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29 Jun 2020

Politics and Society


Seventy-three per cent of voters think ‘there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor’ whereas only 5% of Tory MPs agree, which is one of several big differences between Conservative and Labour MPs and their voters, a new academic report uncovering the social and economic values of MPs, party members and voters finds.

Drawing on original data – a representative survey of MPs conducted by Ipsos Mori – and new analysis of data from the ESRC’s Party Member’s Project and British Election Study, the report Mind the values gap: The social and economic values of MPs, party members and voters provides a deep dive into the social and economic values of the Labour and Conservative parties from top to bottom: MPs, party members and voters.

It shows the Labour Party is fairly well-aligned with voters on economic issues but a long way away from them on social values. For the Conservatives, the opposite is the case.

Economic issues

The views of Labour MPs and members on fundamental questions about the economy are significantly more in tune with the instincts of their voters and the general public than are those of the Conservative Party.

  • Fewer than a quarter (22%) of Tory members, and just 5% of Tory MPs, agree ‘there is one law for the rich and one for the poor’, yet this is a view held by 73% of the public, 71% of Labour MPs and 92% of Labour members
  • 66% of the public agree ‘management will always try to get the better of employees if it gets the chance’ – a view held by 5% of Tory MPs
  • The idea big business takes advantage of ordinary people is the perception of 74% of the public, 83% of Labour MPs and 92% of Labour members, but only 18% of Tory MPs
  • 66% of the public say ‘ordinary working people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth’ – a view held by all the surveyed Labour MPs, and 95% of Labour members
  • The average British adult supports income redistribution, unlike the average Tory member or MP – just not with the same overwhelming enthusiasm as Labour Party people.

Social values

The Conservative party is broadly in tune with the electorate on social values. For Labour, there is a serious disconnect between the party and the average voter – and an even larger gap between the party and those that switched from Labour to the Conservatives in 2019.

  • The argument for tougher sentences is accepted by only 24% of Labour MPs and 25% of members, but it is backed by over half (53%) of those who voted Labour in 2019 and 70% of the public at large
  • 50% of the public support the death penalty, and 31% of Labour voters do but just 11% of Labour members and none of the PLP, compared with 21% of Tory MPs
  • We asked MPs, members and voters about whether young people do not have respect for traditional values – 44% of Tory MPs agree, and 63% of the public – but  just 9% of Labour MPs and 17% of Labour members
  • On law and order, 70% of the public think that those who break the law should get tougher sentences – very close to the 66% of Tory MPs who feel the same way.

The 2019 general election – Labour to Conservative switchers

Perhaps surprisingly, the voters who made the journey from Labour in 2017 to Conservative in 2019 are more left wing on economic issues than the average member of the public.

Yet when it comes to social values these switchers are significantly more authoritarian/socially conservative even than the average Conservative voter.

  • On economic values, 2019 Labour-to-Conservative switchers are a considerable distance away from the views of the party they backed
  • 81% think big business takes advantage of ordinary people, compared to 34% of Conservative members and 18% of MPs
  • 84% think there is one law for the rich, another for the poor, compared to 22% of Conservative members and just 5% of Conservative MPs
  • A mere 5% of Conservative MPs think management will take advantage of workers, compared to 78% of those who switched parties
  • On social values, they are also some distance away from the values of their new party – they sit to the right of Conservative members, even more so Conservative MPs – but they are even further away from the Labour Party
  • 17% of Labour members and 9% of Labour MPs think ‘young people don’t have enough respect for traditional British values’; this view was held by 88% of Labour-to-Conservative switchers in 2019
  • The idea schools should teach children to obey authority is also supported by 81% of this group, against just 29% of members and 41% of Labour MPs.
  • Stiffer sentences are supported by 85% of these voters, significantly more than the public as a whole (70%), Labour voters (53%), Labour members (25%) or Labour MPs (24%).


  • Now most Labour MPs who supported Brexit have left the Commons, the party’s MPs and members are incredibly united on the type of Brexit they want: 98% of MPs and 95% of Labour members support close alignment with the EU
  • The Tory Party, however, is more split than many realise. The majority of Tory MPs and members back greater divergence on areas like worker’s rights and the environment, but a sizeable minority – 28% of MPs and 20% of the membership – are in favour of alignment.

Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary University of London said: “The fact Conservative MPs so strongly reject widespread perceptions of structural unfairness hints at the challenge the Johnson government will face if the shock of Covid-19 triggers public demand for economic redistribution and reform.”

“If a sense ‘there is one law for the rich and one for the poor’ begins to take hold, then the gap between Conservative Party people and voters could prove deeply problematic for the Johnson government.”

Professor Tim Bale, deputy director of the UK in a Changing Europe, said: “If the economic downturn that many are forecasting can be persuasively blamed on Covid-19 and social and cultural values therefore remain at the forefront of political debate, then only one party – the Conservative Party – looks likely to benefit. No wonder some top Tories are said to be pressing the PM to launch a so-called ‘war on woke’.”

Professor Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe, said: “The Labour and Conservative Parties clearly have an interest in focussing political debates on very different issues.”

“For the former, values are a way of holding their coalition together, while continuing to appeal to 2019 Labour-Tory switchers. For Labour, the focus must be on economic policy, not least given intra-party divisions on values issues.”


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