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Labour will regain Hastings & Rye ……. probably.


"The polls suggest that a clear change has occurred within the British electorate, where they have turned away from the Conservatives after a series of scandals, rebellions and negative events have damaged the government’s credibility. "

With the end of Liz Truss’ short tenure as Prime Minister, Labour has extended their poll lead from 10 points to just over 25 points, see figure one. Despite the difficulties the pandemic brought, due to a boost from the vaccine rollout this time last year the Conservatives had a clear polling lead of 5%, well within any margin of error. This was bringing despair to Labour members, where pressure was put on Starmer during conference to make more of an impact by exploiting government failures. However, a year is a long time in politics and there has been a reversal of the two main parties’ fortunes. The Conservative Party has been hit by scandals, leadership rebellions, further scandal, negative headlines and the resignation of their election winner Boris Johnson. These series of events caused a slow trickling down effect of the Conservatives’ polling ratings, with a five-point lead turning into a 10-point deficit by the summer. This, alongside unpopular leadership change, a self-inflicted economic crisis, a loss of confidence in the government’s ability to perform and perceptions of untrustworthiness, has driven the Tories into a 27-point deficit. With the government in a state of continuous crisis and a lack of ability to solve the big issues of the day, it can be argued that this support change represents a shift of political support from the Conservatives to Labour. This article outlines why this is probably the case and why these trends don’t look likely to reverse in time for the next election.

Figure one: Average polling figures from British polling council pollsters. It shows Labour increasing their lead in recent months. Source: All British polling council polling organisations.

Important changes:


Crucially, Labour gaining in the headline polls masks broader trends that show a possible fundamental long-term change in support.


The Brexit divide has been destroyed:


It is important to understand that one reason Labour has not been able to secure a decisive poll lead is due to the limited support they have received from Leave voters. For instance, figure two shows that even when Labour had a small poll lead in early 2022 the Tories still led Leave voters by 18%. Even during backbench rebellions in the summer of 2022, the Conservatives’ smallest lead amongst leave voters was 15%. However, since August this problem has vanished and Labour’s support amongst Leave voters is not that much lower than support amongst Remain voters, of which has been Labour’s core support since the 2017 election. Consequently, this indicates the voters Labour needs to win back and over in order to win the next general election are currently intending to vote Labour. Further, figure two shows that Conservative Party support amongst leave voters has significantly reduced, lowering by 20 points since August, meaning they have similar of levels support amongst Remain voters. This outlines how the Conservatives’ core base in the 2017 and 2019 elections is no longer indicating strong support for them, again highlighting how the polls show a potentially meaningful long-term change in political support that will bring about a change in government. In terms of Hastings & Rye, a Leave-voting constituency, this trend change allows Labour to win back this key seat as it will give them enough new voters to get them over the line and put the Conservatives short.

Figure two: Voting intention – Remain compared to Leave voters. Source: YouGov, Delta Poll, Survation & Opinium polling organisations.

The generational divide is weakening:


Another divide that has prevented Labour from winning key seats like Hastings & Rye is a lack of support amongst older voters, defined as 55 and above. Labour has been able to offset some losses by gaining greater support from younger voting groups, especially those 35 and below. This has enabled Labour to win constituencies with a large concertation of younger voters, typically in urban areas like London, Brighton and Canterbury; but the lack of support from older voters has brought about Red Wall losses and prevented Labour from winning marginal seats, like Hastings & Rye.

Crucially, figure three shows that this Autumn Labour has overtaken the Conservatives amongst support from older voting groups, with labour having roughly a 10-point lead. Although the generational divide still makes Labour more reliant on younger voting groups the divide is no longer strong enough to prevent Labour from securing a strong polling lead. Alternatively, the Conservatives’ loss of support amongst older voters means they have less than a third of this group’s support, down from two-thirds in early 2020. This again has been caused by dissatisfaction about government performance during the pandemic, a wave of scandals followed by a loss of economic credibility. In particular, rising mortgages that may have directly affected the disposable incomes of the 55-65 cohort, or older voters’ children’s prosperity, may have brought about personal negative experiences that have eroded faith in the government and Conservative Party. If this is the case, their switch to Labour may be a long-term one as voters rarely forgive scandals, incompetence and economic hardship.


