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Big differences on economic and social values between MPs and voters, according to new report

Two academics from Queen Mary University of London have co-authored a report which sheds new light on the disparities between the social and economic values of MPs, party members and voters.

Published on:
The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster

Mind the values gap: The social and economic values of MPs, party members and voters provides a deep dive into the social and economic values of the Labour and Conservative parties and has revealed big differences between the two.

Party disparities

The report, published by the UK in a Changing Europe, also shows the Labour Party is fairly well-aligned with voters on economic issues but a long way away from them on social values. For the Conservatives, the opposite is the case.

The views of Labour MPs and members on fundamental questions about the economy are significantly more in tune with the instincts of their voters and the general public than are those of the Conservative Party.

73 per cent of voters think 'there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor' whereas only five per cent of Conservative MPs agreed. 22 per cent of Conservative Party members agreed, as did 71 per cent of Labour.

The idea big business takes advantage of ordinary people is the perception of 74 per cent of the public, 83 per cent of Labour MPs and 92 per cent of Labour members, but only 18 per cent of Conservative MPs.

Social values

The Conservative party was found to be broadly in tune with the electorate on social values. For Labour, there is a serious disconnect between the party and the average voter – and an even larger gap between the party and those that switched from Labour to the Conservatives in 2019.

The argument for tougher sentences for criminals is accepted by only 24 per cent of Labour MPs and 25 per cent of members, but it is backed by over half (53 per cent) of those who voted Labour in 2019 and 70 per cent of the public at large. The death penalty is supported by 50 per cent of the public, 31 per cent of Labour voters but only 11 per cent of Labour members. No Labour MPs supported it whereas 21 per cent of Conservative MPs did.

MPs, party members and voters were also asked about whether young people do not have respect for traditional values. 44 per cent of Conservative MPs agreed, and 63 per cent of the public – but  just 9 per cent of Labour MPs and 17 per cent of voters.

Floating voters

Perhaps surprisingly, the voters who made the journey from Labour in 2017 to Conservative in 2019 are more left wing on economic issues than the average member of the public. Yet when it comes to social values these switchers are significantly more socially conservative even than the average Conservative voter.

17 per cent of Labour members and 9 per cent of Labour MPs think ‘young people don’t have enough respect for traditional British values’; this view was held by 88 per cent of Labour-to-Conservative switchers in 2019.

The idea schools should teach children to obey authority was also supported by 81 per cent of this group, against just 29 per cent of Labour members and 41 per cent of Labour MPs.

Challenges for Johnson's government

Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London said: “The fact Conservative MPs so strongly reject widespread perceptions of structural unfairness hints at the challenge the Johnson government will face if the shock of Covid-19 triggers public demand for economic redistribution and reform. If a sense ‘there is one law for the rich and one for the poor’ begins to take hold, then the gap between Conservative Party people and voters could prove deeply problematic for the Johnson government.”

Professor Tim Bale, Professor of Politics and Deputy Director of the UK in a Changing Europe, said: “If the economic downturn that many are forecasting can be persuasively blamed on Covid-19 and social and cultural values therefore remain at the forefront of political debate, then only one party – the Conservative Party – looks likely to benefit. No wonder some top Tories are said to be pressing the PM to launch a so-called ‘war on woke’.”

Professor Anand Menon, Director of the UK in a Changing Europe, said: “The Labour and Conservative Parties clearly have an interest in focussing political debates on very different issues. For the former, values are a way of holding their coalition together, while continuing to appeal to 2019 Labour-Tory switchers. For Labour, the focus must be on economic policy, not least given intra-party divisions on values issues.”

More information

The report was published by the UK in a Changing Europe which promotes rigorous, high-quality and independent research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the EU.