Ideology won’t win back non-voters

Two parallel articles in the papers today. Here’s George Monbiot in this morning’s Guardian:

The real problem is not that working-class voters have switched their voting preferences but that they are not voting at all because there’s too little at stake, [so] the correct political prescription is to do the opposite [of New Labour]: to swing further to the left and to emphasise not “order and national greatness” but care and economic justice.

And here’s Philip Johnston in today’s Telegraph:

[Focus groups might show that people have liberal social attitudes but] that is only because voters are not being offered a coherent and convincing alternative world view on which to make a considered judgment. When decisive action is taken that does not conform to the way things have been done for years, the voter response is telling. It is no coincidence that the one time the Conservative vote rose above 40 per cent in the past year was when David Cameron opted out of the EU fiscal pact agreed last December.

That’s what a siren song sounds like – the idea that there are lots of voters out there who would respond to a harder, more ideological line, whether right or left. To be fair to George Monbiot, there’s a little more analysis in his article, which is based on various studies including this 2006 report from the IPPR, but both articles are political wish-fulfilment fantasies.

I doubt most, or even many, non-voters can be turned into voters by stronger ideological lines from the parties. Left and right can point to opinion polls on Europe, or social attitudes, or spending cuts, that appear to show that the people are on their side, but people really have a mass of conflicting and interlocking opinions that opinion polling can never reflect.

The consistent pattern in non-voting is not hatred or Europe or love of tax-and-spend, but dissatisfaction with the way in which politics and government works, and a belief that voting is not a civic duty. There’s no evidence I’ve seen that the dissatisfied are just waiting to be wooed by the old Tory or Labour songs, rather their attitude is “a plague on both their houses“.


Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.