Much has been said about the parties’ “retail offers” to the electorate in this campaign, and there have been plenty. With manifestos now published, let’s focus in on the Conservatives and Labour as if they were, in fact, retailers, the electorate being the customer.
We know from our retail clients that what their customers mainly want is: to have their needs met; the price to be right; an ability to make a choice within a choice; to have a pleasant shopping experience. Let’s look at how the Conservatives and Labour perform on each of these criteria.
Britain leaving the EU has consistently topped voter preferences in issues trackers this year, averaging about 65% since January. Second is NHS improvement, which has averaged nearly 40% so far this year, albeit catching up in recent weeks.
If, simplistically put, these are the most important things voters want, Conservatives are currently in front with a clear-cut Brexit offer. Although Labour lead on whether they’d reinvest in the NHS, this is still less of an issue overall to the voting public compared to Brexit. Nevertheless, Labour’s proposition is catching up with voter sentiment.
Both Conservatives and Labour have put forward big spending plans. This is what most people want after over a decade of poor growth and real terms wage decreases. There doesn’t seem to be too much concern from voters about who will end up footing the bill from extra borrowing in the long term, either, so there are few immediate downsides to making big pledges.
But who has the edge? Compared to Labour, the Conservatives favour capital over day-to-day spending, making their promise to end austerity a little dubious. Labour, on the other hand, are promising an immediate, and huge, cash injection into public services. Also in Labour’s favour is their commitment to reduce utility and rail bills through nationalisation, which is playing well in the polls.
So, on the face of it, Labour are out in front, but nationalisation might end up undermining Labour here. Customers will only buy something they see as workable and easy to understand (as opposed to the benefits being dependent on a long term, complex process). The qualitative research we’ve seen suggests people might be viewing nationalisation as slightly clunky, unworkable solution which could leave Labour struggling to make a sale.
Customers choose a retailer, but they like to have a choice within that choice e.g. to select different brands from the same shelf. This might be what voters have traditionally looked for in centrist “big tent” parties – choosing a party because they like its overall direction of travel and broad inclusive appeal. There’s a hedging of bets in voting for a broad church; you’re less likely to get extreme or binary positions and be pushed down a certain path, you’re keeping your options open.
For decades, we saw the tents of the Conservatives and Labour expand onto centrist ground so much that the canvas was almost touching. Now, at this election, we see the two parties taking completely opposed positions on the two biggest issues – putting clear distance between themselves in the eyes of the electorate.
The Conservatives’ promise of completing Brexit with a free trade deal with the EU in place by the end of next year is an extreme position for a lot of people who voted to Remain – even those who accept that the UK must leave. Meanwhile, Corbyn’s far left platform will be too radical for many.
But the Tory’s offer outside Brexit is fairly vanilla, with a similar offer on tax, spending, consumer markets and public services to any centrist European party of the last couple of decades. Labour on the other hand offer a more all-encompassing restructuring of the UK’s political economy, irrespective of Brexit. Which of these two options voters prefer in marginal constituencies like Newcastle under Lyme and Preseli Pembrokeshire will ultimately decide who gets the keys to Number 10.
Let’s set aside the actual experience of voting: it’s not going to be pleasant heading to polling stations on one of the darkest and most wintery days of the year. However, it’s worth mentioning that there is currently no evidence to back up the claim that bad weather and dark nights reduces turnout.
Instead, one of the most striking aspects of this election is how many people are weighing up which leader and party they find least unpleasant. Boris Johnson has almost double the approval ratings of Jeremy Corbyn, and twice as many people disapprove of Corbyn than approve of him, so in terms of leadership ratings Johnson is out in front.
In terms of the parties, the Conservatives’ campaign has been very carefully managed, and despite a wobbly start there have been no major upsets. Labour started well, but repeated accusations of anti-Semitism and Corbyn’s uncertainty on numbers in front of Andrew Neil have required them to go on the defensive. While the Conservatives are ahead in approval ratings, the Conservatives can only win a majority if they persuade voters in historically Labour seats to ‘hold their nose and vote Tory’. The latest constituency polling suggests the Conservatives have made progress here and could win 44 seats from Labour.
By this reckoning the Conservatives are the more saleable retail proposition, and this is reflected in their comfortable poll lead over Labour of around 13pts. I’ve focusing on the two main parties for brevity, and of course no one can discount the impact that the Lib Dem’s, the Brexit Party or the SNP could have, although the first two have underperformed against original expectations in recent weeks.
I’d be interested to hear what you think – I’m on firstname.lastname@example.org