Contagion

Canvassing is one of those things that many of us take for granted. It is part of what we do. Occasionally a meeting on a doorstep will echo down the years, coming back into the mind and setting a scene.

Such a meeting happened to me some years ago. It was in a Labour Ward in Liverpool, at the height of the Militant Tendancy regime. I knocked at a door in a Council estate and asked the gentleman who came to the door if he would vote for us. As I anticipated, he said no, he wouldn’t. So I asked who he would be supporting, expecting him to say, ‘Labour’.

But no. He looked at me and said: ‘ I’m voting Conservative.’ I couldn’t resist and asked him why.

‘Well, they’re born to rule, aren’t they’.

It is a picture that has stayed with me ever since. An old man, probably without two pennies to his name, supporting Mrs Thatcher. It has been a puzzle that has come back to me time and time again.

And here we are, in 2019, with the Brexit party soaking up Tory supporters and members, appealing to working class voters and the Tories through Boris Johnson, an old Etonian for Heaven’s sake,  trying to capture Labour seats.

Selling the vision that Britain won the war so can ‘get Brexit done’ is an advertising slogan that has been bought in to. If it was an advertisement, the ASA would soon smack those responsible down! But, in politics, there is no standards authority.

Those economically stressed now, will be even more so if Brexit happens, but far too many people are swayed by the ‘project fear’ accusation. The winners will be those with money; those short selling the pound and those seeking to avoid taxation.

What is it that drives people to vote against their own best interests? Looking across the world, Britain isn’t alone in seeing the phenomenon develop. It is like a contagion that allows those with money and power to further their own ends by exploiting those at the lower end of the economic ladder. The aftermath of the 2008 crash is an example.

For any Liberal, that is just not acceptable. Lessons from history tell us that such exploitation pits one part of society against another; one race against another and always looks for scapegoats in so doing. Us and them – the slippery slope to fascism, already, sadly, visible on our streets.

How to stop it, or prevent it growing is the question.

* Flo Clucas OBE is the President of the ALDE Gender Equality Network and former President of the ALDE Group on the EU Committee of the Regions. She was a councillor in Liverpool City Council for 26 years.

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18 Comments

  • Why should you be puzzled that “ordinary” people voted for Thatcher?
    I travelled, daily, past the new Triumph factory in Speke. Was it taking on the world?
    No it was perpetually on strike. The strikes were called at mass meetings where anyone who put up his hand at the wrong time got a punch on the nose.
    The factory closed, inevitably, in 1978.
    Thatcher wasn’t PM. It was Sunny Jim. The working class followed Mrs T to fight the kamikaze TU who were destroying their jobs in pursuit of some Marxist paradise.

  • William Fowler 3rd Oct '19 - 3:48pm

    Lots of working class people want to own their own lives and that does not mean earning enough net money after tax to pay for food and accommodation, it means working two or three jobs to get a pile of loot to start their own small business… almost impossible if you stay legal and live in a country where tax/NI rates are high. Post Brexit, if people have the choice between low tax, minimal state and high tax, nanny state you will find lots of people at the lower end who have enough aspiration to go for the former rather than the latter. Lots of wailing etc but that is a fair choice to give voters at the next GE.

  • Define self-interest. Is it purely economic? Is it social? Is it spiritual? IMO, people are perfectly capable of deciding what to prioritise when making a voting decision. It should be no more surprising to see low income Tory voters, than high income socialists or for that matter people with strong religious/cultural beliefs voting for liberal philosophies in non conformity. We’re dealing with grown ups who can decide for themselves, not small children who need adult supervision.

  • I remember speaking regularly with someone who might fit the description given while I was delivering Focus. I thought that he probably didn’t have two pennies to rub together. This was until he mentioned a difficulty he was having in getting the Financial Times locally. He often asked about why he had to pay so much tax on his income.
    I learned how dangerous it is to jump to conclusions about people.

