a proper job for at least ten years – same goes for the rest of them. On current form the party leaders would be doing well if they made it to lunchtime in real-world employment.

  • No single Mum struggling, who doesn’t see a parliament that matches her or represents her? Debs appears to be losing her touch….

  • I am sick to death of this government, its supporters and those who think it is in their interests to support it (like the Bank of England) talking up the economy, when you would have to walk around with your eyes shut not to realise the downturn. For instance, at the bottom of Gray’s Inn Road, at the edge of the city, several shops can no longer afford to open their doors and have closed and all the clothing shops are offering massive discounts. Before Christmas! The economic situation is dire, because this is the consequence of concentrating all the wealth in the hands of the rich who do not need more buying power and just channel the extra cash off-shore, it is the not-so-well-off who fund the economy of this country and if they do not have the money to do so the economy founders. Not rocket science – unless you are a product of Eton and Oxford!

  • “Worryingly, the perceived absence of a long-term vision leads some voters to conclude that Labour is simply chasing votes, taking short-term, popular decisions:” – Yes well we have been afraid to support any policy for the last 3 years. Not even Party members know what our message is. Freezing electricity prices and abolishing the Bedroom Tax (god – how long did it take to decide that) are not a policy vision – they don’t change the world. We can only “stay true to our aims” if we are prepared to defend the welfare state and a publicly owned and provided NHS (not a milch cow for the private sector). That means rebutting the view that half the people on benefits are fiddling or that benefits are too generous, and redirecting our effort to individual and corporate Tax Evasion We also need to stop apologising for immigration and put some real figures to people – about the benefits it has brought, the income from students – and about the millions of Brits that live abroad. If we can freeze fuel prices we can freeze private sector rents – which is also very important, given how the state is ripped off over Housing Benefit. And we can significantly increase the minimum wage. The economy is floundering due to lack of demand – of spending power. Finally, I don’t think this “research” says anything we don’t know. The difference between Labour and the Tories is they have stuck to their message – even when it is unpopular. We haven’t have the balls to argue our case, and have backed off at the first sign of a challenge – an approach begun by Gordon Brown. At the end of the day this major piece of research seems to involve talking to a dozen people in each of 4 constituencies. Frankly it is less than impressive – despite the hype.

  • This research reinforces what we know that the general public are cynical about politicians and the trade of politics, often lacking in patience to look beyond or challenge the easy populism of right wing politicians, pessimistic about there being any alternative to the market, despite it’s massive failures over the past three decades and unwilling to engage in political parties. When I do knock on doors people seem mainly interested in a kind of retail politics (what are you going to do for ‘me’ – or what have you done for ‘me’ lately). An approach that challenges this retail competition between parties would perhaps help us find a new ‘big vision thing’. Perhaps we need to ask what can you offer to challenge or alleviate the problems voters perceive are out there and how might we help people do this. If we need big ideas then what bigger than a massive house building programme, but we have to convince people that we can deliver. To do it we will need to raise income tax or a set up a ring fenced National Insurance levy for housing with the incentive that individual housing costs will decline.

  • From what I see in Hansard and on TV, Labour are only interested in points scoring and argumentation. They’d need a very strong demonstration that they’re rising above that kind of backbiting politics to win back any credibility from me, and frankly I can’t see that happening.

  • The main value of this research is in reminding us what is appealing to voters willing to consider Labour. There is also an insight that needs more thought: the voters’ desire to see politicians sorting out our problems rather than slagging each other off. For Labour, standing as the party that is willing to work with others to solve our country’s problems could be a winning appeal, especially if it were linked with a commitment to making the PLP more representative of the country as a whole, perhaps through local primaries, as John Mann has suggested for Falkirk. Of course, working with others as an approach clashes slightly with Harriet Harman’s refusal to discuss coalitions before the General Election. I have a tiny sympathy for that stance – after all, currently, it’s easier to predict who the next deputy prime minister will be than the prime minister, not a good thing in a democracy.

