It is a given in most countries to attempt to understand political thinking and behaviour by classifying them along a left wing vs. right wing spectrum. Here this line of inquiry is applied to the British Labour party – from a cultural perspective, one of the most interesting political parties in the world after an unexpected loss in the last General Election, but almost doubling the size of its membership in the aftermath and, in the process, redefining itself in terms of policies, procedures and personalities.
The way in which this report differs from many others you may have read, or might read on this topic is that it moves beyond the relatively simplistic right/left discussion and explores underlying Values.
This article should be seen in relation to other recent reports by CDSM relating to the Labour Party. If you haven’t seen them yet, they are recommended reading. These links will get you to them:
But one step at a time. We’ll begin with an examination of how “wings” relate to “values” and, particularly, how that works in the Labour Party. That will be followed by a comparison of the values of the Labour “Heartland”(see right) 6 months before and 6 months after Labour’s devastating defeat - and the Conservatives’ difficult to classify victory - in the 2015 General Election. A further report will focus on what Labour could/would/should/ought to do to recover before 2020.
When people and pundits talk about politics they often refer to ‘wings’ of orientation – ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’. People seem to understand what this means, even if psephologists and academics query the ‘reality’ of this perception.
One of the standard questions we asked in our international research in over 20 countries was this:
As an aside – but an interesting one - when we ask people describe themselves on a range of 30 various descriptors, politics usually comes in the bottom two or three – below descriptors like ‘my principles and values’ (quite illuminating?), ‘my country’, ‘my job’, ‘my colour’, ‘my religion’, ‘my gender’ even ‘my hair, teeth and looks’.
When cross-tabulated and tested against other factors like age, sex, income, religion (or lack of it), voting behaviours and so forth, the data shows that people do understand the overall concept of ‘wings’ and their answers can be seen as robust.
In the UK the results were as follows:
This shows a country typical of other countries in that over 50% don’t describe their politics as either right or left – they are either middle of the road in their politics and/or apathetic about politics in general.
Five Values Terrain Maps tell the story of political orientation and personal values in the UK.
The indices show that although only 4.1% of the population declares itself to be ‘strongly right wing’, Prospectors are 40% more likely than the population to declare this orientation, and Settlers are also above the base figure by 22%. Pioneers are 53% less likely than the population to declare they are ‘strongly right wing’. This is in line with all CDSM research around the world and clearly shows the values of UK strong right wingers to be in line with a wide range of academic and political research.
No comments will be made after the other maps – the pictures tell the stories.
The story of political orientation – though not a high priority in terms of self-definition - is nevertheless a powerfully driven differentiator between three different sets of perceptions.
Identifying orientations is a basic step that needs to be taken in all good political research but often isn’t. The proxy – who you voted for, or who you will vote for – is not a robust enough indicator by itself to give reliable insights to the appeal of policies, procedures and personalities. Partisans of each wing need to studied closely as do the often ‘silent majority’ that has strong feelings about issues but is unlikely to view them through a partisan lens.
When the “wing” question was asked of those who declared themselves as “strongly identifying with the Labour Party” (about 26% of the adult population) the figures looked like this:
Labour Heartland respondents espousing ‘neither right nor left’ are slightly less middle of the road (or disengaged) than the population as a whole (47.5 vs. 53.5) but not by much. The significant difference between Labour Heartlanders and the British population as a whole is their self-definition as ‘left wing’.
Now, before you hold your hands up and declare that this conclusion must have come from “The University of the Obvious”, be patient and read on because the real significance of this will become much clearer as we start to explore it in terms of values. It lies at the heart of what happened to Labour in the General Election and what followed in the subsequent Leadership election.
Among Labour Heartlanders, 9% describe themselves as ‘strongly left wing’: 45% higher than the general population. Of all those who describe themselves as ‘strongly left wing’, 47% also identify most strongly with the Labour Party. This is something that Labour decision makers and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) need to be aware of when assessing research among members.
Some of the less ideologically inclined may view these individuals with disquiet, fear and even opprobrium. There is little doubt that they need to be acknowledged in all discussions as they do represent an outlier group. However, they may espouse values similar to those of more moderate left wingers and may link with them to drive for more changes, or better sets of questions, for those who aspire to leadership.
This linkage could very well lead to big and rapid changes in policies, procedures and personalities that do not satisfy left wing frames. Of all Labour Heartlanders, 36.1% self-identify as ‘somewhat left wing’. This represents only 54% of all respondents who self-identified as ‘somewhat left wing’. These figures suggest that Labour Heartland supporters are very representative of left wing thinkers and believers and therefore that Labour decision makers need to satisfy this orientation - not only retain these ‘natural core voters’ but also to gain the rest of the self-identified left now spread among a range of other parties.
