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Revealed: the Labour voters who’ll decide the next election

Which voters will take him to the promised land? Credit: Getty

February 21, 2024 - 4:00pm

New research from UK in a Changing Europe ought to be required reading across Westminster. It’s all about the 40% plus of the electorate currently propelling Labour to victory. 

Who are these voters and what do they want? The report’s author, Zain Mohyuddin, identifies three main groups. Firstly, there is a core Labour group which voted for the party in 2019; secondly, the red wall voters who “supported Labour in 2017, but not 2019”; and thirdly, a non-red wall group of swing voters who also didn’t vote Labour in 2019, but who say they probably will next time.

It’s an election-winning line-up, but can Keir Starmer continue holding them together — or are these building blocks of a Labour majority destined to fall apart?

In trying to answer this question, Mohyuddin uses 2023 data from the British Election Study Panel to compare and contrast the three groups. In particular, he looks at where they stand on economic issues (using a Left-to-Right scale) and on cultural issues (using a progressive-to-conservative scale).

On the economy all three groups are heavily centrist. On cultural issues, however, there’s a clearer divide. There’s a substantial progressive minority (36%) among the core Labour voters — but only 17% of the swing voters and 10% of the red wallers think the same way.

All the signs are that Starmer is well aware of these numbers. For instance, on economic policy he’s made a habit of dumping his party’s most Left-wing policies. And no wonder — the fact is that not even the core Labour vote is very radical on the economy, let alone the floating vote. If Starmer’s Corbynite enemies want socialism, then they’ll have to dissolve the people and elect another.

Credit: BES

The Labour coalition looks a lot shakier on issues such as immigration and gender, but Starmer has a politically effective response on this front too — which is to say as little as possible. Expect no mention of the male cervix in the Labour manifesto.

What, then, can the Conservatives learn from these findings? The first thing to say is that the party needs to win back voter groups that aren’t covered by Mohyuddin’s research — like ex-Tory abstainers or defectors to Reform UK. However, there can be no recovery without also winning back the red wallers and other voters who’ve swung to Labour.

Culture-war issues are clearly relevant in this regard, because they constitute a fault line in Labour’s electoral coalition. But note that the great majority of non-woke Labour voters are “centrists”, not avowed “cultural conservatives”. What they want is common sense from government, not crusades.

As for economic issues (for instance, taxation and public expenditure), it’s vital that the Tories understand that almost no one in the red wall and swing voter groups is on the Right — the great majority of these voters are economic moderates. There are major implications here for the self-styled Popular Conservatives — a new Tory faction formed by allies of Liz Truss. The PopCons’ big idea is to present re-heated Thatcherism with a garnish of culture-war rhetoric. But, clearly that’s not what the voters want.

What they do want is an economically moderate and sensibly unwoke party that stands for every part of this country. Perhaps the Tories should think of giving it to them.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
4 months ago

So much for the argument that the Tories should shut up about “Culture War” issues and just focus on bread and butter economic issues. In reality the Conservatives are completely discredited on bread and butter issues (notably on housing, healthcare and immigration), but have an opportunity to drive a wedge between the Labour leadership and swing voters around culture. As there is little difference between the parties on economics (although in practice Labour will be even more anti-business and pro-regulatory burden), woke and Green are the true dividing lines.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Little difference on economics? You’ve got 15 years of Tory economic failure vs i don’t know whatever Labour might do.
The Tories can keep going on about the culture war bullocks but they’re just going to turn off all the moderate middle class voters like my mum that used to form their core.
The culture carp really isn’t as much of an issue for Labour as Starmer has cannily sidestepped all the issues no matter how much the Tories keep trying to drag it up as another one of the “people’s priorities”.
The graph which you seem to have misinterpreted tells us nothing useful. Where are the Labour core going to go if the party drifts slightly right to appeal to the “I actually kind of liked that slaveowner statue I’d never noticed before” cohort? They would prefer Starmer in a union jack to Tory anything.
Telegraph pensioners and always-online extremists can afford to waste time worrying about the proportion of black women or gay people on their many screens but swing voters with real lives and real issues to worry about are going to make their decision based on actual lived experience. And everything they have experienced in the past 15 years has been rubbish.
The only reason the Tories would keen to focus on culture war nonsense and draw attention away from the economy is not because Labour are just serving up the exact same but because in most voters’ minds their record on the economy is awful.
But then to the normal person it just seems decadent for Sunak to be talking about what he thinks men should be wearing or who should be able to access which toilets when public services are crumbling, prices have jumped 50%, the health service is still broken and people are feeling poorer than ever.
Sunak can shout “he doesn’t know what a woman is!” as much as he likes but Starmer can also just respond “okay but shall we address other things like the recession?”

