The non-voter myth

It has been proven — quite dramatically at 10pm on election night — that the 35% strategy was a disaster for Labour; who knew that an unambitious and unreliable electoral forecast would also prove to be unsuccessful?

Evidence, rather than anecdote, from the election shows the scale of our challenge after the 35% failure. Fabian research showed 4 out of 5 extra votes Labour needs must come from Tory voters. Jon Cruddas’ review of the election shows the deficit is the top priority.

But show this to a Corbyn supporter and they will bury their head in the sand. The Cruddas polling is full of leading questions. The Fabians are secret Tories (an impressive misreading of history). Rather than sell out to these false prophets, they say, we just need to inspire non-voters. British socialism has failed to take root because there is a hidden part of the electorate who just have yet to be adequately inspired.

This is a dangerous myth, and anyone who saw Ed Miliband’s cautious electoral coalition crumble should not take it seriously.

First, it replicates the unreliability of the 35% strategy — if these people are non-voters, why will they come out in their thousands in every constituency Labour needs to win? How will you boost Labour’s internal structures and organisation to make sure they come out on polling day?

Second, there is no evidence that non-voters are any different in political persuasion than those who do vote. There is no army of truly socialist would-be electors sitting on their hands. If there were, I would question the logic of doing nothing to stop yet another Tory government on the basis that Labour is not left-wing enough.

Immediately after the election, the TUC produced a wealth of polling showing how Labour was on the wrong side of the argument on a wide-range of issues. But they also looked at people who didn’t vote at all — remember, these are the people Corbyn’s campaign thinks they can reach.

When asked what prevented non-voters from supporting Labour, the top 4 responses were: 35% ‘don’t know’, 30% ‘they can’t be trusted with the economy’, 23% ‘they would make it too easy for people to live on benefits’, 22% ‘they would raise taxes’.

Unsurprisingly, there is no ‘Labour weren’t left-wing enough so I just went to the pub instead and let the Tories get elected’.

Compare the results to people who did vote, but didn’t vote Labour. Again, the top 4 responses: 40% ‘they can’t be trusted with the economy’, 25% they would make it too easy for people to live on benefits’, 24% ‘they would be bossed around by Nicola Sturgeon’, 19% ‘don’t know’.

Doubts about Labour’s competence do not vary much between voters and non-voters. You cannot have one message for one group and ignore the other because non-voters are no more receptive to it than those who can be relied on to vote. Suggesting otherwise is pure ignorance.