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. @ COSMO
    Your point is totally unprovable, by me or anyone else.
    Your comments about the Conservative Party are horlicks , and you know it. Your view that this country is a displaced persons camp is not shared by the majority of people.

  2. It is at this point going to be very easy to over-egg this “Elected by the Unions” line. It was after all a less than 2% difference between candidates! This is hardly the “clear will of the Labour party being over-ruled by the unions”, it was a close result and it was highly likely that slim majorities in one or more of the colleges would be surpassed by a slightly better majority in one of the others.

  3. What is wrong with being a party of immigrants, benefit claimants and union members? None of the three groups are law breakers? All deserve equal participation in society…..

  4. @ Cozmo el Al.

    Don’t be to sure about Lab staying the party of imigrants. My local Con party is currently recruiting heavily amongst the small businessmen who hail from the Indian subcontinent, and they heavily influence the opinion in their communities.

    They are fed up with Labs tax and spend are they have a hatred of debt and regard the defecit built up by GB abhorrent.

    They are also the last people who want their children and grandchildren saddled with a yoke of debt repayment for generations.

  5. Nick Robinson is class :) Yes, he mangled up yesterday but that can happen to anyone. His insight into political intrigue is second to none. His blog is only one of three of my permanent reads. When you put yourself on a pedalstool as he does you are going to take an awful lot of criticism but his treatment of Gordon Brown in particular was very kind. He was also the first to truly appreciate the Disraeli streak in Cameron.

    He is much less gifted at meeting and greeting the public. I think that is where his weakness lies.

  6. The media is full to bursting with opinionistas telling Ed M how to appeal to voters who wouldn’t vote Labour if their lives depended on it.

    Prove you are not left-wing (a social democrat), Ed! Stamp on the unions early & often, Ed!

    Jeez, no wonder UK politics are sterile & bankrupt of any cohesive vision that unites the country. It’s all about telling the center-left to change & become more right-wing; it’s all about disenfranchising millions of union members…. one nation, my @ss. 8-)

  7. Anthony – I think you’re right: conference week will deliver polls showing a Labour lead. This will be good news for EM, because they will be the first polls to put the Tories behind since late 2007 – and they will be seen as an initial electoral endorsement of his leadership.

    However, the Tories will regain the lead during their conference – and we’ll have to see what happens after that. My guess is that Labour will lead throughout most of 2011 and beyond – but there will be a swing back to the Tories by 2015.

    That is the usual pattern. Whether Labour can hold on to enough of its poll lead when the general election comes round will depend not just on the economy but on whether EM can perform. If he cannot, then Labour will enjoy only weak mid-term leads and the Tories will be re-elected in five years time (as happened under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s).

    Personally, I din’t think the “Red Ed” label will stick for the simple reason that it’s not accurate. EM did what US Democrats do – they run to the left to win their party’s “primary” and then move to the centre to win the general election.

    The fact that the Lib Dems did not get much of a poll bounce from their conference is no surprise: usually, the centre party do well when they’re in the media spotlight and lose support when there is a ‘media eclipse’ of their activities. This time, though, the Lib Dems were already in the spotlight – as a result of their part in the coalition.

    Sue & Cosmo – I agree with you 100%. Labour should be proud of being seen as the party of immigrants. It’s why I vote Labour (and I’m white English). That image may have its electoral drawbacks but it also has its advantages – as can be seen by Labour’s success in holding off the Tory challenge in many London seats where the political balance has been altered by immigrant-descended communities. Even if, in net terms, it loses us votes we should still stick to our principles on this.

  8. Roland – “Your comment about the Tory party is utter tripe. How did they ever win a general election if their only supporters are the stinking rich ?”

    I honestly don’t know, Roland, really I don’t. I ask myself that question every day. ;)

  9. @ Amber Star

    it’s all about disenfranchising millions of union members

    Union members have a vote in elections just like everyone else and I am sure, in recomending a courses of action to EdM no one is suggesting removing their vote.

    Or do you think are they worthy of greater representation than veryone else???

