The Future of Political Parties: what the polling shows
by Andrew Hawkins, Chairman

Savanta ComRes and Field Consulting jointly hosted fringe events at the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences to consider the future direction of Britain’s political parties. The presented analysis drew heavily on bespoke Savanta ComRes polling conducted immediately prior to the conference season and sheds important light on the state of public opinion as we enter uncharted Brexit waters.

First, the polling reveals the extent to which Brexit now determines political positioning. By a ratio of two to one, voters now define themselves in terms of their position on Remain/Leave rather than by reference to a favoured political party. This is perhaps unsurprising. In 2016 voters divided into two viscerally-driven groups: Remainers, for whom the Referendum was largely about economics, and Leavers, for whom it was more about self-determination.

Savanta ComRes also asked voters to define themselves, political parties and leaders on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is furthest to the Left and 10 the opposite. Doubtless to his consternation, Boris Johnson was seen as further to the Right than any other politician or political party (including UKIP and The Donald). However, Jeremy Corbyn was seen as further to the left than Boris Johnson was to the right – and by some distance.

Why does all this matter? Because of where voters place themselves in relation to the parties and leaders trying to appeal for their support.  While the mean (average) voter self-identifies as a middle of the road sort, there are two clear clusters. One group to the left of that mean comprises women, 18-34s, Remainers, the Liberal Democrats and Jo Swinson. The other group, to the right of centre, comprises men, 65+, Leavers, Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.

Three weeks ago Jo Swinson took the audacious gamble of making the Lib Dems the unequivocal party of Remain, ruling out even a second referendum. A week later, and to much criticism from its moderates, the Labour conference voted for a Brexit position which is likely to nudge Labour Remain voters into the arms of the Lib Dems.

Remember - with tribal support eroded, a party’s position on Brexit takes on hitherto undue significance. Given that two-thirds of Labour voters supported Remain in 2016, and with Jeremy Corbyn seen as taking an extreme position on the Left of British politics, the Labour leader’s position feel like he is sitting on the end of a tree branch merrily hacking away at the wrong end of it. He is in severe risk of cutting himself off from swathes of the Party’s voter base at the very moment when Jo Swinson is offering them what they want.

In the short term, and from additional Savanta ComRes polling for Britain Elects, there look to be three main electoral scenarios.

First, A50 is extended and possibly revoked in due course. The result would currently likely be Labour as the largest party but short of a majority.

Second is the prospect of leaving either with or without a deal but after 31 October, which results in the Tories being the largest party but, again, short of a majority.

Third, and helping to explain Boris Johnson’s dogged insistence of leaving with or without a deal by 31 October, is the forecast result of a Tory majority approaching triple figures if he can succeed in getting Brexit done and thus gobble up Brexit Party support.

But what of the longer term? Earlier this year Savanta ComRes found that just 6% felt that Parliament was emerging from Brexit ‘in a good light’ and one in ten who thought politicians were in touch with the mood of the country.

In the Savanta ComRes/Field Consulting poll, we also found that by a ratio of two to one the parties were seen to offer ‘too little choice’ – despite one being led by a hardline Marxist and the other an Old Etonian.

Given the distance between most of the parties and their traditional support bases, the current alignment of political parties looks unsustainable in the long term. The Lib Dems and Brexit Party both have the potential to disrupt the next Election like never before, yet their voter bases are the most promiscuous. The Conservatives know that which is why they are targeting Brexit Party voters but they will need to move to the coveted centre ground as quickly as possible once Britain has left the EU (if indeed it ever does). Labour, however, seem to prefer ideological purity over electoral appeal which may cost them dear.

Whatever and whenever the next election outcome, the public mood is indeed dark and its anger largely aimed at the entire political class. Which is why the burgeoning chatter about constitutional reform may just be the remedy the country needs to haul its creaky political system into the 21st Century.