Labour Party

A New Political Landscape?

By Lord Ashcroft

The covid crisis has dominated the news for so long that it sometimes seems as though politics has gone into suspended animation. But as the agenda moves on, the challenge for parties in consolidating and expanding their coalitions of support remains the same. As I argued in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer each have a conundrum to wrestle with on that front. My latest research, published today, looks in detail at how voters have reacted to the government’s handling of the crisis, what they make of Labour’s new management, and how much – or how little – the pandemic has transformed the political landscape. The full report is below, but here are the main points.

Overall, I found people more likely to think the government had underreacted to the pandemic than overreacted. Half of 2019 Conservative voters thought this – including two thirds of those who had switched from Labour – as well as more than six in ten voters overall (more…)

Voters have turned, but all is not lost for the Tories

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday

It seems scarcely believable that only just over nine months ago a triumphant Boris Johnson was returned to Downing Street with an 80-seat majority that transformed the political map of Britain. The covid crisis has not just derailed the “levelling up” agenda and overshadowed the sunny optimism that was Johnson’s hallmark until the pandemic struck: in political terms it has given the Conservatives a premature case of the midterm blues.

Many voters on all sides take a much more forgiving view of the government’s handling of the crisis than the media coverage might suggest. As I found in my latest research, people spontaneously praise the furlough schemes and the speedy creation of the Nightingale hospitals. Even critics admit that ministers are doing their level best with no precedent to help guide their decisions. In my poll, the proportion saying the government had done a reasonable job in difficult circumstances matched those who thought its handling had made things worse. Boris himself has won some unlikely hearts: “He’s stuck by the British people and done his damnedest to help,” said one 2019 Labour voter explaining his change of heart towards the PM.

But the criticisms are many: why did we not take action sooner, people ask, at the very least by restricting flights from covid-hit countries like China? (more…)

If Trump’s opponents don’t learn from Corbyn’s catastrophe, The Donald’s guaranteed four more years

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday

“They take our votes for granted and think we were born yesterday.” So said a former Labour voter last month in the North East of England, reflecting on what had become of the party he once regarded as his own. While Labour had once been for “normal working people, who pay for their house, pay for their car,” it was now mostly for “young people and students, and the unemployed” – that or “middle-class radicals,” and “people in London who go on marches to get rid of Brexit.”

Such views, which emerged in the research for Diagnosis of Defeat, my new report on where Labour stands with the voters following its worst defeat since 1935, tell us even more about the party’s predicament than the election result itself. While senior Labour figures and the party’s own official inquiry claim the outcome was all about Brexit, the truth is that their problems go much deeper. While many did vote to get Brexit done, more serious still was the principle that when it came to the referendum result – but not just that – Labour no longer listened to them. The party had become too left-wing, could not be trusted with the money, and seemed to have adopted values far removed from their own sensible, practical outlook on life. Many described Labour’s manifesto, with its wild spending promises and expensive irrelevancies like free broadband, as “pie in the sky.”

It is Labour members, now pondering the choice of leadership candidates, who will decide which direction to take their party. Meanwhile, in America, a similar drama is being played out. Labour’s recent history should serve as a cautionary tale for their allies in the US Democratic Party as they shape up for their battle with Donald Trump in November’s presidential election. The parallels are not exact, but close enough for the Democrats to beware of enacting a transatlantic sequel to the Corbyn story (more…)

Labour are in a pickle, but the Tories must keep their heads down: lessons from my new polling report

By Lord Ashcroft

Many Conservatives reading Diagnosis of Defeat, my polling report on the Labour Party’s predicament, will probably have felt a flicker of schadenfreude. It is certainly true that Labour have very deep-rooted problems that go well beyond Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, the proximate causes of their disastrous defeat. The belief among former Labour supporters that the party had ceased to represent them while taking their votes for granted had been growing for many years, as they explained in devastating detail in my post-election focus groups.

Worse still, the voters who deserted Labour see the party’s problems in a completely different light from that of many of the members who will decide its future. While Labour “defectors” said they did not want Corbyn to be Prime Minister, distrusted Labour’s policies and felt the party did not listen to them – not least because it had tried to stand in the way of Brexit – members were more likely to blame the media, Conservative lies, and the voters, as well as Brexit for dominating an election in which they felt they would otherwise have been on stronger ground (more…)

Diagnosis of Defeat: Labour’s Turn to Smell the Coffee

By Lord Ashcroft

After the Conservatives lost their third consecutive election in 2005, I published Smell the Coffee: A Wake-Up Call for the Conservative Party. I felt that the Tories had failed to grasp the reasons for their unpopularity and needed a serious reality check if they were ever to find their way back into government. With Labour now having been rejected by the voters four times in a row, I thought it was time to do the same for them.

No doubt some will be suspicious of my motives. I’m a Tory, after all – indeed, a former Deputy Chairman of the party. There are two answers to that. The first is that the country needs a strong opposition. Britain will be better governed if those doing the governing are kept on their toes. Moreover, at its best, the Labour Party has been a great force for decency, speaking up for people throughout the country and ensuring nobody is forgotten. We need it to reclaim that role.

