If your life has reached the same low point as mine – which it must have if you’re reading this – you will no doubt have heard about the protests outside the Conservative Party Conference. You will have seen plenty of disgust at protesters spitting on journalists, shouting threats and abuse at, well, anyone, and egging Tory delegates. Needless to say, this disgust is justified, but what is more interesting is the mentality behind so much of the protests and the wider left in general. This being that they genuinely seem to believe that the country is brimming full of left-wingers, who are only being kept out of power by a conspiracy of the media, the electoral system or Labour ‘not being left wing enough’.
The evidence for this mentality existing is everywhere. You can see it in the ‘We are the 76%’ Twibbons in Twitter profiles, in the Socialist Worker’s ‘Defy Tory Rule’ banners and Natalie Bennett stating ‘We are the many, they are the few’. The cognitive dissonance exhibited by the above is quite startling. The incredibly tiresome ‘76%’ meme not only ignores that votes not cast do not count towards the overall result (who’d have thought?) but also that if 76% didn’t vote for the Tories, 82% didn’t vote for Labour and 96% didn’t vote for the Greens. Natalie Bennett’s laughable intervention also handily ignores the fact that the Green vote would not have been enough to even win back a deposit deposit if the nationwide share had been replicated in a single seat.
It is this bizarre sense of entitlement that hamstrings the left. Its acolytes feel they have the right to call those who oppose them scum and talk about their moral degeneracy as if centre-right views were only held by a small and contemptible number of the electorate. Nothing is more emblematic of this disease than the 99% vs the 1% narrative. It would seem many genuinely believe that the only people who actually can hold right-wing views are members of this elite, and anyone not inside it must have been conned by media narratives etc.
Essentially, the biggest problem with this view is that it imagines people view themselves as either the ruling class or those pitted against them; they don’t. To put it bluntly, the vast majority of people do not think in terms of class anymore, and certainly not in the traditional Marxian sense. Even most of the left no longer care care about it, hence its increasing emphasis on race, sexuality and gender as being the main areas of inequality. An owner of small business taking in £25K a year is far more likely to believe themselves a struggling entrepreneur who deserves to be rewarded more than ‘lazy public sector workers’ than they are to identify as a member of a lower-income bracket being oppressed by wealthy corporate managers. Likewise, the majority of hatred towards immigrants I have witnessed has come from working class people, although they almost always are in the same income band. On the other end of the scale, we are all familiar with the much-maligned stereotype of well-off bien pensants who subsist on vegetarian diets, shop locally and vote left. Class is simply not an adequate predictor of voting patterns or self-identification.
The left has to face facts. Right-wing parties received over 50% of the national vote in 2015. In contrast, parties that were identifiably ‘left-wing’ received just about 40%. TUC research shows us that fears that Labour will tax too much, spend too much and be too generous with welfare are still some of the main reasons people give for not voting for us. The British public do not much like redistribution, they really don’t like immigration and EU laws and they hate anything that sounds ‘PC’. Far from acknowledging this, the left has retreated into a wholesale ‘no-cuts’ narrative, professing unconditional support for Europe, dismissing immigration as a non-issue that only bothers racists and condemning people for ever-more esoteric breaches of speech codes. We then cheer as Jeremy Corbyn fills another echo-chamber with acolytes and we declare the government are scared. They’re not.
The Tories perfectly understand the fragility of politics, and as such are pitching to the centre-ground, putting on a humble face and trying to cement themselves as the natural party of government. George Osborne even conceded that the party hasn’t done enough to win over Labour voters, and has to listen to them. Can you imagine the left saying the same of Tory voters? We are in more danger than ever of becoming a movement convinced of our own superiority and purity, but with no regard for the electorate and the facts of democracy. If we do not change, our future will be full of sound and fury, but one which will signify nothing but defeat.