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Major Political Reform Could Secure Key Labour Target Voters, Study Suggests

“I think the whole thing is thoroughly broken at this point” a focus group participant said

Sir Keir Starmer will need to flip over 140 seats to get a majority of one next year. Photo: PA/Alamy

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Two key voter groups which “hold the key to the next General Election” for Labour are among the most keen to see changes to the way politics is done, new research suggests. 

A YouGov survey, conducted for pressure groups Unlock Democracy and Compass, reveals a particularly strong appetite for systemic political change among the ‘Patriotic Left’ voter group, dubbed ‘Workington man’. Seven in ten – many of whom will be considering backing Labour having voted Conservative in 2019 – think this should be a first term priority for the next Government. 

The poll also shows a majority of ‘Disillusioned Suburbans’ – a second key target group also known as ‘Stevenage woman’ – think the political system is not working, with more than seven in ten supporting some degree of reform. 

Focus groups emphasised the lack of trust in politicians to deliver reform, but the findings point to a vote-winning opportunity for political parties, especially Labour, if they are able to prove that they are serious about reforming how politics is conducted, the campaign groups argue. 

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In the focus groups, participants drew a clear link between the Westminster system and the failure of politics to tackle the big issues, with many pointing to a lack of accountability and short-term calculation taking precedence over long-term planning. 

One participant commented: “It’s the Westminster system – politicians aren’t held to account long term and the five-year cycle of Government [doesn’t] make for long term planning and development”. 

Another concluded: “I think the whole thing is thoroughly broken at this point… We need a new system that represents modern society and the needs of real people.” 

Tom Brake, Director of Unlock Democracy, said: “Carrying on as usual will not suffice – Keir Starmer knows this. Backing away from serious change will look like Labour is putting Party before country. “These results give the lie to the suggestion that the public aren’t interested in overhauling the way our politics works. People want change – and not in the distant future, but now or the first term of the next Government.” 

“It’s also clear which reforms the public think would have the most impact on reforming our politics: a change to the voting system and reform of the House of Lords, in that order. Any party that can set out a credible programme for reshaping our democracy, demonstrating its positive impact on issues like the cost of living crisis, could reap the rewards in the ballot box at the next General Election.” 

Word cloud from recent focus groups with voters on the need for political reform.

Neal Lawson, Director of Compass, added: “The penny is dropping amongst these key voters that nothing works unless democracy works. Renewing our democracy is a first order issue for any incoming new Government.” 

The polling in October, now seen by Byline Times, found that nationally more than seven in ten think the political system isn’t working. Nearly 9 in 10 want to see changes to the political system and four in ten say ‘a great deal of reform’ is needed.

Over two thirds (68%) of all voters, and three quarters of pro-reform Labour voters, believe political reform should be a first term issue for the next Labour administration.

And changing the Westminster voting system to Proportional Representation and reforming the House Of Lords are seen as the two changes that would have the most impact on our political system.

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Voters also say an independent commission of experts would be most trusted to deliver political reforms – more than eight times as many would trust this compared to the government.

The so-called Patriotic Left is one of the groups keenest on change. More than eight in ten say the political system isn’t working, while six in ten believe a great deal of reform is required (just 1% believe that no reform is required). Seven in ten believe that this is a first term issue for the next Government.  

Disillusioned Suburbans, although less insistent on change, still do not favour the status quo. Nearly six in ten think the political system is working badly. More than seven in ten think some or a great deal of reform is required to the political system. And the majority (56%) think that political reforms are needed in the first term (23% are undecided) 

The survey shows both groups, while supportive of a broad suite of reforms, favour PR for the Commons over Lords reform by a margin of just under two to one. In-depth conversations in focus group work with Disillusioned Suburbans found they were also pressing for action now, but with little confidence politicians understood their concerns or could deliver. 

YouGov carried out focus group research with Disillusioned Suburbans from the North of England (31 st October) and South of England (2nd November). For the quantitative work, YouGov polled on the 25th -26th September a representative sample of 2,183 GB adults. 

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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