Labour was defeated in general election because it 'lost the grey vote', study says

Exclusive: Research will make grim reading for party's potential new leaders

Nigel Morris
Wednesday 17 June 2015 09:52 BST
Two elderly voters leave a polling station in Hull, during May's General Election
Two elderly voters leave a polling station in Hull, during May's General Election

Labour’s spectacular lack of appeal to older voters holds the key to the party’s heavy defeat last month, according to a new study.

Details of the scale of Labour’s rejection by the over-65s will make grim reading for the contenders vying to succeed Ed Miliband – not least because they register the highest turnout at elections.

Early post mortems have pinned the blame for Labour’s rejection in England and Wales on its failure to reach out to middle-class voters.

But Prof John Curtice, who compiled the analysis, said an electoral generation gap was a far more important factor. He said: “For the most part the older the voter, the more difficult the party found it to retain and attract their support.”

According to pre-election polling by Ipsos Mori, Labour was backed by 43 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds, but just 23 per cent of over-65s. The party received similar levels of support from the two age groups at the 2010 election.

Writing in Juncture, the journal of the IPPR thinktank, Prof Curtice said last month’s 20-point gap in support for Labour between the generation was the largest on record. He said: “Labour may not have lost the middle-class vote, but it certainly lost the grey vote.”

The Conservatives were supported by 47 per cent of over-65s – twice the number who favoured Labour – and 27 per cent of the youngest voters.

He said older voters were heavily influenced by “perceptions of competence”, with as many as 40 per cent of the over-65s saying they were voting for the team most competent to run the country, compared with 26 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Prof Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, carried out the exit poll on the day of the general election which shocked politicians and pundits by predicting an outright Conservative majority, but was proved to be correct.

Former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy was unable to woo enough voters - young and old - in Scotland (Getty)

He noted that the need to cut the deficit – a key Conservative campaign theme – was cited by 39 per cent of older voters as one of the most important issues facing Britain but by only 25 per cent of the under-25s.

He added: “The economic issue that Labour emphasised – the ‘cost of living crisis’ – primarily concerned younger voters. In so far as Labour did have a distinctive economic message, it resonated much more with younger voters than with older voters.”

Labour received 26 per cent support in the AB social group (unchanged since 2010), 29 per in the C1 group (up one point), 32 per cent in the C2 group (up three points) and 41 per cent in the DE group (up one point).

“There is, in truth, no strong evidence here of Labour particularly losing touch with its more middle-class supporters,” Prof Curtice said.

He also pointed out that the party had been “outflanked by on the SNP on the left” in Scotland.

The four leadership candidates – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall – face their first public hustings this evening. It will be broadcast by the BBC before a live audience in Nuneaton, one of the crucial Tory-held seats that Labour failed to capture on 7 May.

Nominations close at noon today for candidates for the Labour deputy leadership. Two – Tom Watson and Caroline Flint – have so far received the 35 nomination they need to get on the ballot paper. Stella Creasy has 28, Angela Eagle 25, Rushanara Ali 24 and Ben Bradshaw 21.

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