Southern Discomfort: One Year On
Southern Discomfort: One Year On, a sequel to Southern Discomfort Again, is a major new pamphlet published by Policy Network, the leading international centre-left thinktank and network. The pamphlet, drawing on the latest polling and qualitative research, shows the extent of Labour's weakness in Southern Britain – an insuperable obstacle to winning the next election unless the party crafts a political strategy which appeals directly to voters in the South and the Midlands.
As the impact of the government's austerity measures begin to bite, the party has so far failed to capitalise on voters' feelings of insecurity and anxiety, as well as widespread disillusionment with politics and politicians; moreover, Labour continues to lack a reputation for competent economic management in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The pamphlet's authors, Patrick Diamond and Giles Radice, argue that it "is absolutely crucial for the party to regain its reputation for economic competence. […] No party has secured a parliamentary majority in the British political system since 1945 without winning the trust of the electorate on the economy."
Furthermore, Diamond and Radice cite Labour's failure to connect with disillusioned voters as a major obstacle to the party returning to government: "This mood of disengagement is especially bad for Labour, since parties of the centre-left depend on creating a climate of hope and optimism about the future. If voters come to believe that little can be done by governments, then the main beneficiary is likely to be the Conservative party, whatever their record in office. Labour has to do more to reconnect people with politics and tackle the corrosive decline of trust."
The survey shows that:
• While a majority of voters believe the Coalition to be badly managing the economy, they still trust the Tories more than Labour to run it and continue to blame Labour for the financial crisis - 62% of voters in the South do not trust Labour, compared to 49% who do not trust the Tories.
• A quarter of all voters think that neither a Conservative nor a Labour government would make a difference to their lives.
• Three quarters of all voters believe that children growing up in Britain today 'are likely to face tougher times than their parents' generation’.
• A third of voters describe both major parties as 'incompetent' - but in the South, almost half of voters (48%) view Labour as such, compared to 32% for the Tories.
In response, Diamond and Radice advance a series of radical policy ideas. They argue that Labour must renew its commitment not to raise the basic rate of income tax, while retaining its flexibility over the 50p rate; Labour should also propose the reform of tax allowances, reducing the pressure on low income families and taking more people out of the tax system altogether.
They make the case that, “Labour rightly defends public services, but they must also be of high quality and give value for money. Labour supports a fair and progressive taxation system, but it must also demonstrate that it takes seriously the concerns of hard-pressed, middle income tax payers. In difficult times, Labour must be the party which is capable of offering a hand up to those who want to get on, as well as a helping hand to those in trouble.”
Diamond and Radice conclude that, “The party’s key goal must be to inspire the confidence of a sceptical electorate that it has the economic as well as the social vision to succeed in office. Labour must show that it can govern prudently while seeking a fairer, more equal society.”
is senior research fellow at Policy Network and the Gwilym Gibbon
Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He was until May 2010 head of policy
planning in 10 Downing St and senior policy adviser to the Prime
Minister. He is the author of New Labour’s Old Roots: Revisionist
Thinkers in Labour’s History 1931-1997 (Imprint Academic, 2004).
is a Labour peer and author of the original Southern Discomfort
pamphlet in 1992. He was chairman of the Treasury Select Committee from
1997-2001 and is the author of the new biography Trio: Inside the Blair,
Brown, Mandelson Project (I.B Tauris, 2010).
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The cogency of both the analysis and prescriptions for Labour and its partners
on the European centre-left brought lead coverage in The
Financial Times, The
Observer and The
Sunday Times. It also featured on Daily Politics, BBC News, The Politics
Show, Beyond Westminster and the Westminster