Labour has been ‘inviting people to vote for a vacuum’, says John Curtice

Elections expert says party has ‘just got to stop being so timid’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 17 May 2021 17:31
Today's daily politics briefing

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has been “inviting people to vote for a vacuum” and has to stop being “so timid” in order win over voters, according to a leading elections expert.

In a post-election analysis, Professor Sir John Curtice offered a scathing assessment of the party’s recent strategy, suggesting it “seemingly has virtually nothing to say about anything”.

It comes after the Labour suffered a series of disappointing results at the local elections in England – losing 327 councillors – and suffered a historic defeat at the Hartlepool by-election to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Speaking at an event hosted by the UK in a Changing Europe organisation, Prof Curtice said of the Labour Party: “It’s just got to stop being so timid. It’s not just keep schtum on Brexit, it has seemingly had virtually nothing to say about anything.

“If one were to parody the structure of many of Labour contributions to the Today programme in the last 12 months: Labour shadow spokesperson comes on and says ‘the government is failing to do this, it’s messing up on that’. Question from Today presenter: ’So what would the Labour Party do?” ‘The government keeps messing up and is still failing to do what it should on this’”.

The professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde added: “It’s not coming up with virtually anything in the way of alternative proposals.

“At the end of the day the art of effective opposition is not just simply pointing out the weaknesses in what the government is doing, but it is then to link that with a message of how you would do things better.

“With one or two rare occasions about particularly willing to call for a national lockdown in England in October before the government eventually did so, the Labour Party has just not been willing to say anything about what its position would be.

“To that extent at least therefore it has been inviting people to vote for a vacuum, and inevitably that’s not very attractive.”

However, Prof Curtice stressed that Labour did not need to win a majority at the next election – currently expected in 2024 – for the party to form a government.

“The other thing we tend not to talk about is the fact the Conservatives are uncoalitionable with,” he said.

“Once we reach a point where the Conservatives are significantly below 326 [seats] they will be out on their ear because there is no way that either the Liberal Democrats or the SNP are going to allow the Conservatives to run a minority administration if they can throw them out – even if they are the larger party.

“So to that extent at least the contest is asymmetric, yes, Labour winning an overall majority very, very difficult given the situation with Scotland. Labour getting back into power an awful lot easier, albeit along the way probably having to agree to a referendum in Scotland.”

Professor Curtice also suggested the recent elections to Holyrood were evidence of Scotland being “evenly divided” and “deeply polarised” on the constitutional question of independence.

Despite falling just short of an overall majority at the vote earlier this month, the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said she would press ahead with plans to negotiate a second independence referendum once the pandemic had receded.

Speaking on Monday, however, Prof Curtice suggested the country was “divided down the middle” on the issue and “in a situation where roughly speaking wants to be independent and half wants to stay inside the UK”.

“What the election itself confirmed I think was two related things: first, Scotland is indeed as the polls have been suggested pretty evenly divided on the question of its constitutional status between those who want to remain inside the UK and those who wish for the country to become independent,” Sir John said. “And also is now deeply polarised on that question.”

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