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Historically, tyranny was exercised by a minority. Nowadays a majority of homeowners rules the roost. We are yet to develop a narrative to counterbalance this. So Starmer will simply continue what Blair began by asset stripping the public realm in order to reward the rent-seeking of middle class homeowners and apparatchiks. Of course it will all be disguised with a lot of touchy-feely rhetoric, but that is what will happen.

Watch and learn.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Tories: toilets, skirts, gay people on TV.
Labour and swing voters: isn’t there a recession on? What are you talking about?

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

If voters are feeling the economic pinch now, just wait until Ed Miliband is unleashed on energy policy.

Douglas H
Douglas H
4 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Unfortunately you are right

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

It’s nice that people have the illusion of having some say in how they are governed. This is an election year in the States, too, though it seems more accurate to call it a selection year. The oligarchy owns or rents enough people to get its way no matter who the chief executive is. That chief can make things easier or harder on the oligarchy, but we’re betting a lot of chips on the notion that one man can push back the tide.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
4 months ago

The Tories are the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ – even if they were to now sincerely offer what people want, no one is going to believe them, not even instinctive conservatives like me, who supported the Conservatives even as the Major government was coming apart.

As things stand, I now view them as a rag-tag bunch of talentless and spineless spivs, so… no. But thinking on it, there is perhaps a way round all this to ensure good faith on their part, such that we disillusioned conservatives could yet vote for them. I propose, that every Tory candidate be tagged with an electronic device under the skin in the back of the neck, which is directly controlled by every Conservative voter in the country. The device would deliver a continual pincer grip throughout their period as a serving MP, with a pressure and sharpness in proportion to the level of approval expressed by an aggregate of everyone who voted Conservative – the greater the level of disapproval, the more vicious and unrelenting the force, culminating, (but only in extremis of course, we are not Barbarians), in a spectacular blood-splattered punishment beating. Gory, you say? Yes, but that’s the price. Mr. Sunak, you know what you have to do.

Douglas H
Douglas H
4 months ago

Thanks, very sensible article. “What they want is common sense from government, not crusades.” -sums it all up.

Robert Routledge
Robert Routledge
4 months ago
Reply to  Douglas H

The very best we can hope from a Starmer government is that we won’t be too much off than now unfortunately that’s about all we hope from the ( the rather unlikely) conservative government

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago
Reply to  Douglas H

But what if you can’t restore common sense without a crusade? It’s not an accident that the insanity of wokery primarily infests government. It’s not just a matter of taking someone aside and explaining that their beliefs are irrational: they know this perfectly well and are using the beliefs as a political weapon, not trying to provoke open-minded debate.

Restoring common sense is a streetfight, not an exercise in quiet re-education.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago

Would an economically moderate government have spent like a drunken sailor, borrowed like someone who know the world was ending next week, and put the tax burden up to a 70 year high?

This matters, because if not, then both taxes and spending have to be cut in order to reach the position of being economically moderate. And apparently that isn’t going to win elections. So is this claim actually true?

DeMarcus Samms
DeMarcus Samms
4 months ago

Obviously there were Labour voters in so-called Red Wall seats in 2017 that were not in 2019, but this seemingly sudden change in the political landscape was actually a long time in the making; since at least 2005 in fact if you look at the trend for ever decreasing Labour majorities post-1997. Labour seats that fell in 2019 were a result of the metaphorical straw breaking the camel’s back, so it stands to reason that Starmer doesn’t actually have to convince that many of them to return in order to regain many Red Wall constituencies, assuming of course that those who continued to vote Labour in 2019 aren’t likely to switch in 2024.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
4 months ago

When New Labour came to power in 1997 most of the workforce was employed by the government or large businesses. Now well over 60% of us work in small businesses, our own or someone else’s.

A shrewd and forward thinking politician could build a huge majority on the back of that reality.

Unfortunately…

N Satori
N Satori
4 months ago

Does it matter? Parliamentary politics have become such an satisfactory mess because 21st Century mass societies are now just too big and too diverse for the outdated the system of democratic voting to work effectively.
Does power really belong to the people? Brexit is good example of a democratic victory challenged, resented and subverted by those with real power. Either a Labour or a Conservative government will be resented and obstructed by many and the misguided principles of diversity and inclusiveness will continue to make “the will of the people” an irrelevance.
Look forward to an era dominated by pressure groups. An informal version of PR?