Between Jeremy Corbyn’s poor ratings as party leader, the resurgence of Ed Miliband in popular culture and a wave of nostalgia for New Labour’s stunning ascent to power 20 years ago this month, it is easy to forget that the Labour Party’s electoral woes are not wholly a product of the Corbyn years. From 1997 to the 2010 General Election, the Labour Party lost 5 million votes, roughly a third of its vote, cutting across class, age and gender.
However, the Party’s current standing does not appear to be addressing the voting patterns that would sweep them back to power. Structural changes in the demographics of the British electorate means the long walk back to power for Labour must go beyond its ‘core vote’.
Class-based voting has been on the decline in Britain from its high point in the middle of the last century. ComRes research shows that age has overtaken class as the foremost demographic informing electoral fortunes. Although Labour has failed to win a majority of those aged 65+ since 1997, perhaps more worryingly Labour now draws with or trails the Conservatives in every age group except 18-24 year olds – Jeremy Corbyn’s core demographic.
Despite claims that Labour could win off the back of a resurgence in turnout among the under-40s, analysis by Demos shows that even if turnout in this group was 100% (an extra 5 million votes) in the 2015 election, the Conservative would still have won a majority with some 325 seats. So reaching out beyond the young is an imperative for Labour, both in the weeks running up to June 8th and beyond.
The next 20 years
How can Labour do this? Polling by ComRes suggests that although individual policy offers from the Labour Party are popular, this does not translate into numbers of voters. Many of his detractors lay the blame for this at the feet of Jeremy Corbyn – however the truth is subtler than this. In a poll for the Independent and Sunday Mirror, ComRes tested a raft of Labour’s policies attributing them to the Labour Party for half the respondents, and to Jeremy Corbyn for the other half. Our research found no significant difference between the two groups, at first glance good news for Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.
But policy is not all – Labour’s bed of support for individual policies does not translate into backing in the ballot box. To understand this, consider that although the Labour Party is more trusted on the NHS, when Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May’s names are attached, the Prime Minister and the Conservatives come out on top. Trust and belief in Jeremy Corbyn, or for that matter in any leader of the Labour Party, must come from across society if the Party is to succeed.
When asked whether they agree if Theresa May has ‘the best interests of people like me at heart’, the only age group to agree more than disagree are those aged over 65. Across the rest of the age spectrum, including in Corbyn’s heartland of 18-24 year olds, the public either disagree or are split.
The challenge for Labour is to fix the disconnect between perceptions of party policy and perceptions of the Party as a Government in waiting – and to translate this support beyond just its young core vote. If the Labour Party is to be within reach of a parliamentary majority again, they must address these issues, both in the form of Jeremy Corbyn and in their fundamental identity in voters’ eyes.