22 February 2011


I've only just caught this – an excellent piece from the current Tribune by Paul Hackett of the Smith Institute on Labour's electoral prospects. Read it all, but the points on class and voting patterns are particularly telling:
There has been much hand-wringing in Labour circles about the collapse of the C2 vote (skilled manual workers). The figures are horrifying. There has been an 11-percentage-point fall (a 7.5 per cent swing towards the Conservatives), with a corollary DE (semi-skilled, unskilled and unemployed) swing of 7 per cent. Clearly, Labour needs to re-engage with those who used to be regarded as its core voters in order to win again.

However, on closer inspection, the electoral map is a lot more complex and a political strategy based solely on the core vote would be an extremely risky one. The way social grades are split suggests that each grouping represents a quarter of the electorate. In fact, this is not the case. Not only do C1s out number other grades (and ABC1s outnumber C2DEs), there is also the impact of turnout. The data is unequivocal in showing that the poorest in society don’t vote. The difference between AB and DE turnout is nearly 20 percentage points. If you weight the social grades, it shows Labour cannot possibly win on the back of working-class support alone.

At the 2010 election, Labour gained more votes from ABs than from C2s and similar numbers from C1s as DEs. ABC1s contributed slightly more to Labour’s tally than C2DEs. That said, while Labour’s support among ABs looks fairly strong, there is a delicate balancing act to be managed between the social grades. Labour needs to win back more DE voters, but not at the cost of its AB vote.

Back in 1992, for example, Labour secured just 19 per cent of the AB vote (compared with 30 per cent in 1997 and 26 per cent in 2010). If Labour’s AB fell back to 19 per cent, it would require a relatively larger (9 per cent) rise among DEs to secure the same national support as it did in 2010 (this is against the backdrop of rapidly falling DE support). So there is no turning back to the idea of a working-class majority for Labour and to pretend otherwise would be counter-productive.

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