Thursday, 21 May 2015

Meanwhile in Middle England: what the liberal left echo chamber needs to learn post-election

If you're pretty certain, as I and others are, that austerity is not only wrong but an ideological self-serving policy for the rich and powerful then you would have been disappointed with the election result. It's not as if Labour really challenged that during the campaign but under a broken voting system they were the lesser evil to challenge the unsustainable predatory culture that caused the banking catastrophe. A crash that laid the foundations for the cuts that somehow punish anyone but those responsible.

Now the nation has spoken we have an accurate barometer of the nations' politics. What can those opposing the tory agenda against the vulnerable do to win future battles?

It is important to identify the tory voters who swung it their way. Their shock majority came after poll after poll putting them level with Labour. Concluding that, firstly the polling methodology is questionable. By favouring people who are available and have time to reply - so working people would be under-represented in basic sampling bias. Furthermore respondents are approached incorrectly - being asked about voting intentions straight away produces instinctive responses that warm up questions could curb. Having studied social research methods this seems a incredible blind-spot for organisations who do this for a living.

Yet, this inaccuracy is also party beyond the pollsters control. As tory voters were not picked up it in the polls it is possible there was a 'shy tory' phenomenon. This was used to explain the infamous 1992 shock tory victory. Of course there are always polling in previous elections have been more accurate. This time it more likely that shyness was a factor compared to 2010 when the tories hadn't been in government and were a less toxic brand. The 1992 shy voters had had 13 years of tories to hide.

Other swing tory voters were undecided reflecting the anti-political feeling since MPs expenses and the banking crisis. Undecideds are more likely to be those who engage minimally with media for a small period at the end of a campaign. This could be because they are fed-up, too busy and/or generally consider democracy as something done once every general election. Their political interactions are short and swift and they judge parties on their own terms e.g, running a household finances like the nations - which is a nonsense as I argue here. Their media is likely to be from the most accessible traditional outlets which is largely right wing propaganda. They are exposed to politics as catchy headlines, personalities, catchphrases, gaffes etc. They are vulnerable to right wing propaganda and less likely to read independent counter-establishment blogs (cough) and liberal social media.

Yet for many 2015 swing tories, voting is simply an act of self-improvement - basically in a nation ever more materialistic, voting with your wallet. It is the economy stupid. So while many young rebellious twitter attacks and mocks the conservatives, tory swing voters are seeing their party being favourably reported as guardians of a stable economy. They do not debate politics in the pub like my left leaning peers do. They tend not to share strong opinions on social media. They're more bothered with house prices and child security than cool BuzzFeed articles and likes on Facebook. Many simply vote and their reasons are influenced a combination of traditional media narratives, fear of change and a 'feeling' in their wallet that things are getting better. This all points towards a coup for the tories.

This political identity is well known to me because it is my background as the son of self-made immigrants who adopted the values and aspirations of Middle England. If anything they hold Conservative values more dearly (thick and thin during the Blair years) because their journey to relative security was full of adversity unlike for many of their 'indigenous' Middle England peers.

Meanwhile in Middle England
So many tory swing voters are busy and misinformed or both hence the polling issues. They are from older richer demographics and concerned with money primarily with mortgages and families. They have financial criteria of security that they like to see matched in the nation. These are the ones that swung it for the tories in the southern rural areas. This geographical quirk is important because the swing voters inhabit the region which is the most populous with the most constituencies. Labour only managed to win 11 southern seats outside of their stronghold of London.

Of course these swing voters will choose Labour if the conditions are right. Before Labour's 1997 landslide the tories were in disarray, tired after Thatcher's legacy of social and economic dysfunction. Blair opportunistically rode the wave of misguided optimism as Thatcher's heir with a smile. He was a dog-whistle to these voters who responded to his statesman-like hope, secretly glad his New Labour project had curbed its traditions and moved rightwards away from unionism and nationalisation. John Prescott stood out as the lone high-profile stereotypical northern working class representative.

They are not Blue Labour or Red Tory voters because they are not concerned about fair meritocratic society where anyone can climb-up. They're already on the ladder. Labour will now debate the merits of a New Labour renaissance versus a socialist anti-austerity agenda. But are the Middle England swing voters really listening if the tories continue to appeal.

How can they be convinced that they voted for a short-termist ideological cuts that will do little to improve wages and chronic UK productivity. Will they ask if the hedge fund-backed Conservatives are going to stop the bankers getting away with it again? Is inequality on their radar? Do they realise that it harms the well-off as well as the poor?  These are some of the arguments that need to be made in the next 5 years.

For us who want to real change in the broken system we must ask can all the blogs, memes, tropes and counter-misinformation combat the fact that ultimately a significant section of voters allow themselves to be passively sold the idea of stability, competency and greater wealth under a system that already broke not too long ago.

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