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Adrian Blair: New Labour's lost generation

Adrian Blair is Research Secretary to the Bow Group

"Tony Blair doesn’t care enough about climate change; cares way too much about Iraq; is dishonest; and has put me off politics." 

An extract from CCHQ propaganda, perhaps?  Or a tête-à-tête with the Chancellor?  In fact, this sentence summarises the political outlook of first-time-voters, many of whom were just 6 years old when the PM took office.  At least where views on his boss are concerned, Gordon Brown has more in common with this age group than you might think.

In what we believe is the largest poll of its kind undertaken to date, the Bow Group recently commissioned Populus to conduct a survey of 1,277 people who will vote for the first time at the 2008/09 general election (16-19 year olds in late 2006).  From the initial results we’ve analysed so far (previewed by Peter Riddell here), the extraordinary scale of Tony Blair’s failure to shape the values of this generation is becoming clear.  On climate change, Iraq, tax, and their attitude to politics in general, New Labour’s children have long since fled the Blair nest.

Climate Change

On Climate Change, we split the sample:  half the group were asked whether they personally rated climate change as one of the 3 most important issues facing the country.  The remaining half were asked whether they thought the Labour and Conservative parties rated it as a top 3 issue.


The group showed how sceptical they are of Labour’s claim that climate change is a top priority.  Despite some evidence that it is a critical issue for Blair - his decision to make climate change a focal issue of the UK G8 presidency, for one - just 9% of the sample thought it was in the government’s top 3 - a difference of 27% between the government and first-time voters themselves.  With the exception of Iraq (see below), this was the biggest variance of opinion on any issue with any political party that we identified.  Although there was still a substantial difference between first-time voters and the Conservatives on climate change, the size of the gap (17%) was markedly smaller - suggesting that Cameron’s efforts to re-position the party are making some impact on this age group.


On Iraq, a split-sample of first-time voters were asked whether either they themselves rate Iraq as a top-3 issue facing Britain, or whether they think the Labour / Conservative parties do.


The results again show how far voters in this age group feel Labour’s priorities have diverged from their own.  A majority - 52% - believe Iraq is one of the three most important issues for Labour, compared to just 11% who rate it in this category themselves - a gap of 41%.  In a separate question, even natural Labour supporters appear to have been alienated by the war:  44% of the sample overall, and up to 67% in some ethnic groups, said that despite “not being able to imagine voting Conservative”, they will not vote Labour because of Iraq.


First-time voters were asked a straightforward question about tax:

Q:  “Do you agree with the following statement:  Taxes in Britain are too high, and should be cut even if this means less money is available for some areas of government spending?”


On the critical point of difference in economic policy between New Labour and David Cameron’s Conservatives - whether the proceeds of growth should exclusively fund higher government spending, or should be shared between spending and tax cuts - just 23% of first-time voters unambiguously toe the Blair / Brown line.  This level of resistance to Labour’s tax and spend approach since 2001 is particularly surprising given that the sample are largely non-taxpayers, and the intended beneficiaries of much of the additional spending that has occurred.

Values and General Attitude to Labour

Given such wide divergences between Labour’s attitudes and first-time voter priorities, it isn’t surprising to see that first-time voters also feel cut off from Labour’s values in general.  85% disagreed with statement that Labour “shares my values”; just 16 % believed Labour had policies “relevant for people of my age”.  This also spilled over into distrust of Labour’s motives:  89% disagreed with the statement that Labour is “honest and principled”.

Overall voting intention

Conservatives may be feeling hopeful after reading these findings.  But the battle is far from won.  Blair’s failure to connect with first-time voters hasn’t yet been capitalised on by the Conservatives, or any other party.  Instead, young people have either turned away from politics in general, or headed for the fringes.  More worrying still, despite a consistent poll lead among voters overall, and despite all the above, the Conservatives still trail Labour among this group.

Q:  “On the basis of your view of the parties at the moment, if you were able to vote in a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for – or would you probably not vote at all?”

Fringe parties - principally the Greens and BNP - collectively score higher than any of the three main protagonists (28% in total).  In second place comes not voting at all.  Overall, 55% of first-time voters would opt for one or other of these choices.  Labour and the Conservatives - with 18% and 16% support respectively - trail these two options by a substantial margin.


It’s clear that people whose only mature memory is of Blair-led governments have failed to embrace his most significant ideas, and don’t feel that he shares their values.  Blair leaves a legacy of politically rootless young people, either indifferent, or drifting toward the political fringes.  Of course this is an opportunity for the Conservatives.  But New Labour’s Lost Generation don’t yet feel much closer to us either.  They’re still waiting - for a leader and a set of ideas with which they can connect.  Rather than expecting them to find us, our challenge is pro-actively to go out and connect with them.  In the spirit of putting our money / effort where our polling is, that’s what the Bow Group now intends to do, with a series of events aimed at first-time voters.  Stay tuned.


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