Surge Politics: GE Analysis — Download Available Now

The first in occasional series of ‘Strategy in Focus’ publications, Trevor Fisher has compiled this analysis of the 2017 General Election result and  begun to look in depth at the ‘Labour Surge’.

‘Surge Politics’ begins to look at those new voters who came to us at the last General Election. The pamphlet looks at the real data of the electoral stats, brings together comments from political commentators and begins to discuss the implications for the campaigns of the future.

Contributors: Trevor Fisher (Editor), Ravi Subramanian, David Pavett and Andy Howell

Also included is the last similar analysis of a Labour election performance in 1983, produced by the Labour Coordinating Committee.

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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.



The General Election 2017: What happened and why?



As someone who gives a somewhat greater credibility to polls than many, I was not among those of the true faith who never doubted that Labour would do well, and indeed was, until late April, in despair as polls had consistently for about five months indicated a Tory landslide, for which the poor local election results on May 4th were a harbinger. But then the first of many rules was broken (Polls do not move much during campaigns). They moved enormously during the last four weeks, so that on the eve of the election they indicated that May would not do much better than before and that Labour would get about 35%, better than Miliband or Brown and as good as Blair in 2005, thus consolidating Corbyn’s position.

As it was we did better than that, mainly because younger people significantly increased their vote, predicted by only a minority of pollsters. But those of the true faith on the Labour right refused to accept, despite these polls, that the result would be anything but disastrous, as Corbyn had breached Blair Rule One (Labour must always pitch to the Blair-defined centre). In an excellent article in Prospect Steve Richards rubbishes the Blairite notion of the centre, which Labour’s new priorities, as spelt out in its manifesto, seem to have successfully replaced.

I should however say that the accusation by some on the left that officials were refusing to redirect resources to Tory marginals that Labour might win is somewhat unfair. At the beginning of the campaign it was quite right to adopt a defensive strategy, and it was only in the last two weeks that the position was reversed, although some officials clearly refused to recognise that. But it wasn’t clear cut, and we did lose seats to the Tories.

But what was amazing about the result was the apparent paradoxes that it threw up. Despite rightly regarded as having failed, May’s election saw the biggest Tory vote as a percentage of those who voted since 1983. Indeed for Labour, if you count the 2001 result as the same (it was 0.7% higher) it was, apart from 1997, the best result since 1970! Those over 55 and the working class, defined as groups C2, D and E, actually swung to the Tories. Labour did as well as it did through the votes of those under 45 and the middle classes, defined as groups A, B and C1. But clearly the election was in part about Brexit, which helps to explain working class and older voters’ ‘Leave’ support for the Tories, and middle class and younger voters ‘Remain’ support for Labour, although not opposing the leave decision enabled some previous UKIP voters to switch back to Labour and existing Labour Leave voters to remain with Labour.

Given May’s previous popularity it is understandable that that she was seen as the key to the Tory campaign, but she was obviously unsuitable for fronting a campaign unless she was kept at a distance, a tactic that only made her seem robotic and frightened of debate. Her policy contortions over social care only made things worse. Corbyn, by contrast, appeared statesmanlike and with gravitas, particularly in his responses to the terrorist attacks. The Tory campaign was nowhere more inept than in their failure to cost their manifesto, meaning that they were in no position to question Labour’s manifesto. And it was clear that social media played an important part, which needs researching more. Labour certainly had more bodies on the ground canvassing, and Momentum would appear to have played a useful role here, but there was little sign of mass participation by the hugely increased and pro-Corbyn membership.

So where does Labour head now. It seems almost unbelievable, but two polls are predicting what would probably be a Labour victory at another general election, and with the instability of both May’s position and that of the coalition, particularly regarding the Brexit negotiations, we must obviously remain on election alert. (And decide what we would do in the event of a run on the pound following a Labour victory).

There are a number of issues that need consideration. Brexit is arguably the most urgent, as it becomes increasingly clear that remaining within the single market is likely to be the only acceptable form of soft Brexit, and that any attempt to promote a hard ‘left’ Brexit will divide the party, the majority of whose members and supporters are Remainers, and even in the unlikely event of being carried would end any prospect of winning an election, apart from such a policy being bound to fail anyway. I think it is likely that we will end up not leaving the EU, with a further referendum confirming that, as the consequences of a hard Brexit become increasingly apparent, but until then we should respect the decision to leave, which has helped to boost our vote.

