Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Cash-strapped Labour ‘gives up’ on 60 vulnerable seats

Labour’s cash-strapped party machine is quietly abandoning up to 60 vulnerable seats to divert resources to defend constituencies in its heartlands, according to MPs.

It is the first sign that some senior Labour figures accept that defeat is inevitable and are switching resources to defend seats with larger majorities to prevent a rout next year.

Plans for targeted mailshots in marginal seats have been scaled back dramatically because of a lack of resources. Some MPs say Labour’s HQ is refusing to help seats with majorities of less than 3,000 — about 60 — as it retrenches in the face of the Tory advance.

A member of the National Executive Committee denied that it had set a bar but acknowledged that the party was being forced to make “difficult decisions” about which seats to defend.

The retreat has left MPs furiously demanding extra cash. Even loyal allies of Gordon Brown, such as Ian Austin, who has a notional majority of more than 4,000 in Dudley North, are having to argue for money to defend themselves, The Times has learnt.

Although it has fended off bankruptcy Labour’s national party remains in a precarious financial position.

In the past year the party has “raised” £18 million compared with the Conservatives’ £25 million. However, £2 million was a loan converted to a donation and £15 million is in borrowing and credit facilities.

Party strategists acknowledge that unless the Tory poll lead — currently at 14 percentage points — can be narrowed to single figures before Christmas, there is little prospect of the party filling an election war chest.

Many Labour MPs complain they have been outspent for years as a result of the Tory target-seats operation overseen by Lord Ashcroft. Labour, unable to match his resources, nevertheless has copied the Conservatives in demanding that candidates provide evidence of active campaigning in return for support.

But with a flood of MPs expected to quit as a result of the expenses controversy, many have simply given up, according to senior Labour figures. “Requests for information on what campaigning is being done from regional offices are just going in the bin,” said one.

New data from the credit reference agency Experian, which is used by political parties to identify different groups of voters, suggests there are large numbers of disaffected former Labour voters in key seats.

Four groups have been identified as most likely to desert the party at the next election:

• Thirtysomething homemakers who voted Labour in 1997 but are burdened with debt as they start a family — they may turn to the Conservatives;

• low-skilled, largely unemployed households who will either not vote or turn to far-right parties;

• those in former manufacturing communities who no longer have strong union and Labour Party ties — they are also vulnerable to extremist lobbying;

• people approaching retirement in some of the nicer council estates who exercised the right to buy — they may also turn to the Conservatives.

Such groups are found in many seats with majorities between 5,000 and 10,000, which Labour would need to retain to win the general election.

All three main political parties employ the Mosaic marketing system, which uses commercial and other data to target different types of voter. The system divides Britain into 155 types of individual, 67 different households and 15 groups.

Research by the company behind the system suggests that Mr Cameron is making deepest inroads into Labour’s vote in the young homemakers group, which accounts for just under 6 per cent of the population. They are reported to be “extremely financially distressed”.

The top 20 seats with the most disaffected Labour voters:


North Knowsley*

Plymouth Moor View*

Birmingham Northfield


Bristol East




Dudley North

Cannock Chase


Amber Valley

Southampton Itchen



Dudley South




*Constituency faces abolition or boundary changes at next election

Times Online

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