Matthew Parris Matthew Parris

Why don’t we want a government that is on the side of ‘ordinary people’? 

It’s often the peripheral that catches the eye, gets you thinking. My newspaper’s fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Liverpool this week, featuring an analysis of Labour’s standing by the Times’s Populus pollster, Rick Nye, was really centred on the immediate: what was the electorate’s perception of Ed Miliband-led Labour? Our guest, the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, was there to discuss this with the audience. But a rather different question leapt at me from Mr Nye’s presentation: one of the very few polling questions to which respondents were returning consistently and overwhelmingly pro-Labour replies. It started:

‘Regardless of which party you would vote for, please say if you think each word or phrase is true or not true of the Labour/Conservative/Liberal Democrat party?

…after which followed a series of seven attributes, in not one of which Labour’s score reached anything like 50 per cent, except for this: ‘For ordinary people, not just the better-off’.

Here Labour scored 52 per cent this September, seven points ahead of the Liberal Democrats and 22 points ahead of the Tories. Looking back over previous polls I saw that, on this, Labour have not just beaten but whopped the Tories for as long as the question has been asked — since 2006. They were 21 points ahead in the year when they lost the general election. Curiously, Labour’s lead on this question was at its narrowest (13 points) in 2006, just after the party’s third general election victory in a row.

So when questions were invited from the fringe’s audience, I asked the panel why Labour’s consistently strong lead on the issue of which party was most on the side of ordinary people did not seem to correlate with an inclination to vote for this party.

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