How did that happen? Why the election shows Tony Blair was right (about one thing) and other thoughts

This is series of observations about the election result, which I found interesting and seems to conflict with some solidifying interpretations of why Labour did better than expected. It’s largely drawn from other people’s analysis, and I’ve attributed it wherever appropriate.

The Tory and Labour manifestos were pivotal

1. The YouGov MRP model, which predicted the results very well, found the Tory lead fell from 9pts to 3pts in the week after their manifesto launch. It then stayed at that level for the rest of the campaign (h/t Sam Freedman)

2. Ashcroft’s post-election poll shows 65% of Labour voters said the party’s promises were one of the top reasons for their vote. Only 20% of Tory voters said the same.

But the swing in response to the manifestos wasn’t always in the obvious directions

1. The Tories got a kicking for their social care plan, while Labour promised to keep the triple lock. But the Tories retained 90%+ of their 2015 voters aged over 70 (analysis by Benjamin Lauderdale)

2. Labour promised to increase taxes on the rich but lost support with working class voters while gaining them among those with degrees – suggesting many people weren’t switching on the basis of their own economic interest (analysis by Paula Surridge). That said, Labour’s tax and benefit policies were barely any more progressive than the Tories’, according to (h/t Duncan Weldon) the IFS, so this may not have been so surprising.

3. Labour’s Brexit policy felt like it was governed by an Uncertainty Principle: if you knew what it was one day you couldn’t know what it would be the next. There are plenty of articles trying to understand it but beyond a headline of “accept the vote but seek a softer Brexit than the Tories” it’s not clear what the party’s specific positions are. This sounds rather like the kind of “Tory lite” position that many – including Corbyn – mocked Labour in 2015 for taking (the logic of that “Tory lite” attack suggests Remainers would shun Labour for the Lib Dems while Leavers would vote Tory/Ukip). Yet, it seems to have worked – something like 57% of those who want to overturn the referendum voted Labour, as did 42% of Remainers who now accept the result.

It was people aged 30-44, rather than under-30s, that most helped Labour

The Tories particularly lost vote share in seats with a high proportion of 30-44 year olds – more so than those with a high proportion of under-30s. So despite the talk of a surge in turnout of students and other young people, it was those over 30 who seem to have made the most difference to the result (analysis by Paula Surridge).

The choice between May and Corbyn helped the Tories

Corbyn’s personal rating certainly improved during the campaign, but we shouldn’t overstate how popular he became and how unpopular May became. 72% of Tory voters said they voted for the party because the leader would make a better Prime Minister. Only 35% of Labour voters said the same. It may be that Corbyn improved enough (and May did badly enough) to stop Labour-inclined people defecting because of him – but by the time of the election he still wasn’t much of a draw.

The division is increasingly cultural

Much of this is the manifestation of the growing division of the UK on cultural lines – open vs closed in Blair’s nomenclature. Despite Labour’s pro-Brexit position the party had most success in pro-Remain areas and in seats with the most middle-class professionals and rich people (analysis by Rob Ford). I suspect May’s “citizens of nowhere” line was a factor here.

Only a small swing would now give Labour a majority – or, in the other direction, would strengthen/stabilise the Tories. It’s not hard to see where this might come from. The Tories have enormous scope to detoxify their policy offer. Equally, continued improvement in ratings for Corbyn should help Labour – although that could be negated by a better Tory leader.

But much of the change between 2015 and 2017 seems to have been driven by how the parties now increasingly tap into the open vs closed division. This realignment might still be reversed – or it could continue to sharpen, in which case values, rather than policy details, might be the most important factor at the next election.

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  1. C T Johnson says:

    “Labour . . . had most success . . . in seats with the most middle-class professionals and rich people”

    This is extraordinary. Are we seeing an historic pivot where Labour becomes the party of the prosperous, educated and young? That could really spell long-term doom for the Tories. Marx would say he told us so. It’s not May’s fault, poor thing, she’s just the victim of major socio-economic forces.

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