Ed Miliband is, as I am sure all readers will know, the new leader of the Labour party. The final result was Ed Miliband 51%, David Miliband 49% – the same splits as in YouGov’s final poll of the electoral college. Unlike the poll though, David Miliband was ahead amongst both MPs and party members, with Ed only triumphing on the votes of the trade union section, something that Labour’s opponents are likely to make great play of.

Ed Miliband comes to the leadership already painted as “Red Ed”, someone who will move the Labour party to the left – in YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times today 24% of people expected Ed to move the party leftwards, compared to 5% who expected him to move to the right and 27% who expected no change. It may be that the ideological differences between him and his brother were exaggerated, and that he was just playing to the left-wing audiences that made up Labour’s electoral college, but nevertheless he starts off with a media image as the left-wing candidate (he may want to dump that quickly if he is not going to take the party to the left – early impressions are hard to shift!).

There is, of course, plenty of polling around the Labour for the start of conference, though there will undoubtedly be a lot more in the week. On Friday the Fabian Society and Policy Network published the YouGov polling for their updated version of Southern Discomfort. As part of that we asked where people saw the Labour party as close to various different groups in society – people saw Labour as being closest to immigrants (59% close), trade unions (69% close) and benefit claimants (66% close), hardly election winning associations. Labour particularly struggled with being seen as close to the middle class (only 35%), homeowners (31%) and people in the South (only 32% – including only 23% of people actually living in the South).

Note that this is not a case of “it was ever thus” – when YouGov asked a similar question back in 2007 Labour were seen as closer to “professional and business people” than to trade unionists or the working class. With an electorate that is increasingly Southern and middle class, Labour need to appeal to the middle class south as well as their working class core.

(For comparison, 68% think the Conservatives are close to the middle class, 57% to homeowners and 72% to people in the South. They have their own problems though – only 13% think they are close to people in the North and Scotland, and 83% see them as close to “rich people”)

Labour will also need to come to terms with the reasons for their defeat in 2010. To coincide with Ed Miliband’s election as leader Michael Ashcroft has published Populus polling of Labour party members and voters Labour lost in 2010. Swing voters said the main reasons for Labour’s defeat were Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, Labour not having the right answers on things like the economy and immigration, and the party having run out of steam. Labour members though the reasons were that voters did not appreciate Labour’s acheivements, the right wing media, and not successfully communicating policies that were broadly right.

The biggest dilemma here will probably be spending. Labour will be tempted to oppose wholesale the coalition’s cuts, and will almost certainly gain a lot of support in the polls regardless as unpopular cuts bite. We have already seen opinion polls showing support for cuts wavering, and that’s likely to get worse when specific cuts are announced.

If the coalitions policies drive the country into depression or annihilate public services Labour have probably won the next election anyway, whatever they do. Things are trickier if the government’s policies don’t lead to disaster – then the next election will be fought on the background of the coalition saying they made the tough decisions that turned out to be right – then Labour will need to face up to saving they got it wrong. In YouGov’s poll for the Fabians/Policy Network 77% of people said most or a lot of Labour’s extra spending in office was wasted, compared to only 47% who thought they actually improved services.

In Populus’s poll of the voters Labour actually lost in 2010 the findings are even starker – 69% of lost Labour voters think the cuts are unavoidable, 74% think Labour must accept a large part of the blame for the economic problems that Britain faced, 84% think “Labour won’t be taken seriously on the economy until it comes up with its own plan to deal with the deficit – it can’t just oppose every spending cut”. That said, the same poll suggests there is fertile ground for an alternate solution – 77% of lost Labour voters think people on higher incomes should have to pay more tax to reduce spending cuts.

Meanwhile, today’s daily poll for YouGov has voting intentions of CON 39%, LAB 38%, LDEM 15%. That suggests a small boost for the Lib Dems from their conference, fifteen is their highest support from YouGov for a month. As I’ve said before, with only 1 point between the two main parties I’d expect us to see a poll with Labour in the lead sometime this week.

UPDATE: Here’s an article I wrote for Progress last month going over similar ground, but based on some slighter older polling figures http://www.progressonline.org.uk/articles/article.asp?a=6720

254 Responses to “The challenges facing Labour”

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  1. ‘@Roland Haines,
    It is interesting that you presume that I would approve of any PERSONAL attack on any politician whatever party they supported,in fact you could not be further from the truth.As to growing up at the age of 59 I consider myself quite grown up enough!

  2. Nick Hadley

    “Wasn’t the Thatcherism that followed that seminal 1979 election, which broke forever the post war political and social settlement, an exact manifestation of what that poetic 1979 voter feared?”

    That was the cause of the possibly terminal decline of the Scottish Conservatives, and together with the fact that Labour had failed to prevent it, also largely accounts for the transformation of the SNP from a hopelessly romatic and fanciful campaign to a party of government.

  3. OLDNAT:

    “Post-union, contemporary pamphlets are full of references to the hordes of invading Scots – culturally different and of a different religion, but able to speak English (though differently and, of course, “badly”)”

    There was a campaigning backbench English MP who campaigned throughout England and became the person in UK politics most hated by Scots between the Duke of Cumberland and M****** T*******.

    Do you know his name?

  4. Michael Vaughan @ Eoin

    “Also, whilst 60-odd per cent of people might list immigration as a concern, they’re not all necessarily coming from the same perspective on how to approach it.”

    Am I concered about immigration? Yes.

    I am opposed to UKBA’s treatment of children. (Google – Mhango Indygal)

    If I answer Yougov’s question, I get added in wit BNP.

    So do immigrants.

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