Sunday, 22 August 2010

A conundrum for Labour strategists

My next set of posts will concentrate on how the Tories should be thinking about the next election (still using current boundaries and systems for now), but before leaving Labour behind for now, I have a conundrum that Labour will need to wrestle with.

Some left-of-centre Lib Dem voters at the last election are without doubt unhappy at the turn of events. It appears that many of these are now supporting Labour. But should Labour regard this as an unalloyed positive? Should it be encouraging more to desert the Lib Dems for it? Counterintuitively, this is not a no-brainer.

The easiest group of Lib Dem voters by far for Labour to peel off must surely be those Lib Dem voters who voted for them tactically to try to keep the Conservatives out. I refer to these as Braggites, in honour of Billy Bragg who very actively encouraged just such voting behaviour. In contrast with both Conservatives tactical voters and Lib Dem tactical voters, these have been out in huge numbers. Indeed, at the last election the residual Labour vote in Lib Dem/Conservative marginals was squeezed to the limit (and beyond what I thought before the election was possible). Take a look at this table:

It sets out the Lib Dem seats which are on the Conservatives' top 100 targets, together with the Labour vote and percentage share. You will note that in most constituencies (and every English constituency in the top 100 Conservative targets where Labour were not in fact second), Labour is below 10% of the vote share and sometimes a long way below 10%. When the Conservatives or the Lib Dems are third, 15-20% is a more normal level of vote share. We can, I think, ascribe this to Braggite voting.

Now the Braggites are the group that have most to be cheesed off about. The Lib Dems have not behaved as they expected (whether they were right to expect something else is a different matter, but not relevant for present purposes). Many of them will probably vote untactically next time. But how many?

The impact of this is important: for the Tories. Without getting another vote, they could pick up 13 more seats if Labour's natural level of support is 15% and the Braggites return home. And a further 7 if Labour's natural level of support turns out to be 20%. And a further 5 seats if Labour's natural level of support turns out to be 25% and all the Braggites return home (including four seats not even within the Tories' top 100 targets). So the Conservatives could have an overall majority of 12 without picking up another vote.

Labour seems to have spent the last three months doing its utmost to regain Braggites. And obviously it does want to gain voters. But how does it gain voters in the areas that it wants to gain them without giving the Tories a leg-up? It's not an easy dilemma to resolve.



Mark Senior said...

Interesting article , antifrank .

One of the biggest errors in UK politics is that loads of Labour supporters behaved as you describe them Braggites .
Their actual number is in fact very small and remained so even in May this year . We can guage how many there are by looking at the figures for Party ID . Whilst the Yougov figures may not be absolutely correct , they are probably of the right order and show just over 30% of the total electorate identifying as Labour , not much above what they actually achieved in May .
These days attachment to Party ID is much lower than even 20 years ago and as the polls showed in the last parliament , the attachment is weak and there can be wild swings in parties' standings .
The next GE in Con/LD seats will be decided not by those tactical Labour voters who voted LD in May but the mass of unattached voters who voted LD or Conservative in May in these seats but hold no firm attachment to either party .

Mark Senior said...


Insert assuming between is and that in Line 1 .

Richard Gadsden said...

Obviously, if introduced, AV will change this calculation completely.

Putting that aside, the interesting question for me about Braggism is the extent to which these people are consciously tactical voters, and the extent to which they have been influenced, often over many years, by the fact that local campaigns by both LD and Con have driven home the message that "Labour can't win here" and simultaneously, there has been very little if any campaigning by the Labour party itself.

Places where LD or Con are third are generally closer to somewhere where they are more successful - but in the southwest, it's not just that only Labour MPs are in Exeter, Plymouth and Bristol, it's that they have only a handful of second places outside those three cities. The old rural working class Labour party is dead and the lack of any kind of Labour campaign on the ground is changing preferences.

Even in those urban areas where the Tory party is (just as) dead, you're rarely ten miles from a Tory MP.

Mark Senior said...

The reasons for voting can sometimes never be logically explained .
A ladyfriend of mine ( of no politocal allegiance )voted Labour in 1997 to get the Conservatives out . She lived and still does in Mid Sussex where the logical anto Conservative vote both in 1997 and today would be to vote LibDem .
In a council byelection in Shoreham a couple of years ago I canvassed someone who claimed to be Labour but had voted Liberal/LibDem at every election since since the Arundel/Shoreham byelection in the 1970's because Labour stood no chance . This despite Labour finishing above the LibDems in several elections .