Labour can win the next election if it focuses on cost of living not culture war, survey suggests

One in 10 people who voted Conservative in 2019 have now switched to Labour

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Saturday 14 May 2022 15:28
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Keir Starmer accuses government of being 'bereft of leadership' amid cost of living crisis

Labour can win the next election if it sticks to the cost of living and avoids being distracted by culture-war issues, according to a large-sample poll by Opinium Research for Progressive Britain, the pro-Starmer activists’ network.

The survey finds that one in 10 people who voted Conservative at the last election have now switched to Labour, but “the main driver behind this has been voter disappointment with the Conservatives rather than renewed enthusiasm for the Labour Party”, according to Chris Curtis, head of political polling at Opinium.

Voters are keen on Labour’s plan to tackle the cost of living crisis, but still have doubts about the party’s ability to manage the economy. “They would spend too much money and get the country into more debt” was the reason most often given by soft-Conservative voters for not supporting Labour.

On the other hand, the poll finds that few voters care about “culture war” issues, suggesting that Conservative attacks on Labour over trans rights or drugs policy are likely to be ineffective as long as Sir Keir Starmer remains focused on the cost of living.

When voters were asked what political debates they were “most passionate about at the moment”, the cost of living came top, named by 46 per cent, followed by the NHS, the war in Ukraine, and climate change. Only 6 per cent were “passionate” about whether or not trans women should participate in women’s sport, and 6 per cent said they were most passionate about the law on recreational drugs.

Opinium found that 48 per cent of people preferred Labour’s plan for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to pay for additional help with energy bills, and only 15 per cent preferred the government’s existing policy. Mr Curtis advised Labour to be “more ruthless and focused on talking about their plan wherever possible”.

He suggested that the party needed discipline to avoid being “distracted” by debates on trans rights, or the policy on refugees trying to cross the Channel, which was named by 17 per cent of voters and 19 per cent of soft Conservatives as the subject about which they were most passionate. “Any time Labour gets knocked onto these topics by a government trying to distract away from the cost of living crisis is a wasted opportunity,” he said.

Opinium Research interviewed 4,000 people between 14 and 26 April for Progressive Britain, whose annual conference today will feature a response to the research from Lord Mandelson, who was business secretary in the last Labour government and an architect of New Labour’s three successful election campaigns.

Mr Curtis is expected to tell the conference: “Labour’s lead in last week’s local elections would have been good enough to put Keir Starmer into Downing Street. However, our report makes it clear that the Conservative voters that Labour needs to win over will only make the shift in a general election if they are convinced Labour can competently run the economy.”

Nathan Yeowell, director of Progressive Britain, commented on the research, which is part of a series aimed at helping the party to focus on what it needs to do to win: “The local elections results squared with my experience on the doorstep: people are listening and willing to vote Labour. But we can’t rely on Johnson to keep messing up, we have to come forward with a relatable cost of living programme for the current crisis, and a vision for work, jobs and security that people can believe in for the next election.”

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