On policy development generally it is not clear, to me at least, where we are. Clearly, in the light of a likely election soon the manifesto must be sustained in its present form, although hopefully refined and deepened, with background papers elaborating on some areas. I am bound to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the manifesto, given the absence of much policy development in the preceding two years, but although its general pitch was right and in tune with the mood that delivered labour its vote, it remains ragged and undeveloped, and much work needs to go into a Mark 2 for conference. At the same time we are in the middle of the second year of the rolling development through the Policy Commissions, and these two have to somehow be married up. There are many policy areas that need development, but it is crucial, in the light of the Tory proposal and withdrawal on social care, that Labour comes up with a credible policy on this.

It would be a mistake to risk division at conference by reintroducing the Trident debate this year. However, we should certainly beef up our proposals on the disarmament initiatives we are committed to.

The voting support for the Tories by older people, although in part reflecting Brexit, is completely unjustifiable, and we should launch a major campaign aimed at winning back their support.

Finally, we must prevent the divisions within the party that would be engendered by deselections in significant numbers. That is not to say that none should take place, but those who wish to rid the PLP of all MPs who voted no confidence in JC last year are saying goodbye to any hope of winning an election in the near future. The election has changed things fundamentally. The left has completely won on the issue of electability, both in terms of policy and JC as leader. Much humble pie has been eaten. There has been no echo of the ridiculous comments from Chris Leslie. Many MPs will want to play their part in something they thought couldn’t happen. They should be welcomed back. For those that can’t, well, Labour remains a ‘broad church’, but it must be made quite clear that the levels of abuse of the leadership perpetrated by some over the last two years can no longer be tolerated.

A related issue is the normal trigger ballot reselection, but also selection in seats not held, as in all cases these were imposed by the NEC, and CLPs must be given a chance to run proper selections for them. It is now probably too late to attempt this before conference, but it should take place over the winter.

Some useful links on the election results



House of Commons Fact Sheet


This article first appeared on Left Futures

YouGov — Key Polling Data

The major polling companies are now beginning to produce their analysis of the 2017 General Election vote. He I shall be focussing on the data produced by YouGov (who have kindly agreed to let us reproduce it here). These seem to reflect some significant changes in voting patterns. What we see below is an analysis of voters; the issue of voter registration is not addressed in this analysis.

Age Factors

The tipping point for voting Tory now seems to be 47; it had previously been 34)



Tory Other Lab Turnout
18-19 19 15 66 57
20-24 22 16 62 59
25-29 23 14 63 64
30-39 29 16 55 61
40-49 39 17 44 66
50-59 47 16 37 71
60-69 58 15 27 77
70+ 69 12 19 84
National       69



Prosperity and education are now very significant factors. What we see now is an almost equal split between the top and bottom halves of the income scale.

Class Tory Other Labour
AB 46 26 38
C1 41 16 43
C2 47 13 40
DE 44 14 42
ABC1 44 16 40
C2DE 44 14 42

It would be interesting to know what proportions on benefits and how many students are counted and in what socio economic group?



  Tory Other Lab
GSCE & below 55 12 33
Intermediate 45 15 40
Degree & above 32 19 49

Newspaper Readership

This is an interesting and traditional analysis on news media. However, it begs the question about new media in lauding social media channels and alternative broadcast media such as YouTube.  This needs to be linked to circulation and readership to assess impact. The tabloids plus the DT have a bigger circulation than the progressive papers.


Paper Tory Other Lab
Telegraph 79 9 12
Express 77 8 15
Mail 74 9 17
Sun 59 11 30
Times 58 18 24
FT 40 11 39
Star 38 13 49
MIrror 19 13 68
Indie 15 19 66
Guardian 8 19 73

Comparing the Labour and Conservative “Surges”

There’s been a lot of talk about the “Labour surge” and I blogged about it yesterday. In an attempt to avoid a narrow view of the election I decided to look at this from the other side: the “Conservative surge”. Yes, there was one, and it has been lost in the chatter about the very impressive Labour surge.

