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Margaret Beckett
"The message is not getting through as well as it should"
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'The warning bells are sounding'
"The warning bells are ringing"
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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 13:10 GMT
Labour message 'hard to get across'

Margaret Beckett: Labour is working for its core voters
The government is failing to convince its core voters of its achievements - despite delivering the policies that they want, according to Leader of the House of Commons Margaret Beckett.

Speaking amid warnings from party figures, Mrs Beckett said that Labour was finding it "hard" to get its message to the people it needs to help it win the next general election.

There is this terrible apathy not just in the heartlands of Labour but among core supporters in every part of the country

Barbara Castle
Mrs Beckett's defence came after Labour backbenches and others raised concerns that they were losing support in traditional working class areas where voters could not see the point in a Labour government.

It also comes as new analysis has been carried out on opinion poll data from last year's European elections which suggests that just 12% of the working class turned out for Labour compared with 13% of those in top salaried jobs.

This contrasts with the general election, where Labour won the support of 49% of those in the working class and just 34% of those in top jobs.

The survey was conducted by re-interviewing around 2,000 people who took part in the British Election Panel Study.

In the same period the number of people who think Labour are less keen on redistributing wealth than they are themselves rose from 29% in 1997 to 35% in 1999.

The Guardian newspaper also reported on Monday that Prime Minister Tony Blair was considering putting the date of the general election back to as late as October 2001 because he wanted Labour's core voters to be able to recognise the government's achievements.

Supporters may be lost

But warning the party not to forget its supporters, Labour MP Martin O'Neill told the BBC: "We all recognise that a lot of our traditional supporters are finding it difficult to see what the point is in having a Labour government.

"Unless these problems are addressed, we will go into what might be the countdown year for a general election without the kind of people we would have counted on to be our bed rock support."

Former Labour cabinet minister Baroness Castle has also warned of the dangers of apathy from Labour supporters, a situation which she says is "desperately dangerous" for the prime minister.

"There is this terrible apathy not just in the heartlands of Labour but among core supporters in every part of the country," Lady Castle told the BBC.

"I think the government is making a terrible judgment about the attitudes of Middle England.

"They have always been part of the backbone of the Labour Party because they have got a social conscience."

Message 'not getting through'

Last week Mr Blair used his speech at Labour's Scottish conference to directly address the concerns of the party's heartlands, arguing that the government was running an economy for the good of the whole country.

Speaking to the BBC, Mrs Beckett said policies such as the minimum wage and extra resources for health and education were making a difference.

"The government is doing a tremendous number of all the things that people who voted Labour wanted to see. But that message is not getting through as well as it should.

"We have a press in this country that has never wanted and never supported a Labour government."

"We tend to talk about the money that is going in, but we don't talk about where it's coming out and what people are getting."

"That link is being hidden and that is one of the reasons why so many people don't realise [what the government is doing]."

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | Business
Why Labour voters desert
13 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Selection symptoms of Labour's woes
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