New poll: Swing voters back "Red Ed" Miliband
Congratulations to Ed Miliband, who won the Labour leadership with a fantastic campaign.
He now faces the challenge of changing the Labour Party and making sure that it wins over the support of people who chose to vote Tory or Lib Dem in 2010. To achieve this, he should listen very carefully to research from one of Britain's foremost electoral strategists.
Ashcroft has just released research called "What future for Labour?" It includes data from more than 2,000 people who voted Labour in 2005, but who deserted the party in 2010. The results are absolutely staggering.
One argument that obsesses political commentators is whether Labour should move to the left, or whether this would be electoral suicide. Amongst swing voters, 31% would be more likely to support Labour if it moved to the left, and 32% would be less likely. A plurality, 37% "are not sure what is meant by 'moving further to the left'".
A better example of an out of touch political elite would be harder to find. While right-wing newspapers shriek about "Red Ed" "lurching to the left", nearly 2 in 5 swing voters have no idea what they are talking about, and the rest are split evenly because those who think this would be a good or bad thing.
What about some of the specific policies which Ed Miliband and others put forward during the leadership campaign?
71% of swing voters back a graduate tax as a replacement for student fees
77% back a 50% rate of income tax on earnings over £100,000
63% want to scrap Trident
84% support increasing the minimum wage to more than £7/hour
81% support a High Pay Commission to restrict high salaries in the private sector
86% back a Mansion Tax on homes over £2 million
79% want to renationalise the railways
84% think that bankers are largely responsible for the current economic situation, and it is not fair that ordinary people have to bear the brunt of the cuts
77% think that people on higher incomes should have to pay significantly more taxes to minimise cuts in the public sector
65% would be more likely to vote Labour if they pledged a massive expansion of apprenticeship schemes to provide opportunities for young people
In terms of their values:
72% think that government should try to make society more equal, even if this means reducing living standards for those at the top
64% think that private companies should never have any part to play in delivering public services such as health and education
86% think that private company boards should have to include workforce representatives to ensure workers have a voice in key decisions affecting them
81% think higher education is a right, not a privilege
82% think that Britain should aspire to be more like Scandinavia, and less like America
This research does not show that swing voters are all secretly Labour Party lefties. They are hostile to immigration, want people on benefits to have to do community work, support tax breaks for people who use private healthcare, oppose legalising cannabis, are hostile to strikes, want Labour to apologise for the mistakes that they made in government, blame Labour for the necessity of making cuts, and are supportive of the coalition's attempts to reduce the deficit.
But Lord Ashcroft's research highlights a key dilemma for Ed Miliband and Labour. He won the leadership despite the opposition of newspapers, all of which endorsed his brother, and his success was due to his ability to adopt mainstream policies, from Iraq to the living wage, which most people supported, and his ability to articulate them with conviction and passion. The same challenge will present itself at the next general election. Those of his policies which swing voters strongly support are all ones which the political elite hate.
He will be advised and tempted to show the Westminster Village that he is not "Red Ed", that he shares their prejudices and won't "lurch to the left". But the evidence shows that most swing voters are at worst indifferent to the prospect of Labour moving to the left, that they want Labour to change, and that policies like a mansion tax, living wage and High Pay Commission are all fine examples that would help to show how Labour has changed for the better.