Michael St George picks up some intriguing indicators of Labour Welsh votes in danger
I’m normally wary – disbelieving, even – about claims made by whatever political party about how loyally its previous voters are sticking with it, or how it’s picking up new supporters from other parties and the ranks of hitherto non-voters.
Claims of that nature are by definition self-serving, and the evidence adduced to support them can often be ambiguous at best. And of course, where a transfer of party loyalty is concerned, such claims are always vehemently denied by the party whose voters are alleged to be decamping in frustration to pastures new.
So it was instructive, last weekend, to see some of this actually happening, in the flesh, rather than in the pages of a pollster’s latest findings. I spent 3 or 4 days visiting friends and chatting mostly about current affairs and politics with them, plus their friends and neighbours, in South-East and South Wales. Yes, yes, all totally anecdotal and unscientific, of course, plus pitifully small sample, but it seemed to give some interesting political hints. And surprisingly, given the area, they don’t seem to be good ones for Labour.
Background: I was in that block of red-marked solid-Labour constituencies in what I guess conventional political analysis would still describe as the South Wales Labour heartland. Yet at the 2010 General Election, Labour lost 4 Westminster seats and 6.5% of its 2005 vote in Wales, and most of that didn’t appear to go to the more left-wing Plaid Cymru, either.
The people I was talking to were a mix of skilled working class employees, small business owners and middle-class professionals – what the traditional socio-economic groupings used in political analysis would classify as Bs or C1s. Most of them voted Labour at the last election, firstly because they’d never really ever seriously contemplated voting any other way, and secondly because they saw little difference between Cameron and Clegg as alternatives.
But here’s the rub. Apart from one or two dyed-in-the-wool Labour tribalists, those who used to vote Labour indicated, pretty clearly, that they’re turning away.
They told me they think Ed Miliband’s hopeless: astonishingly, given the history of trades-unionism in South Wales, a majority thought his financial dependence on the major unions, his kow-towing to them on policy, and his timidity over Unite’s blatant vote-rigging had gone too far. For one or two of them, the Unite/Grangemouth imbroglio was the last straw. “Funding the Party, OK: running the Party, no” was how one put it to me.
I’d guess about two-thirds told me they feel the modern Labour has very little to offer them, because they reckon it has no practical solutions to the economic pressures they’re facing, and crucially, they feel it doesn’t represent them any more, unless they’re benefit claimants or public sector clerical or managerial staff. One in particular made me think of the criticism, often levelled, that Labour has become the party of the claiming classes and the affluent metropolitan faux-radicals: “now, they’re only for the welfare-takers and the rich lefty townies”, he said.
They seemed to have twigged that, far from benefiting them, the ever-expanding State is actually bleeding them dry. Another told me how, each pay-day, he gets taxed six times over. “First, my payslip has both tax and national insurance taken out of it. Because it’s pay-day, I’ll fill the car on the way home, but most of the pump price is tax to the Government. If I stop off at the supermarket and buy a bottle of wine for the weekend, about 50% of the price of that is tax, too. If I write a cheque for the heating and electricity bill, there’s these green environment taxes on it. And if I buy anything else, unless it’s food or kids’ clothing, it’s got VAT on it”.
So, yes, they’re disillusioned, and disillusioned with Labour, to the point of turning away and being receptive to an alternative. Not the Tories, though – that would be a step too far, especially the Tories led by, to them, such effete toffs as Cameron and his Notting Hill chums. Not the LibDems, either – they’d worked out, too, that the Yellows are equally keen on taxing, but just in a different way, and that what the LibDems say they’d leave in their pockets on their tax bills, they’d only take out of their pockets again on their energy bills.
I have to say I was surprised to hear it in that location, and from that source, but mostly they’ve come to the conclusion that the allegation about the main parties’ political homogeneity that so many call LibLabCon is actually true, and that it’s just that – a con. And, genuinely unprompted, a majority told me they’re very open indeed to voting UKIP.
To repeat: small number of people,probably no more than 30 or 40, and all totally unscientific and anecdotal. Yet it seemed to reflect the polls showing the growing UKIP support, and a majority of it coming, not from ex-Tory voters, but from disaffected Labourites and previously non-voters. Maybe, as UKIP claims, there really is something going on out there…..