Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Financial Times sees meltdown in working class support for Labour

Brown sees core vote defect in droves by Jean Eaglesham
Financial Times June 11 2008

The Blairite coalition of popular support that has kept Labour in power for more than a decade has collapsed under Gordon Brown, analysis by the Financial Times reveals. Labour's core vote has defected in droves, according to a class-based breakdown of data from all the main polls conducted over the past year.

The Tories have this year overtaken Labour among the electorally-crucial C2 skilled working classes for the first time since the Thatcherite victories of the 1980s. Even among the DE social groups, the unskilled working class and unemployed, traditionally heavily dominated by Labour voters, the governing party is barely level pegging with the Conservatives.

"For Labour, though it's worrying that they've slipped badly among ABC1s, it's the slippage among C2DEs that takes it into the territory of total collapse," said Andrew Cooper, strategic director at Populus, the polling firm.

The resurgence of the Conservatives under David Cameron has taken the Tories to a seven-point lead among C2s in polls conducted between March and May this year, the analysis shows. Even in the Tories' 1992 general election victory, the party was not ahead of Labour among the C2s. In Labour's 1997 landslide, they voted for Mr Blair in preference to the Conservatives by a ratio of almost two to one.

The solid numerical evidence to support Labour MPs' worst fears of a meltdown at the next general election will fuel divisions within the party. MPs are split tactically and ideologically over how Mr Brown should respond to Labour's worst poll ratings since records began.

Leftwing MPs and unions are urging the prime minister to revert to old-style Labour policies, such as higher taxes on the rich, to woo back the core vote. But the Blairites argue it would be electoral suicide to abandon Middle England.

The damage that could be inflicted on Labour at the next general election by the desertion of the working class was evident last month, when the prime minister suffered a triple drubbing in the local elections, London mayoral contest and Crewe by-election. Ward-by-ward analysis of the results of the London mayoral elections revealed "the white working class appears to have decisively shifted against Labour", Tony Travers, local government expert at the London School of Economics, said.

Mr Cameron is seeking to capitalise on this working class disillusionment with Labour. The Tory leader has focused much of his recent rhetoric on the financial pain inflicted on lowerincome families by higher food and fuel prices and Mr Brown's scrapping of the 10p income tax rate.

"We have to win those votes," Caroline Spelman, the Conservative party chairman, told the FT.
She said that the Tory experience of campaigning in Crewe suggested the prime minister was paying the price for taking his core vote for granted.
"Labour was bewildered because they couldn't understand why the people they thought they had in the bag had left the bag and come to us."

White van man still holds sway on the road to No 10
By Jean Eaglesham June 11 2008

Mondeo man, Worcester woman and the pebbledash people. The alliterative archetypes identified by political parties as their target floating voters have varied over the past 20 years. But their existence reflects an underlying psephological reality - class still matters in British politics.

The old certainties of the 1940s to 1960s - when the working classes voted en masse for Labour, and the middle classes for the Conservatives - have vanished. But swings within socio-economic groups can still prove key to a party gaining power - or, as Gordon Brown may discover, losing it.
"Class is still there," said Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics. "We all talk about the decline of traditional party loyalties, but class hasn't gone away."

Margaret Thatcher's successful wooing of the working class, with policies offering the right to buy council houses and shares in privatised utilities, delivered power to the Tories in the 1980s. In the 1987 general election, 42 per cent of the "C2" socio-economic group - skilled working class, or "white van man" - voted Conservative, while only 35 per cent backed Labour.

Tony Blair reclaimed this core Labour vote, securing the support of more than half the C2 and DE vote in the 1997 landslide, while widening the New Labour coalition to win over the C1 lower middle classes - "pebbledash people", or the white-collar "Mondeo man" - whom the former premier identified as key to defeating the Tories.

But this support for Labour, which had eroded during Mr Blair's decade in power, appears to have collapsed under his successor.
"There were Blair Conservatives, rather like the Reagan Democrats, who included pro-Tory, white, working-class people. The passing of Blair seems to have allowed them to shift back [to the Conservatives], along with some suburban middle-class voters," said Prof Travers.

The sample sizes in individual polls are too small to draw any firm conclusions about socio-economic trends. But FT analysis of aggregated polling data reveals the extent to which Mr Brown has lost his party's bedrock of electoral support. Among the Ds and Es, Labour's lead over the Tories, which fell from 37 percentage points at the 1997 general election to 12 points at the 2005 poll, is now a statistically insignificant one point, the analysis shows.

Among the C2s, the data suggest the Tories overtook Labour around the turn of the year. "It's a huge swing - Labour has collapsed among that group," said Andrew Cooper, strategic director at Populus, the polling firm.

The figures are not all good news for David Cameron. The Tories have yet to reach the levels of middle- class support that have previously helped to propel them to power. Conservative support among the C1s has risen by five points over the year, but still averaged only 39 per cent in polls taken between March and May, according to the analysis.
"The real Tory shortfall is the ABC1s, who historically have been the party's bedrock, with a vote share of more than 50 per cent when the party wins elections. David Cameron is nowhere near that," said Mr Cooper.

The geographical basis of Tory support remains highly asymmetrical, despite signs of a tentative recovery in northern England. The party is flatlining in Scotland, where its support fell two points during the year, bucking the national trend of an overall five point rise. Mr Cameron's inability to gain the support of six out of seven voters north of the border could exacerbate tensions within the union under a Conservative government.

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