  10. EM is not unelectable. That’s all that really matters at this stage. With the state of the economy, it will probably come down to ‘is the country buoyant again?’. If yes, vote no change. If no, vote change.

    It’s what would have happened last time. No crisis = Brown in power. As long as EM and the wider Labour Party hasn’t imploded into the Labour disaster of the 80s or the Tory one from the 90s, it will be the current government’s handling of the economy that will win or lose the election (assuming no other major crisis).

    LDs will suffer badly of course. Mind you, their choice was 5 years (or so) in power or a further 80 years of no power, so I think they’ll think it worth it. Especially if that means a more libertarian Labour party and a more socially conscious Tory.

  11. Blues and perhaps the public are partly making mischief with the Union thing but also partly worried by the ‘lurch to the left’ talk. They needn’t be. Even Dianne Abbot does not want to go back to Arthur Scargill days. I can apprec that the election of Ed M coinciding with talks on strikes has people fearing a repeat of the 1980s…. Ed’s first big task therefore should be to rule out a general strike or at least red support for it. Blue and yellow do have a mandate afterall (I apprec. some disgree on this point). Let them get on with gov…. constructive opposition full of creative policy ideas … rather than withering attacks… show we are not bitter and tired but optimistic and with bags of faith in our own ideas and stance…. Party politics works best when it is about competing ideas… not simply factionalism and attacks…

    I am very confident that Labour has a strong policy platform to take forward… lets push that not Bob Crow’s agenda

  12. R Haines
    Who are these British people who do not regard their country as a displaced persons camp? You have attacked a critical component of that British people, Scots in the most racist way and sought to destroy as far as I have understood it the concept of a British people.
    This is an important issue given that Anthony quotes only13% of the british people believing that the Conservatives are close to Scots and those from the north of Engald

  13. @ Eoin

    I am very confident that Labour has a strong policy platform to take forward… lets push that not Bob Crow’s agenda


    In that case it is not much help to them that Ken has been elected as the candidate for Mayor.

    Only today he was parroting then not one cut not one redundancy line.

    And he will be getting a lot of air time again now

  14. John F,

    It is Crow’s union that is behind the tube strikes. I would hope Ken would be able to see through that. I dont support cuts either though, so I am not going to criticise him… tax rises not strikes… Boris froze corporation tax… Ken should run a platform of raising it…

  15. @ Eoin

    Ken could run on a lot of positive platfroms. Boris is far from perfect. Will he though? Or will he go with his instincts to protest .

    He has already said he intends to make the election in 2012 a referendum on the Govt cuts, So far he has said nothing about London itself.

  16. Eoin

    Good post. Hear hear. :-)

  17. John F,

    London is lucky to be very well run in both the Boris Johnson era and the Ken Liv era… whoever wins would do a good job. I prefer Ken because he is more inclusive but I did think Brosi done a good job… Occasionally he made some rash decisions but he got most of th ebig things right.

  18. @ John Fletcher

    Union members have a vote in elections just like everyone else and I am sure, in recomending a courses of action to EdM no one is suggesting removing their vote.
    No, they are simply suggesting removing the center-left’s opportunity to have a Party to vote for. But engage in semantic hairsplitting, if you enjoy it. 8-)

  19. I think it is somewhat amusing seeing the Conservatives give advice on what Ed Milliband “must” do to win an election. It has, after all, been 18 years since the Conservative Party won a majority of commons seats…

  20. @ Jay Blanc

    I think it is somewhat amusing seeing the Conservatives give advice on what Ed Milliband “must” do to win an election. It has, after all, been 18 years since the Conservative Party won a majority of commons seats…
    That’s been making me chuckle too.

    I have no wish to reopen an argument regarding my personal opinion of Scottish/English relations, however, it does seem that AW’s essay puts me as a typical Tory rather than a rogue variant in this regard.
    If you knew how much I wished for a united Britain, you would be astounded. The message from Scotland has been loud and clear for years, I have repeated my views over and over and cannot be bothered to do it again.
    As far as the British who do not wish to live in a displaced persons camp. Most of them, and dare I say particularly in rural Scotland. I get sick of going over this old ground. People get used to a Pakistani GP, if he is a good GP, but endless ethnics wandering the streets doing (a) nothing, (b) selling the big issue, (c) getting into crime, does nothing for race relations.
    I am sure if you trouble to reply you will quote endless examples of jolly jocks and hens taking to Somali immigrants as if their own. I happen to think it is a little different in reality. BTW, I think Amber does also.