  • Arnold Kiel 3rd Oct '19 - 9:36pm

    The feeling of being disadvantaged is spreading, and is now shared by millions of voters. It essentially stems from the declining market value of their efforts and the rising market value of land. This phenomenon squeezes their standard of living and their economic prospects, and they understandably resent that.

    It seems that these people react more favourably to promises of positional than incremental remedy. The positional remedy is offered by the populist right (Farage, now Johnson) by saying: “there are groups below you, and we will put them in their place so that you can thrive again”. That seems to be more attractive than the incremental remedy offered by the populist left (Corbyn): “we cannot change your position in the economic pecking order, but we will take money from those above and give it to you”. Unlike the positional remedy, the incremental one can actually be delivered and has tangible value, but it is psychologically less attractive.

  • Arnold Kiel
    Do you react to what you are being presented with on mostly material/personal terms and if not, why do you think income dictates the views of anyone else ? In other words, who to quote you, are “these people”?

  • Sorry, Tom, but I saw him, his home, his shoes and his clothing. I chatted to him. He was a pensioner on social security and was a really nice man. I can still see him as I write this.
    Rich? Investments? FT? No.
    His story stayed with me.
    As for William’s comment, Lord help us. It sounds like the basis for a low wage, low tax, poor state run services – Health Service for example.
    Give me the Scandinavian approach anytime over that. I want to see people helped to get on, with support if they need it.
    If you want to see those with little being heloed to start a business, look at Liverpool and see how the EU put money and expertise to do just that. It worked too.

  • @Flo
    Liverpool is dear to my heart. I went to Uni there in the sixties but its current prosperity is entirely the result of inflows of money from outside. I see no industrial revival. Just retail, perhaps cruise liners.
    Not everywhere can be recipients. Somewhere the wealth has to be created. For Liverpool it’s the City of London. That may hurt but it is true.
    The old man was simply saying “the left always fails to run their nation’s economy”.
    The Scandinavian model doesn’t even work in Scandinavia. Norway has vast oil receipts but the rest are outspending their means as badly as we are.
    I would like to be a socialist but no one can explain to me how it works. How does it cope with globalisation and ferocious competition from nations which are not the slightest socialist? How can it raise business taxes without the big employers simply responding by leaving? How can it raise personal taxes without talented individuals either emigrating or just sitting back and doing the minimum to get by, like the rest of us?
    You can not understand why the old man was not left leaning. That is because poor people are not stupid and he was articulating all the above.
    Wealth redistribution is well and good but someone has to create that wealth in the first place. The left, and indeed the centre left, clutches at straws like ” worker cooperatives” and “social enterprises” when we need shipyards, silicon fab plants, high tech manufacturing all on a large scale.

  • I find this article very simplistic.

    People decide their vote for all sorts of reasons. For some, it’s down to their values and what they think is the right thing to do, even when it appears (especially to an outsider with an extremely limited and superficial perspective of their life) to “go against their interests”. That’s why you find some rich and privileged people in Islington voting Labour, some financially struggling and poor people in Liverpool voting Conservative, older people with few years left on their life in the Cotswolds voting Green, cosmopolitan men in Camden voting Woman’s Equality Party, financially successful families of Ugandan-Indian heritage in Harrow voting UKIP. Indeed I’ve canvassed plenty of out and out racists in Bermondsey who “always vote Liberal”.

    All of the above (stereotypes) can seem illogical. Until you start viewing people as individuals and stop making snap judgements about who they are, what they want and what they need, then the memory of encountering a financially struggling man on a council estate voting Conservative will no longer leave you baffled.