The UK has become increasingly party-politically divided in the 21st Century and the 2010 Coalition government showed that the electorate will allow new forms of alignment if no one party can gain a workable majority. The Coalition government had a mixed record from a ‘left wing’ point of view, but the possibility of a ‘left wing’ coalition would not be an anathema to those generally ‘of the left’ – as long as there is a ‘values alignment’.
Some may argue that a General Election cannot be won by attracting the left only. Those who identify themselves as right wing do indeed outnumber those of the left, but by a very small percentage.
The received wisdom is that elections are won by winning the middle ground. If the middle ground is defined by those who are self-identified as ‘neither right wing nor left wing’ then it is certainly true as they make up 53.5% of the British adult population.
Within the Labour Heartland this ‘neither’ figure is at 47.6%, slightly lower than the population as a whole, but still close to the 50% figure. In fact, taking the two ‘left wing’ orientations together the ‘neither’ figure is slightly larger (47.6% vs 45.1%).
Finally, less than 7% of the Labour Heartland identify as ‘right wing’ and only about 1% as ‘strongly right wing’. As even the combined ‘right wing’ declarers represent such a minority, they will not be considered further, except to remember that maybe as much as 10% of the ‘neither’ declarers might actually cleave to the ‘right’ side (estimate based on ratio of declared ‘right’ to declared ‘left’).
Finding out what makes both ‘left wing’ and ‘neither’ people tick (their values) and what can retain their support is critical to increasing the Labour vote. Understanding the values shared by the ‘left wing’ and ‘neither’ segments in the Labour Heartland is key to expanding the Labour vote.
Is the Labour party the victim of a left-wing extremist take-over? It seems very unlikely. The numbers are just too small to accomplish this feat. The party membership is likely to be more left wing than the population – but the core Heartland supporters are very likely to look and feel a lot like the general population – but with a more caring bias.
This map clearly shows that the Labour Heartland was a combination mostly of Pioneers and Prospectors and that it did not include Settlers to the same degree.
This is different than the Labour Heartland before the ‘crash’ of 2007 – when Labour still had many Heartland Settlers.
It seems likely that the policies and personalities of Labour candidates and the PLP were not in harmony with Settler values. The Labour leadership and its senior advisors thought of these Settler Values as ‘Blue Labour’. Those apparatchiks, it seems, simply stood idly by as these former Heartland supporters and voters turned to policies and personalities that more clearly espoused their values, mainly by addressing their fears and uncertainties.
Labour decision-makers did not and likely would not address these ‘Blue Labour’ fears with a vision of a better, more ethical and equal economic future – promising instead only more austerity measures and, by policy design, cut backs on state support for many of these older, more economically-insecure people.
This pre-election profile shows that 43% of the Heartland was composed of Prospectors - 17% more than the percentage of Prospectors in the national population. Generally, Prospectors are more pragmatic and less morally concerned than Settlers and less ethically concerned than Pioneers. To add to this, the Golden Dreamers (GD), the Prospector Values Mode most driven by the need for power and achievement, was the single largest sector within the Prospector Labour Heartland, comprising 18% of them. The other large Values Mode within the Prospector Heartland was the Now People (NP) with 14%.
Transcenders (TX) were the largest Values Mode within the Pioneers and, at 15%, the second largest sector within the Labour Heartland.
Settlers only comprised 22% of total respondents within the Heartland - and none of the Settler Values Modes was larger than 7%.
Prospectors – the dominant Maslow group - are generally more concerned about how policies are delivered than the moral or ethical implications of those policies. To the pragmatic Prospector it often isn’t even that important if the policy doesn’t work. Their response will be to ‘fix it’ – make another policy - and if that doesn’t work, ‘fix it’ again. Moral and ethical discussions just get in the way of ‘doing something’. They are more than happy with New Labour approaches and even some of the True Labour policies that challenge conventional wisdom – they just want it all to happen more quickly.
The continual poll-driven policy platforms developed by Labour decision makers in the run up to the General Election – often changing in nature in response to immediate circumstances – led to a perception by the Prospector Heartland that the leadership vacillated too much. This is an inherent style when in opposition to government but, in an election campaign, it leads to a perception of weakness amongst people who value strength - and can also lead to a low level anger towards the Party that ‘is supposed to represent us’.
