The Left Is Being Abandoned by Working-Class Voters. They Deserve It

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By Harry Phibbs | 5:15 am, April 28, 2017

If the opinion polls are remotely accurate then we can expect a Labour defeat in the General Election on such a scale that it could represent a permanent realignment in British politics.

But those of us who are super-nerds and who have not merely taken note of the polls, but the detailed breakdown within them, can spot an even more dramatic change.

The class divide in terms of party allegiance is over. A working-class voter is no more likely to vote Labour these days than a middle-class voter.

That is a profound change. It was never true that only the rich voted Conservative – they could scarcely have won General Elections if that was the case. But it certainly used to be the case that that the rich were more likely to vote Conservative.

No longer. The latest YouGov poll has the Conservatives on 45% and Labour on 29% among the ABC1s and the figures are identical for the C2DEs. Other pollsters have come up with the same message.

These socio-economic categories define class according to occupation: A being a senior manager or professional; B a bit less senior; C1 junior manager; C2 skilled working class; D unskilled working class; E largely reliant on the state for an income – for instance pensioners with just a state pension and the unemployed.

It’s all a bit of a muddle really, as class is such an elusive concept. For instance if we look at income, a plumber – who I suppose is a C2 – could well earn more than a university professor who might be grade A or B. Still, it gives us a rough idea.

What it all amounts to is that, beneath the surface, something pretty dramatic is taking place. The headline poll ratings give us an idea that there is a big drop in the Labour vote share. But a look at the details show that the collapse in the traditional working-class Labour vote has been quite astonishing. It has held up rather better among the middle class.

Of course Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North. The Islington South MP is the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, who famously sneered at “white van man”. Islington, with its famous dinner parties, has offered a shorthand for the sort of middle-class voter who might be quite content with the direction Labour is taking.

There are those who work for the public sector – all the social workers, academics and quangocrats. I’m afraid most teachers are probably still Labour supporters. Then we have the certain Corbynista strongholds in the private sector – among the lawyers, architects, assorted “creatives”.

There has still been some slippage in Labour support among the middle class, but when it comes to the working class vote it has dropped like a stone.

The message is confirmed by the experience of those canvassing on the doorstep for political parties. If anything, the sense is that the pollsters have understated the extent of the change.

What is the cause? Personalities certainly have a part to play. Theresa May is seen as decent as well as competent, her motives as not questioned in the same way as those of other Tory politicians have been. There is a willingness to accept that she wishes to help those from all communities. Jeremy Corbyn is regarded as unpatriotic and dangerous.

Yet Brexit has been the most fundamental factor. Millions of former Labour voters who voted to Leave the EU last year are now switching to the Conservatives. Some have done so as a direct switch – others via the circuitous route of having voted UKIP for a few years.

The local elections next week will give an early sign of the trend. Watch out not just for Labour losing seats but where they are losing seats.

Politicians should not take any group of voters for granted. Therefore the breakdown of class based voting is thoroughly to be welcomed. It might even raise the tone of the debate.

Labour will no longer be able to rely on class war rhetoric, as it feeds on egalitarian resentments. Policies should be debated on their merits.

Once the outdated abuse about class is removed then it might be just possible that a new and more enlightened dialogue can commence.