Britain is getting more socially liberal

There is, goodness knows enough bad news at the moment so a study by Kings College London and IPSOS which shows Britain is becoming socially more liberal is very welcome. 

The study looks at the same questions asked in 1989 and 2019 which makes it much easier to track the differences – and what differences they are!

In 1989 40% of British adults thought that homosexuality was morally wrong – in 2019 that was down to 13% while  people thinking that homosexuals should be treated ‘just like other people’ has increased from 23% to 64% 

On drug use the % thinking soft drugs such as cannabis are morally wrong has gone from 60% to 29% – there has also been a drop in people thinking the same of hard drugs such as heroin – but  at 67% ( down from 89%) it is still high 

On abortion the % thinking it is immoral has halved from 35% to 18% – and interestingly there is little difference  in the views of men and women (nor was there is 1989) 

Some areas haven’t changed much – the % thinking that having a sexual relationship with someone who is married to someone else is morally wrong has actually increased from 55% to 62% – because  men are now more likely to think this is wrong – and are  now aligned with the views of women. 

People thinking euthanasia is morally wrong had decreased from 22% to 17% – I was surprised how low the figure  in 1989 was. 

A rather depressing area  where there has been a marked change is attitudes to politicians where the number people who think that politicians are in general, good people, has gone from 36% to 15%. The biggest drop has been among Conservative voters (45% -30%), Lib Dem voters have gone from 37% – 23%. 

The core of the study in 1989 and 2019 were a large number ( 1,458 and 1021) interviews conducted face to face in people own homes.

What I think is particularly encouraging is that many of these results show that people are buying into the classic liberal principle – that people should be allowed to live their lives how they want. Where someone else is affected – for example in cases of adultery, views haven’t changed. 

None of these liberal views will necessarily translate into voting for us, though they do show that we can espouse Liberal views  on cannabis and euthanasia and not risk much voter backlash. They are also  a reminder that while we  often  think we live in uniquely awful times, there are some areas where things are getting distinctly better 

* Simon McGrath is a Councillor in the London Borough of Merton.

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13 Comments

  • @Geoff: Is it not disappointing that only 37% think Capital Punishment is wrong ?

  • John Littler 28th Oct '19 - 11:47am

    People should see the Bettel ( PM of Luxembourg) video to the ALDE European Liberals. Luxembourg will have all free public transport, support for the non working partner in marriage and legalised Marijuana within 1 month.

  • Callum Robertson 28th Oct '19 - 11:58am

    This really is fantastic news, Simon correctly points out the benefits of campaigning on a socially liberal value set.

    It is important to also recognise that policies such as personal tax threshold rises are also very popular. Showing that we can stand on a policy platform of handing people “economic, social, personal and political liberty” and it resonates with voters

  • Awww, this is properly heartwarming, thanks Simon. Obvs we’re not THERE, but things look to be moving in the right direction.

  • Even though I am someone who thinks marriage is nonsense, I wouldn’t personally classify not viewing adultery (having a relationship with someone who is married) as morally wrong, as particularly liberal.

    For 99% of couples getting married, they do so on the understanding that their partner is entering a monogamous relationship (and a relationship based on trust). So if one partner gets involved in a sexual relationship outside that marriage, without the knowledge or consent of the partner, that person is lying, and I personally think lying in these sorts of circumstances is morally wrong. Of course if they are married but it is a consensually open/swinging/polyamourous marriage, then I don’t think it’s morally wrong, mainly because nobody is being lied to and everybody is consenting.

    All the other viewpoints, apart from the abortion viewpoint, are situations based on an individual making a choice about their own life that doesn’t impinge on another individual’s liberty or rights (homosexuslity, drugs, euthanasia). Basically John Stuart Mill’s benchmark. Hence I agree fully that being tolerant of such things is a benchmark of an individual’s ‘liberalness’. Adultery though is another matter since it involves a non-consenting person in the equation, therefore, like abortion, being tolerant or intolerant or it, is not a benchmark of a person’s ‘liberalness’.

  • This is definitely cheering, and just as well since we seem to be breaking every bone to gift Johnson a snapshot poll on a single issue .. at a terrible time of the year which we’ll all have to live with for 5 years.

  • It might be that people‘s definitions of „morally wrong“ might differ. Also it is possible that definitions of morals have changed over the years. Was this Part of the study – or couldn’t they be bothered?
    It is likely that the views people have on political parties is not influenced by these issues. Mine isn’t.
    As far as drugs are concerned too many are sold legally, with profound effects on the users. I have in mind the addictive drugs supplied via the NHS.

  • David Evans 29th Oct '19 - 9:04am

    Looking at the data tables, there are a couple of odd things about this survey.

    Firstly, for the online survey, it seems that the weighted sample is 43% are Remain; only 37% Leave and 20% did not vote. Instinct suggests Remain voters are likely to be more Socially Liberal, so this is a definite skewing. Likewise Party allegiance is skewed with 13% Con, 19% Lab, 17% LD, 13% Brexit, 5% Green, 14% other and 19% non – again a skewing to Socially Liberal.

    I wonder why they chose those weightings, or does anyone have an alternative explanation?

  • We shouldn’t be surprised that views on abortion are not heavily skewed by gender.

    Everyone agrees that
    1) Anyone can do what they want with their own bodies regardless of gender.
    2) Killing people is wrong regardless of gender.

    The position on abortion then depends on at what point we consider the switch to take place between this thing being “part of our bodies” to being “another person”. Current law in the UK says 24 weeks but views range all the way from the moment of conception right up to 36 weeks. It’s not an easy question to answer, depending on a wide ranges of disciplines – philosophy and biology being just two of them, but we should have enough confidence in women (and men) to expect that their views on the matter would not be significantly affected by personal convenience, despite some people wanting to tie the question into wider gender issues.

    About the wider topic, yes the population and laws and even other parties are very liberal now compared with decades ago, which is why the party is seeking to redefine itself as the “stop Brexit party” which is an issue that only tangentially relates to the preamble to the constitution. The main alternative continuing with liberalism would be get into more “freedom to make mistakes” type issues, such as liberalisation of drugs, gambling, alcohol, sin taxes etc. which is not where the current leadership (or probably members or voters) want to go.

  • Peter Hirst 31st Oct '19 - 6:04pm

    Assisted dying is certainly coming of age though with strict conditions and not likely to effect many people. There is the issue that in a so called liberal society, self determination seems to be a dead duck as far as independence is concerned. You can do what you want as long as you do what we want.

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