Railway policy could be just the ticket for Ed

Published: 21 July 2014 at 15:41

But Anglia Ruskin poll of councillors in East sees 31% describe Miliband as ‘a hindrance’

A new poll by the Labour History Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University suggests Labour’s latest moves regarding the railway network may be helpful to the party’s vote in crucial marginal seats in next year’s General Election.

Reports indicate that, building on the success of the East Coast franchise, a Labour Government will allow not-for-profit firms to bid to run parts of the rail network.  This would fall short of a pledge to renationalise where appropriate; something the Anglia Ruskin poll suggests would be extremely popular.

The data, compiled by Dr Richard Carr for a new report entitled Majority Pursuit, draws on a survey answered by 281 Labour Party councillors in key marginal constituencies.

Across the 106 parliamentary constituencies Labour has identified as target seats for the next election, 13 are in the East of England.  They are the Lib Dem-held seats of Cambridge and Norwich South, and the Conservative-held seats of Bedford, Great Yarmouth, Harlow, Ipswich, Norwich North, Peterborough, South Basildon and East Thurrock, Stevenage, Thurrock, Watford and Waveney.

From within these 13 target seats, 88% of councillors surveyed thought ‘openly declaring they will renationalise [expiring] rail franchises if it makes business sense’ would have a positive or very positive impact on the Labour vote in their constituency.

With over 9 in 10 (92%) of those polled in the East of England believing Labour’s current policy proposals are ‘too timid,’ the data makes intriguing reading overall.

On the one hand, only 26% of respondents in target seats in the East deem Ed Miliband ‘a help’ to Labour’s electoral chances with 31% viewing him as ‘a hindrance’ or ‘a significant hindrance’ to their fortunes.

However, policies closely identified with Miliband – overturning the Coalition’s NHS bill (22.4%), repealing the bedroom tax (21.7%) and the energy bill price freeze (20.6%) – are viewed as the most popular manifesto offerings in the seats Labour need to win across the country.

Well over three quarters of councillors in the East (82%) think Labour will emerge as the largest party in May 2015 and are mostly confident or very confident (59%) they will win in their own seat.  In the Liberal Democrat-held seats of Cambridge and Norwich South, this increases to three quarters of all councillors.

Drawing on this target seat data and a separate survey sent to councillors in the 50 Labour-held seats most vulnerable to a Conservative swing, the Majority Pursuit report projects a figure of between 311 and 326 seats for Labour in the next House of Commons – either a hung parliament or a threadbare majority.

In the event of a leadership contest taking place after next year’s election, Andy Burnham (36%) is the candidate that Labour councillors in the 106 target seats and 50 “must-hold” seats think would gain the most votes in their constituency in the 2020 General Election, followed by Yvette Cooper (21%) and Chuka Umunna (16%).

Dr Richard Carr, of Anglia Ruskin University’s Labour History Research Unit, said:

“Personal ratings aside, Ed Miliband is in good shape.  Our data shows he’s got Labour in a position where the base think they will be the largest party in a year’s time, and several of Labour’s most popular policies on the doorstep are ones he has pioneered.
“Whilst Labour activists are confident of gaining Lib Dem-held seats at present, a decisive line on rail may be key in dislodging vulnerable Tories.
‘In the Tory-held seats we surveyed, over 90% of Labour councillors thought a stronger line on renationalisation would gain Labour votes in their constituency. 
“Labour’s recent moves are not quite ‘renationalisation where appropriate’, but they are not so far removed from it.  If he can sell it, Ed Miliband may yet ride his rail pledge all the way to Number 10.”