First some facts. The Labour vote share went up an impressive 9.5 points. But what many people, especially Labour supporters miss is the Conservative vote share went up a not insignificant 5.5 points.

The most interesting thing to do is to compare the surges for each party. To do this I’ve produced two graphs of the top 50 surge seats for each party (I modified the Labour surge graph I did yesterday). Note both are to the same scale to make comparisons more meaningful. They are shown below.


02 lab surge seats


02 con surge seats


What do they tell us?

The top 50 Labour surge seats had a total of 579,000 extra votes whereas for the Conservatives the top 50 surge seats generated 421,000 extra votes which is more than a quarter fewer than the Labour surge generated.

Despite generating fewer surge votes, the Conservatives made them count more as they produced more gains for the party and they ate into more Labour majorities. Conversely, the Labour surge votes predominantly increased existing Labour majorities, made fewer gains and ate into fewer Conservative seats.

With fewer “surge” votes the Conservatives have made them achieve more.

The Conservative surge graph should be up on the wall at Labour high command as it shows the seats where the Conservatives have either won seats from Labour or made a major dent in the majorities.

The common factor with these seats is that they are nearly all “post industrial communities”. No doubt the Labour message enthused young people and those living in metropolitan cities but Labour need to ensure that they can enthuse the post industrial communities too.


Ravi Subramanian is a full-time trade union official for UNISON; amateur maths, physics and technology geek; and now retired soul/funk/jazz/hip-hop DJ. So you can perhaps, unsurprisingly, expect posts on trade unions, politics, maths, science, technology, data and music. And maybe a few other things too.

Ravi blogs at: More Known Than Proven

The Strange Case of the West Midlands Mayoral Campaign: Lessons for All

By now you will have noticed that Labour lost the West Midlands Metro Mayor election to the Tories. Labour MEP Sion Simon narrowly lost in the second round of voting to Andy Street, up until recently MD of John Lewis and also the Chair of the Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

In the aftermath, many of focussing on the spend of the Street campaign. Simon’s campaign started the campaign proper with a 15 point lead over the Tories according to private polling. By the time we got to a few weeks out — and before the General Election was called — that lead had been wiped out. Street’s campaign certainly had a generous budget which was ruthlessly focussed on boosting turnout in Tory areas. It was a tactic that worked. However, to focus on this alone is to ignore some serious issues that Labour needs to reflect on with some humility, issues that have a national and not just a local significance.

All Major Elections Need to be Properly Resourced

By all accounts the Labour Party coffers have been boosted significantly by membership increases but you’d never have guessed that here. Simon’s campaign was required to submit a campaign budget. The campaign was granted only 25% of what they thought was the bare minimum needed to mount an effective campaign. Very late in the day somebody nationally panicked and a load more resources were suddenly offered. However, it was just too late. The new resources could not be spent because of election campaign limits. Street had, of course, spent the bulk of his cash months ahead of time. I suspect he also spent his money carefully. We all saw the leaflets that came through every door but most of us on the left simply won’t have seen his targeted Facebook campaigning.

This financial crisis was compounded by the actions of UNITE nationally who — it is said — blocked a donation of £10K Simon’s campaign. Simon is known to be a very close friend of Tom Watson. The £10K had been approved by the West Midlands Regional Executive of UNITE, local members wanting to support local campaigns.

In a bizarre twist the Communist Candidate — a past UNITE official — spent £10K on his campaign. Rumours persist that much of this came from UNITE. The Communist candidate polled 5,696 votes in the first round. Street won by 2,000 votes in a second round where it is clear the Communist votes did not transfer to Labour.

Was this a result of incompetence, the destructive impact of tribalism or pure malice?

Who knows but the impact could be seen quite clearly.

During the Stoke by election campaign I spent a fair amount of time phone canvassing from the Regional Office, in space adjacent to Simon’s campaign office. For much for the time the organiser Adam McNicholas was working completely alone. I came to admire him greatly.

