NEWS10 May 2021

Labour must change strategy to win elections

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UK – The Labour party needs to transform its electoral strategy and start appealing more broadly to voters across the country if it is to win the next general election, according to speakers at a UK in a Changing Europe event.

Voting ballot poll election_crop

Speaking in a press briefing following last week’s local elections, Paula Surridge, senior lecturer at the University of Bristol’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, said that the party was too focused on winning back voters in individual constituencies, rather than having a broader strategy focusing on certain demographics.

Thursday’s election results saw Labour lose several major local elections to the Conservatives, including a by-election in the former Labour constituency of Hartlepool, but also won mayoral elections in places like West Yorkshire, London and Greater Manchester.

“One of the things that frustrates me most in this debate is the focus on places rather than people,” Surridge said.

“Labour just needs to be more popular everywhere, and you do that by recognising the groups of voters who might be more willing to give you a chance and then converting them.

“It is no good winning Hartlepool if you are still not winning Swindon – you have to convince voters in all of these locations. I think the way to approach that is thinking about voters rather than places.”

Surridge added that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could see a lot of flux in constituencies, as people changed lifestyles and left the cities.

“I don’t think we know very well how our electoral geography looks at the moment as we are mostly using census data from 2011, but we don’t know how it will develop post-pandemic as people have moved out of cities,” she said.

“There are all sorts of changes coming down the line in terms of where particular voters will be located. If you start from the voters rather than the places, you will be a little bit ahead of that trend.”

Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and senior research fellow at NatCen Social Research, said that Labour leader Keir Starmer needed a new message to make electoral gains.

“He hasn’t said anything,” said Curtice. “He hasn’t presented any kind of vision about what the Labour party is about so far as he is concerned.

“It doesn’t really matter whether it is a Corbynite message or a Blairite message, it needs to be a message.”

He also said the party had to adapt its election strategy to the current context, and was too focused on fighting elections in the same way it did pre-2016.

“What happened on Thursday did not come as a surprise to anyone who has been looking carefully at the opinion polls,” explained Curtice. “There has been absolutely no evidence over the last 12 months of the Labour party differentially making up ground among leave voters.

“The problem the Labour party faces is it is not the party it would like to be – it is a party of remain voters. It is no longer the party of the working class.

“We have a Labour party that is conservative with respect to its electoral strategy facing a Conservative party that is radical in its psephological strategy.

“Boris Johnson took the bull by the horns, went for Brexit, accepted he might upset some of his traditional middle-class supporters, and look where he is.”

Labour carried out a reshuffle of Starmer’s team and shadow cabinet over the weekend, including the appointment of BritainThinks founding partner Deborah Mattinson as head of strategy.