  22. @ Éoin,

    If Labour wins Holyrood, the Tories/ Dems will shrug their shoulders & ignore it.

    If Red Ken wins London, TINA will be laid off quicker than you can say “public sector workers” & a whole new approach will be adopted by the Coalition. 8-)

    I have tried to reply in a rational way but clearly not rationally enough, as I have been moderated . Shame, because I agree with you these matters should be discussed.

  24. @ Sue

    “Millions of people just saw something inspirational in him.”

    Must have missed that one Sue ???

    He got 175,519 votes-MPs, Party Members, Union members, Affiliates-the lot .

    There was no shortage of Labour advice for Mrs Thatcher from a choice bunch of Labour losers, why should we not return the favour.

  26. Colin – Artistic license, don’t be so literal ;)

  27. Amber,

    Great post except for the use of the word ‘if’ 8)

  28. @ Roland,

    Our last, best advice to Mrs Thatcher was, “Watch your back.” Were we wrong? ;-)

  29. Colin – Or maybe it was a 2013 psychic flash?? :lol:

  30. @ Éoin


  31. Ed made a Beta plus (Oxon) start , I think, on the Marr show.

    The Whigs/Tories should not under estimate him.

    The ‘Squalid’ (Mail) has mentioned he is a son of a JEWISH COMMUNIST.

    All to play for. Labour back in the game.

    What will DM do though? I think he will leave British poitics.

  32. The craic is moighty in here tonight eh?

  33. @ John Fletcher

    “They are fed up with Labs tax and spend ”

    THere is most certainly a narrative developing from the Public Sector unions-and from EM this very morning on Marr.

    It is that cuts to public spending are unneccessary-the deficit can be eliminated by higher taxes .

    That is higher taxes on “the rich” & “bankers”.

    The failure to understand what sort of tax increases would be needed to raise £150 bn pa , will do nothing to alay the fear & trembling which these noises will produce in the small business & entrepreneurial community.

    And the assumption that those communities will continue to get us out of the recession by expanding their businesses & employing more people , whilst paying for the the effects of that recession , will most certainly not be lost on them.

  34. Labour can’t ever have been giving Mrs T advice on how to win following an election defeat since it never happened to her.

  35. Chris – I don’t think so for one second.

    Far from being the traitor some wished to paint him, he’s proved himself far too loyal not once, or twice but at least four times now.

    He was loyal to Gordon and way to easy on his brother. If d needs him (and imo opinion he needs him very much indeed) he’ll stay.

  36. @Jay Blanc

    Well said. And another reason not to lecture Ed M is that he has after all just won one election. If he applies the same tactical nous to the GE campaign as he did to the leadership campaign, then he’s going to be a tough cookie to beat.

  37. Colin,

    agreed. We need to tax oursleves…. 2pc on Income.

  38. starchief

    “LDs will suffer badly of course. Mind you, their choice was 5 years (or so) in power or a further 80 years of no power, so I think they’ll think it worth it. Especially if that means a more libertarian Labour party and a more socially conscious Tory party”

    i agree with most of this especially with a more libertarian Labour party and a more socially conscious Tory party, that is something that libs always strive for. but i feeling optimistic about LD chances in the next GE. and as i said earlier i expect a LD bounce from the blue conference

  39. Chris – I don’t think so for one second.

    Far from being the trait*r some wished to paint him, he’s proved himself far too loyal not once, or twice but at least four times now.

    He was loyal to Gordon and way to easy on his brother. If d needs him (and imo opinion he needs him very much indeed) he’ll stay.

  40. Eoin

    “agreed. We need to tax oursleves…. 2pc on Income.”

    OK-a good start -that’s £8bn pa

    Who pays the other £140 BN ?

