Labour plots new campaign to win over Tory-supporting pensioners

Evidence shows Conservatives are performing badly among the demographic

Tara Cobham
Sunday 21 April 2024 00:27 BST
Top Labour officials have noticed pensioners’ growing concern over how a Tory tax-cutting pledge might hit pensions and the NHS
Top Labour officials have noticed pensioners’ growing concern over how a Tory tax-cutting pledge might hit pensions and the NHS (PA Archive)

Labour is plotting a new campaign to win over Tory-supporting pensioners in a move aimed at wiping out one of the government’s few remaining electoral strengths.

It comes as evidence shows the Conservatives are currently performing as badly among the demographic as the party was under former prime minister Liz Truss, who lasted a mere 49 days in office before she was forced out.

With local elections in England coming up in less than two weeks, The Observer reported Sir Keir Starmer’s top officials are understood to be refocusing their campaign after noticing pensioners’ growing concern over how a Tory tax-cutting pledge might hit pensions and the NHS.

The change in approach – involving a national media and targeted digital advertising campaign from Sunday – comes after the chancellor signalled employee national insurance contributions would eventually be scrapped, with Labour claiming the decision would cost around £46bn per year.

The results of a private focus group run by Sir Keir’s party this week led its most senior officials to believe Jeremy Hunt had made a mistake with his announcement, with older voters fearful of the impact of the removal of national insurance on the struggling health service.

Insiders told The Observer that the move was being compared to Ms Truss’s doomed proposal for £45bn in unfunded tax cuts by “pensioner hero voters”, a group who previously supported the Tories but are considering a switch to Labour.

Evidence shows the Conservatives are currently performing as badly among the demographic as the party was under former prime minister Liz Truss (PA Wire)

An internal memo written by Labour’s strategy chief Deborah Mattinson said: “Their primary concern is that it is a huge unfunded spending commitment. The unfunded commitment raises alarm bells and leads voters to spontaneously make comparisons to Truss’s mini-Budget.

“Beyond this, they recognise the high risk to the future of the state pension – with some worrying it won’t be around for their children/grandchildren. This gives Labour its biggest opportunity with pensioners for some time.”

The one group for which the Tories lead Labour is the over-65s, and then only by six points, according to the most recent Opinium poll for The Observer. And the 35 per cent support the Conservatives currently enjoy among the demographic is still four percentage points lower than in the poll taken before Ms Truss’s resignation.

An agreement to focus the final weeks of the local election campaign on targeting the over-65s over this issue was reached at a campaign meeting on Wednesday.

A memo issued to the shadow cabinet by Pat McFadden, the veteran MP preparing Labour’s election campaign, read: “This is a crucial moment for our local and general election campaigns. We know from our strategy and insights team that voters share this concern. Scrutinising the Conservatives’ £46bn plan will be a central line of our attack.”

It comes as, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Labour leader accused the Tories of denigrating “some of our proudest national institutions” and lacking faith in the strength of British identity to “withstand discussion”, as he laid claim to the mantle of “the patriotic party”.

In an opinion piece published in the run-up to St George’s Day on Tuesday, Sir Keir spoke of his “pride and gratitude” at being English, saying Labour was “at its best when it has celebrated, defended and served the values of our country and its people” and promised to “always put country above party”.

Asking whether the Conservative Party was “really capable of serving anything other than itself”, he said: “I don’t think so.”

Adding: “In fact, frankly, when you’ve trashed the economy, hammered mortgage holders, weakened the union, neglected our forces, repeatedly broken laws you expected others to follow and denigrated some of our proudest national institutions, from the BBC to the National Trust to the England football team, I’m afraid you have lost any right to call yourself a patriotic party.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “We are cutting national insurance contributions again for 29 million working people to end the unfairness of double taxation on work and making sure being in work pays. Our long-term ambition is to abolish it entirely, which we cannot do overnight and will only do in a fiscally responsible way, without compromising high-quality public services.

“Labour, on the other hand, have pledged to deliver a commitment they’ve costed at £28bn by 2030, which would create a huge black hole in the nation’s finances.”

The Independent has approached the Conservative Party for further comment.

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