Pioneers comprised over 34% of the Labour Heartland and represented its more ethically inclined section. It is likely that many of them would also have had reservations about the nature of the policies Labour espoused while in opposition – but were deeply concerned that the policies were less radical than they believed was possible and desirable. They would be less concerned about the ability to understand how new policies would be delivered than in changing the dynamic of the current political status quo. They wanted a real alternative to austerity policies not a ‘nicer’ form of austerity. In addition, and like Prospectors, they wanted the ability to just ‘get something done’ when they came into power but in a more anti-establishment way than the coalition government.
The top five over-indexed Attributes among the Labour Heartland at that time were:
Labour’s Heartland was more highly aware of, and concerned about others, whether here or abroad; they wanted to offer as much help as possible and wanted policies to enable this. This manifested in the form of low level anger, not just discontent. For the most part, they were not perceiving enough radical change in Labour policies nor feeling they could comfortably support the choice of the personalities on offer.
The data demonstrates that the Labour team that went into the last election was not radical enough for their own Heartland supporters, who should have been their core voters. Prospectors were looking for aspiration – a plan to make things right. Pioneers were looking for inspiration – to do the ‘right thing this time’. This led to an overall perception, amongst its most likely voters, that Labour in government would essentially keep doing what was being done under the Coalition but at a slower and ‘less harmful’ pace and in a ‘nicer’ way.
Defeat, and anger at the policies and personalities responsible, can come in many forms and continues to the present day. Post defeat a new leadership election policy, enacted for the first time, resulted in Labour Party membership almost doubling – something outside all previous experience in any country after a defeat – with the election of a new leader by the membership rather than the elites.
Not only did the new leader win but he gathered more votes than the three other challengers combined. These latter politicians – part of the old, defeated network of ‘establishment’ – were decisively defeated by Pioneers and Prospectors expressing anger at their lack of inspirational or aspirational rhetoric/argument and their acceptance and espousal of an insipid “Tory-lite” platform of policies promoted during the General Election. We should also factor in the split engendered by the Blair government’s support of the Iraq debacle.
The new leader was elected not because he was a rhetoric-driven inspirational speaker or represented a high-sheen duplicate of a new ‘things can only get better’ version of the last Labour government. On the contrary, he was elected by a massive majority because he wasn’t any of those things. He was his own man, with a very clear set of principles and 30 years of demonstrated ability within Parliament to remain true to them. He had never bowed to pressure to conform to what he perceived as immoral or unethical. He had never acted to further his career. He had always acted as a representative of his constituents.
The new leader is an established iconoclast. At a time of low satisfaction with the ‘political class’ or professional politicians, the man of conscience is an anomaly and therefore an attractive option.
So, after six months of tumultuous change how has the Labour Heartland been affected? Has it been taken over by those who are ‘strongly left wing'? Has it become populated by those who claim they are ‘somewhat left wing? Is it like the majority of the population in claiming to be ‘neither left nor right’? Or is its Heartland – containing many politically aware Prospectors – more ‘right wing’ than the increasingly politically apathetic British population?
Let the data tell the story.
At first glance this terrain map is remarkably similar to the pre-election one. It looks almost as if none of the disruption and upheaval so beloved by the media and pundits has occurred – and the size of the party has almost doubled; surely a sign of people strongly identifying with it.
It is true that the size of the Heartland has declined by 1%. Amid all the ‘sturm und drang’, an almost complete repositioning of the Party, no clear policies and a changing cast of personalities it would seem inevitable that it decline somewhat, and possibly a lot more than 1%. It should be almost a comfort that 26% still claim they strongly identified with it.
43% of the Heartland is still Prospector. But the number of Pioneers has increased to 40% - and the number of Settlers has fallen off significantly.
The continuing decline in numbers of Settlers strongly identifying with Labour is most likely reflected in growing numbers of them choosing other parties – but a sizable proportion of them are probably dropping out of political activity altogether. We can examine this through the use of the British Values Survey (BVS), but with a declining Settler base in the UK as a whole this will become more difficult over time. As noted before, this group of people are likely to be represented in research as those who are or were Blue Labour.
So there is some insight to be gained by the increase in Pioneers and decline in Settlers in the Heartland. This may make the analysis of what the Heartland looks and feels like a bit easier. But it doesn’t tell the real story of what has happened within this 1% shift in size. For that a Values Mode analysis level is needed – both within the Heartland and British Society.