  • While I agree with virtually all of what you say and your analysis, regarding immigration there’s quite a difference between say a UK professional working in France, or a semi-retired couple going to live in Andalucia – and the often very poor and desperate people who come to the UK. I’m not blaming or criticising then, on the contrary, I would do the same in their position. But I do think that most of the liberal-left have got it wrong on this issue, too ready to label people racist, bigoted etc. (not that you are doing this, but many are), for what are often reasonable views and concerns. It does come across as dogma – with little or no relation to reality and very patronising to many people who do experience some negative effects of uncontrolled EU immigration – which I believe ultimately benefits large corporations at the economic and cultural expense of some people in the UK, many of whom are immigrants themselves or from immigrant families. I think the EU shot itself in the foot with the free movement of people policy.

    The left is too ready to address immigration solely in economic terms. They seem ignorant of how important national and local identity is to people and that any changes to it should be more gradual than is currently the case.

    Also, on a separate issue, it is not just a case addressing tax evasion per se, but of doing something about the completely legal and politically orchestrated progressive lowering of corporate tax over recent decades.

  • This long vision is a red herring. There is a continuous team effort by media management,Murdoch’s sore for ?revenge,and an appalling loss of standards of the BBC. Limited exposure to Ed Miliband; Its a battle with Tories dirty games,..I had my Vote application messed up twice by a Conservative Ultra seat in High Wycombe left with no A&E, and a shadow of a Hospital. The money spend by Tories is astronomical, Labour is a modest one if not less than that. For me it is very simple. They have made a total mess and chaos for the past almost 5 years. Tories led Coalition. Labour have a proven record of getting this Nation upright from the ruins of the war and of the Recession. It has been proven if one bothers to look, that the fair distribution, for a civilised caring society is by Taxation for a fair distribution of wealth. God created us all for equal rights but we have diversities that should unite us as a Nation, not divide us. I can not stomach the appalling state of power abuse by this Torie led Gov. The Coalition if allowed to continue will be a Gigantic Catastrophe that will make Cassandra shiver. Ed Miliband will make a very good PM. He coined the evils and wrongs of this Government admirably well. He needs to get boldly on the Left. If the rich want to go let them bloody go. We have managed worst times with out them. Nationalised all that has been taken away from us and set a time programmed plan of action for all the public services that we have lost to Foreign/local private owners and gradually over time planning reposes all of them. No select fe should own any of our country. UK is not for sale never has been for sale and we will claim all back in time. Blair was a bigger con than Cameron it was a treacherous con New Labour! No different to Greece’s New Democracy a mirrored image of the current Torie led coalition. Do not allow any body to brain wash us by running down Ed Miliband and the Labour party. Less Lawyers for politicians as lying comes as a second nature to them and have No guilt or ill feelings…most unsuitable profession for Politicians. We need Nurses Docs., scientist Architects Economists. Teachers and Skilled Trades men. Also Disabled. Must also start a juniors house from the public and select talent for public service. All public services should be handed back to the state. No shortened course for Doctors. State support for further medical Post Grad . experience. Social workers should have a common entry with all other clinical avoid the disasters of the past. Best care is given to those that have Clinical/hospital training and proven competence. Nicholas Poulcherios

  • Exactly my feelings in particular these 5 years; I do not count Blair or Blairites as Labour; there was no need for New to be added. As plain Labour was the peoples’ party the Nations party without snobbery..He drives a Mercedes and you one of the cheap tined framed ones. Labour is robust and guards our public Orgs. and services.Taxation is a fair method for national prosperity. Britain has never been before on an offer up for sale. The Tories sold everything to pals families and foreign orgs. We want everything slowly planned to come back to us from NHS,Education at all levels,Mail,Rail,Energy and Water;Housing-here in High Wycombe they sold All their Houses,to private Comp. we have nothing for 3,900 families-a whopping34%since coalition came to power. They sold 6000+ counci houses=£24m and promised to provide new affordable homes Three years down in time what have we got? well A New Office Park, Retail Development and transport Interchange with a gym and pool attached at Handy Cross NOT one New home is being built . Another broken Tory promise to join the so painfully devastating many…Do you honestly believe people are so dim and blind to believe what the Tory Media managed and the BBC and Satellites tell us. I know what I see day in and day out. and I Know what me and my wife will vote in May for the nation, , and also Locally a 100 % Labour. to bring the country OUT of this abysmal catastrophe NOW…Mr BOOTS…and get ready to pay your Taxes. Better still it is time ourPublic became more on the Ghandy’s idea -boycotting. Buy from those who pay their taxes in UK. Buy British wines, British cheese British shoes MILK and all else keep our money in the country. Nicholas Poulcherios

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