- This article was originally published in The Huffington Post
The General Election campaign is in full swing. Following last year’s referendum vote to leave the EU and the triggering of Article 50, there is a sense that traditional party loyalties are in flux. As the polls show a substantial lead for the Conservative Party, there are questions about the extent to which class still defines how the electorate votes. To put some flesh on the bones of the polling numbers, Radio 4’s Today programme is talking to different groups of voters around the country, asking them how they view the choice before them and what factors will influence their decision on June 8th.
This week, Ipsos MORI convened a focus group of seven working class Leave voters in Halifax. Over a take away curry, moderated by the Today Programme’s Nick Robinson, the discussion shed light on the ways these voters perceive the current political climate. Footage of the group will be shown across BBC News this weekend. Three key points stand out from the discussion.
1. These voters are mentally (and physically) a long way from the Westminster bubble
The most familiar soundbite of the campaign so far, “strong and stable” drew a blank in our focus group. No one had heard the phrase. Similarly, policy debates around caps on energy bills find little traction. When asked about this idea, the group suspected it was a Labour policy and were surprised to hear that it had been proposed by the Conservatives. They feel remote from Westminster politics, struggling to name any authentic working class voices within Parliament who spoke to their day-to-day experiences.
They have all come from privileged backgrounds. None of them were brought up on council estates, none are single parents, none of them have used benefits, or queued for a food bank.
The discussion is a powerful reminder of how little interest many people take in the detail of party policies much before the final week or so of an election campaign.
2. Tribal identities linger on – just
For those who remember how their parents voted, the Labour Party still feels like the default choice. Labour politicians are the most visible locally outside of elections. Yet there is little passion for Labour, which is seen as fractured and disorganised. They are unimpressed with Jeremy Corbyn, describing him as lacking the charisma they expect in a leader. The Conservatives are instinctively described as the party for “posh people” or the “jolly boys’ club”, uninterested in the issues facing these working class voters. Though there is little outright enthusiasm for Theresa May’s leadership, she is felt to be stronger than Jeremy Corbyn. It is clear that being a Leave voter does not automatically mean a switch to voting Conservative. However, with ties to Labour weakening, participants are open to voting Conservative, to “bite the bullet” and try something different to the way they usually vote.
Anthony, quality control officer
Labour should get its house in order. If that’s the state of their house, I don’t want them coming into my house!
3. Get on with Brexit
Leaving the EU is a done deal in the mind of these voters. They feel the country has voted for Brexit, the issue is settled, and it is up to the politicians in Westminster to crack on with getting the best deal for the UK. Brexit was little mentioned among the spontaneous issues that are important to these voters – primarily immigration, housing, and the NHS. Ultimately, these voters feel they personally have nothing to lose from leaving the EU. Yet there is a lack of certainty that Brexit will actually happen. There is a perception that those in Westminster are reluctant Leavers and that the Prime Minister is “dragging her heels” over negotiations.
One consequence of Brexit having been resolved – in principle, if not in practice – is that our participants believe UKIP now has little relevance to the political debate. As a party, they feel it has served its purpose, something they saw reflected in the recent local election results. That said, there remains some admiration for Nigel Farage, who participants think would be well-placed to get a good deal for the UK in Brexit negotiations.
John, laboratory assistant
We need someone who is strong, who is going to get the best deal for Britain and not just take the bill they throw at us.
- Listen on BBC Radio 4: Ben Page is interviewed at approx. 1 hour 17 mins, while our 7 Halifax voters are on approx. 1 hour 33 mins.