    This era of boxing people into groups based on simplistic characteristics, then expecting them to be shepherded on mass into certain ideologically directions is a horribly illiberal idea, and a recent practice carried out by the most horribly illiberal sections of our country’s 2-party political establishment

  • Hard Rain
    Liverpool in the 60s. Is that all you know? I remember it too well. Extensive poverty; little opportunity; both fed major unemployment growth.
    Come up to the present. Try advanced manufacturing; wind turbine engineering; science parks promoting start ups; major new investmment and university expansion – to name but some. Add in thousands of new SMEs, many started by ordinary people without their own financial resources and major facilities such as the Arena and you begin to tap into the changes the EU helped bring about.
    It’s why Liverpool voted to remain.
    Incidentally, the cruise liner terminal brings in more than £1.5m for each day a cruise ship docks. Most of that goes into local businesses.
    Significant, long term investment over decades made a difference. UK government sprinkles cash in short sharp bursts, when what is needed is a deluge of investment over the long term.

  • James Pugh

    An ‘outsider’? No. Inner city Liverpool was my home.

    I was pointing out that just because someone lives in a particular place, it doesn’t say they will vote in a particular way. We make assumptions based on our prejudices as I did in this case.

    It was real, not academic or theoretical politics.

    The period taught me a lot about political mobilisation through fear, need and building false hope, while ignoring the wider picture and its impact.

    The same is happening now. It happened in the 30s and, to an extent, in the 60s. The difference now is the huge impact of social media. The story matters, not the reality. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump understand it. Too many of us don’t.

  • Flo
    Liverpool did not vote remain. It was a nation wide one person one vote referendum, not a general election with seats. Nowhere voted anything. Individuals did.

  • @Flo
    I am very much still interested in renewables. Which is the wind turbine manufacturer please? I’ve still got a few contacts. Thanks

  • Hard Rain
    Wind energy was done on the Cammell Laird site. If you are interested in renewables, the EU paid to retrofit houses, train local people to do the work and set up small businesses too.

  • @Flo Clucas

    When I said “outsider” I wasn’t referring to people from outside Liverpool, I was referring to an outsider to this man’s world. But it doesn’t really matter whether you both were Licerpudlians or not since 2 people can live 2 streets apart and be in effect living in 2 different worlds.

    And I didn’t take your anecdote’s key message as “pointing out that just because someone lives in a particular place, it doesn’t say they will vote in a particular way. We make assumptions based on our prejudices as I did in this case.”

    Because your article emphasises that you were puzzled (and still are) about this man living on a council estate voting Conservative and his reason for doing so, and you ask the question “What is it that drives people to vote against their own best interests? ”

    This is much more than just not making assumptions about the way people vote and looks very much like making judgements about people’s lives and what you feel is best for them, wrapped up in having determined what their “best interests” are. T

  • @Flo
    Sorry but I’ve been following up your reply through my contacts. Cammel Laird aren’t manufacturing wind turbines at all . The ones in Liverpool Bay appear to be Siemens Gamesa SA imported from Spain. Cammell’s are providing a ‘hub’ ( that is some pre installation assembly) and only have 50 people on the job.
    We have no indigenous manufacturer of wind turbines (except in Hull where just the blades are laid up with all the geartrains and electrical / control as yet more imports).
    That’s all ‘investment’ seems to be – even more imports.

  • @Flo
    Please do not think I am denigrating the fantastic progress you, personally, have made in Liverpool, my alma mater and scene of countless happy memories.
    My point remains that this country is relentlessly losing its ability to create wealth and the money to provide for Liverpool One, the Arena etc (which is UK money not the EU’s) is going to run out
    Politicians boast about developments but which in reality are tiny. Every village and hamlet has a science park and none (with the possible exception of Cambridge) seem to have produced new industrial giants with employees numbers to match.
    This is the nation’s problem. The balance of payments graph is terrible and doom laden but no one wants to look at it.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Oct '19 - 11:41am

    James Pugh We must be careful what we put in our leaflets.
    In the Ribble Valley bye-election we had a local candidate who had stood before.
    The Tory was described as a ‘Welsh newsagent’, therefore not local, small businessman.
    One constituent told me that she intended to vote for us on essentially racist reason/s.
    The Tory had loyally supported Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax, lost and reportedly had a mental breakdown.

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