Amidst all the political shenanigans of the past few weeks, analysis on the 2017 General Election by guru John Curtice (famed for his on-the-spot commentary of those exit polls on election night) seems to have slipped under the radar.
This should not really surprise anyone. Whilst the analysis of one psephologist should not be taken as gospel, Mr Curtice’s record suggests he gets more right than wrong. He has already taken to touring university campuses with his findings and the likes of Matt Forde, Political Science Lecturer at Manchester, have made known via social media their agreement.
As such they make essential reading for those who not only want to understand why the election went the way it did, with Labour doing a lot better than expected and the Tories doing a lot worse. But what is the way forward for Jeremy Corbyn’s party.
What does Curtice’s analysis say?
In brief, Curtice identified a few very clear trends in the General Election:-
- Young people did come out and vote for Labour. This defied the prediction of critics and sceptics (including this one), Jeremy Corbyn appealed to a swathe of young voters across the country. This was true of young people who are, to coin a phrase from Theresa May ‘Just About Managing’ (JAMs) to those who are a bit better off. Many of the former particularly did not vote in 2015.
- Labour gained votes among Leavers, as did the Tories. And both parties benefitted from the collapse of UKIP.
- Labour gained votes among Remainers, but the Tories suffered significant losses.
- Social outlook emerged to challenge the dominance of economic outlook in deciding how people voted. Those who are more socially liberal tended to vote Labour. The social conservatives tended to vote Conservative.
- Little evidence that Labour’s more left-wing economic policies in themselves were any more popular this time than previously. Tuition fees and renationalisation may regularly be popular policies in polls, but 2017 does not show that they are suddenly even more so.
What does Curtice’s analysis mean?
There is a number of things that can be drawn out with regards to Labour’s positioning going forwards. Here is what this author draws from it:
- Jeremy Corbyn’s instincts, shared with other noteworthy MPs like Progress’ Alison McGovern, in being pro-immigration, were absolutely vital to gaining seats like Canterbury & Warwick & Leamington. With young, liberal-minded populations; the contrast between the Labour leader and May’s imitating of UKIP could not be more stark.
- The Labour leadership’s positioning on the EU was absolutely spot-on throughout the campaign. Promising to uphold the referendum and voting for the triggering of article 50, cut off that line of attack which may have alienated Labour leavers. The tone, however, compared to May, enabled Remainers to give Labour their vote.
- Labour has a problem among older voters, particularly in its core areas where these voters are the old working class. The Tories, by reverse, have a serious problem with the young and Labour a serious advantage.
Labour’s performance in June and the government’s current tendency for self-destruction puts Jeremy Corbyn on the threshold of power. Yet this should not obscure the fact that there are serious problems for the party going forward that stand in the way. These are:
- Labour’s more liberal policy on immigration puts it in a great position to advance in the south as socially liberal, younger people are drawn to it in contrast with the Tories overt native populism. Yet this more liberal policy is deeply unpopular in some of Labour’s traditional core areas. Squaring this circle is difficult as Ed Miliband, whose instincts were no less liberal than Corbyn on the issue, as evidenced by the infamous ‘controls on immigration’ mug.
If Labour is to win, it needs to find a way of satisfying socially liberal people and those who are concerned at what globalisation and particularly immigration means for them. No easy feat.
- Labour’s economic policies were undoubtedly popular, particularly with young people who are finding that the benefits of capitalism enjoyed by their parents are out of reach to them. But it should not be assumed that a further move to the left will improve their prospects. It is clear that young people want to change a system that does not work for them. It is far from obvious that they want to overhaul it completely. Also, the lack of an alternative offer from the Conservatives, who had a frankly dire manifesto, undoubtedly strengthened Labour’s position in comparison.
- Labour’s position on the EU is only marginally stronger than the Tories because it is May who is having to deliver Brexit. The poisoned chalice of having to negotiate our leaving the European Union has the double whammy of pleasing nobody and upsetting everyone on both sides of the debate. Labour’s problems in government would likely be very similar despite its careful positioning through Keir Starmer.
How Labour answers these questions is a little above my pay-grade. They are, from where I am sat though, key to getting what we all want; a Labour government.