Andrew Murray’s Implausible Analysis of Class and The 2017 General Election

Andrew Murray’s position as both a senior UNITE official and major figure in Corbyn’s election campaign team makes him one of the most influential figures in Labour politics today. Much of Murray’s philosophy and analysis is based on an analysis of class politics, however, David Pavett finds this to have little, true, substance. 

Shortly after the 2017 election, Andrew Murray wrote a piece for Labour List — Unite: How do we build on Labour’s election results? Not by misunderstanding our position with working class voters. In this article Murray sought to correct what he considers mistaken views on the electoral behaviour of working class voters. He repeatedly uses the terms “working class” and “middle class” vote but never tells us what they mean to him. Is a university-educated computer hardware trouble-shooter less a member of the working class than a car repair man/woman? There is no way of knowing from what Andrew Murray writes. All the same, it is probably safe to assume that when he says “working class” we should read “traditional working class”.

If that is right then it has to be recognised that the working class so defined has been in significant decline for decades as is reflected in the changing structure of the UK work force. It would therefore be demographically surprising if this did not show itself in a declining support for a party traditionally supported by a majority of this group. Trying to wave that away with references to the unanalysed total votes in various constituencies is very unconvincing. What were the demographic changes in those constituencies over the period considered? We are not told.

This all betrays either deep confusion or the selection of data to prove a pre-determined conclusion.

There may be more detailed analyses of the constituencies mentioned – I don’t know – but such analyses would be required before coming to the conclusions that Andrew Murray reaches. What we do have is various analysis of the national vote from organisations like YouGov which do not seem to support his conclusions.

For example Andrew Murray doesn’t consider the stunningly linear relationship between age and support for Labour/Conservative. The graphs are well known by now and show a cross-over from Labour to Conservative at the age of 47. Even more telling is the correlation between educational level and party support. The YouGov analysis showed the following:

Education Level Labour Conservative
Low (GCSE or below) 33 55
Medium 39 45
High (degree or above) 49 32

My feeling is that the inability to take in the changing structure of the working population i.e. the fetishisation of the “traditional working class” tells us more about the fossilised basis of Andrew Murray’s analysis than it does about what is going on with the British electorate and what is the way forward for Labour.

Andrew Murray says of the constituencies he discusses “They all have one thing in common, however: Labour’s candidates secured the highest votes, and the highest share of the vote, since 2005, often since 2001 and in some cases since 1997. That is – more working-class voters turned out for Corbyn’s Labour than for Miliband’s, Brown’s or latter-day Blair’s”. But without analysis of the structure of the working population and its relationship to the vote in those constituencies he has no basis for this claim.

It is almost certainly right, without over-estimating the effect of education, to assume that a greater percentage of the working population (and those closely connected to it) need to be presented with rational and factual arguments and that traditional loyalties count for less then ever before. If that is right then we have to say that winning the next election is not a matter of ‘one more push’ but of (1) filling in the gaping holes in Labour’s policies, (2) moving beyond Labour’s ambiguities over Brexit, and (3) presenting clear arguments to the elderly as to why voting Labour is in their best interests. This process needs to involve the active membership of the Labour Party so that those most likely to do the campaigning work understand the policies advocated and is motivated to present them at every opportunity.

P.S. Andrew Murray refers to “actual irrefutable evidence of votes cast” but gives no indication of what this “irrefutable evidence” actually is. Given that his notion of the “working class” appears to be what is often referred to as the “traditional working class” I think that the evidence that we have so far is strongly against him. Thus the Ipsos-Mori analysis concluded

“The middle classes swung to Labour, while working classes swung to the Conservatives – each party achieving record scores.

Although the Conservatives maintained a six-point lead among ABC1s, Labour increased its vote share among this group by 12 points since 2015.  Similarly, while Labour had a four-point lead among C2DEs, and increased its vote share among this group, this was eclipsed by the 12-point increase for the Conservatives. This is simultaneously Labour’s best score among ABC1s going back to 1979, and the Conservatives’ best score among C2DEs since then.”

Andrew Murray’s analysis may seem at first to be plausible but on a closer look I think that it turns out to have little substance.

David Pavett, July 2017

The above text is a lightly modified version of a response to Andrew Murray which I put on the LabourList website shortly after his article appeared.



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