The British election is a success for the strategy that Theresa May pursued: winning over middle aged and elderly working class voters in the post-industrial north. According to a Yougov survey released on Tuesday, she increased the Tory share of voters with a GCSE or less from 38% in 2015 to 55%. In a very general sense that constitutes a success of the aforementioned strategy. The problem is with the strategy. May’s campaign was unarguably incompetent but the strategy itself was more costly than the implementation of it. The problem is that such a strategy was always likely to alienate other sections of society: the young and the educated. People, in short, more comfortable with globalisation and more likely to benefit from a labour market that gives greater returns to cognitive skills and educational attainment. An even more acute problem was that unless Labour lost quite a lot of working class workers such a strategy would be unlikely to compensate for Labour’s gains amongst young people and wealthy liberals in large cities in the country – the demographics disaffected by May’s affection for old-school Toryism. In truth, Labour didn’t lose that much working class voters from the last election and even regained some UKIP voters.
Although it is true that Labour was nominally committed to Hard Brexit – leaving the single market and ending free movement of people – it is nevertheless striking that Labour’s surge came primarily from those most likely to vote Remain. It’s interesting to note that whilst a YouGov poll last month found that 68% of the public believe Brexit should not be stop, a Pew poll from the spring found that 48% of Brits think leaving the EU will be a bad thing in contrast to 44% who think it will be a good thing. Another Yougov poll conducted in April found that a plurality Brits think Brexit will be bad for jobs and leave us economically worse off, but a plurality also favour a Hard Brexit (36% preferring a soft brexit; 43% favouring hard). I don’t think personally believing something will be bad is mutually exclusive with thinking it should be implemented. In general I think Brexit constitutes a synecdoche for something else: a set of cosmopolitan values to which well-educated and young people sympathise with. I’ve seen some people reference the dementia-tax as critical to May’s failure but May did better than Cameron amongst over 60s. A more interesting question is would she have done better than she would have otherwise have done without that issue.
The Labour Party is primarily the party for middle class public sector workers. Two reports by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies illustrate this. The pledge to abolish tuition fees is a boon to the students who will become middle class and upper middle class and doesn’t really affect the working class as much. The IFS also finds that the sharp increase in minimum wage to £10 a hour will disproportionately benefit workers who already live in middle income households and is potentially very bad for low-income workers: not just through losing jobs, but in getting into the labour market in the first place, as their labour cost increase rather sharply to £14 billion a year. The least worst manifesto for low-income workers was, unsurprisingly, from the Liberal Democrats.
The Tory Party, on other hand, is now primarily the party for pensioners and Hard Brexit. Strikingly, the only employment group they beat Labour were pensioners. The call to end the ban on grammar schools, the call to renew a debate on fox hunting – these were genuinely bizarre proposals that reflected a shift from Cameron’s attempt to modernise the party. They prided themselves on being strong and stable but became the very first party to do a U-turn on a manifesto pledge before an election. They denounced Labour as a coalition of chaos but have to rely on the DUP in something that’s sort of a coalition but isn’t really. Which, you know, sounds a bit chaotic.
I’m ambivalent about this election. On the one hand, I am sad that a man who has praised a host of tyrants and terrorists has been definitively empowered within a party ostensibly committed to equality and social justice. On the other hand, I am happy that a Prime Minister who embodies a turn from the liberal-ish politics I espouse has been given a bloody nose after calling an election with an unearned level of confidence in her leadership ability.
Contrary to the fake news commonly propagated by the twitter personality Sarah Kate, I am actually a broke student and would really appreciate it if you could spare some cash here and reward my writing if you like it. Thanks.