Why are Labour voters sticking with the Tories? The focus group chats tribal politics and career politicians

Why are Labour voters sticking with the Tories? The focus group chats tribal politics and career politicians

Catherine Neilan

15:05 5th March 2021

When Sir Keir Starmer became Labour leader he knew he had inherited a problem so big it would take many years to resolve. He probably also knew that various the bridges burnt by Jeremy Corbyn - with the Jewish community, with the Red Wall, with centrists and many more - might well take longer than his tenure.

But what he didn't know was that he would have to try and rebuild those relationships in the midst of the biggest national crisis since the Second World War, stymied not just by the inability to meet more than a handful of people at a time, but also that he would not be able to engage in the usual knockabout politics.

The former director of prosecutions might insist that he would never indulge in such tactics - and perhaps, after the post-Brexit years, he would have been right to adopt a less partisan approach. But with criticism sometimes looking dangerously like opportunism, the pandemic has made a difficult job even harder.

That partly goes to explain why he is struggling to register with the public. Opinion polls almost universally suggest that far from gaining ground he is stalling, while Boris Johnson enjoys a bounce from the optimism our vaccine programme is generating, despite his many unforced errors throughout the pandemic.

However it is not all of the story. Sir Keir is struggling to connect with those voters who turned blue in 2019 because they do not believe he is offering anything better than those who went before him.

For this week's focus group, we dredged up what were clearly bad memories for many of our participants, to try and understand why they voted as they did - and whether they do differently if there was an election tomorrow.

The consensus view broadly seemed to be that while voting was important, there were no good options and people were left to pick out the least-worst option.

On that basis, you might think that an opposition leader whose decision-making has at least not been behind one of the worst Covid death tolls in the world would have a reasonable chance of success.

But his inability to cut through as a "man of the people" means that there are still plenty of died-in-the-wool Labour voters who are planning to put their cross in the box marked Conservatives once again.

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Tags: Labour Sir Keir Starmer Conservative Elections Tribalism Brexit Coronavirus