But maybe even more telling was a conversation I had a politically aware but not politically active friend the day after the result was announced. This friend lives of the edge of the region. During the campaign he had received no communication from Labour. He took that as complacency and arrogance on Labour’s part. He only heard from Street during the campaign. I explained about the shoe string budget and he understood although he was confused. Labour Councillors and MPs are fairly thick on the ground near him. Why had he not heard from them?

Which brings me to the next point.

Labour Activists and Elected Representatives Need to Fight Every Seat

Simon’s campaign is upset about the support they received from sitting Councillors and some MPs. Rightly they regard these elected representatives as professionals. The basic Councillor allowance in Birmingham is over £16K a year.

I spent most of my time supporting Simon’s policy process although I did my fair share of leafleting and street stall sessions. But from what I saw the team’s complaints had some validity to them.

It became popular to argue that the public didn’t want a Metro Mayor, it was an unnecessary election for which there was no enthusiasm. This is used to explain the lukewarm interest from many senior Party members.

The Mayoral Election turnout was indeed lower than most local government turnouts but not that much lower. It was significantly higher than the turnout for the Police Commissioner elections for which there seemed to be a lot more enthusiasm from the same complainants.

This was an important election which too many did take seriously enough.

The Labour Candidate is the Labour Candidate

The next factor introduced by many was the candidate himself. It was said he was not charismatic or inspirational. His campaign tactics were poor and complacent. Members were not inspired to work for him.

I will make no comment on any of these points other than Simon was elected on an OMOV vote by a high margin. I would like to have seen a greater range of candidates myself but few put their names forward. Simon was up for the challenge and secured the Labour nomination. He was Labour’s candidate. If I had chosen not to work for people I wasn’t keen I’d have sat out a lot of local and general elections. Labour wins by working together and collectively, by backing Labour candidates.

The Implications of Complacency

The Tories now have a significant foothold in the West Midlands. I have worked with Street in other settings. He is a formidable communicator and networker, a man who places social responsibility at the heart of his philosophy. He is, of course, still a Tory but I doubt he will be a disaster as a Mayor. He will fight for — and probably receive — additional powers over the next few years. It is likely that the job will be seen as more significant at the next election in three years time.

Shock waves are now being felt in Birmingham where there are all up elections in 2018 on a new four yearly election cycle. Street has given Birmingham’s Tories an ideal platform to take the city next year.

There is more that could be written. Street set out to run an inclusive campaign and his claim to have taken votes from Labour in all parts of the West Midlands — and from all communities — seems to be accurate. His campaign attracted a lot of interest and support— more than is traditional for a Tory candidate — from various BME communities and it is widely expected that he use his Assistant Mayoral appointments to show a more diverse Tory Party administration.

The Party’s Dysfunctionality Is Proving to be Fatal

The issues raised here may be valid in some places and not valid in others. I am simply reflecting the discussion and concerns that are being aired locally. However, it does seem to me that the failure of the West Midlands campaign is symptomatic of the divisions in the Party and the unwillingness of the Leadership to embrace the traditional broad church of membership and supporters.

In all organisations dysfunctionality quickly seeps down from the top to all levels of operation. Political parties are no different.

It is likely that after the General Election we will spend our time in heated debate about failure. The lessons from the West Midlands, Teeside and elsewhere must not be lost on any leadership, current or future.

Once the General election was called Simon’s campaign was always running uphill. But there is no doubt. We could have — and should have — done better.

By Election Results And What They Tell Us

In a previous article I looked at the polls during Corbyn’s period as leader, noting the deterioration in the period post the referendum/coup compared to that preceding it. I also noted that actual election results up to and including May 2016 were not bad, and for the parliamentary by-elections and mayoral elections were very good. 

Let us now have a look at the actual results since the referendum/coup in late June. There have been only by- elections during this period, four parliamentary with two pending, and many council by-elections.

There is no point in considering the Batley and Spen by-election, as none of the other major parties contested it out of respect for the murdered Jo Cox, so it cannot tell us anything, except rather sadly demonstrating that despite the circumstances of the by-election some 2,000 voters were prepared to vote for  an unsavoury bunch of candidates from the far right.

