Labour may have lost its long-standing voters, but it still has time to win over the abstainers

In 2015, 34 per cent didn’t come out to vote at all, compared to the 24 per cent that saw the Tories into majority government

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The Independent Online

This weekend I headed to Croydon, home to one of the two London branches of IKEA. Sadly, I was not there to buy some efficient storage solutions for my home because a) I don’t own one b) neither I have the security of tenancy as a renter to even imagine spending any more of my money just to make it a little bit nicer. This situation is perpetuated, in large part, by Croydon’s local MP, Gavin Barwell, the housing minister. 

No, I went canvassing in Croydon town centre with the aim of getting Barwell out and Sarah Jones, the Labour candidate, in. All may feel lost at the moment, with the Tories leading the national polls, but not so in Croydon Central, a seat which the Tories won by only 165 votes back in 2015. It’s marginals like this that count.

Getting people to talk to you about politics outside Primark on a Sunday afternoon isn’t an easy task. Most people just don’t want to know, which isn’t surprising when you consider that 7.5 million people didn’t register to vote in the last general election and 33.9 per cent of those who had signed up didn’t actually bother to show up at the polls.

Those who did stop to chat this weekend fell into two camps. The first is the reluctant Tory voter; they felt as if they had broken up with the Labour party, but still felt guilty enough to explain exactly how upset they felt about the state of Labour for a few minutes. They don't want to vote Conservative in June, but they feel like they have no option.

General Election 2017: What you need to know

The Tories, they said, were a strong party who would be able to take us through Brexit. Labour, meanwhile, had always been frivolous with money, giving too much away for free. Again and again, key Conservative messaging would pop up in people's natural conversation in the high street. No sooner was one myth busted – it is actually the Tories have been the biggest borrower’s over the past 70 years – another one would crop up in its place like a seven headed hydra.

You have to give it to the Tory party, they have got their communications strategy down. There was no fighting it; you can come up with all the counter points you like, but there’s little hope of unravelling seven years of soundbites in a few short weeks. Some former Labour voters in marginal constituencies such as Croydon have turned blue, and there’s little we can do about it now.

But then there was the other camp. As well as chatting to people about their voting preferences, we also spoke to people who hadn’t made their mind up yet about whether they would vote at all in June. They told us that, if they did, they’d probably vote Labour.  

The main reason most people cited for not voting was the belief that their vote wouldn’t make any difference. They were busy with their families, their jobs and other responsibilities, and politics just seemed a waste of time, even though they didn’t like the way the Conservatives had been running the country.

When told that their vote mattered three times more than any other vote in the UK, due to the narrow margins in their constituency, these people began to feel good about voting. They felt like it was worthwhile. The first past the post system, which focuses itself on the final result in Westminster, makes individual votes seem inconsequential, but there are some parts of the UK where those individuals really do have more than a say. And even at the national level it’s easy to forget 2015 the biggest winner was "the non-voting party". That 34 per cent didn’t come out to vote at all, compared to the 24 per cent that saw the Tories into majority government, should be a source of democratic embarrassment. 

Labour has lost some of its key long-standing supporters, that much is clear – but they still have a majority of eligible voters waiting to be given a good reason to vote. In marginal seats such as Croydon, they have a better reason than most.