Poll: Labour must accept 'big society'

Just hot air? The survey suggests Labour lost the spending argument
Just hot air? The survey suggests Labour lost the spending argument

By Ian Dunt

Labour's new leader must accept the 'big society' agenda if he or she is to reconnect with voters, according to new research.

A YouGov survey for the Demos thinktank found that the public had turned decisively against Labour's message on public services and that the party's general election agenda fell on deaf ears.

If accurate, the survey would suggest that Labour must embrace cuts to public spending if it is to regain the trust of the electorate.

The poll of 45,000 people found 55% of voters who deserted Labour at the election wanted less "top-down control" in the NHS.

Thirty-five per cent thought "people should [have] more choices and control over local services".

Twenty-seven per cent said they saw government as "part of the problem not the solution", compared to 14% of those who stuck with Labour.

The survey suggests the Tories won the battle about the deficit and state control, although it gave no indication whether the public arrived independently at this view or if the Tory campaign managed to change the minds of a section of previously Labour voters.

"What has got lost in the election post-mortem is the 'listening' bit of 'listening and learning'," said Richard Darlington, head of the Open Left project at Demos.

"This poll will be a wake-up call for Labour's leadership candidates. Labour's next leader needs to support public sector cuts and embrace the 'big society' agenda if they are to be heard by the public."

Analysts suggested Labour's inability to adapt to the changing political landscape was in part due to the financial limitation on the party, which was forced to campaign on a shoestring budget.

"Labour didn't have the funds to do private polling in the run-up to the last election on anything like the scale they had done in previous elections," Mr Darlington said.

"So Labour was limited to testing voter opinion in very small sample focus groups. This post-election poll shows that Labour's defence of services against spending cuts was falling on deaf ears."

The new Labour leader will be announced the day before the party's autumn conference begins. The contenders have varying views on public spending, with Ed Balls, a former confidant of Gordon Brown, denying the need to cut services at all.


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