Even in these times where the well-heeled and well-certified are happy to bemoan how the oiks vote, it is rare for somebody to openly advance new means of restricting the franchise. But it has happened.
Will Tanner, a former deputy head of policy for Theresa May, told a gathering of policy wonks in London on Tuesday night that Jeremy Corbyn was able to turn the election by becoming the ‘candidate who represented change.’
The director of Onward, a new Tory think tank, said that early on he believed May was seen as a change candidate, but this flipped during the campaign. ‘Clearly we made mistakes in that campaign which means we ended it in that position [of having to form a minority government],’ he said.
Tanner was speaking at the launch of The New Working Class, a book aimed at getting politicians to recognise that the traditional working class of miners and dockers has shrunk, to be replaced by a more diverse group.
The author Claire Ainsley, executive director of the anti-poverty Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: ‘Any political party who wants to win a majority needs to understand the new working class.’ She estimates it at half the UK’s population.
‘I don’t think mainstream politics has listened well enough to the concerns of low to middle income voters for a very long time,’ she said. Arguing that politicians should better stand for what the public want, rather than imposing elite views, she added: ‘It’s clearly not the case that just because you come up with a bunch of policies the votes flow.’
Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent, said that both Labour and the Tories’ respective members had been polarised by recent political events, and their attitudes did not align with those of the wider public.
‘That’s going to make it much harder for those parties to get back to the centre ground,’ he said. The New Working Class also cites research suggesting that richer people are more likely to join political parties than the poor.
‘A fragile state is one that has been racked by conflict, affected by corruption, one that is not really capable of delivering the basic services like health and education that its people needs. It’s often got a very divided society.’
But enough about Britain, to misquote former prime minister David Cameron in an interview with CNN earlier this week.
Presumably from his expensive shed, Cameron has been chairing a report into how the West fixes dysfunctional countries, advocating a gradualist, conservative approach that takes proper account of local conditions. It seems jolly sensible.
Being complex, boring and a tad vague, it has been overlooked by hacks in favour of Cameron’s admission he believes holding a referendum was justified. Cameron remains a remainer, but previously said the outlook for Britain leaving the bloc was not as doom-laden as previously thought – ‘a mistake, not a disaster.’
Unlike some undemocratic remoaners, he also acknowledges the basic principal of political consent.
‘I don’t regret holding a referendum; I think it was the right thing to do,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you can belong to these organisations and see their powers grow, and treaty after treaty, and power after power going from Westminster to Brussels, and never asking the people whether they are happy being governed that way.
‘There was also, I believe, a quite fundamental problem that Britain had, and Britain was seeing, with the development of the single currency, the beginning of decisions being made about us without us, and we needed to fix our position. I wanted to fix it inside the European Union; the British public chose that we would fix it from outside the European Union.’
Correct, although I suspect the conventional read that Cameron was hoping to avoid a referendum by again forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 general election is true.
Frontbench British politicians have studiously avoided the lack of political accountability in Europe ever since we joined the European Economic Community – save for the 1975 referendum that approved that membership.
Even so, it is awkward for remoaners that even Cameron says that people should not be governed without consent.
The essay, stitched together from several publishings, eloquently defends formal structures for making decisions, noting that in their absence friendship groups, personal ties and organic interactions dominate – excluding outsiders, the otherwise busy and the shy.
One passage reminded me of what Sigmund Freud called ‘the narcissism of small differences’. This is the idea that similar groups tend to bicker more bitterly with one another than rivals they have little in common with, perhaps most famously portrayed in Life of Brian.
Small differences can flare into international conflict, but they can also divide inert, tiny political groups, perhaps especially those doing little beyond chatting. As Freeman writes:
‘For those groups which cannot find a local project to which to devote themselves, the mere act of staying together becomes the reason for their staying together. When a group has no specific task (and consciousness raising is a task), the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group.
‘This is not done so much out of a malicious desire to manipulate others (though sometimes it is) as out of a lack of anything better to do with their talents. Able people with time on their hands and a need to justify their coming together put their efforts into personal control, and spend their time criticizing the personalities of the other members in the group. Infighting and personal power games rule the day.
‘When a group is involved in a task, people learn to get along with others as they are and to subsume personal dislikes for the sake of the larger goal. There are limits placed on the compulsion to remold every person in our image of what they should be.’
Should informal groupings and infighting lead to a vicious split, you get the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. Or most rock bands after the talent and the cocaine run out.