Survey data re the 2015 general election is confirming the previous posting. But it is not a picture that is widely acknowledged. For example, Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian, suggests it is more important we should ask why the Tories succeeded, than why Labour failed. But the truth is the Tories are only a smidgeon ahead of their 2010 vote when they had to rely on Lib-Dem support to form a government. That can hardly be regarded as great success. The 24 additional seats those few additional votes produced was a quirk of the first past the post system. Labour undoubtedly failed, being stuck only 1.5% above their 2010 low point in terms of votes, but losing 26 seats, also a result of first past the post.
The survey sample referred to in the previous post has produced some further confirmation. The Lib-Dems were written off some time ago as having completely sold out. That may be grossly unfair, but that is the predominant reason being given by those former Lib Dems surveyed. The main cause emerging for Labour’s rejection was their failure to offer an economic programme that was significantly different from George Osborne’s. In particular, Ed Balls’ adherence to the Tory austerity programme, in case Labour should be seen as irresponsible, appears to have been a prime cause of frustration and rejection.
Those small changes in voter numbers disguise a lot of voter movement. In the survey, a significant number of former Labour voters turned to UKIP and the Greens, where they substantially increased numbers to around 5m but produced no additional seats. Labour’s losses to UKIP and Greens appear to have been more than compensated by deserting Lib-Dems.
If the survey is truly indicative, we have an angry electorate. They are certainly angry with Lib-Dem and Labour, but also not hugely enthusiastic about the Tories. That is despite the Tory manifesto including the creation of ‘millions of apprenticeships’, and ‘millions of jobs’, ‘more help with childcare’, ‘improved education’, ‘cuts in income tax of working people’, the building of ‘affordable homes’ and such like. How could any socially minded individual not vote for such a programme? But the indication is that the Tories are not trusted. The Tory discussion of apprenticeships, jobs, childcare, etc, is seen as being deliberately deceptive – Osborne’s austerity dominates the public perception of what the Tories are all about.
The only Party that appears to be pleasing its voters is the SNP. Scottish voters appear to have been motivated that way because the SNP offered the only genuine alternative to the Westminster consensus and Tory austerity, NOT because it was focused on exiting the UK. They had already voted on devolution and, despite their deep disenchantment with Westminster, voted narrowly against. So there appears to be something of a disconnect between a proportion of SNP voters and SNP devolution policy, which Sturgeon appears to understand, even if Salmand doesn’t. Scottish voters will vote enthusiastically against the Westminster consensus, but less enthusiastically for devolution.
The survey suggests that if Labour had, like the SNP, offered a real alternative to Tory austerity, they would have walked it. Angry supporters would not have decamped to UKIP and Greens and they would very probably have hung on to many of the Lib-Dem deserters.
The most interesting question is surely not why Labour failed or Tories succeeded. Nor even how the Tories will avoid messing up on devolved powers and Brexit. The real curiosity is why are the Greens the only English alternative to austerity?