Labour and the working-class: Why Corbyn won’t be PM

Until a fortnight ago, the British Labour Party was on course to a major defeat. Early forecasts suggested it would lose up to 75 MPs. That would represent the party’s worst electoral result since 1935. And it would confirm a long-term decline: Labour has lost seats at every general election since 1997.

In 2015, Labour’s share of the national vote increased marginally from 29% to 30.5%. But it still lost a further 26 constituencies to the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party. Two years’ later, the Conservative Party was far ahead in the polls and certain to increase its majority, while Labour appeared to have imploded under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Not anymore.

With only days to go, opinion polls have swung dramatically against the Conservatives.  The Economist has aggregated all the major polls into an interactive graph. As of 1 June, the Conservatives were averaging 43% and Labour 37%. That compares to 49% and 26% at the beginning of the campaign. In other words, Labour has reduced the Conservatives’ lead by nearly two-thirds.

These numbers don’t give us the whole picture though. If we look at who is supporting the Conservatives, we find a worrying trend for Labour. The Economist has very crudely made a distinction between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ based on occupation. The latter are those in skilled and unskilled manual employment. These voters represent Labour’s traditional working-class base and make up a formidable voting bloc.

Yet, we find that more of them support the Conservatives than do Labour. This is a new phenomenon. In 2015, based on an Ipsos MORI poll, Labour won 36% of manual occupation voters and the Conservatives 30%. As of 1 June, the Conservatives were averaging 43% (+13) among this demographic, while Labour was on 38% (+1). For the first time in history, the Conservatives are going to win the working-class vote, helped in large part by the collapse of UKIP.

That is the main reason I think Corbyn won’t be PM, and why the British Labour Party remains in serious trouble, despite a surge in the polls. Labour may increase its share of the vote, as it did in 2015, but it will fail to win enough seats in the working-class heartlands of North England and Scotland for it to have any chance of forming a government.

In a subsequent post, I will discuss what the failure of Corbynism means for NZ Labour.

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