In this new era of flux, new leaders and new movements can change things remarkably quicklyby Theo Bertram / December 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
British voters are disloyal. According to the huge British Election Study, perhaps the last respected poll there is, around one in five of those who voted Labour or Conservative in 2015 chose a different party just two years later. And they are capricious: Michael Ashcroft’s research indicates that more than half of those who voted Labour made their decision in the last month, and more than a quarter in the last few days. If an example of the new mercurial mood were needed, look no further than Mansfield, which the Conservatives won for the first time in 94 years, and Canterbury, which turned red for the first time in 99 years.
One theory is that voters are acting out of frustration with governments that have failed to deal with the global financial crisis: “2017 may be the year when politics finally caught up with the crash of 2008,” suggested Jeremy Corbyn at September’s Labour conference. Another theory is that the two referendums—on Scotland and Brexit—had created a brief moment of flight, liberating voters from their traditional party ties.
In truth, what happened in June 2017 was no blip. For 50 years, the number of switchers—those who choose a different party from the one they voted for last time—has gradually increased. With each generation, fewer and fewer people feel any loyalty to a party: six out of 10 of the pre-war generation identified with a political party, falling to two out of 10 for those under 25.
Instead of thinking of the volatility in the 2017 election as a freak occurrence, we should recognise it as a part of a more gradual and fundamental transformation in the electoral landscape. We are moving out of an era of “hard-core” politics, where the bedrock of support for parties is solid and dependable, and into an era where core votes are thin on the ground, and a critical mass of voters shifts quickly. This long-term adjustment in the way people vote changes everything about how we do politics.
Let’s start with election campaigns because that is where governments begin.
Message discipline: that was the key in my old New Labour days. Peter Mandelson used to tell us that it was only when we were bored…