The second answer is that you don’t have to trust me – just listen to what real voters have to say in the research that follows. Last month I polled over 10,000 people, paying particular attention to those who voted Labour in 2017 but not in 2019. We have also conducted 18 focus groups in seats Labour lost, with people who have moved away from the party (often feeling that the party had moved away from them). The report includes extensive quotes from these discussions, since they explain Labour’s predicament better than any analyst could. They are all the more powerful when you consider they come from people who were voting Labour until very recently and probably never expected to do otherwise.

We also polled over 1,000 Labour Party members, and conducted focus groups with members of the party and of Labour-supporting trade unions, to see how the Labour movement’s understanding of the election differs from that of the electorate at large and whether – and how far – they think the party needs to change (more…)

What my latest focus groups say about the twists and turns of the Brexit drama

By Lord Ashcroft

As last week’s parliamentary drama unfolded, I decided to find out how things seemed to the people on whose behalf it was supposedly being enacted – namely the voters, in the shape of focus groups in Barnet and St Ives.

It was no surprise that people were sharply divided over their new Prime Minister. For many Labour voters he was “dangerous”, a “charlatan”, “bullying”, “running the country into the ground” and “trying to baffle people with poshness;” “he’d be an amazing character if he was fictional.” But Conservative remain voters also had mixed views: while some thought he was divisive, dictatorial and untrustworthy (“I don’t think he’s as proper as some MPs – he can probably go rogue”), for others he was colourful, “flavoursome” and “quite statesmanlike compared to the rest. If you think about how Britain is presenting itself on the international stage, who else would have the personality and persona to stand up and be heard?” “His inauguration speech was actually quite rousing. I thought, we are where we are, but he’s got the right attitude, he wants to try and fix some things.”

A few were less positive than they had once been: “initially I felt it was a good thing, but after what’s happened in the past 24 hours I don’t know. He’s playing a very dangerous game and I’m concerned the game he’s playing could hand the keys to Jeremy Corbyn, which is my worst nightmare (more…)

The space for a new party isn’t just in the centre of politics

By Lord Ashcroft

Divided though we are, one thing everyone in the country seems to agree on is that they are sick to the back teeth of our political class. Individual politicians still sometimes inspire support or admiration – Theresa May not least among them, it should be said. But depending on your point of view, politicians have either failed to deliver on a clear and unambiguous promise to the voters, or spent two years indulging their own obsessions at the expense of things that really matter, or some combination of the two. Whatever the outcome of the current debacle, one casualty could be the parties as we know them today, with The Independent Group – in its new guise as Change UK – in the vanguard of a new political order.

Bring it on, many will think. But beyond general exasperation, what is the real nature of people’s discontent? Where is the real space for a new movement, and what could this new world look like? (more…)

Mind the Gap(s): why the Brexit debacle has put both Labour and the Tories under threat from new parties

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday.

 

Ten years ago, when I was responsible for the Tories’ private polling as the party’s Deputy Chairman, we often asked voters to choose from a selection of words and pictures those which they most associated with the main parties. The Conservative selection would invariably include a picture of an aristocratic family standing outside an enormous house, and other indications that the party was for the rich and out of touch with ordinary people. Labour’s often featured a fat man lazing on a sofa, usually signifying those who lived this way rather than going to work.

Over the last month I have repeated this exercise – and if a week is a long time in politics, in terms of the party brands the last decade might as well not have happened (more…)

The Conservatives can’t rely on Brexit to win them the next election

By Lord Ashcroft

When the Conservatives won their unexpected majority at the 2015 general election many Tories felt it was a return to the natural order of things. Naturally, people had preferred sensible economic management to unaffordable spending plans. Of course they had chosen a Prime Ministerial Prime Minister over one whom they could barely imagine standing outside Number Ten. And if this was the world as it should be, 2017 must have been an aberration: a freak result that could be put down to the election’s unusual circumstances, a terrible Tory campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s sudden, bizarre and surely unsustainable status as a cult figure.

Like the mindset that said people would never really vote for that fashionable Mr. Blair – or, once they had, that they would soon repent of their silliness and restore the Conservatives to their rightful place in office – this would be a very dangerous assumption indeed for Tories to make (more…)

Where the parties stand – and more on that second EU referendum…

By Lord Ashcroft

Earlier this week I published the findings of my latest focus groups to explore how voters around the country saw things seven eventful months on from the general election. My new poll underlines that despite what has felt like the frenetic pace of politics for those who follow its twists and turns, surprisingly little has changed. There is little in the numbers to comfort either party.

In my post-election research for The Lost Majority I found only 28 per cent saying they thought the country was on the right track. This week that number is unchanged, with nearly half – including seven in ten of those who voted to remain in the EU – saying things are heading in the wrong direction (more…)