Home > General Politics > Has the electorate moved to the right?

Has the electorate moved to the right?

Great post from Sunny here, asking whether or not it is the Centrists in the Labour Party who have become dogmatic. It’s a compelling case for those who’ve never really thought about it, now more than ever. Though it has been my opinion for quite some time. I’ve often enjoyed pointing out the hypocrisy of people, who’s greatest supposed achievement is vanquishing the dogmatic, uncompromising hard left, developing their own creed (a counter-creed if you will), to which they have clung to righteously ever since. And upon closer examination of the positions of the Labour centrists, it is clear that a dogmatic approach to politics is quite common.

I don’t like the idea of defining the center ground, and I like the definition less, especially when delivered to me by its proponents. Too many people who tell us the center ground is the only way, often forget that the development of centrist politics was born out of a recognition that the publics beliefs and expectations, are not static, but evolutionary. And instead they give us a list of things that aren’t acceptable, positions we can’t afford to abandon, policies we can’t risk to support… the counter creed.

The problem is obvious, if this creed remains dominant, then we will fail to realise what needs to be done to regain our lost support. Weather that means abandoning the center, or reinterpreting what it means in practice, under the ideological guidance of those that refuse to budge on certain issues, particular (potentially succesful) policy ideas will simply be ignored. Left out of the process of consideration altogether, based on the premise that even contemplating certain reforms will lead to defeat. This completely ignores the idea mentioned above, that what may have been considered off-limits in 1997 is not necessarily off-limits in 2010.

Since the election I’ve heard some people suggest that the results showed us the country has moved to the right, and that Labour either strayed too far from the center ground (which I think is laughable), or failed to reinterpret the center ground whilst taking into account this supposed move to the right by the electorate. These voices of pessimism warn me that any contemplation of a “move to the left” by the Labour Party (whatever that means), will leave us exiled by an electorate humming a more right-wing tune.

Frankly I think this is nonsense. For one there was only a swing of around 3.7 to the Tories, the failure of David Cameron to secure his party an all out majority. Second, the Lib Dems clearly positioned themselves as a left of center party, and together with the Labour Party took a larger share of the vote than the Conservatives did, who only managed to increase their share of the vote by just under 4% of the vote. Hardly the sign of a mass right-wing realignment.

The voters the Labour Party lost havent flooded to the Tories in search of something a little more right-wing, they just haven’t come out to vote. This isn’t a new problem, its been going on for some time. Those who claim Labour needs to stick with the “triangulation” with Tory voters, that defined New Labours political strategy, fail to acknowledge that 4 of the 5 million lost voters left whilst Blair was leader. Almost as soon as the coalition of ’97 was put together, it was beginning to fall apart again. Jon Trickett wrote a good piece on this not too long ago.

I agree with Sunny, the financial crisis had a massive impact on people’s political attitudes, especially on issues such as corporate power, and the very nature of our economic arrangement. If the next Labour leader neglects this shift, they shall do so at their own peril.

But at the same time we shouldnt ignore the fact that on certain issues, the country may feel it is to the right of us. On those issues, the Labour Party really needs to consider a strategy for selling ideas to the electorate. Winning elections alone isn’t good enough, after all, politics is more a battle of ideas than a battle of the ballots. At least it should be.

So here’s to hoping the creed fades into insignificance where it belongs, and people will ask the right questions. Has the nation turned to the right? Or has the left of center failed to properly motivate parts of its base? I would have to say it is the latter.

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Categories: General Politics
  1. July 30, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Adam, I propose we reject completely all use of spatial metaphor in discussing politics. It leaves debates on policy stuck in a rut. And it isn’t descriptive.

    You can’t get people to vote for you if they don’t believe you will act in their interests. I regret that I didn’t put the case forcefully enough about interests when out canvasing…

  2. Adam White (@theday2day)
    July 31, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Id agree with you in the sense that I wouldnt stand on someones doorstep and say “vote for us, we’re to the left of the other lot”. Like you said, people want to hear how we’re going to represent their interests, not have us show them where abouts on the political spectrum we sit.

    I guess we need some way of cataloging all these divergent views for the benefit of comparative discussion. Discussing political philosophy would be much harder to follow if we didnt use “left” and “right”..

    • July 31, 2010 at 2:19 am

      “Discussing political philosophy would be much harder to follow if we didnt use “left” and “right””

      I disagree. Using these terms can make it harder to understand the relationship between ideas and interests.

  3. Adam
    July 31, 2010 at 1:43 am

    I’m not so sure policy being too right/left/centrist is what hurt Labour, I think it was the inability to articulate a coherent set of values, vision or national narrative. And the complete vacuum of personality, with the exception of Peter Mandelson, couldn’t have helped.

    The Left was upset about civil liberties and the war. Everyone was disappointed about the economic mismanagement of the country (we were promised permanent growth), although on balance the New Labour Keynesian economic policy looked like the best option there. Ditto immigration and public sector management.

    I think that the country would happily follow Labour left, so long as we’re not talking “appropriate the means of production.” The point is they need to be able to attach a sensible narrative to whatever they choose to do and it needs to be a narrative that seems economically sound. If they can do that, then they can bring in a living wage or restore CTFs or pass even more equalities legislation or regulate the banks.

    • July 31, 2010 at 2:24 am

      “it needs to be a narrative that seems economically sound”

      If you are an employer, large investor, or a top banker – in what way is the living wage, equalities legislation or banking regultion,. economically sound? It interferes with capital accumulation to the benefit of labour against the interests of capital.

      The reason I can’t abide the left-right-centre abstraction is because it makes us forget the interests which are at stake, and ignore what drives economic activity and the formation of political parties.

  4. Adam White (@theday2day)
    August 1, 2010 at 1:16 am

    James, whilst I see what youre getting at about pidgeon holeing people based on their spot on the spectrum, surely we can look upon political discourse in terms of left/right for the purpose of analysis, whilst choosing to communicate in terms of interest when speaking to the electorate?

    • August 1, 2010 at 1:53 am

      I’m not sure that as a short-hand it even works in that context. For example, I think a far better way of phrasing the question you address in this post would be “Is the electorate moderate or radical?”

  5. Adam White (@theday2day)
    August 1, 2010 at 10:35 am

    One mans radical is anothers reactionary. Think Thatcher..

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