- Date published:
7:10 am, December 16th, 2019 - 178 comments
Categories: Brexit, community democracy, democratic participation, Left, uk politics - Tags: dissent, UK election, UK election 2019
You couldn’t pay me to vote for a right wing party, so it’s hard to imagine under what conditions someone who has traditionally voted Labour for decades would now vote for the Tories in the UK General Election. On the other hand, I can understand why the three-way standoff between traditional lefties, liberals and centrists is deeply unattractive.
It’s been edifying watching commentary from the UK on what might have gone wrong. There is the expected range of views from the left that it wasn’t our fault: it was the MSM, Corbyn, Brexit, Boomers, Blairites, ABU (anyone but us). These often have sound reasoning behind them, but they’re not sufficient.
What stands out for me are the voices of the people who are saying actually, there were solid reasons for abandoning Labour, this is why I did. There’s something important here about really listening to dissent and being willing to engage with views that don’t necessarily make immediate sense in the context of our own personal ideologies.
Bearing in mind that many of the policies in Labour’s manifesto were very popular, and that this list isn’t intended as a comprehensive view, or definitive explanation, but here are some of the takes I’ve found most thought-provoking.
Stability matters. A short vid of lifelong Labour voter Henry talking about why he voted Conservative,
Her reaction makes those of us who share in his disenfranchisement even more despondent. Her inability to see why he and many others feel like this is mind boggling.— Anna German (@Frau_Deutsch_) December 14, 2019
What I hear from this man: he wants a government with the kind of stability you get from unity and doesn’t trust a Labour that is internally divided.
We see this value around stability in NZ with the tendency to vote more conservatively after an emergency (Chch2), or where people shy away from chaos and towards perceptions of competency (Greens and Labour respectively in the 2017 election), or where the radical edge isn’t trusted with parliamentary power even where there is support for policy (low vote for any of the left of Labour parties or even radical centrist parties like TOP).
Lefties like myself who see radical change as being a fundamental requirement for addressing large, intractable issues like the housing crisis or climate change often ignore that most people are naturally resistant to upheaval even when there is a perceived reward. I don’t think this necessarily means that the left has to resign itself to centrism, but maybe the people who want to smash capitalism could spend some time talking with the people who fear what would happen to them if we did, and find the common ground.
Culture matters. The lack of empathy comment from the young liberal woman in the video, it’s not that she is wrong, it’s that they’re both right but she is probably the one with the lesser ability to understand or accept the other. If the young liberal woman represents modern Labour, she exemplifies a kind of cultural blindness to why people legitimately feel Labour doesn’t serve them. For many people politics is about a good cultural fit, and there’s plenty of analysis about the problems with Labour parties generally on that regard. It also stood out to me that the man talked about voting with his heart and his discomfit with being a laughing stock over Brexit. For a party intent on identity politics, it’s weird that some people’s sense of belonging is so resoundingly ignored.
Brexit matters. Some of the solid Labour electorates in the north voted Leave in the original referendum. They’ve just voted Leave again.
I am so, so glad for the hold.— Craig Black (@craigblackoreyt) December 13, 2019
Seriously though, I tried to tell people. I really tried 😫 https://t.co/fI5LgTuR72
Barnsley is a typical northern Labour "safe seat" (former mining town) which means it is systematically overlooked or taken for granted by party strategists. Labour has had a v punishing election campaign there vs. Brexit party but with no real support. Town voted 70% to leave.— Craig Black (@craigblackoreyt) December 13, 2019
While the Brexit campaign ran on a dangerous xenophobic, racist, and divisive platform it doesn’t mean that class wasn’t a driver for many voters, nor that liberals didn’t drop the ball from their own bias in ignoring class as a core issue.
From my green edge perspective Brexit always looked like the one rare chance the UK had of stopping or at least slowing the happy death cult of neoliberalism. My main memory of the original Brexit referendum was the impression of liberals all freaking out about how terrible it would be to lose privileges like the freedom to travel at will, without offering any solution to the genuine issues of social and economic decay that neoliberalism was generating. Or even any real acknowledgement that class issues might be legitimate.
Political education matters. This was one of the more heart-wrenching things I read,
Many had never heard about class politics at all. The idea of working class people voting for a party to tax the rich to pay for redistribution and public services was completely novel, and generally immediately attractive. 19/— Luke Pagarani (@LukePagarani) December 13, 2019
There’s both great sadness and great hope in that, but it does make me wonder how there is such a large part of the working class that is non-political. How did that even happen?
That whole twitter thread is an eyeopener, with some challenging ideas about older white English people and their role in holding on to political and social hegemony.
Journalism matters. Yes, yes, there are massive problems with the MSM and social media giants. In addition, there is this,
Article version of this tweet: Labour doesn't have a hope of recovering until left-wing journalism starts doing its job https://t.co/WBVerRCtRF— Sarah Ditum (@sarahditum) December 13, 2019
And this is why the failure of Labour is a failure of journalism. Too much of the material that gets published under Left-wing mastheads is written by the Left, to the Left, under the assumption that there is an imaginary public out there who will automatically agree with their politics if only they are presented with them. (Owen Jones, king of this tendency, offered this on the eve of the election: “Young people have been hit hard. Now they can rise up and reject Johnson.” The young people declined.)
There’s a tendency for the left to blame centre lefties for the failure of Labour parties, but I don’t think any position on the left is without responsibility here where we are insisting that people should adopt our beliefs. I’m not arguing for abandonment of progressive values. I’m suggesting that the liberal project is on the verge of failing, and that we cannot rely on ‘social progress is inevitable’. Nor can we carry on with the strategy that we can force people on board.
What we probably need is to build relationships across social and political difference. The Pākehā left has a lot to learn from Māori in this regard. He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.
Update: post-election poll on why people didn’t vote Labour is here.