Labour has been criticised during this parliamentary term for running what has been seen as a core vote strategy. Within the Party there are mixed views about how best to campaign in and win the forthcoming election. A significant proportion of the party believe Labour is at its best when it offers aspirational voters a chance to see and reach for a better future. However, the more cautious wing believe that the current fragile economic situation does not lend itself to this sort of campaign and that Labour should concentrate on its core vote. This debate has spilled from the party into the media.
The Labour leadership refute claims they have adopted a core vote (35%) strategy based on securing traditional Labour supporters allied with defectors from the Liberal Democrats. They argue they have offered a wide ranging agenda which has been both ambitious and radical. However an analysis of their policies and focus supports the core vote argument.
This is a policy which may prove to be successful for the Labour Party. The electoral system and boundaries still favour the party and if they could reach 35% of the electorate then this would probably be enough to see Ed Miliband into Downing Street. Excluding the more aspirational, middle England voter is a risk though and may back-fire.
Recent history would suggest that Labour has been at its best when it has reached beyond its core base. New Labour were unashamedly aspirational in their approach and attracted many new supporters as a result. The language and rhetoric of “things can only get better” was later echoed by Obama in the US with his “yes we can” campaign. It made the aspirational feel more comfortable with the party, which was rewarded with three election victories.
The lesson for the current Labour leadership is clear. Move away from the core message and reach out to voters who may not have always voted for the party. To move beyond being potentially a one term electoral success and a natural party of government Labour must be seen to be on the side of aspirational voters. The current antipathy towards this group, seems at best to be short-sighted, and could ultimately see the party remain in opposition for the foreseeable future. Labour and Miliband now have a decision to make, one which could have a significant impact on the future of the Labour Party.