However the other by-election fought on that day, October 20th, at Witney, Cameron’s seat , was significant in that it saw a substantial swing from the Tories, who lost a quarter of their vote, to the Lib-Dems, who trebled their’s. The Labour vote was marginally down, but the UKIP vote collapsed, in part a reflection of their  leadership crisis, but also perhaps  a move from them back to May’s new Brexit  party. This was a Remain seat, but fairly marginally so, at an estimated 54%.

It  is clear that this vote represented a switch, or at least a one off protest vote( this distinction is not unimportant ) by Tory Remainers to the Lib-Dems along with a few Labour and Green Remainers, but despite their losses to the Lib-Dems the Tories would appear to have avoided what might have been an even worse showing by some movement back to them from UKIP.

But  the Lib-Dems had a much greater treat in store six weeks later on December 1st, when they  won the Richmond Park by-election.This was ostensibly about the decision to go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow, which the sitting Tory, Zac Goldsmith, had previously committed himself to oppose by standing down and fighting as an independent.  However, as none of the other candidates had alternative views, and neither the Tories, Greens or UKIP stood,  the election effectively became a n EU Remain/ Leave contest, with a sub plot of revenge against Goldsmith  for what was widely perceived as a racist campaign by him against Sadiq Khan in the election for the London Mayor. Unlike Witney, there was a strong possibility of defeating Goldsmith, in what was a very strongly Remain constituency, (72%), but probably only by Labour voters voting tactically for the Lib-Dem candidate.This is what happened, with the Labour vote turning out to be smaller than the number of Labour members in the constituency! ( This should come as no surprise. There is a long history there of tactical voting by Labour for the Lib-Dem to keep the Tory out.)

A week later the Sleaford and Hykeham by-election, unlike the other two a predominantly Leave seat, ( 60%), accounting for the Tories retaining virtually all their vote, and UKIP only slightly down( Nuttall had just  been elected as the new leader), but with a heavy 40% loss of the Labour share of the vote to a Lib-Dem share that almost doubled.

It is also worth looking at the council by-elections that have taken place. These are less reliable as an indication of main party support, as local factors and independents play a larger role, but the trends are clear. The Tories, despite the May surge, are still losing slightly, Labour and UKIP are marginally ahead, but the Lib-Dems have increased their vote share by a substantial margin of about  5%, consistent with the parliamentary by-elections and the polls. Labour has done best in London, the West Midlands and the North West.

So what conclusions can we draw from all this? Basically, that there is a substantial Tory and to a lesser extent Labour Remain vote that is prepared to vote tactically for the Lib-Dems over this issue in a by-election, with some of that vote permanently transferring to them. This would explain why the Lib-Dems have not risen hugely in the polls, as the by-elections would indicate, but they have certainly grown in support, from about 7% to 9%,or about a third. However, this is from a very low base, and further growth is dependent on the complex politics of Brexit which are difficult to foresee, to say the least. They obviously hope to put themselves at the head of a Remain campaign, which Labour, because of the position it has taken, correctly in my view, cannot do. However, these are early days. If  the predicted dire economic consequences of Brexit start to become apparent then those who deserted Labour for UKIP or the Tories will probably return from whence they came rather than move to the  Lib-Dems.

But yes, for the reasons given all the results for Labour were dire, much more so than even the poor position in the polls would indicate,  particularly at Sleaford, because of its strong Leave vote.

I am writing this less than a week before the two crucial by-elections at Copeland and Stoke. They were both strong Leave seats (60% and 65% respectively) which does not bode well, but the appeal for support in seats that Labour is defending, unlike the previous by-elections, could be a factor,  coupled with the impossibility of the Lib-Dems making much impression in either seat. Local campaign factors could be important as well. Nuttall in Stoke seems to be in serious difficulties over Hillsborough,  and the Tories over the NHS in Copeland.Let us hope that these are exploited to the full.

Peter Rowlands
February 2017

Labour, Corbyn and the Polls

Pollsters in the UK do not have a very good standing, having got the two most important voting tests of the last two years, the 2015 election and the 2016 EU referendum, wrong by significant margins. Nevertheless, they are collectively not completely at variance with the results, and an average of the results of polls over a period of time is probably a fair indication of the actual inclination of voters towards the various parties.

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