Turns out that pooling their strength and holding hands beneath a big progressive rainbow will not help Britain’s left-wing parties get back into power after all. What a shame.
Remember the Great British Progressive Majority, that overwhelmingly large (yet always infuriatingly hidden) bloc of centre-leftish voters who together wielded the power to lock the Evil Tories out of 10 Downing Street and government forever, if only they could be organised and persuaded to vote tactically?
You know, that vast conclave of redistributionist, environmentalist, identity politics-wielding, Big Government-supporting luvvies who supposedly outweigh the 11.3 million British voters who re-elected the Conservative government last May?
Well, no worries if you don’t recall the fabled progressive majority. Because it turns out that it doesn’t exist after all, and never has.
This morning the centrist, cross-party Social Market Foundation held a well attended seminar headlined by Chuka Umunna, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg. It felt like a wake for the Labour Party. SMF claims – on the back of research from Opinium – that there’s no progressive left-leaning majority in the country – the majority of voters hold “traditionally right-wing views” that will guarantee a“healthy majority” in the future for the right-wing parties.
The wonks categorised voters’ attitudes into eight political tribes/parties that share very distinctive political views. Despite the majority of voters self-describing as “centrist”, most voters actually identified with centre-right and right-wing political attitudes.
But…but…but Nicola Sturgeon promised us! One can hear the wailing from trendy lefty dinner tables from Brighton to Aberdeen. And so she did. So did they all – Sturgeon, Nick Clegg of the forgotten “Lib Dem” tribe, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, the Green Party’s underwhelming Natalie Bennett. In the tawdry hunt for votes, all of these party leaders told the electorate that between them, they carried the votes to “lock David Cameron out of Number 10 Downing Street“.
The only one to object, as all of this unfolded, was the hapless Ed Miliband, whose votes these other parties were ruthlessly cannibalising. Miliband, still entertaining sweetly pathetic hopes of becoming prime minister, had no great desire to share power in a leftist coalition, to have moralising Scottish and Welsh nationalists perched on either shoulder, scolding him for his insufficient fidelity to socialist principles.
But Miliband need not have worried about sharing power. Between them, the main parties of the Left – Labour, the LibDems, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party –managed to accumulate just 13,102,483 votes in the 2015 general election. Meanwhile, the main parties of the Right – Conservative and UKIP – racked up 15,215,675 votes. This gave the parties of the Right an edge of well over 2 million votes, despite the fact that David Cameron’s lacklustre Coke Zero Conservatives hardly put a spring in people’s steps as they went to the polling station. Britain’s fabled progressive majority didn’t show up on polling day. And they didn’t show up because they don’t exist other than in the minds of starry-eyed leftists.
If you have the time, the whole report – entitled “Dead centre? A review of the political landscape after the referendum” – is worth a read. Yes, it contains the obligatory sprinkling of shellshocked establishment wailing about Brexit, and is published by a think tank which claims to represent something (the so-called “radical centre”) which by definition can not exist. But the report nonetheless highlights the key reason why the parties of the Left cannot unite in opposition to the Evil Tor-ees, as many of their activists clearly want to happen.
On the whole, our analysis makes more cheerful reading for those on the right, than on the centre or the left. The two largest tribes, making up around 50% of the population, hold a range of traditionally right wing views, offering a solid foundation on which to aim for the 40-42% of the vote which normally guarantees a healthy majority under our electoral system. These groups share a desire to see immigration reduced to below 100k a year and were both solidly pro-Leave in the EU referendum.
In fact, of the eight different voter tribes identified by the report, “none of the other groups approaches the size or homogeneity of these two”. These two groups alone account for more than half the electorate, and are inherently distrustful of more leftist policies. Throw in a third tribe, the “free liberals” (perhaps including this blog) and you are looking at 57% of the electorate likely to be hostile to collectivist, redistributionist thinking.
If splits within the Conservative Party and between the Tories and UKIP look bad, that is nothing compared to the fissures on the left, according to the report. As Guido notes:
The progressive tribes are fragmented, disagreeing on openness to the world and attitudes towards the welfare state and taxation. This is bad news for the current Labour Party as the think-tank finds massive differences between so-called“Democratic Socialists” and “Community” party voter blocs – traditionally known as Labour supporters – while both tribes agree on socialist policies towards capitalism, they diverge on supporting the EU or having an internationalist approach.
Well, really it is just Labour that is fractured. The LibDems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green party have all clearly decided to tread the internationalist, social democrat path, worshipping at the altar of the EU and scorning the nation state as a worthwhile agent for change or guarantor of core liberties. This leaves the Labour Party as the only home for those patriotic left-wingers who might fall into the “Community” tribe. And even there, they find themselves under continual assault by the sneering middle class clerisy which is loathe to give up its stranglehold on policymaking. Jeremy Corbyn answers some of this tribe’s concerns, but not all. In fact, one might consider him equally dissatisfactory to the “Democratic Socialists” as to the “Community” tribe, rubbing each up the wrong way.
Even if the parties of the Left could hammer out an uneasy truce and electoral alliance, why would they? Despite the overblown leftist rhetoric, Theresa May’s Conservative government hardly shows signs of being a radical right-wing government in the manner of Thatcher (more’s the pity), so why attempt a political merger which is almost certainly doomed to failure, just to thwart a very non-threatening centrist Tory government? Leftists’ hatred of the Evil Tor-ees is certainly irrational, but they are not that irrational.
Besides, whatever faultlines currently run through the British Left, the headline numbers don’t lie. And despite the fatuous claims of opportunistic smaller parties that greater Westminster representation would enable them to participate in a progressive majority government, the votes simply are not there. They never were.
Of course, none of this is surprising – except, apparently, to London-dwelling metro-left members of the political class who never actually get out and talk to normal people. Anyone who actually does so knows that Britain remains a vaguely conservative country, shot through with a fairly strong authoritarian streak and a deeply ingrained suspicion of success.
We Brits will happily sign petitions for Things That We Don’t Like to be banned and made illegal (the authoritarian bit), light ourselves on fire outside Downing Street in protest at The Great British Bake Off moving from the BBC to Channel Four (the conservative bit) before going on a long, satisfying rant about how evil it is that the inventors and producers of that television show want to receive market-rate compensation for their creation (the suspicion of success). That’s just who we are as a country. I certainly didn’t need the Social Market Foundation and their “eight tribes” report to know that Britain is a small-c conservative country.
That’s why David Cameron was able to guide his wishy-washy, Coke Zero Conservative government to one and a half general election victories – by appealing to these instincts in us. Lord knows it wasn’t because we were excited about his agenda for government (whatever that may have been).
Anyone who pays the remotest bit of attention to British politics ought to be able to sum up our national character fairly succinctly in a manner such as this. In fact, the only ones unable to do so – who laboured under the hilarious misapprehension that there was some great progressive majority yearning to break free and assert itself, installing a wind turbine on every roof – were the deluded metro-leftists.
Perhaps now they can disenthrall themselves of this sweet but futile notion.
This post was originally published by the author 15 September 2016: https://semipartisansam.com/2016/09/15/what-became-of-the-great-british-progressive-majority-it-never-existed/