Thursday, 5 January 2012
Labour's real southern discomfort
Late last year Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice returned to take another look at Labour’s electoral fortunes in the South of England, when they published Southern Discomfort One Year On. The survey confirms something already widely understood – that Labour has a lot more to do to get itself back into a position where electoral success in the south can be realised.
In general, southern voters seem much clearer about what the Conservatives stand for than Labour, with 61% of them clear about what the Conservatives stand for set against only 37% for Labour. Voters in the south believe that Conservatives are more likely than Labour to “ensure value for money in the provision of public services such as schools and hospitals” (34% to 22%).
It’s not headline grabbing news to unearth that the south believes the Conservatives are better at Value for Money than Labour (indeed, the research didn’t grab any headlines). In fact, it would be surprising to learn that the public in any part of the UK saw Labour as guardians of thrift when it comes to spending public funds. Fairly or not, that is how Labour is viewed now. The cost of losing our economic credibility has been considerable.
The north/south divide is pertinent only in that it highlights the fact that obtaining value for money matters more in the south. Labour activists who have been on the doorstep talking to voters don’t need polls to tell them that we are less supported, and our policy platform less appreciated, in the south.
So a more interesting question to answer might be: is it possible for Labour to remain anchored in public sector dependent communities of our heartlands while at the same time regaining economic credibility in the south? It is; but only if we talk about everyday values and eschew the expensive policy solutions whose ability to tangibly improve ordinary lives seems to be a bit too hit and miss. It is for that reason that we should welcome Liam Byrne's recent Guardian article in which he talks about "something for something" welfare reform.
Is there really that much difference in the values of the a median income family from a traditional Labour heartland and a similar family living in a Surrey or Kent commuter town that hasn’t ever elected a Labour MP? One identifies their values with Labour and one sees us as standing in opposition to them. Surely this is Labour’s real Southern Discomfort?
Posted by Stuart King at 08:00