Conservatives and Labour and the identity dilemma

Extremis Project co-Director, Matthew Goodwin, writes on ConservativeHome today:

Conservative support on the identity axis exhibits more of a ‘block’ character than the other parties, it ultimately remains a block that has not delivered a decent majority for a generation. If economic stagnation continues, which is likely, then any notion that cultural issues might provide a convincing alternative should be treated with scepticism, especially given that the trends documented above are occurring to a greater extent among the general population.
Consider this: among 18-24 year olds in our sample more generally (not only those who voted Conservative in 2010), 60% say they would be less likely to vote for a party that promised to halt immigration or said it would make no difference, 50% would be less likely to support a party that promised to prioritise British values over other cultures or said it would make no difference, and 55% would be less likely to support a party that promised to curb the presence of Islam or said it would make no difference.

While the coherence of support among Conservatives more generally on the identity axis may reassure many inside the party, a strategic shift toward that direction may not provide an easy way out of the party’s current dilemma, especially over the longer-term. It appears, then, that our data pose more tough questions for the centre-right than provide easy answers.

The piece is provoking considerable debate on the centre-right website.

Earlier this week, Anthony Painter had a piece on the New Statesman blog looking at what the Extremis Project data means for Labour. In ‘Is there a new Ed Miliband coalition?’ he argued:

New polling data suggests that Labour has been successful in attracting a rather different voter in the last two years – the liberal centrist.  Should the party now aggressively seek to appeal to working-class conservative support as some advocate, the liberal centrist may be repelled. These liberal centrists are, like their culturally conservative opposites, “values” voters. A populist agenda on immigration, culture and Europe may not be the one-way street that is often supposed. What’s more, an Ed Miliband coalition that doesn’t rely on such populism is one potential route to a majority for Labour.

and concluded:

[A new strategy] involves a very fine balancing act. An authentic emotional engagement with nationhood and a sense of national values is critical. See Michelle Obama’s speech where she emphasised that her husband “knows the American dream because he’s lived it”. Equally, it involves clawing back assumptions both within the Labour Party and the wider media establishment that these cultural issues can only be dealt with in a discordant way.

With these caveats in mind, embracing and motivating this new coalition nonetheless seems like a more natural fit for Miliband than something more traditional and conservative. Avoiding over-adjustment in addressing Labour’s electoral weaknesses in 2010 is smart politics too. Labour now needs to look forward. Crafting a workable centre-left pragmatism is sound politics. Constructing a solid policy agenda is very different set of questions. For Labour, though, an Ed Miliband coalition of voters could be available to it – and it is one that could have the potential to see it into office.

The debate is ongoing on both the centre-left and centre-right about what the Extremis Project means for the mainstream political parties.

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