Labour have been eyeing up the disheartened yellow vote. But the party base fundamentally fails to understand why people vote for the Liberal Democrats.
As the saga that Simon Hoggart at the Guardian dubbed a ‘geek tragedy’ crunches to a close – with David Miliband demonstrating that unattractive combination of arrogance, petulance and self-interest that very likely lost him the Labour leadership in the first place – Ed Miliband will be dutifully studying the electoral mathematics of Britain.
Much touted is the opportunity for Labour to win votes from anti-coalition Liberal Democrats, who feel more and more disgruntled, quite frankly, every time George Osborne opens his mouth.
Such an opportunity no doubt exists, but there is a very real danger of Ed Miliband spectacularly missing the pitch.
Despite them both campaigning on an anti-cuts manifesto, and despite being painted by the media as two centre-left parties, people simply do not vote Liberal Democrat for the same reasons they vote Labour. If left-wing Lib Dem voters were of the pro-union, pro-tax, pro-state stripe of leftism, they would already be Labour voters. They also don’t necessarily dislike the Tories for the same reasons that traditional Labour voters do. While they might not support social engineering in the form of tax breaks for married people, for example, they also tend not to be keen on it in the form of targets, quotas, and anti-free speech laws.
In hoping to reclaim and redefine the centre left of British politics, Labour have an earnestly difficult task ahead of them: they have to seduce the often contradictory yellow vote and the red vote at the same time. ‘Red Ed’ might be able to gain back left-wing Labour voters lost by the Blair years, and yes, there is a great chance to win votes from Lib Dems who feel the cuts are targeting the wrong people and that the Tories are generally getting a bit too gung-ho with the deficit axe. The danger is that he will forget about, or worse, fail to understand in the first place, the Liberal Democrats’ initial reasons for not being Labour voters already.
Many in the Labour party suggest an unfortunate tendency to believe that voters are either Labour voters, or, as Gordon Brown put it, bigots.
To win over the whole spectrum of the anti-Tory vote, Ed Miliband needs to both understand, and communicate to the electorate, that anyone who is not a Tory – whether or not they necessarily agree with certain big Labour figures about industrial action or a rise in national insurance – are not despised, and can even be made room for (with a little shuffling) in the Labour folds.
Otherwise, in failing to understand that someone can be pro-business, anti-state, and anti-tax, but also be against policies that target (or at best, fail to protect) the poor, the sick, and the old, the left wing of the Labour party fails to understand the very demographic that they intend to win over.