Figure three: Voting intention by age groups – Older voters compared to younger ones. Source: Delta Poll, Survation, Opinium, YouGov & Redfield Wilton polling organisations.

Weakening education background divides:


A final indication that there may have been a clear long-term change in political support is that the education divide has weakened. In the 2017 and 2019 elections, Labour struggled to win over enough voters from lower qualification backgrounds, defined as those not having obtain A-Level or above qualifications. Yet, within the last year, this problem appears to have gone away, with there being no major difference between qualification groupings after the fallout from the mini-budget. Labour now leads amongst voters with lower qualifications by 13 points and has extended its lead slightly with voters who have higher qualifications, defined as those having completed a university-level education. Further, the Conservatives trailing 20% amongst higher qualification voters would again indicate they do not have enough support to hold onto key seats. This would again suggest Labour can secure enough of the very voters they need to win over to win back the Red Wall seats they lost in 2019 and win the key marginal seats, such as Hastings & Rye, they failed to win in 2017. This dramatic change again indicates a fundamental change of support in British politics, indicating that there could be a change of government coming, with scandals from Boris Johnson and limited economic credibility from Truss likely being driving factors behind this.


Figure four: Voting intention - Lower and higher qualification divide. Source: Survation.

Voters indicating that they will switch:

Importantly, in the months where there were backbench rebellions, resignations and economic problems, 2019 Conservative voters have increasingly indicated they have decided to switch to the Labour Party. Currently, 14% of Conservative voters from the last general election say they have decided to switch to Labour, with 15% stating they are going to switch to other smaller parties, see figure 5. Additionally, 26% of these voters currently are unsure who to back, again showing how their support from the last election is ebbing way. This has caused 65% of voters the Conservatives secured in 2019 to now state they do not intend to vote for the party. This loss of support has been gradual, suggesting a series of events that has eroded trust in the Conservative Party’s leadership, competence and economic credibility has combined in a perfect storm that has resulted in voters abandoning the party on mass. Crucially, even if the Conservatives can win over some of these undecided voters the loss of support directly to Labour and the Lib-Dems will likely cause them to lose seats to these parties across the country. In Hastings, the likely losses to Labour, the Greens and the Lib-Dems would reduce the Conservative Party’s vote share to below 40%, meaning Labour would only need to secure the voters they secured in 2019 to win the seat. But, with the Conservative voters coming over to Labour they likely would win the seat comfortably. Indeed, electoral calculus, a website that predicts the outcome of every parliamentary seat with proven accuracy, currently predicts Labour to secure over 50% of the vote, likely beating the Conservatives by 25% to 30%. With this large lead, this again indicates a fundamental change has occurred in British politics, where the Conservatives have lost support and Labour has gained enough to win back key seats and form the next government.



Figure 5: 2019 Conservative voters – and their current voting intention. Source YouGov.

Conclusion:


The polls suggest that a clear change has occurred within the British electorate, where they have turned away from the Conservatives after a series of scandals, rebellions and negative events have damaged the government’s credibility. This loss of support has been gradual across the last year due to successive scandals, rebellions and resignations, with there being a sharp decrease in the last two months after a failed mini-budget caused a loss of economic credibility. This change in support has been so great the old divisions that prevented Labour from winning the last two elections appear to no longer exist, and if even they do not they are not strong enough to stop Labour from winning. Vitally, in terms of Hastings & Rye, this means that Labour is very likely to regain this seat at the next election.


There is still some doubt, such as the Tories’ new leader may resonate with the public and if Sunak can manage the current crisis and return economic growth the Conservatives might regain their brand of economic credibility enough to pull off a surprisingly good performance at the next election. Indeed, some polls in the last week have suggested the public already sees Sunak as economically credible, which could pose a threat to Labour going forward. Yet, with a hard winter ahead, a lack of party unity, the potential for more scandals, predicted continued high inflation and economic recession predicted for the next financial year the possibility for this revival is currently unlikely. Therefore, it is likely that Labour will regain Hastings & Rye in the next general election and form the next government.


Published, 31/09/2022 - by James Prentice.

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