Beyond the swing
Ed Miliband has only been leader of the Labour Party for 48 hours and already the taunts of ‘Red Ed’ are beginning in the press. The editorials of the Mail, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Sun all counsel the importance of the centre ground in British politics. Labour’s old guard is emphasising that the party’s appeal to the swing voters that occupy this centre-ground is a crucial element of electoral success.
Who are the swing voters that the press and politicians are so worried about? Swing voters are people who are undecided about how they will vote. Political parties target these voters, particularly in the most marginal constituencies, in order to win elections. But swing voters are a tiny minority of the potential vote. For instance, the Conservative Party only needed to persuade 2 million swing voters to back them to win a full majority in the recent election. That’s 2 million out of a potential 44 million voters.
Our current political orthodoxy on the importance of swing voters means that all parties try to appeal to the same small minority of people who change their mind. It means that policies can only be as radical as the swing voters will allow for, and important debate is stifled. So, is it a foregone conclusion that the new leader of the Labour Party will have to put these voters at the heart of his agenda? Perhaps even more importantly, is it true that he cannot win an election without them – or is there another group of voters who could push Labour over the finishing line?
Of the 44 million people who were eligible to vote in the last general election, a staggering 15.5 million failed to do so. Roughly 7.2 million of these were 18-24 year olds. If Ed Miliband can find a platform that appeals to these voters, that inspires even half those young people to turn up to the ballot box and cast their votes for him, then politics defined by the centre-ground swing vote might well be a thing of the past.