Ed Miliband has lost the personal support of his Northern heartland, an exclusive Journal poll today reveals.
Research carried out by North East research specialists Other Lines of Enquiry North, using their in-house panel, Panelbase, suggests just under 17% of voters in the North East think Ed Miliband is the right man to lead Labour into the next General Election.
While almost 48% of the region was lined up against Mr Miliband, some 35% had yet to make up their mind, suggesting there is still all to play for as the leader put the final touches to his vitally important conference speech.
His low personal rating appears to be hitting voter support in the region, with a slight dip to 30% of those asked saying they are likely to vote Labour in 2015. Nationally the figure backing Labour is just 21.8%, a figure which will doubtlessly have fallen over the year as repeated national polls show declining fortunes in Labour party support.
The figures show the work Mr Miliband still has to do if he is to deliver on his “one nation” promise to win votes in the South East.
And while some, including shadow defence minister Jim Murphy, have urged the leadership to reach out to the South, The Journal poll suggests Mr Miliband cannot afford to take his eyes off the North.
Labour cannot win the 2015 election by relying on its core heartlands, but must reach out to more comfortable voters in the South, leading Blairite Mr Murphy said yesterday.
It is the party’s North East homeland that today presents a problem to Mr Miliband. The Conservatives are keen to defend a seat in Teesside while also challenging for the most likely targets in Tynemouth and North Tyneside.
Already the Conservatives are preparing for a genuine selection battle over Tynemouth, with today’s figures likely to encourage more to throw their hat into the ring.
For Mr Miliband much of his problem is with women voters, with the poll showing just 9.4% of women saying he was the right man for the job, a percentage point lower than the number of women backing him nationally, while across the region 38% said they were against the leader.
Of those who said they would vote for Mr Miliband, 28% were women and 72% men.
Labour has been on the backfoot for some months now, with many of Mr Miliband’s supporters pinning their hopes on a wave of conference policy announcements set to put the focus on cost of living issues.
Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes said that while the poll results were disappointing, the focus on policy at the Brighton conference would improve the party’s credibility.
He added: “I think we already know in Newcastle that you cannot take the voter for granted. We have seen the council change hands twice in a decade and there is no sense of complacency.
“What you have to do is ensure you are there week in week out campaigning, continuing to be in touch with voters on the doorstep.
“Our private polling in Newcastle shows this has a big impact, that people respond to you when you address their issues in this way.”
Mr Forbes said this week that Labour needed a policy for the North, but last night he admitted a winning Labour party would first have to look south for votes.
“Nationally it is clear that the General Election will be won though on votes from the South as well as the North East, and we will win that through a One Nation appeal.
“With that in mind, I think we can address this poll this week at conference by announcing policies on everything from transport investment to child care and protection of workers’ rights. We are in a position now to start getting that message across.”
He was speaking after shadow defence secretary Mr Murphy cautioned against arguments that Labour’s electoral priority should be ensuring that its core voters turn out in large numbers. The party will find it hard to take back power without winning a substantial share of the vote south of London, he warned.
Mr Murphy said that the party must put effort into ensuring that it does not become “counter-cultural” for people who are contented with their lives and optimistic about the future to vote Labour, in the same way it has become “part of the cultural DNA” in Scotland that even affluent voters do not back the Conservatives.
Labour needs to be more ready to talk about people’s anxieties over immigration and Europe and must ensure that people with traditional views about the importance of patriotism, religion and the royal family are not alienated by the party’s support for social “diversity”, he said.
Mr Murphy said that, within his lifetime, Conservatives have gone from the position of being a major political force in Scotland to being a party which few voters would even considering backing.
And he warned that Labour must not allow the same to happen to it in the South and among well-off voters.
“We have to ensure that it never becomes counter-cultural among optimistic and contented voters to ever consider voting Labour,” he said.
“The Conservatives can win an election without Scotland. It is harder for us to win an election without winning a substantial share of votes in some of the 209 constituencies south of London.
That is one of the reasons why Ed (Miliband) puts such effort into talking about the squeezed middle in the way he does.”
He added: “No party in this country has a big enough core vote to win an election. I’m in favour of bringing out the core vote, I’m just in favour of having a broader core vote.”