Labour's southern problem

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
September 25, 2010, 1:37 AM GMT+0

Tomorrow Labour will announce the winner of their leadership election, and our last poll showed David and Ed Miliband neck and neck amongst the electoral college. Ed Miliband had a small lead, but it was well within the margin of error and the result could easily go either way.

Whichever brother does emerge triumphant on Saturday, they have challenging job ahead of them. The Labour party can probably look forward to some positive poll ratings as the coalition announce their detailled cuts later this year, however our polling for the Fabian Society and Policy Network also reveals some of the problems Labour face.

So close and yet so far?

YouGov asked which groups in society people thought Labour and Conservatives were close to or distant from. The Labour party were seen as being closest to the trade unions, benefit claimants and immigrants - hardly election winning associations. 57% see Labour as close to the working class and 54% to people in Scotland and the North, but only 35% see them as close to the middle classes, 32% to people in the South and 31% to homeowners.

In contrast 72% see the Conservatives as close to people in the South, 68% to the middle class and 57% to homeowners, though less positively for the Conservatives they are still seen as closest to the rich, and unsurprisingly trail far behind Labour in being seen as close to the working class or those in the North and Scotland.

Issues to address

It may be comforting for Labour to think this is the normal situation, that Labour and the Conservatives are normally seen as working class and middle class respectively, but when YouGov asked a similar question about Labour in 2007 the party were seen as closer to professional and business people than to the working class and the poor. Crudely put, Britain is increasingly Southern and middle class; for Labour to win they need to appeal to southern, middle class voters as well as their traditional working class supporters.

Labour will also need to address government spending and the deficit. If the coalition's cuts prove disastrous for the economy or public services Labour may well win by default whatever the new leader does. If not, then Labour may have to come to terms with the public perception that they spent too much and wasted too much money in office. Asked about public spending under the last Labour government, 77% think a lot or most of the extra money was wasted, only 47% think that the extra money significantly improved public services.

Once the Coalition Government's cuts start to bite Labour can probably look forward to big leads in mid-terms polls, but underneath that our poll suggests image problems the new leader will need to address.

Full results of the Policy Network poll

More on this poll

The Independent

The Financial Times

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