    And remember-EM opposed the VAT increase.

  41. Colin – Wow, that’s selective.

    He suggested there might be some more taxes on the banks, but that ADs plan was a good starting point.

    Hardly no cuts v cuts, much as you’d like it to be so :)

  42. Colin,

    More like £12bn p.a. £60 bn over lifetime of parl. then a utilities tax… Gas/Lecky/Telephone/Cable services of £1.5bn p.a. (remember our target is half the struc def.)

  43. @ Sue

    I believe that David will remain & support Ed. I believe his cool head & strong character will be invaluable.

    David will be a Mandelson for the Party, without the downside. He is in a position to change the political landscape of Britain – why would he leave British politics while that challenge is in front of him? 8-)

  44. Amber- I think it needs some very imaginative thinking. The role for DM must be almost as important as Ed’s to reflect the closeness of the vote.

  45. Sue, Amber – I’m with you on this.

    It needs some special bespoke role being created for DM. I hope and trust the brothers can work it out between them. The media will be pressing for an instant answer but they can take a little time.

    Sue – glad your feeling strong enough to make the pilgrimage north. Hope it lives up to expectations.

  46. @ Rowland
    Actually your party “is” the party of immigrants, that is the ones that are already here, want to fit in, put down roots and provide for their families within the UK not their own miniature version of their own countries.

    On topic, to start the clichés rolling, I’m a typical swing voter, I voted Tory last time, but I would have voted Labour if someone had got rid of Brown and Harman was in charge. Ed needs to demonstrate his commitment to the middle classes, we are *****. As an example Tuition fees, if you’re rich they don’t matter, if you’re poor you get grants and bursaries from central government and the University, if you’re middle class you get zip and they expect a parental contribution, except, oh wait, my parents have 3 kids, twins means 2 of them are going to University at the same time, one of them has had numerous hospital visits and they had to pay for accommodation at very short notice in travel lodges, they can’t afford the “parental contribution”, (btw I go to Oxbridge) so it costs me £2000 a year of my own money to survive, survive, I don’t drink (teetotal) and I don’t go out, thank you labour, thank you very ***** much.

  47. eoin

    how do you sell tax rises, selling tax cut is easy it don’t matter how silly or economically irresponsible they are. tax cuts are sexy

    i think this is the problem that anyone to the left of attila has to face up to

  48. Richard,

    The highest return of MPs in LD history was on a tax raising budget. Your 2005 manifesto was a masterpiece :)

  49. R Haines
    Thats progress!
    On Scotland, don’t believe the hype. Support for separation is very low. The vast majority of Scots want a future within the UK
    On immigration, I am not as you seek to portray me
    I do believe that relative open-ness is an essential part of the UK’s strength but I have sought to point to associated dangers.
    In my city we have 7000 people on our housing list, almost no supply and a continuing stream of poor people from abroad. You do not need an IQ of 140 to see that there is a problem or series of problems
    But the UK is part of the solution

  50. @ Roland,

    I certainly believe that Tony Blair & the EU failed to take cognisance of a very important point. The UK is in a different position to the rest of Europe. Why?

    English being the world language makes the UK uniquely attractive; the myriad languages in Europe are a barrier to full reciprocity by the other states. Brits are castigated for failing to learn the language of their neighbours in Europe. Okay, let’s address that. Which of the other 5 main languages should I learn?

    The rest of the EU puts up barriers to UK & foreign workers who have learned the world language, English. How? By having all government documents, health & safety signs, equipment operating instructions etc. in the national language only.

    The UK should stop ignoring this & start shouting loud & long about it. If Farage had harangued the EU president about this, instead of mounting an idiotic personal attack, he would have had the support of the majority of Brits.

    Adopt English as the official second language of the EU (because it is already the world language), instruct all nations to have English versions of documents, operating instructions, workplace signage etc. in English. Then we will have the beginnings of true reciprocity.

    There you go, Roland. I’m hoping you might agree that this wouldn’t be a bad place to start, if the UK government wants to do something constructive about levelling the European playing field.

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