Between 1973 and 2005 the Pioneer group grew slowly and steadily from 19% to 40% of the population. Before the ‘crash’ of 2007/08 numbers plateaued and then declined for another five years before resuming their upward path to reach 38% and become the largest group in the UK in 2015/16.
Decline among the Settlers was even more dramatic during that period – from 52% of the UK population in 1973 to a low of 24% in 2005. Numbers rose consistently during the post-crash years but have declined again recently, and have now returned to 24%.
The Prospectors have maintained a fairly constant 30% and 39% over the same time period as the UK changed from a Settler-driven culture to one that has become more aspirational. However, they have become aspirational about different end states over the time period – moving from aspirations motivated by materialism to aspirations of living an inspiring and ethical life.
In terms of Values Modes, the three most important to understand are two Prospector Values Modes – the Golden Dreamers and Now People – and the Pioneer Transcenders.
It is the way these three Values Modes combine and create cultural consensus – or dissonance - that defines the nature of almost all cultures in the world including the UK.
During the 21st Century the Transcenders have gone from being the biggest of the big three (16%) to the smallest (10%) and then back to the biggest again - over 16% in 2016. While the Transcenders were declining in the post-crash years, the Golden Dreamers went from the smallest at 8% to the largest at 17% in 2012 - but have now declined to 12% in 2016.
The Now people tend to be influenced by these two groups, and the way they swing provides a powerful indicator to the dominant narrative adopted by the culture. Today they are the second largest group – almost 14% of the population.
The impact of these Values Mode level shifts is that, although the Prospector group has remained the same size, the dynamics within it have shifted. Its axis of influence, within both UK culture and the Labour Heartland, has shifted from Golden Dreamer/Now People to Transcender/Now People - which changes the nature of British values and by extension Heartland values.
Given the changing nature of British culture, one of the keys to understanding the Labour Heartland and its relevance to society and to Labour Party supporters is to measure the extent to which the Heartland matches or is at odds with the cultural values of the nation. Once this is measured, analysed and understood, robust strategies for developing the party can occur. No political party exists in a vacuum and any attempt to form a government will be more or less successful depending on how effectively, or ineffectively, each party makes its appeal to the electorate.
The top five over-indexed Attributes among the Labour Heartland are:
This is the same list of Attributes as the year before – but with changes in the order that can have profound effects on the nature of the relationship between Labour Heartlanders and their MPs.
‘Concern for others’ as a category dominates Labour’s Heartlanders more than it does for the rest of the country. This is a driving factor in their continuing support for Labour in the face of fragmenting political consensus and the emergence, and disappearance, of other political parties.
The Poverty Aware Attribute is defined by strongly agreeing with the following paired statements:
These Pioneer-led beliefs and attitudes toward the use of resources are much stronger among Labour Heartland supporters than among the population – in fact this may put them at odds with a large chunk of the population who support curtailment of the small percentage of the UK budget that seeks to alleviate economic inequalities outside the UK. Whether or not to pursue policies that address this issue to the satisfaction of Heartland supporters is an important decision for the leadership and the individual MPs within the PLP.
The more equitable distribution of the wealth in the world is matched by their desire for a more equitable re-distribution of power and wealth in the UK, as shown by strong agreement with the statements of the Socialist Attribute.
This is an Attribute that is espoused more by Pioneers and Settlers and less so by Prospectors in both the country as a whole and within the Heartland. The continuing battle within the PLP is about the use of the words and the actions that follow from this belief system. This is an important part of the issue between the PLP and the party leadership. Many MPs, including Labour ones, appear to want to be a member of the ‘too few’; to have the power, and potential patronage, that comes from being an MP; and to gain access to greater personal wealth that comes to those with the power of patronage.
This mostly unspoken, or publically unacknowledged, factor is likely to be very significant in the relationship between the burgeoning party membership and the PLP.
The third highest over indexed Attribute among Heartlanders is Justice. (In the research, these statements are genderised according to the stated gender of the respondent).
The theme of fairness and equality for all runs through the values system of Heartlanders more than the rest of the UK population. Policies and personalities that were not seen to ‘stand-up’ pre-eminently for these issues were undoubtedly a factor in the dissatisfaction that led to the election of the new leader. This is supported by the fourth ranking over indexed Attribute – Simmer.
Hardly the stuff to discuss and praise in ‘polite company’, much less in the mother of Parliaments!
MPs cannot be seen to be approving of these attitudes and behaviours – but to Heartland people, more so than the rest of the British population, this is a factor in some of their behaviours and acceptance of extra-Parliamentary activities.
