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Voting Behaviour and the Labour Party

Mike McCartney

16th October 2023

Excellent article post-conference in this weekend's Observer

It is often said that oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them. And this week Observer columnist, and author, Andrew Rawnsley takes a forensic look at Labour's challenge to the Conservatives for occupancy of Number 10 next year.

As a reminder, the modern electorate are more inclined to cast their vote according the rational choice model. The twin sociological and psychological anchors of class and partisan alignment still heavily shape decisions by voters at the polls, but they don't decide the outcome. It is decisions by the vital swing voters that ultimately determine what the colour of the door at Number 10 will be painted.

As such, it is the 3Ps that matter: past performance, the party leader, and future policies. (We could add a fourth 'P' here for party unity).

So what of Keir Starmer and his party?

Says Rawnsley: "At no other time since Labour was removed from office in 2010 has it looked more like a party that is hungry to be in government, believes it can win, and is thinking seriously about what it would do with power."

But he also goes on to write:

"Labour’s growing confidence comes with important caveats. A lot of senior people still regard their hefty opinion poll lead as “unreal” or “soft” and expect it to shrink in the run-up to the election. The party has lost so often it can still be afflicted by what one shadow cabinet member calls “beaten dog syndrome”. Everyone who matters in the Labour hierarchy is acutely conscious of the giant scale of the swing and the colossal haul of parliamentary seats – more than 120 – that must be flipped to get to a Commons majority of just one. They bear what another shadow cabinet member calls “the scar tissue” of going down to defeat at past elections they thought they were on course to win.

There could be a year or more to go before the country is marking ballot papers. “The opinion poll lead now does not tell you what will happen at the election,” warns one of Labour’s most senior strategists."

Read the full article here.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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