Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Deeply Conservative Country

I had not expected any good news from the UK general election. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Labour apparatchik and Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, had lost his seat as an MP, that Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, had failed to get his, and that I would probably in future be hearing much less from the weird Ed Miliband, now that he has resigned the Labour Party leadership. Small mercies in a result that only confirms that the UK is a deeply conservative country.
The election result unexpectedly gave the Conservative Party an outright, although small, overall majority, when previous opinion polls had only suggested it would have the largest number of seats in Parliament. The best summary of results for the UK, including breakdowns by region and constituency, the number of votes, changes in voting share, etc, can be found on the BBC website here.
In the wake of the biggest capitalist crisis for a generation or more, the share of votes for the two major political parties hardly changed. Compared to the previous general election in 2010, the share of the vote for the Conservative party went up a tiny bit; the Labour party’s vote went up by a tiny bit more. The big changes were elsewhere. The Liberal Democrat share of the total vote collapsed by 15.2 percentage points, offset by a rise in the UKIP share (up 9.5%), while the Scottish National Party got an extra 3.1% and the Green Party an extra 2.8% of the total vote.
The share of votes only counts as a measure of opinion. It does not lead to a seat in the House of Commons, which is determined by a first-past-the-post ballot in each constituency. So, for example, a winner with 20,000 votes gets the seat. If the runner up has 19,999 votes, then these votes go nowhere. A strictly proportional representation of votes in the 650 seats in the UK Parliament would mirror public opinion (assuming that voters fully agree with a party’s political programme). Comparing the seats implied by a PR ‘opinion’ with the actual seats gained, these are the results:

Share of vote
PR-implied seats
Actual seats
Liberal Democrat
One can assign different scores on a spectrum of progressive to reactionary for each of these parties. But the overall picture remains depressing, although it is not surprising. In political terms, I consider half the UK electorate to be on a different planet, and the other half to be in a different solar system.

Tony Norfield, 10 May 2015


Philip Ferguson said...

One of the problems is what does 'conservative' and 'liberal' or 'progressive' mean today? What does 'left' and 'right' mean?

In terms of social issues, Britain is probably quite a liberal/progressive country, not a conservative one.

But, of course, many Conservatives (as in the party) are actually socially liberal these days. David Cameron can vote for gay marriage, as his NZ counterpart did, whereas Margaret Thatcher pushed the anti-gay section 28. These days it's almost unimaginable that a Tory Party leader would push something like that.

I was out of Britain from 1994 to 2011. When I was back for a visit one of the first things that struck me - it struck me on the tube from Heathrow into central London in fact - was how much more relaxed people in Britain seemed to be from what I remembered, especially in terms of 'race'. During my visit, this impression grew on me - Britain just seemed much less racist and white British seemed a lot more intermixed with black British and much more relaxed about such intermixing.

Racism, discrimination against women and gay people have all become far less prevalent. There has been substantial progress.

Two things have gone backward, it seemed to me. Economic policy and thinking is now much more market-oriented. Hardly anyone believes the market works perfectly by itself, but the general belief is that a market economy is the only viable option.

The other thing that has gone backwards is the left. It's smaller, more fragmented and a lot of it is kinda crazy. Histrionics has replaced clinical analysis a lot of the time, for instance. Who deserves to be listened to now is not the deepest thinker, not the person with the most incisive analysis, but the person who is most successful at portraying themself as a victim. Victimhood, fragility and neediness beat solid analysis.

What has happened to the left is also quite strange. The left has, in a sense, won the cultural war. But instead of the left being able to turn that into big political capital, what has happened is that it has been outmanoeuvred by the ruling class which has embraced a form of institutionalised anti-racism, along with formal equality for women and gay people.

It seems that the *way* in which the left fought battles around anti-racism, women's rights and gay rights left these issues wide open to being embraced by the ruling class and the ruling class has got the political capital from these things not the left which fought long and hard for them.

The gay rights victory in Ireland is a really graphic example of this. Almost the entire Irish establishment came out unequivocally for equal marriage, with the exception of most Catholic bishops. Even the police federation called for support for gay marriage! The same parties (Fianna Fail, Greens, Fine Gael, Labour) which have imposed absolutely vicious anti-working class austerity over the past 7-8 years supported and campaigned for a 'yes' vote in last Friday's referendum. The old Catholic-aligned socially-reactionary establishment has been replaced by a new, socially-liberal establishment which, if anything, is more viciously anti-working class than that old establishment.

It's difficult to see a way forward in Ireland, Britain or where I am (NZ) because the working class has long since ceased to act as a class. Without renewed motion there, it's difficult to formulate a serious class project.

But an analysis of the trends can certainly be made. And needs to be made.


Unknown said...


I should have included the point that liberalisation in terms of socio-political stuff is also linked to the more-market economics. More-market economics requires more regulation of workers in terms of anti-union laws and so on, but it also means a lot less regulation of people's personal lives. Capital no longer cares who makes up a family unit as long as labour-power is reproduced - ie a new generation is created and reared in conditions which make it fit for exploitation in adulthood. It might be reared by two men, two women, a man and a woman, or a solo parent: as long as the job is done, the ruling class (as the personification of capital and its key staff) no longer cares and there's no particular need for them to care.


SteveH said...

"Racism, discrimination against women and gay people have all become far less prevalent. There has been substantial progress."

Having not been away at all I would have to disagree with you, I think you are watching way too much telly to form this opinion. Maybe attitudes to gay people has shifted - i might give you that.

Tornike Chivadze said...

Sorry Mr Tony cant you add search and sbscribe buttons on blog , please ?

Tony Norfield said...

Hi Tornike,

I do not think there is a search button available, but you can 'subscribe' and be notified of any more articles by becoming a 'Follower'.


Tony Norfield

Anonymous said...

Not really sure the unilateral tolerance of immigrants in Britain is a win. the new migrants act as wedges in unity and dont have socialism on the agenda. The emphasis on pro-non Caucasian social issues alienates the working class.
You are right, there is no functioning left. the establishment is anti-government in all of its progressive ways, but they are also pro-gay and pro-non-Caucasian. It shows the bankruptcy of social liberal issues dealing with identity.