Espousal of this Attribute tends to decline with age – so this is likely to be more prevalent among younger Pioneers and especially among younger Prospectors. It is not necessarily something they would do – but there is a frisson of rebellious energy inherent in the attitude that leads them to be less than enamoured of the traditional political rhetoric issued from within the Westminster bubble.
‘Simmer’ speaks to a subconscious desire for more immediate and potentially divisive actions to occur on social issues. Repeatedly, ‘social issues’ are addressed as ‘economic or political issues’ by MPs and organizational decision makers supposedly representing Heartland values.
When organizations and decision makers like MPs and the PLP continue to define social issues as economic and political issues they distance themselves from the human and social costs of their failure to connect to their Heartland supporters. These supporters made their voices loud and clear in the leadership selection of 2015. The ramifications of the inability of the PLP to recognize the validity of Heartland supporters’ voices is having significant impacts on the ability of the party to present a credible opposition to the government.
The last of the top five over-indexed Attributes is Global.
This is where the values of the Labour Heartland depart from Settler values, where Labour originally had its roots. It must be recognized in the coming months and years as Labour seeks to find a new articulation of its values and the policies, procedures and personalities it will adopt to appeal not only to its Heartland supporters and members but also to the wider electorate.
Issues labelled ‘diversity’, ‘ethnic’, ‘gender’ and so forth are a reflection of the Heartlanders’ embrace of non-traditional answers to today’s pressing questions. These are true values-driven issues and create fractures in the edifice of the dominant narrative, or ‘the way we do things around here’. This is where true politicians are called for and where their skills must be honed – in trying to unite Labour’s two (or more) tribes into a coherent narrative that can be accepted by opposing values.
Seeking diplomatic solutions and consensus-building are key skills needed by politicians everywhere. The publicly played-out juvenile Punch and Judy show of ‘gotcha’ politics beloved of the media and the punditocracy has little to do with the real job of democratic politics, which is to ensure the greatest good possible for all – sometimes sharing a small pie and other times dividing the spoils of success, but always in it together. This stands in stark contrast the increasingly unequal sharing of wealth and power in the UK and the increasing reliance on the citizen to support hyper-rich organizations at the expense of the social infrastructure that supports citizens themselves.
Heartland supporters are likely looking for ‘change’ from the leadership and those within the PLP. Defining the present and determining a path to the future is the purpose of this section.
A change in political direction can be confusing for those from whom change is desired. To become more receptive to the desires of members and supporters, MPs need to know whose values they are representing and then how best to work within the PLP to accomplish the desired changes.
This is a traditional process in representative democracy – but one that has been eroded within the party. This erosion is not sinister or Machiavellian; it is primarily a pragmatic reaction to the needs of running a government - and the many non-democratic pressures brought to bear by influential non-Parliamentary bodies, both nationally and internationally.
The experience of MPs and ministers of state – indeed, all those within the gates of Westminster - becomes detached from the everyday, including members and supporters. It becomes almost inevitable that they succumb to the pressures to respond to the 24/7 news cycle and lose touch with the effects of the multitude of statutes they bring into being. It is the nature of Westminster that they are driven more for closure on political and economic issues than by the social effects of legislation.
While this disconnect is normal in large organizations – top management becoming detached from front line staff – it causes real problems for political parties as they are not meritocracies where economic performance is the key to sustainable success and where shareholders are unlikely to vote out CEOs and boards based on failing ‘social promises’. Political parties are voted out precisely for failing to deliver on social promises – even if they do hit their economic goals.
This is one of the key differences between the world of business and the world of politics. A good business manager doesn’t have to be a leader. The difference between a good manager and a bad manager is the extent of their personal and professional competence within a defined area of delivery. A leader doesn’t need to be personally or professionally competent within a specific area of delivery – but they must have the ability to inspire and direct the attention and energy of others.
In politics this means that a good performance as a minister, or being on the team of a minister, competently or even outstandingly delivering projects is not necessarily a prerequisite for being or becoming a leader. Being a good manager is not the same as being a good leader.
This may be one of the reasons selectors in the leadership contest were loath to select the more proven ministerial or up-coming ‘star’ type candidates. They perceived managers and not leaders - certainly not their type of leader - among them. Various analytical reports after the 2015 General Election give some credence to this idea – that the majority of the candidates were perceived as bland; more managers than leaders.
This perception is a function of values. One set of values may perceive the same policy, procedure or personality as highly satisfactory and another set of values will find the same totally unsatisfactory.