CLPD Newsletter No.62

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CLPD Newsletter

No.62 July/August 2001


Labour's welcome victory on June 7th hardly represented a massive landslide from the Tory mountain. Few seats changed hands, something unprecedented in British general elections. The result holds serious warnings: the 12% decline in turnout, to 59%, is the lowest level ever in a general election under universal suffrage. It signals disillusionment with New Labour. Nearly five million fewer people voted in 2001 than in 1997. Labour's vote fell by 2.8 million votes. This is nearly a million fewer Labour votes than in 1992, an election Labour lost.

Vanishing Voters

Even though 20% fewer people voted Labour in 2001 than in 1997, the party still won because the vote of the main opposition parties also fell. The Conservatives continued to lose votes. Although their percentage of the poll was up by one per cent, 1.2 million fewer people voted Tory in 2001 than in 1997, and 5.7 million fewer than in 1992. As for the LibDems, half a million fewer people voted for them than in 1997, and 1.2 million less than in 1992. In fact, the LibDems' share of the electorate fell from nearly 12% in 1997 to less than 11%.

Reading the Runes

The pattern of distribution of Labour's vote should be of particular concern to Party members. Labour's share of the vote fell most in its core working class seats. In those seats that Labour had held prior to 1997, the share of the vote fell by 4%. But in seats Labour won from the Conservatives in 1997 it fell only by 0.4%. It would be a mistake to conclude that losses in its heartlands is something Labour can 'afford'. Labour's heartlands are not confined to constituencies which always return Labour MPs. Opinion polls indicate that Labour's greatest losses were among its core supporters - irrespective of where they live. An ICM poll showed Labour's vote down 10% among the DE social classes - the worst off sections of the working class, down 9% among C2s and down 3% among C1s, but increasing by 5% in the AB (top) social classes.

Traditional Labour supporters do not perceive this government as offering an alternative to the Tories. If the government continues to disappoint, then those who this time voted Labour reluctantly will abstain next time, and those who abstained in 2001 may vote for parties other than Labour. By 2005/6 the electorate will have forgotten the Tory record.

Labour on Probation

Labour's gains among the middle classes can never cancel out the loss of its traditional supporters. Their allegiance to Labour is class based and would be shaken only when they become convinced that the government has abandoned their interests. Despite their disappointment they were prepared this time to give the government the benefit of the doubt. They hope that unlike during its first four years, Labour's second term will bring substantial improvements in health, education transport and pensions. Middle class voters on the other hand are volatile. Their commitment to Labour has no deep roots. It is important, of course, that their support be retained. But to achieve this at the expense of Labour's core vote is a recipe for disaster.

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