Tories are now seen as the workers’ party

Peter KellnerPresident
April 06, 2015, 8:02 AM GMT+0

The Conservatives are now seen as the party of the workers as well as the bosses, according to YouGov’s latest Sunday Times survey

Fully 56% think a Conservative government would be good for people who work for big companies, double Labour’s figure of 29%. The Tories are also well ahead on which party would be good for customers and shareholders, and also for their “general contribution to Britain’s economy”.

These figures run counter to the notion that Labour is seen as the party of the workers, while the Tories are the party of the bosses. What explains this dramatic finding? Two factors stand out. The first is that the old, twentieth century class divide has largely disappeared. Half a century ago, the great majority of working class voters backed Labour, while most middle-class voters supported the Conservative. Today the difference are modest. In this weekend’s poll, the Tories enjoy a seven point lead among middle-class voters, while Labour is nine points ahead among working class voters

That 16-point class gap compares with a 65-point gap in 1974, when the Tories enjoyed a 36% lead among middle-class voters, and Labour was 29% ahead among working class voters. Labour is simply not the “workers’ party” to anything like the extent it used to be.

Secondly, the Tories are winning the argument about what serves employees’ interests most. Is it the overall success of the companies they work for – or government regulations designed to prevent exploitation? It is clear from our findings that corporate success is seen as the way to generate well-paid jobs, far more than tougher laws – and that the Conservatives are trusted more to create the right conditions for big companies to succeed.

That said, the Conservatives remain vulnerable to the charge that they are unconcerned about small businesses. Here, the two parties have similar scores, but more because the Tory figures are far lower than for big business than because Labour figure are much higher.

Plainly, one of Ed Miliband’s biggest tasks between now and May 7 is to show that a Labour government would get the best out of big business. After leading the Conservatives last weekend, Labour has now slipped narrowly behind in three successive YouGov surveys. Today’s poll shows why. David Cameron convincingly won last week’s skirmishes on policies towards big companies.

Meanwhile, the start of the election campaign has boosted the reputations of all three main party leaders. Cameron’s net rating has turned positive for the first time since May 2011 (47% say is doing well, 46% badly), while Miliband’s net rating of minus 26 (well 33%, badly 59%), though still poor, is his best for two years. Nick Clegg’s net rating, minus 32, is also his best since 2011. Two weeks ago it was minus 47. His recovery, from catastrophic to bad, explains why Lib Dem support, at 10%, is back in double digits for the first time since last July.

However, last week’s big winner is Nicola Sturgeon. Not only do two-thirds of Scots regard her as the winner of Thursday night’s TV debate; voters in England also placed her ahead of the other six party leaders.

This commentary first appeared in the SundayTtimes

See the full poll results