Powerful swing voters say Labour lacks vision - and that the Tories are still nasty

Voters in four key marginals were asked about the two main parties – neither came out well

Voters in key marginal seats believe Ed Miliband lacks a clear vision to mount a convincing challenge to become prime minister, new research has revealed.

Labour's flagship policy to freeze energy prices may have changed the political weather, but swing voters see it as little more than a "sweetener" rather than a strong proposal that will carry Mr Miliband into No 10, according to detailed focus group research seen by The Independent on Sunday.

But the Conservatives are also viewed unfavourably among swing voters – with "cuts" and "looks after the rich" the two phrases most strongly associated with David Cameron's party. Despite this, voters give Mr Cameron credit for taking tough decisions on the economy and welfare, even if this is "hurting". "Unions", "Tony Blair" and "benefits" were the top word associations for Labour.

Labour should consider a more striking policy as its centrepiece for the 2015 election such as a National Care Service, even with a 2p rise on the basic rate of income tax to fund universal care for the elderly, the research suggests.

The research was conducted by BritainThinks, led by Deborah Mattinson, Gordon Brown's former pollster, on behalf of Progress, the New Labour campaigning organisation. Researchers targeted voters in four marginal seats that are key for a convincing Labour victory.

The seats – Crewe and Nantwich, Harlow, Finchley and Golders Green, and Redditch – are all central to Labour's path to Downing Street because they are Tory-held, two-way fights, held by Labour under Tony Blair but lost to the Conservatives in 2010. Progress has identified them among a list of "frontline 40" seats out of Labour's 106 target constituencies. The research is being launched by Progress at an event in Westminster on Tuesday evening.

Ms Mattinson and her team focused on "Labour considerers" – people in those seats who voted for Tony Blair in 1997, 2001 and 2005 but switched to the Tories in 2010, or voters who said they would have voted for Mr Blair if they had been old enough.

Asked to come up with characters at a house party to describe each party brand, "Mr Conservative" was described as "posh, arrogant and out of touch", drinking champagne, choosing classical music or a Michael Bublé album, and eating "something posh like tapas or olives".

"Mr Labour" was a quieter guest who stands on his own wearing a grey suit and a brown tie and spends a long time sorting through the CDs so he can "avoid talking to other people" but does not actually choose any music. When researchers asked "What is Labour's vision for Britain?", there were "10 full seconds of silence" while they looked around the room. While Labour is strong on the National Health Service and other public services, economic credibility is still lacking. The Tories were still seen as the nasty party, but were thought better at taking tough economic decisions and having a "strong, clear vision and direction".

Labour was more of a "blank page", with one voter saying: "We don't know what Labour's vision is. We don't know what they are offering us. At least with the Tories, you know where they are going, rightly or wrongly. I assume everything will go to the top 5 per cent."

Ms Mattinson said last night: "The view of the Tories is deeply unflattering. The [modernisation] project hasn't worked. It is a massive problem in some ways – really nasty party stuff, absolutely toxic and overwhelmingly negative. Some voters we talked to don't have any sense of economic recovery reaching them.

"The problem for Labour is that they have made a little bit of progress, but they haven't made enough. People are just a bit confused. There were almost as many opinions about Labour as people in the room; there was not a clear picture at all. The V-word – vision … that is what they felt is lacking. They don't really know what Labour is there for."

Ms Mattinson said there was a clear "plague on all your houses" among swing voters, with the top three word associations about British politics being "cost of living", "immigration" and "confusing".

The research will prove troubling for Mr Miliband and his campaign team because they believe the energy price freeze is a strong policy that will help win the election.

In the run-up to the 1997 election, Labour's pledge card was in itself seen as something symbolic that voters could latch on to, and researchers said that Mr Miliband now needed to find a policy equally totemic.

More than 50 policies were floated, including a "no claims bonus" for benefits, where someone would get more pension if they had never claimed benefits at working age, but this was rejected as too punitive.

Of the energy price freeze, one voter said: "We were a bit unsure … Obviously, we'd all like the costs not to go up every month. But I think it would be just like the fuel tax. You know, get to the end of the two years then up it goes." Another said: "We liked it, but I don't think this would make me believe what we were talking about was the vision thing."

The full details of the research are in December's edition of 'Progress' magazine, out this week

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'